Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Top Ten

My ongoing dialogue with my English professor of 4 decades ago has revealed that his attitude toward modern literature is much the same as mine toward modern music.  We both seems to think the best stuff was written a while ago.

Growing up my sole musical interest was in classical music.  I didn’t watch American Bandstand.  I didn’t know how to do the mashed potato or any of the current dances.  When I became a teenager, it became increasingly obvious that unless I wanted to seem like a freak, I had better make an effort to at least become familiar with popular music.  So one summer while I painted the interior of our house, I listened to the radio and learned the lyrics of what was popular at the time.  That would have been things like “Hey, Mister Tambourine Man”, “Hot Town Summer in the City”, and “I’m a Believer”.

Then I was really introduced to The Beatles when someone I admired loaned me the Sergeant Pepper album. Their music appealed to me in a way nothing had before.  It was a healthy combination of happy and sad that ran through songs like “Norwegian Wood”, “Yesterday”, and “Strawberry Fields Forever”.  I bought every Beatles album I could get my hands on.

But then my interest in popular music pretty much stopped.  I just couldn’t find anyone who could equal The Beatles and they had broken up.

To this day I remember a few popular songs -- like “Hey Jude”, “Red Rubber Ball”, and “Strangers in the Night” -- because they remind me of the people I was with when I first heard them.

But today when I am in my car, it’s always classical music that entertains me.

I happened to ask my former professor what he was reading these days.  In his opinion the last really great authors were Faulkner, Hemingway, Updike, Fitzgerald, PennWarren, Porter, and Cather.  Tony Morrison is the only contemporary author to whom he gives any credit.

I happen to disagree with him on this one.  So I sent him a reading list of some of my favorite book club reads over the past 12 years:

Sacred Hunger by Barry Unsworth
The Sunflower by Simon Wiesenthal
Chronicle of a Death Foretold by Grabriel Garcia Marquez
Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner
The Magus by John Fowles
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark haddon
When Nietzsche Wept by Irvin Yalom
The Book of Illusions by Paul Auster
Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson
Atticus by Ron Hansen

These are certainly not all “modern” authors, but they are for the most part more current than his list.

This exchange reminded me how easy it is to get stuck in a place where we feel comfortable, not recognizing that new talent is being born every day in literature, music, and all the other arts. 

I will be curious to see how he reacts to this list and whether he goes to the library to find some of these books.

Meanwhile maybe I should listen to some of today’s music and see if there is anything that speaks to me.


Blogger Steve said...

I think it's natural to have your sensibilities shaped during your formative years, and it's hard to continue evolving beyond that. I don't really listen to modern music anymore, but every once in a while I hear something that's worth downloading from iTunes.

The tough one for me is painting and visual arts. I don't really know or appreciate any current painters or visual artists -- all the ones I like are dead!

3:49 PM  
Blogger Kristin said...

I like do classics but there's always room for something new - authors, music, conversations with old friends.

10:22 PM  
Blogger edward said...

i like classical music

6:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think it's healthy to try out the extremes of things (e.g., one's tastes in an art form), so that when your internal pendulum settles -- or, continues to swing -- you have a confident sense of your own personal tastes. We change as we grow older; why not our preferences in art forms? During my twenties I didn't like most jazz recorded after 1940; that changed, dramatically. For me part of the fun of growing older is discovering and growing into new loves, and feeling the old ones shape-shift into something else.


10:41 PM  

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