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  •  I vote for Melville. (4+ / 0-)

    Except for Shakespeare (not a novelist), I think he used language the most beautifully.

    The caveat is that I can read Melville in English  If I could read other great writers such as Dostoevsky in the original language, I might have a different opinion.

    •  Hard to argue but for pure language... (5+ / 0-)

      I think I'd go Nabokov (in English).

      I forget which writer (T.S. Eliot maybe?) said: "For Nabokov the English Language is a pet, which he has trained and taught to do tricks."

      Lolita of course, but my personal favorite is Pale Fire.  The structure is unlike anything else.  I mean what other book do you almost need to own two copies of in order to read?  the story is great, the language is amazing.. and half of it is poetry!

      "I was the shadow of the waxwing slain"  .... over 12 years since my last reading and I still remember the first line.

      ((and yeah... lets agree to set aside Shakespeare for this.  If we add him, I'm going full-on John Milton and will quickly become insufferable))

      Красота спасет мир --F. Dostoevsky

      by Wisper on Fri Jun 14, 2013 at 07:05:45 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Haven't read Nabokov. (3+ / 0-)

        Hopefully someday I can find the time . . .

        I'm curious about your opinion on a related topic.  When modern American authors are discussed, Hemingway is invariably mentioned, but not Steinbeck.  For my money, Steinbeck was a greater writer than Hemingway.

        I have read, "For Whom the Bell Tolls", "A Farewell to Arms", "The Sun Also Rises", and "The Old Man and the Sea", and I don't think any of them hold a candle to "The Grapes of Wrath".  It seems that Steinbeck is out of vogue for some reason, but I don't understand why.

        What do you think?

        •  Steinbeck was huge at the time - between that, and (4+ / 0-)

          his books being so much of that time, I think he got a little left behind. But before 1950, Faulkner, Fitzgerald, Hemingway and Steinbeck seem to me the big four US men.

          John dos Passos, Sherwood Anderson, Jack London, Theodore Dreiser, Sinclair Lewis, Upton Sinclair, Frank Norris, Thomas Wolfe, Erskine Caldwell, John O'Hara, Henry Miller, Richard Wright, Nathanael West, Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler were each big in their day, but few of them have stood the test of time. Some of them are magnificent, though.

          "Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth" Samuel Johnson

          by Brecht on Fri Jun 14, 2013 at 08:57:58 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  It's interesting which books stand the test time. (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Brecht, RiveroftheWest

            For example, I think "The Sea Wolf" by Jack London is a great book, far better than "Call of the Wild" or "White Fang".  "The Sea Wolf" is the one that is least remembered, however.

          •  I'm not sure what you mean (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Brecht, RiveroftheWest

            by not having stood the test of time.  All the writers you mention after your "big four" are still widely read and respected today and I imagine they will always occupy an important place in American literature.  

            It's the Supreme Court, stupid!

            by Radiowalla on Fri Jun 14, 2013 at 09:32:02 PM PDT

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            •  I was aiming for the top US novelists 1900-1950 so (3+ / 0-)

              yes, they are all respected today. They're still read, but I wouldn't say widely - just among serious readers, most of them.

              It's a question of degree. If you look at the big four, I've seen multiple novels by each of them, put out on the "suggested reading" tables at my local Barnes & Noble. I can only think of a few among the other fifteen I could say that of, and those would be the ones who are masters of their niches: Chandler, Miller & Wright.

              "Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth" Samuel Johnson

              by Brecht on Fri Jun 14, 2013 at 10:02:08 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

          •  Read frank Norris's the octopus within the last (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            RiveroftheWest, Brecht

            Year and thought it was very, very good.  All about how farmers in ca tried to form a coop in order to get better rates from the rail roads and losing.

            Made a great companion piece to night riders from the superb Robert penn warren about tobacco farmers in the south trying to organize against large buyers of tobacco in ord to get better prices and losing.

            Dreiser's American tragedy is a masterpiece.

            My apologies for replying to the tip jar.  I was rushing off the train and wanted to leave a quick post on the diary.  Didn't realize here I stopped to chat.  My phone isn't the dkos interface... Lol.

            Another outstanding diary Brecht.

            Deserves it! I daresay he does. Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement. For even the very wise cannot see all ends. - Gandalf the Grey

            by No Exit on Sun Jun 16, 2013 at 08:34:49 AM PDT

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            •  "Dreiser's American tragedy is a masterpiece." (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              No Exit, RiveroftheWest

              Yes, so very sad. Some say Sister Carrie is better (I haven't got there yet). I've also only read the one Robert Penn Warren - which bowled me over. Good to know about Frank Norris, thanks.

