P.O. Box 4931 Eureka, CA 95502
Address e-mail inquiries and submissions to JRNyquist@aol.com
All books are divisible into two
classes: the books of the hour, and the books of all time.
Literature - The Novel:
There exists a certain prejudice against novels on account that they are mere “fictions,” make-believe instead of fact. If the reader wants facts, he should read history or science. Novels are for the tender-minded -- for those, in other words, who do not have the stomach for hard, crystalline facts.
While these strictures against the novel may have an element of truth if we have in mind novels by popular fictionists like Steven King and John Grisham, they have no merit at all in regards to the great novels of Western Literature. The fact that novels are fictional is quite beside the point. Much that passes for history is pure fiction; and as for science, what could be more fictional than quantum mechanics, with its uncertainty principle and particles that jump from place to place without traversing the space in between? Fiction is a necessary adjunct to the truth. Factual reality must be reduced to the human level before it can be grasped by man’s mind. Human cognition, as Santayana pointed out, is essentially poetical. We perceive reality in terms of metaphors, symbols, and tropes.
If science studies the nature of the material world and history studies the crimes, follies and misfortunes of mankind, what then does the novel study? The novel studies human nature and society. This is not to imply that history or the sciences don’t study these things as well. The difference is that history and science study society and human nature from the outside; the novel (and literature in general) study these things from the inside. This is why the most profound insights into the nature of man and society are found in novels. There is more penetrating psychology in one chapter of Dostoevsky than in the entire works of Freud. George Eliot’s Middlemarch tells us more about English provincial life during the reign of Queen Victoria than all the sociological studies of Victorian society combined. In this section of our literature recommendations, we will every month spotlight a certain type of novel (e.g., political, religious, historical, etc.), giving a brief account of the best novels relating to the chosen subject. This month our spotlight is on living novelists. The discriminating reader may notice that all the recommendations are from authors born prior to World War II. This cannot be helped. The novel, as a literary form, has experienced a precipitous decline since the 1950s. Younger generations of novelists often lack ideas and have nothing to say. Many of them are brilliant writers with stupendous literary technique, but their works seem rather insignificant when compared to the great novelists of the nineteenth and early twentieth century -- all flash and no substance.
None Die of Heartbreak
In this witty, trenchant novel, Bellow tells the story of Benn Crader, a world-famous botanist and his ill-fated attempts to find love in a society rent by dysfunctional sexual mores. Bellow believes that modern society was “long supported by an unheard music which buoyed it, gave it flow, continuity, coherence. But this humanistic music has ceased, and now there is a different barbarous music welling up, and a different elemental force has begun to manifest itself, without form as yet. Do we consent to go under or do we take advantage of our freedom to search for the original self?”
It would appear that most modern individuals have chosen to “go under,” with the result that “our souls have been contaminated by their link to the body rather than strengthened by their bond to the cosmos, to God.”
“Pure love is overcome by perversity. We become fixated on the sexual members.” The title of the book comes from a remark Crader makes to a journalist. When asked about the hazards of increasing radiation due to Chernobyl, Crader replies: "It's terribly serious of course, but I think more people die of heartbreak than of radiation."
August 1914: The Red Wheel
August 1914 encompasses the first two volumes of Solzhenitsyn’s monumental The Red Wheel, a multi-volume novel depicting the history of the Russian Revolution. Solzhenitsyn transports the readers to the battlefield of Tannenberg in the early months of World War I. The Russian army’s humiliating defeat is depicted against the backdrop of the moral and spiritual decay in Russian society at large. Solzhenitsyn shows how the increasing secularization of society hastened the Bolshevik revolution and the horrors of communism.
The War of the End of the World
Thomas Carlyle once referred to South America as “a great confused phenomenon.” It’s rich history is virtually unknown to the rest of the world. One extraordinary event which deserves to be more widely known is the insurrection of Canudos, a Brazilian backwater, in the 1890s. The insurrection was inspired by a religious prophet, known merely as “the Counselor,” who scoured the backlands of Brazil converting fierce bandits, prostitutes, blasphemers and murderers into saints and warriors for Christ. After wandering for many years through the countryside, they settled in Canudos and attempted to set up a Christian society in opposition to the secular Brazilian republic. Vargas Llosa, South America’s greatest novelist, tells the story of their heroic struggle against wave after wave of Brazilian soldiers. A fierce, bloody, enthralling, and magnificent epic of religious idealism in mortal conflict with the secular state.
Bonfire of the Vanities
It is almost superfluous to recommend Wolfe’s biting satire of New York, since most readers interested in novels have probably read it. But for those that may have missed it, there is no better sociological novel of contemporary American life. No where will you find a more trenchant portrayal of the excesses of investment banking, tabloid journalism and the justice system. And Wolfe is one of the few writers of any genre who has the courage to tell the truth about race relations in America. A must-read not only for novel-readers, but for anyone who wants to understand American life.
The Good Terrorist
For more than 50 years, Lessing has been one of the most perceptive observers of human nature. In her early works, she identified herself as a political radical; but with age comes wisdom, and in The Good Terrorist, she examines the essential dysfunctionality of the New Left. It is the story of a simple but troubled young woman who, in a fit of resentment against her parents, joins a loose-knit group of lazy, shiftless, nihilistic vagabonds determined to destroy existing society. This is a powerful and chilling tale. Not since Conrad’s Under Western Eyes has the fierce hedonistic nihilism and gratuitous destructionism of the radical left been portrayed with such devastating accuracy.
Article by Greg Nyquist