I’ve been a bookseller for a long time. I’ve seen a lot of books come and go. There are some great ones out there. And there are some not so great ones. The really great ones last tens, twenties, thirties of years. Hundreds of years. Sometimes thousands. The ones that are not so good…well they fade away.
And today, in the ebook era, sometimes they don’t just fade away. They don’t even register.
The classics, though – they have a reputation that is earned. They’ve got clout. To the point where an imprint like, say, Penguin Classics might publish them. Take a look at this, for example: It’s Don Quixote, under the Penguin Classics banner.
Isn’t that classy? That black strip at the bottom, under that white strip in the middle, with that artwork up top? Doesn’t that bespeak of quality? Sure it does. Cervantes wrote in the 1500s, and his book is still around. Don Quixote, some say, is the novel that begat all novels. No doubt it’s a classic. Here is another Penguin classic:
How about that one, eh? Is that a classic or what? Do you have the stones to say that Paradise Lost is not a classic, and therefore not fit to be published under the brand of Penguin Classics? I doubt it. Not many people do. Not many people have even read it. I sure haven’t. So that disqualifies most of us. Here’s another:
Now this one I read recently for the first time, and let me tell you, I learned more about the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl and what it means to be an “Okie” than I ever learned in a history class. I also learned that fiction at its best can be entertaining, enraging, and enlightening, all on one page. And that no matter what part of the country you are from, if you are poor you say “somepin,” not “something.” Just kidding about that last bit. But Steinbeck seems to think so. Anyway, definitely a classic, that one. Now look at this one:
Here is a classic that is rarely questioned. I read this one – not recently, but in highschool. I didn’t mind reading it, but I didn’t see what the big deal was. There was no unrequited love in it – as far as I recall – like there was in The Scarlet Letter, which I liked a lot. It had plenty of unrequited love. Ditto The Great Gatsby. I don’t know how any high school kid likes any book that doesn’t deal with unrequited love. But I remember almost nothing else about Huck Finn except that the N bomb was dropped quite a bit. Now, the N bomb was used quite a bit in Django Unchained, too, and that is no classic. In Huck Finn, there was something about a raft. The raft was supposed to be a metaphor for life, or some such. There were no metaphors in Django Unchained.
Here is a tough call:
David Foster Wallace is a modern-day literary hero to many. I don’t really have a problem with this book getting the Penguin Classics treatment, since its author is deceased, like the rest of those in the Penguin canon, and it is highly regarded, like the rest of the books in the Penguin canon. But I do raise one eyebrow at it simply because it seems a bit early to canonize it. I think it needs more time. Those others have stood the test of time. I’ve not read this book, I must admit. Nor have I read the one below:
And now we come to my point. My real problem. The thing that upsets me. I’m bothered by the fact that the lead singer of The Smiths wrote an autobiography, number one. Number two, I’m bothered that he asked for it to be published as a Penguin Classic. Yes, apparently this is something he himself pushed for.
Come to think of it, that alone bothers me quite a bit.
But what bothers me the most is … can you guess?
If you guessed that Penguin Classics actually published Morrissey’s book as a Penguin Classic, you win.
Cervantes, Milton, Twain, (the) Bronte(s), Steinbeck, Gogol, Dante, Shakespeare, Baudelaire, Darwin, Tolstoy, Plato…to this noble lineage we now add, apparently, I guess, Morrissey.
Am I wrong about this? I don’t think I am. But let me know if I am. I don’t think I am.
Here’s a bit of Morrissey name-dropping famous writers. I don’t think it qualifies him to be part of the canon, though.