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Archive for November 7th, 2008

November 7th, 2008 • Posted in Literary Criticism

A List of top Mysteries, Literary and otherwise…with one Appalling Oversight

At the end of an essay On Literature and Mystery at Sarah Weinman’s place, Kyle Minor provides a list of mystery stories that belong in the literary canon, and a list of canonical works of literature that are, at their core, mysteries. If it matters, I’ll let you decide which is which, he says (and I’ll let you guess one appalling oversight):

American Pastoral, by Philip Roth

Beloved, by Toni Morrison

Atonement, by Ian McEwan

Knockemstiff, by Donald Ray Pollock

As I Lay Dying, by William Faulkner

The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald

The Dew Breaker, by Edwidge Danticat

The Bright Forever, by Lee Martin

In the Lake of the Woods, by Tim O’Brien


The Postman Always Rings Twice, by James M. Cain

Mystic River, by Dennis Lehane

The Long Goodbye, by Raymond Chandler

The Night Gardener, by George Pelecanos

Lush Life, by Richard Price

Pop. 1280, by Jim Thompson

The Maltese Falcon, by Dashiell Hammett

The Black Dahlia, by James Ellroy

Get Shorty, by Elmore Leonard

November 7th, 2008 • Posted in Authors and Books

Graham Greene on a Writer’s Responsibilities

Via Maud Newton, from Richard Greene’s Graham Greene: A Life in Letters, Greene on the writer’s responsibility to society in a letter to V.S. Pritchett:

You remember Thomas Paine’s great apothegm, ‘we must take care to guard even our enemies against injustice,’ and it is there – in the establishment of justice – that the writer has greater opportunities and therefore greater obligations than, say, the chemist or the estate agent. For one thing he is, if he has attained a measure of success, more his own master than others are: he is his own employer: he can afford to offend; for one of the major objects of his craft (I speak, of course, of the novelist) is the awakening of sympathy. Now the State is invariably ready to confuse, like a schoolmaster, justice with retribution, and isn’t it possibly the storyteller’s task to act as the devil’s advocate, to elicit sympathy and a measure of understanding for those who lie outside the boundaries of State sympathy? But remember that it is not necessarily the poor or the physically defenseless who lie there. The publicans and sinners belong to all classes and all economic levels. It has always been in the interests of the State to restrict sympathy, to encourage cat-calls – Galilean, Papist, Crophead, Fascist, Bolshevik. In the days of the totalitarian monarchy, when a sovereign slept uneasily with the memories of Wyatt, Norfolk, Essex, in his dreams, it was an act of justice to trace the true source of action in Macbeth, the murderer of his king, and Shakespeare’s play has for all times altered our conception of the usurper….

I hope I have made it clear that I am not advocating an conscious advocacy of the dispossessed, in fact I am not advocating propaganda at all…. If we can awaken sympathetic comprehension in our readers, not only for our most evil characters (that is easy: there is a cord there fastened to all hearts that we can twitch at will), but of our smug, complacent, successful characters, we have surely succeeded in making the work of the State a degree more difficult – and that is a genuine duty we owe society, to be a piece of grit in the State machinery. However acceptable the Soviet State may at the moment find the great classic writers, Dostoevski, Tolstoy, Chehov, Turgenev, Gogol, they have surely made the regimentation of the Russian spirit…

This quote seems to have been cut off in mid sentence…but still — interesting how Greene sees the role of the novelist to be akin to that of the journalist… to comfort the afflicted and afflict the  comfortable.