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DS would like to do a unit on postmodern literature

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DS is a good reader, having finished Brother's Karamazov, Catch 22, Slaughterhouse 5, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Master and Margarita, The Luminaries, and Wolf Hall last year. He is now interested in post modern lit. I've been looking through list after list and there are really quite a lot of books in this 'category' that would not catch the eye of my 15-year old boy - stories about drug use, or divorce, or sex. My ds doesn't like depressing books (he *hated* Metamorpoisis) and so many of the post modern books are depressing! The following are the ones that I have found that seem both appropriate and interesting and I would love some advice as I have never read them:


Midnight's Children (Rushdie) 

White Noise (DeLillo)

If on a Winters Night a traveler (Calvino)

Gravity's Rainbow (Pynchon)

Man in the high castle (Dick)

Timequake (Vonnegut) 

House of Leaves (Danielewski) 

Foucaults Pendulum (Eco) 


I'm trying to highlight different aspects of post modernism.  This list includes magical realism, intertextual approaches, disorientation, self referential, etc.  But I don't really know if these books are both readable and appropriate.


Thanks for any advice!


Ruth in NZ

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It's not my favorite genre, so I'm probably not going to be a lot of help, other than to say I've read (or at least tried to read) several of those, in my youth, and while I am sure your son will get more out of them than I did, I don't think there is anything inappropriate in them, given his wide-ranging reading.


What about adding in some short stories to explore some of these themes without committing to a huge novel?


I'm thinking of Donald Bartelme & Jorge Luis Borges for example. 


Do you think he'd like 2666 by Roberto Bolano? That's been on my TR list for awhile.  


When I scan through most "essential postmodern lists" I get a list of books I have read and not gotten much out of, tried and failed to read, or keep meaning to read but not gotten around to yet.  Like I said, I'm no help!


I do really like Philip K Dick, though, and I remember enjoying both Foucault's Pendulum and The Name of the Rose by Eco

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My husband's responses (he was the lit major :) )




Midnight's Children (Rushdie) ---haven't read

White Noise (DeLillo)---haven't read

If on a Winters Night a traveler (Calvino)---love both the author and this particular book

Gravity's Rainbow (Pynchon)---"Oh dear God! Insanely dense, entirely self-referential, unreadable!"

Man in the high castle (Dick)--good book, he said he recalls a little bit of sex but not egregious amounts

Timequake (Vonnegut) ---likes Vonnegut as a general rule but hasn't read this one

House of Leaves (Danielewski) ---haven't read

Foucaults Pendulum (Eco) ---suggests this one, it's meant to be funny, parodying both postmodernism and the whole "Holy Blood, Holy Grail" conspiracy theory approach to history. It uses the tools of postmodernism to deconstruct postmodernism.


For my part:

You might want to consider "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead," a play by Tom Stoppard. We all find it very enjoyable (my daughter first watched the film version at 13 or 14 and loves it). It does require familiarity with Hamlet. I would definitely watch the film as well as read it, as they are two different experiences.


For magical realism, my daughter had to read "The Nose" by Gogol in her English class last year. It's a short story, meant to be comical. http://www.gutenberg.org/files/36238/36238-h/36238-h.htm


ETA: Amazon is doing a series based on "The Man in the High Castle." The first episode is available now, and the rest is due out in November. In our lit classes we've enjoyed taking a look at various interpretations of a work and comparing them.

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Thank guys!  Those comments were incredibly helpful.


Rose, I really like the idea of the short stories.  And I agree, that postmodern books are not my cup of tea (I have only read The Invisible Man by Ellison and Heart of Darkness and did not like either).  But back in November when we had the big brainstorm on the accelerated board for books for this boy, someone recommended If on a winter's night a traveler and The New York Trilogy (forgot to put that one on the list above). So last week we were going over the big list, reading summaries, talking about what he might like next etc, he got really interested in those 2 books, especially once he realized they were post modern, which apparently sounded cool to him.  Reading up on postmodern we realized that both Catch 22 and Vonnegut's books are considered post modern (I know, big unclear category), and he liked both of those, so he thought he would try some more and make a study of it.  But then I went looking.  Ug is all I can say.  There are some really terrible post modern books out there and I don't want to turn him off of an entire category with a first book, so I want to get it right.  For all I know, he may love them; he is weird that way. (-:  Perhaps, short stories are the way to go.  He can put his foot in.  What would be really nice is a post modern collection of short stories by different authors so he could get a feel for the range of styles that are classified vaguely as post modern.  I wonder if a collection like that exists.  I do have The Art of the Short Story, so I will go look in there....


