Thoughtful-but-entertaining novels for the nonliterary type?
June 10, 2014 7:56 AM Subscribe
I'm teaching an introductory course on prose fiction (reading, not writing). What fun post-1900 novel should I put on the syllabus? Should be intelligent, but needn't necessarily be, you know, Literary.
posted by gallusgallus to Writing & Language (40 answers total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
The course is supposed to teach the fundamentals of thinking critically about fiction as literature-- theme, character, setting, structure, etc.-- but realistically, even at this level, I expect there to be some component of "You, too, can and should read books!" Consequently, I'm looking for a text that's fun, rewarding and not too avant-garde, but still complex enough to support discussion and serious analysis. My own fiction-reading background is overwhelmingly pre-20th-century, so I feel like I don't have a great handle on what might work in this slot. I'd gladly just assign Fielding or Dickens or Austen or whatever if I didn't think the diction and historical background stuff might be too much of a barrier to entry-- but that's the general kind of experience I'm going for: smart, but enjoyable.
More specific criteria:
--Mid-length or shorter preferred
--Relatively traditional in structure and tone; nothing too self-consciously arty or even MFA-y (in the manner, for instance, of a lot of the short fiction one sees in The New Yorker)
--Preferably not a literary warhorse, since plagiarism becomes more tempting the more essays are already out there
--Some political/ideological content is fine, but NOT an Issue Novel.
--No graphic sexual content; preferably no overwhelmingly strong sexual themes
--Genre or "popular" fiction is fine, again, as long as there's at least a week or two of class discussion and a couple term papers' worth of complexity in there.
--I've considered going the graphic-novel route, but everything I've seen seems to be (a) long, or (b) for specialized interests (superhero, scifi), or (c) turgid and Serious. If there are exceptions, please volunteer them!
On my shortlist at this point are Shirley Jackson's We Have Always Lived in the Castle and Evelyn Waugh's The Loved One. What else should I consider, Metafilter? When you were just a wee hormonal, texting-obsessed college sophomore, what would have constituted a rollicking good time in the longform fiction vein?