Okay, all you happy kulturkampfers, you started down the path to intellectual awareness with "Discovering the Classics". Remember how, just minutes ago, you ruddy cheeked lads and lasses ran off, eager to organize your book group? Problem is, being quick studies, now you've read all the texts I recommended, so you're lost and hungry for further guidance into the world of the Greats. Well, look no further. Stick with me, read these works and you'll have more culture than a petri dish before you can say...
Son of Discovering the Classics
So you've got some experience with profundity under your belt. You are on the way to acquiring a sleek, suntanned brain. But up till now, you've been doing the English thing--reading works in the Mother Tongue. Why not then switch into Italian mode with Bocaccio's Decameron.
Bocaccio, of course, was the disciple of American Civil War photographer Matthew Brady. An Italian who immigrated to the U.S. in 1850, Bocaccio met Brady as the latter was beginning to establish a national reputation. Bocaccio soon distinguished himself as a perceptive pupil and understudy in Brady's studio. (It was Bocaccio who coined the phrases, "Watcha de birdie," "Cheesa," and "You breaka my camera, I breaka you face.") Eventually Brady came to regard Bocaccio as "the son I never had": a term bitterly resented by the Brady Bunch (as his sons Cady, Grady, Hades, Shady and Marcia were known). At last, mortally wounded at Fredericksburg, Brady commissioned Bocaccio to write the "summa photographica" that he would not live to complete. This Bocaccio did, in his Decameron (Italian for "The Camera").
Then its time to lend an ear to The Confessions of Augustine, the notorious roman a clef (written by Andrew Greeley under one of his many pseudonyms) that digs up dirt on the Vatican, the CIA, the Institute for Creation Spirituality, Beverly Hills 90210, and Microsoft, among others. It's all here in numerological code: the ugly facts behind the Bill Gates/Matthew Fox arms deal with the unholy Iraqi/Rain Forest Exploitation Co. of Sao Paolo/Satanic Textbooks of America secret triad; the hideous chronicle of corruption in the hitherto unpublished chapter, "Picture This: Brenda, Brandon, and Bocaccio"; and, of course, the real story of just what happened the night Cardinal Ratzinger and Jack Chick decided to "have it out" after the big party at Liz' Malibu bungalow--a vendetta which resulted in the UFO abduction of Elvis, the Jim and Tammy quagmire, and the bus crash which nearly claimed the life of Gloria Estefan. Of course, only readers equipped with the properly tuned decoder rings (available from Youth Specialities, Inc. for only $29.95) can discern "Augustine's" true meaning behind the bland prose of a supposed "1500 year old religious meditation." Nonetheless, the rewards for a determined and truly discerning reader are there.
Next, it's on to Thucydides' History of the Peloponnesian War. Thucydides was the great Greek historian (featured, by the way, as a major character in Aristophanes' classic comedy, I Love Thucy) who traced the rise and fall of the Greeks from their humble beginnings as impoverished frat members eking out a bare existence as T.A.s for Plato and Aristotle. Thucydides charts the course of Hellenistic history through the heady Golden Era of excess under mu nu economics to Greece's subjugation by Alexander the Grape (whose cry "I came, I saw, I concord" remains a source of much ferment to this day). Alexander, true to his name, forced the Greeks into slavery in the legendary wine pits of Peloponneseus--a place so terrible that the "perils of Peloponneseus" have passed into proverb.
Which reminds me, raise a glass to Voltaire's Candide. This is the Philosophe's classic diatribe against the pernicious influence of English sugar upon the purity of French gustatory passion. Voltaire (the 18th Century inventor of French bread, French dressing, French fries and French's Mustard) is at the height of his powers as he rallies the Parisian intelligentsia to resist "every candide yam, candide apple and candide-coated popcorn, peanut and prize the English dogs throw at us!" Instead he urges France to drink wine, "the Fruit of the Earth and the elixir of Nature!"
The book, needless to say, was both wildly popular and deeply influential on the course of French history. Within weeks of its publication, a mob of inebriated and hypoglycemic Parisians were spurred to fanatical Revolutionary fervor by Marie Antoinette's comment "Let them eat cake" (which was originally intended as an advertising endorsement for the fledgling English baking firm of Duncan Hines.) Within a week, Marie found herself a foot shorter, the Reign of Terror had begun and the term sucre bleu ("sugar blues") had been coined.
Which brings us to Thomas More's Utopia. Acclaimed a classic almost immediately, More's book was on the cutting edge of 16th century social thought. Unfortunately More's neck wound up on the cutting edge of Henry VIII's social thought.
"Mercy!" you exclaim, "Such gore! Must classic literature abound with heads in baskets and torsos in tea chests? What's next? Missing limbs in the conservatory?"
Say! That reminds me of our next book: Ernest Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms. Farewell, as every high school student knows, is Hemingway's novelized life of the young Dan Quayle. Originally titled A Fairway to Arms, it is a powerful antiwar statement chronicling the future former Vice President's struggle to channel his primal urge to violence into a life-affirming improvement of his golf swing while serving in the Indiana National Guard in the late 60's. The novel (ghost-written by Hemingway in 1972)was the focus (after the Christmas bombings) of both critical raves (e.g. Rev. William Sloan Coffin's famous New York Times Book Review "Ernest Saves Christmas.") and critical savaging (e.g. the proto-Moral Majority's polemical tract "A Falwell to Arms").
After this, go on to what many critics call "the funniest book in the canon of psychologically shattering and incredibly long Russian novels", Fyodor Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov. Considered unreadable and baffling by the critics of its day, recent scholarship has discovered this perception was largely due to Dostoevsky's double handicap of 1) an inability to write in English and 2) a tendency to use "funny letters like backward "R's" and stuff when he spelled" (Source: Encyclopedia Brittanica). As an experiment, (now that you have read Hemingway) your group may want to apply the minimalist standards of literary composition in order to critique this progenitor of the modern novel. How? Just do what Hemingway would have done. Ask: The Brothers Karamazov, good book or bad book? Read it. Talk about it. Decide. Eat cheese. Get drunk. Get blown up by a German shell. Go to the hospital. Marry a dame. Lose her in the tumult of war. Find her. Hold her while she dies. Go to a bullfight.
And last but not least, check out Charles Williams' War in Heaven. The novel, in a fashion similar to This Present Darkness, recounts the struggles of a crack team of guardian angels-sent to earth to prevent a satanic takeover, the decay of morals and the bad reception of the 700 Club. In a series of thrilling vignettes it dramatically portrays the sinister network of dark influences at work behind bar coding, Constance Cumbey, skate boarders, herbal tea, The Door, Proctor and Gamble, Foucault's pendulum, Darwinism, Sojourners, Chick publications and Oliver Stone. It all comes to a spellbinding climax involving Pee Wee Herman, Rush Limbaugh and the forces of darkness and light locked in combat for control of the Missouri Lutheran Synod, Heritage USA and the marketing rights for Snapple.
Well, that oughta do you till the next time we plunge into the profound. And remember the wisdom of Groucho Marx: "Outside of a dog, a book is man's best friend. Inside of a dog, it's too dark to read."
Copyright 2001 - Mark P. Shea