| David Gane

Perfect Beach Reading

One of my favourite course syllabuses of all time is David Foster Wallace’s English 102-Literary Analysis: Prose Fiction Fall ’94.

Here are the books you had to buy for the class:

  • Mary Higgins Clark, Where Are the Children?
  • Jackie Collins, Rock Star
  • James Ellroy, The Big Nowhere
  • Thomas Harris, Black Sunday
  • Thomas Harris, The Silence of the Lambs
  • Stephen King, Carrie
  • C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
  • Larry McMurtry, Lonesome Dove

The goal of the course is to show “some ways to read fiction more deeply, to come up with more interesting insights on how pieces of fiction work, to have informed intelligent reasons for liking or disliking a piece of fiction…”

He goes on to say, “If the course works, we’ll end up being able to locate some rather sophisticated techniques and/or themes lurking below the surface of novels that, on a quick read on airplane or beach, look like nothing but entertainment, all surface.”

The cheap, mass-market paperback is often dismissed. However, it requires craft to make writing that pulls a reader in and keeps them turning the page. As Elmore Leonard said, “If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.”

I don’t mind a book that challenges you and asks you to work. But I also love the book that works hard for you, draws you in, and keeps you turning the pages.

To me, a well-written piece of popular fiction is like a good host. It invites you in, makes you feel comfortable, and has hopefully worked its ass off so you don’t notice the dead body in the corner—until of course the moment is right.

(Photo by: Yaoqi LAI)

Tags: Teaching, Writing

Leave a comment