Karen, please tell your dh thanks!  I'm glad to know that Gravity's Rainbow is a big fat NO. DS has read Name of the Rose and really liked it, and dh has read Foulcaults Pendulum and was the one to suggest it, so might go with that one.


So adjusted list: 


If on a Winters Night a traveler (Calvino)

Man in the high castle (Dick)

Timequake (Vonnegut) 

Foucaults Pendulum (Eco) 

Play: Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead (Stoppard) +Hamlet

Short Story: The Nose (Gogol)

Short stories by Donald Bartelme & Jorge Luis Borges 



Still need opinions on these:

Midnight's Children (Rushdie)

White Noise (DeLillo)

The New York Trilogy (Auster)

House of Leaves (Danielewski) 

2666 (Bolano)

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For background understanding of what is postmodern literature, I found this series of slides by R. Sibley of University of Warwick, and the Wikipedia article on Postmodern Literature to be helpful. As you already noted in your second post in this thread, postmodern is a very "mushy" literary movement to define, with a number of major branches, each focusing on a single aspect… 😉

Techniques include: fragmentation, paradox, unreliable narrator, and the use of pastiche ("pasting together" of other styles), and self-reflexivity (meta-fiction) -- referring to itself within the work, or acknowledging within the work that it is a work of fiction, or, referencing *other* works of literature.

You also already mentioned that postmodernism is heavily "inter-textual" (referencing, playing off of, or building on other texts and works of literature) meta-fiction). Also frequent is a heavy use of "the ironic stance"; sometimes that comes out more as "black humor," or in lighter works, as playfulness.

Some works can border into surrealism, dystopianism, magical realism, or other "movements".

The "worldview" or philosophy of postmodernism tends to overlap a lot with concepts in existentialism, and at times even nihilism or absurdism -- as a result, postmodernism is very much "deconstructionist" (there is no inherent or author-constructed / intended meaning, themes, or big ideas in the work; any meaning (etc.) comes from whatever -- if anything -- each individual reader finds / constructs / brings to the work.

JMO: a Lit. study that focuses heavily on one particular segment of postmodern literature, could potentially result in negative consequences for a young reader. Again, JMO, but teens/early 20s is a time when the brains and emotions of young people are still developing, and a heavy, prolonged focus on the potentially depressive mindset that is often a part of postmodern works (purposelessness, hopelessness, valuelessness) can have a negative effect of a sensitive personality and thinking brain.

Not a big fan of postmodern works that point towards existential meaninglessness here, so I had a hard time coming up with some ideas for you.

Of your original post list, the only work I had personal experience with is If On A Winter's Night. (Calvino). As with all of Calvino, it is well-written. This work is more self-reflexive and self-referential than any of his other works. It also has a few scenes of more direct s*x -- most of the rest of Calvino, s*x is more implied, and more often takes an indirect form of male longing rather than actual acts. It's been many years since I read it, but I *think* a mature older teen would be fine with If On A Winter's Night. Just wanted to give you a "heads-up" about mature content. If you think it would be more than what DS would be comfortable with, you might try another Calvino work, such as Cosmi-Comics (short story collection), which is a very accessible starting point for Calvino.


