Thursday, June 7, 2007

I LOVE Thomas Hardy, So Don't Knock Him, Joe Queenan!

There's an article in the NYT complaining about teachers assigning summer reading lists. The article makes one very good point, and then one very bad one.

Author Joe Queenan notes that in order to get students "hooked on reading," teachers have begun including pop-lit choices among the usual assortment of "classics," which he believes is a bad idea:

While minor books can ultimately lure readers to the mountaintops, so-so or crummy books — well represented on many of the lists I have seen — only lure readers to more so-so or crummy books. There is a direct line from “Slaughterhouse-Five” to “War and Peace,” from “The Red Pony” to “The Red and the Black.” But Dean Koontz leads no farther than James Patterson. “Sister Carrie” paves the way for “Anna Karenina”; “Carrie” paves the way for “Cujo.”
But then he ruins his own premise by deciding to re-read the book from his own summer reading list, long, long ago: Thomas Hardy's The Return of the Native. Queenan describes hating slugging through the book on those long, pre-global-warming golden days of summer, but recognizes it as a classic and wants to give it another shot.

He gets as far as page 6, and cites the following sentence as an example of why the book is so boring that reading it would "wreck the summer of '07:"

“To recline on a stump of thorn in the central valley of Egdon, between afternoon and night, as now, where the eye could reach nothing of the world outside the summits and shoulders of heathland which filled the whole circumference of its glance, and to know that everything around and underneath had been from prehistoric times as unaltered as the stars overhead, gave ballast to the mind adrift on change, and harassed by the irrepressible New.”

I loved The Return of the Native. And I love Hardy's complex sentence, leading one through and around until the reader, like the narrator, feels the adrift mind detach from the harassment of day-to-day life and soar in the midst of his red-soiled fields.

Anyone else agree? What's the verdict: is Hardy fascinating or boring?


Ash said...

The summer that I was in the eighth grade, I was terribly bored and I read 7-8 of Hardy's works in the span of a few weeks. I don't remember the books in detail, but I do remember that even though I felt the books were long and winding, I was irresistably drawn to them!

But I don't know if that's because of his brilliance, my patience or the sheer boredom of that summer :P

Daniel said...

I think you know my answer to that question. Susan and I had so many fights about the quality of Dickens. Let's just say that I like Thomas mildly better than Charles...but only mildly.

Give me Steinbeck any day.

Anonymous said...

For me it just depends on my mood...if I am in the mood for Hardy, I find him brilliant, but to me, he is not a writer who draws me in everytime.


Blue said...

Part of what kept me going during the early slow parts of Return of the Native was the memory of sexy, sexy Clive Owen and Ray Stevenson in the Hallmark Hall of Fame film version.

(I saw the film first. It convinced me to read the book. I hearted the book muchly. ^__^)