              Most of the outstanding in this diary came in all the fascinating comments that grew out of it. To paraphrase Falstaff, I'm not only eloquent, I'm the cause of eloquence in others. You could write a book diary someday, No Exit - you've plenty of knowledge and opinions to share.

              "Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth" Samuel Johnson

              by Brecht on Sun Jun 16, 2013 at 12:49:08 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

      •  For pure linguistic virtuosity (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        RiveroftheWest, Brecht

        I would say Henry James, especially The Portrait of a Lady.  James's novels of the 1870s and 1880s represent to me the ultimate pitch of linguistic sensitivity and psychological observation.  

        •  I agree with all you say. And he was huge for long (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          RiveroftheWest, llywrch, Youffraita

          after he wrote, among other writers and critics, seen as pre-eminent. He's fallen from favor in recent decades.

          The two strongest points against him are, he can feel cerebral, a bit anemic - he doesn't get caught up in his characters as Dickens (or even Tolstoy) would, so readers aren't always moved by his drama.

          Also, while some say his latest novels show the English language refined to perfection, more say that he got lost in his verbiage: as H. G. Wells put it, it's like an elephant trying to pick up a pea with its trunk.

          As I said, I'm closer to your view - but I think the criticisms are valid.

          "Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth" Samuel Johnson

          by Brecht on Sat Jun 15, 2013 at 12:03:54 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Taming James (3+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Brecht, RiveroftheWest, Youffraita

            Yes, I can understand the criticism as well, particularly regarding those later novels, which are formidable to the point of being involuted.  That's why I specified the works from earlier in his career, although even there the tempo indications usually range between adagio and andante.  Portrait of a Lady starts with almost daring slowness, but few novels have rewired my brain as that one did. The later works are a challenge, though. I remember that after trying to get through Wings of the Dove that reading Shakespeare was like slicing through warm butter....

            •  That's funny. I found that, after reading most of (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              RiveroftheWest, Youffraita

              Shakespeare, pretty much every book since then was like slicing through butter.

              But you can glide through the Bard, without worrying about the two-thirds you miss with your brain off; you can't get very far with James if you're not prepared to stop and ponder the subtleties and implications.

              "Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth" Samuel Johnson

              by Brecht on Sat Jun 15, 2013 at 06:08:16 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  The Elizabethan World Picture. (2+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                Brecht, RiveroftheWest

                I took Shakespeare in high school, and we read, for background, a short pb called The Elizabethan World Picture. It made Shakespeare much more comprehensible b/c you then knew some of the things he references which we no longer believe in.

                And there's nothing like an annotated version of the plays to help sort things out.

                I must say, I think Shakespeare is a whole lot easier to read than Henry James. William James, by comparison, is a font of crystal-clear prose.

                Irony takes a worse beating from Republicans than Wile E. Coyote does from Acme. --Tara the Antisocial Social Worker

                by Youffraita on Sat Jun 15, 2013 at 11:19:37 PM PDT

                [ Parent ]

                •  I spent seven years in the Shakespeare Ensemble, (2+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:
                  RiveroftheWest, Youffraita

                  in college. It was like a small, concentrated R&BLers. It was pretty wonderful: Discussing the Bard, putting on his plays, and partying with friends who cared enough to soak him up (and many other plays and books, too). Mostly we got outside directors in, so we were learning new skills and finding new angles every semester.

                  I'm ambivalent about Henry James, but very fond of William, and his writing. Henry's very good at short stories.

                  I'll have to write diaries, eventually, on Henry James and on Thomas Hardy. There is more good in both of them than most modern readers realize - a lot of people find Hardy as pointless as you do.

                  "Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth" Samuel Johnson

                  by Brecht on Sun Jun 16, 2013 at 01:01:17 PM PDT

                  [ Parent ]

                  •  It's not that I find him pointless (1+ / 0-)
                    Recommended by:

                    it's that I don't feel he's worth reading.

                    Didactic much?

                    He's the nineteenth century forerunner of Ayn Rand.

                    NOT that their political philosophies are similar: no, not at all.

                    It's that their abilities to write good prose are identical.

                    Wooden. Stilted. Horrible.

                    ...are merely a few of the adjectives that come to mind.

                    Irony takes a worse beating from Republicans than Wile E. Coyote does from Acme. --Tara the Antisocial Social Worker

                    by Youffraita on Mon Jun 17, 2013 at 01:06:36 AM PDT

                    [ Parent ]

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