Writers are usually compelled by a sense of urgency. They wouldn’t do what they do unless they thought the public needed to hear what they had to say ASAP. Sometimes the relationship between an author and society can become strained when writers finds themselves coming up short on nice things to say about their culture. As a general rule, people don’t like to be crticized, and they don’t like it when people complain too much. So it’s no wonder certain novels were branded overly-cynical in their day. However, with the benefit of hindsight, we may find that some of these writers were onto something that the general public hadn’t yet picked up for themselves.
Dostoyevsky and his literary compatriot, Leo Tolstoy, had very similar life paths. They spent much of their careers railing against Existentialism and the corrosive effect of Western European thought on Russian society. Both eventually converted to Christianity, after years spent lost in the dark wood of French philosophy. Notes from Underground can be seen as a cautionary tale about a man who has taken existentialism to a dangerous extreme, as he lives a life of bitter solitude, and is generally unable to forge human connection. Philosophers coincidentally began predicting the decline of the Christian era around this time. Whether you think this was a good thing, Dostoyevsky is here to tell you Existentialism was a terrible replacement.
Now considered to be one of the best books written in the English language, this legendary American novel received surprisingly lukewarm critical reception upon its initial release. The general public did not come around to the book until WWII, after Fitzgerald had already died. If only he could see the book’s tremendous influence for himself. The novel is a unapologetic critique of American lust, decadence, and desire in 1920’s Manhattan. As the old cliche goes: the best books are wise and informative in any era. It’s hard to think of a book exemplifies this better than The Great Gatsby, as its commentary on the death of the American dream seems more relevant today than ever.
Let’s face it. There was no way people were going to take kindly to this one. Often misread as a biting screed against censorship, Bradbury’s novel is actually an elaborate grouse against Television’s stranglehold on the public imagination. It’s downright impossible for a novelist to come up with a measured way to say, “Intellectualism is dying, and you should listen to me because I’m a writer.” The best way to say it is to just say it. Bradybury is staunchly anti-technology, and blames declining interest in reading on its rapid proliferation. Luckily for him, millennials may have listened, and are currently outreading older generations.
People have been trying to get this book off the shelves for as long as it has been on the shelves. The controversial 1985 novel is one of the most banned books in American history, as it has faced unending criticism from the Religious right, and concerned parents of high schoolers who are offended by the book’s sexually explicit passages. It’s a tough book to pin down. It’s about Feminism, but not exactly pro Feminism. It takes place in a kind of matriarchal dystopia, where the sexuality of women is constantly policed and suppressed by the elites of society. Whatever your politics, it’s hard to deny the resonance of Atwood’s vision, as she warns of the slippery slope that tyranny can be.
It’s impossible to talk about foreshadowing books without talking about 1984. For many, George Orwell was the ultimate canary in the coal mine for issues like censorship, surveillance, and political correctness. Orwell saw through the insidious tactics of oppressive governments, used to get the general public to toe the party line without even realizing it. Phrases like “Orwellian” and “Big Brother” are very much in vogue amongst intellectuals concerned with surveillance and censorship, which proves the book has become a touchstone for such topics.
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