When a Classic Goes to Pot

A Farewell to Arms and The Snows of Kilimanjaro and other Stories by Ernest Hemingway; Babylon Revisited and Other Stories by F. Scott Fitzgerald; The Rainbow and Sons and Lovers by D.H. Lawrence. All paperback editions by Scribner, Penguin or Signet.

Looking over the shelves at the dump, I always experience a tinge of shock upon seeing a classic. It is like seeing a man you admired and looked up to now fallen on hard times, wasting away in a seedy bar trying to cadge drinks. Or it is like coming across a once innocent and virginal young woman working the waterfront for a few bucks. In both cases the impulse arises to rescue them, to save them, to redeem them. Likewise I have to fight the urge to take all these fallen classics home with me. If I did I would have quite a collection of literary Modernism.

I have a theory on why Hemingway and Fitzgerald always end up at the dump. It has nothing to do with their legendary drinking. Instead it is an act of vengeance on the part of thousands of teenagers, who have Papa and Fitz stuffed down their gullet and they resent it. They want to read Twilight, which really should be at the dump. In any case, you can always find a copy of Old Man and the Sea at the dump in the summer, along with other literary pearls, namely The Pearl by John Steinbeck and The Good Earth by Pearl Buck. When I was in school I wanted to put those two books in the dump for sure, and a quarter of a century later, I strongly feel they belong there.

You almost never see Faulkner at the dump. If my theory is correct, that is because Faulkner does not get assigned much in high school, maybe you’ll see a copy of As I Lay Dying or the 3 Stories collection that features The Bear. If you see them, rescue them; Faulkner does not deserve the same fate as Hemingway and Fitzgerald. If I had to rank them from best to worst, it would be as follows: the drunk from the South, the drunk who ate a shotgun, and the drunk buried by the Rockville Maryland Metro stop. To my mind, Faulkner’s run from 1929 to 1936 is unparalleled in American Literature: The Sound and the Fury, As I Lay Dying, Sanctuary, Light in August, Pylon, Absalom!, Absalom!, plus the These 13 short story collection. Pylon can crash and burn in the dump. Likewise Faulkner’s efforts as a poet: The Marble Faun and A Green Bough belong in the hopper with the Sear Roebuck catalog. In fact I would go so far as to say, that the only more impressive stretch in literary history is Shakespeare from 1597 to 1605: basically Henry IV, Parts I and II through to King Lear and MacBeth. Troilus and Cressida stands out as the possible contender for the trash, but even that play has made a comeback in the 20th Century.

Why is D.H. Lawrence so often in the trash? Quite simply because he is dirty and filthy, but he is really in the trash because he is ultimately much too clean. Let me explain. You have to understand that the literary offerings at the dump in all cases derive in some manner from the baby boomer generation. Their parents were the Greatest Generation, lived through the Depression and did not throw anything away. The baby boomers are children of excess and plenty and have no concept of saving, they just produce to excess. Hence trash. D.H. Lawrence introduced baby boomer to sex, particularly Lady Chatterley’s Lover. Lady Chatterley likes to hang out with the rough trade paperback. Now anybody who has read Lawrence hoping to jerk off (and I was one) will tell you it is boring, hairy, earthy shit. What you need is some good airbrushed and implanted trash like Jackie Collins’ Hollywood Wives. Tons and tons of baby boomers bought Lawrence hoping to masturbate and years later remembering their frustration they now throw their copies of Lawrence in the trash, where all obscene literature belongs.

You might feel that Hemingway, Fitzgerald and Lawrence have gotten a bad rap and that they do not belong in the dump. Fine. Who does? For me, J.D. Salinger, Harper Lee and Truman Capote all belong in the garbage. In fact, you can throw any writer who published frequently in The New Yorker in the 1950s into there as well. John Cheever, John O’Hara, John Hersey. All the Johns from the 1950s as a matter of fact. Even John Kerouac of The Town and the City can go; I’ll hold on to everything by Jack though.



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