Post Modern works I've seen on high school lists that might be possibilities (no personal experience with these):

- Metamorphosis (Kafka) -- from your original post, NOT a fit for your DS
- Slaughterhouse Five (Vonnegut) 
-- from your original post, DS already read it
- Catch 22 (Heller) -- from your original post, DS already read it
- Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close (Foer) -- coming to grips with aftermath of the 9-11 attacks
- Watchmen (Moore & Gibbons) -- a comicbook/graphic novel 

Agreeing with the previous poster's suggestion of Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead -- you might also consider reading Hamlet first and discuss Hamlet from a post-modern point of view, even though it was written centuries before post-modern came around. 🙂

A few lighter works to balance out the potentially dispiriting quality of some of the other postmodern works on your original list:

Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde (this is the futuristic / lightly dystopic work -- NOT the s*x exploration novel that sparked the recent movie), or Fforde's Eyre Affair (first of his Thursday Next series) -- even lighter postmodern work, with a humorous tone.

Another idea: Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency (Douglas Adams) -- humorous, and flirts at the edges of postmodern rather than going all-in, but this work could be a very helpful balancing work. William Goldman's The Princess Bride also dances on the edge of postmodern literature, and might work for your DS.

Not light or humorous, and it borders on surreal, but if you're looking for more short stories, "Schrödinger's Cat" by Ursula Le Guin might work.

BEST of luck as you create a balanced postmodern lit. course! Warmest regards, Lori D.

Since DS has already moved into starting some postmodern works (Catch 22, Slaughterhouse Five), you might continue on through with a few more works, and go on into post-postmodern and contemporary works. That would allow you to not get sucked into a whirlpool of postmodern depression (LOL!), and would also allow you to move on into works by Neal Stephenson (some of his works do have s*x scenes, though usually not graphic), China Mevielle (preview) -- and contemporary works like Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close (Foer), The Curious Incident of the Dog In The Nighttime (Haddon) -- and alternate history works such as The Yiddish Policeman's Union (Chabon) and Jonathon Strange and Mr. Norrell (Clarke), Mr.  Penumbra's  24-Hour Bookstore (Sloan), and Ready Player One (Cline), etc.

Edited by Lori D.
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A couple works that caught my eye on the Wikipedia list were sci fi works like Neuromancer and Snow Crash. Dh really liked Cryptonomicon, which wasn't on the list but probably fits. Diamond Age is another good one.

Station Eleven has the fragmented narrative and point of view shifts but isn't as hopeless as some other novels.

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Thanks so much for the feedback, Lori and Sebastian.  I agree that there is a certain subcategory of post-modern that ds should skip, and I think wants to skip.  


It seems that ds has read quite a few post modern books without us realizing it:

Catch 22

Slaughterhouse 5

Cat's Cradle (Vonnegut)


Name of the Rose



Great Gatsby 

Some short stories by Gogol


He did not like Metamorpasis at all, and was kind of eh about Great Gatsby, but he loved the others.  So I think we are good to keep trying in the genre as long as we avoid the hopelessness sub-genre.


So right now I'm thinking


Foucaults Pendulum, House of Leaves, Man in the high castle, and The New York Trilogy.  


I've done some research and unfortunately If on a winters night a traveler has quite a large sexual content. House of leaves also has sex but it is not central to the story so easier to skip/gloss over.  I will look at all the other suggestions!  



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I tend to love modern/post-modern/surreal/magical realist books.


Love If on a Winter's Night a Traveler. I'd recommend it. I don't remember sex being any more a theme than, say, as it was in Slaughterhouse-Five.


Vonnegut is a huge favorite of mine. I remember loving Timequake, but it has been many years since I've read it.


I did post on your other thread on the main board (so there are some fun, 'spooky' suggestions there), but I'll toss out some modern type books that would be ones he might like:


The Story of My Teeth by Valeria Luiselli

The Way Through Doors by Jesse Ball (or Silence Once Begun by him)

Mr. Fox by Helen Oyeyemi

All Men are Liars by Alberto Manguel


I have many more to post, but will need to come back later. I've got to run somewhere now. I'm so excited to find someone who enjoys similar reading!!!


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Thanks Stacia for the extra recommendations! Do you have any favorite magical realism books?  DS loved Master and Margarita, and is interested in another, but when I went looking at all the South American ones, they seemed pretty depressing.  He seems to like all things post-modern *except* depressing.  :tongue_smilie:


Ruth in NZ

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*If on a winter's night is AMAZING. But yes, much s*x. 


