March 9, 2010

On Armadillo: A Novel, by William Boyd

How does one make it into the canon? I've been thinking about this recently. It was set at some point and now there must be a petition to get your works in, like some sort of penitent in Kafka's Castle. I think there is some sort of bias teachers and professors carry over into their own teaching. While some are open to letting in new works, it helps if you represent some sort of politics of difference. I hate to rail against inclusion, but if it is inclusion at the exclusion of others, it doesn't make sense.

Case in point: I've been assigned _Things Fall Apart _ twice for classes. The only other book that I have been assigned more than once is _A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man_. I like Joyce. The other book just isn't that good. As a historical document it is interesting, but as a novel, not so much.

My favorite writers are almost all excluded from the canon, or at least in 6 years of literature study they were not taught or were touched on only ephemerally in classes. These writers include: Calvino, G. Greene, Orwell, Dostoevsky, Camus, Nabokov, and Vonnegut. For whatever reason; subject matter, gender, lack of writing in English originally, working through and creating books after the second world war, they were ignore in my schooling. I avoided being forced to read 1984 in high school. I picked it up off an ex-girlfriend and it became one of my favorite books, that I have read and re-read over time.

And this is a discipline where you can get a doctorate writing about comic books. I have no problem with comic books. I also have no problem with studying foundational texts. It important to give everyone a common ground to start a cultural conversation from. I know the plays of Shakespeare, or at least I have his complete works on a shelf. Most 'educated' people have some reference point from his plays. You know: Hamlet was indecisive; Jews are evil; Black guys fall in love with statues; and so on. Who cares if most of his material existed somewhere else? Whole scenes are lifted in what would be called today plagiarism if he didn't obtain the rights. Cross reference Richard III with Bacon's prose history of the same man.

Somehow though, this has lead into contemporary works. The latest author I had the chance to study was Delillo. The cutoff point for male authors must be around 1990. I had to 'discover' David Foster Wallace on my own. The sad thing is that you get a much richer, fuller experience if you read a book communally. For me, having to prepare for a class as your reading a text makes me engage with it much more fully and on a deeper level. I've missed that with much contemporary anglophone fiction.


I only bought the book because of a blurb about it in the back of another book. I though the plot sounded interesting, so I bought it on a whim. I'm glad I did, for I found another writer I need to read everything written by the writer in a short span of time. This is also what I'm doing with two other contemporary British novelist. They've been publishing for twenty or so years, and somehow I failed to ever hear about these Booker-Prize nominated writers. And they're good storytellers, not like Coteze where he's a shit storyteller but can write elegant and beautiful sentences. These three writers are Julian Barnes, William Boyd, and Martin Amis. All three clever elegant writers addressing issues that are relevant today. If I think hard, I can remember one reference to Barnes's _Flaubert's Parrot_ by a creative writing professor. Thank you Gail Galloway Adams. I'm just going to say it. They're screwed because they're all three white males.

The book concerns one Lorimer Black and a very bad couple of weeks he has. Buy it, its good.