I'm wondering if Atwood (specifically Handmaid's Tale, but s*x features) or Roth (The Plot Against America swings out of the family/marriage/depressing dynamic you said DS didn't prefer) would fit on this list. 


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(FYI, my post includes books from the magical realism, surrealism, post-modern, etc... categories. I haven't really subdivided them all, but just kind of lump them all into 'modern'.)


I loved The Master and Margarita too. I think that one could have an entire college course dedicated to it!


As far as South American magical realism, of course Gabriel Garcia Marquez is the big name. One Hundred Years of Solitude is worth reading (I like it but don't love it); personally, I hated his book Love in the Time of Cholera (& it probably would not appeal to a 15yo guy). If your son has made it through The Master & Margarita, he can easily do One Hundred Years of Solitude. I had read somewhere that an influence on his work was actually the Mexican book Pedro Paramo by Juan Rulfo. It is a creepy book (mostly ghosts in this story), imo, but might be worth a visit if you are going to delve into magical realism. I am glad I read it even though I can't say that I actually enjoyed it. Isabel Allende is another author to try, perhaps The House of the Spirits (but, again, I'm not sure how much this particular book would appeal to a 15yo guy). I read that one so many years ago that I really just have faint memories of it; I do remember enjoying it.


If you're going to explore modern works like this, I think you have to include something by Japanese author Haruki Murakami. Personally, I love Kafka on the Shore (somewhat of a variation on the Oedipus story), but he has many to choose from. A Wild Sheep Chase is another interesting one of his, imo. Murakami's works (at least all the ones I've read) do have frank & straightforward sex scenes in them, though, if that is a consideration.


I'd also highly, highly recommend an Angolan book, The Book of Chameleons by Jose Eduarado Agualusa. I love this book.


For sheer fun, read Borges and the Eternal Orangutans by Luis Fernando Verissimo.


The Book of Embraces by Eduardo Galeano. Since your ds likes Vonnegut & modern works, I think he will enjoy this one.


Tom McCarthy's C is wonderful; Remainder is also very good, but chilling.


Jonathan Carroll is a writer who seems to be underknown, imo. My favorite book of his is Sleeping in Flame.


For something quite different, try The Raw Shark Texts by Steven Hall. 


A modern/noir version of a western: The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt (which was nominated for a Man Booker prize); I definitely enjoyed this one even though it is fairly violent & is (I think) the only western I've ever read.


There are just so many great modern books out there. As you can tell, it's hard for me to limit my recommendations to just a few! (I could add even more..., lol!)


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I considered Handmaiden's Tale.  I was at Duke when it was filmed and remember the oopse moment.  The chapel grounds are booked separately from the inside of the chapel, so imagine the wedding party's dismay when they came out of the chapel's front doors to the hanging scene.   :eek:   But I do think that that book is actually *about* sex and control of sex, kind of like Brave New World.  DS is good with sex being referenced or even having a decent scene or two (1984, Luminaries with the prostitutes), so I'm trying to figure out if 'if like a winters night a traveler' is *about* sex or is only referring to sex.  I still can't tell, and I'm not so keen to read it first!


I'll look into Roth.  Thanks!



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I never know how to respond... much like Gene Wolfe's quip that magical realism is fantasy written in Spanish... PoMo to me is post war capital-L literature written in French. Or maybe I should reflex back to Justice Potter Stewart's "I know it when I see it." standard.


Anyway. If you want intertextual, meta-fiction like "House of Leaves" :


S.[1][2] by J.J. Abrams and Doug Dorst is a fascinating cultural artifact that starts with a physical, antiqued meta novel with liner notes and other distinct physical ephemera like notes on napkins.


The "Griffin and Sabine"[3][4] trilogy could be described as an artistic, epistolary novel made up of post cards... very cool.


[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/S._%28Dorst_novel%29

[2] http://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/the-story-of-s-talking-with-j-j-abrams-and-doug-dorst


[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Griffin_and_Sabine

[4] http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0877017883

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