I was alone in the office this afternoon so I decided to take advantage of the quiet and listen to the latest Books on the Nightstand podcast.
In it Ann Kingman and Michael Kindness discussed who should be on the literary Mount Rushmore. Then they asked their listeners to weigh in.
It such a great question that I’ve been thinking about the idea ever since I listened to the podcast. I don’t know if it crosses any blog / podcast ethical lines to steal a topic — and if it does I apologize to Ann, Michael and the person who suggested to topic to them — but I’ve been thinking about it so much that I can’t even consider about writing on another subject tonight.
My first reaction when I was listening was that I think all authors should be on Mount Rushmore. Anyone who takes the time and energy to write a book should be honored. They’re all important.
Ok, so maybe I get too star struck by writers. I really do know that not everyone who writes is worthy of Mount Rushmore. But the act of writing is pretty impressive, whether or not the author gets a literary prize or is on the best seller list. Even if the book just sits in a drawer.
So then my mind jumped to my four favorite authors.
That list came surprisingly easy to me. Since I read quite a bit and like most of what I read, I was a little disappointed that the names of four authors would come to mind so quickly. I expected to hem and haw, add people and take people off and finally come up with the perfect list.
I was also disappointed that all the authors on my list men. It seems very chauvinistic of me. But I like what I like and it would also be discrimination to add someone just because she was a woman and leave someone off just because he was a man.
So based solely on my personal favorites, my literary Mount Rushmore would include: Christopher Moore, Ian McEwan, Wally Lamb and Jon Clinch.
There are a whole host of wonderful authors that I would honor in other ways — commemorative coins, stamps, national holidays and such — but those four would get the highest honor of being carved in stone into a mountain side in South Dakota.
But then, the longer I listened, I started to agree with Ann that the list should probably be bigger than authors I like and should include writers who have changed the literary world.
That’s when I realized that I know very little about the actual Mount Rushmore. Why are all those faces carved into the mountainside anyway?
So after I got home I did little research.
I started with the National Park Service’s Mount Rushmore site but sadly, Wikipedia was more informative.
First I learned that Mount Rushmore was created to promote tourism in the Black Hills of South Dakota. I always assumed it was built as an expression of great national pride, not as a tourist trap.
And the original concept was simply to carve “famous people.” The sculptor was the one who decided presidents should be portrayed and picked which ones. The only direction President Calvin Coolidge offered was, that in addition to Washington, there should be two Republicans and one Democrat. God bless America!
So basically this great national monument was carved to improve the economy in South Dakota and the presidents were chosen because the sculpture liked them and they were in the right political party.
In that case maybe picking someone’s personal favorites for the literary Mount Rushmore isn’t too off base.
But let’s take the high road. We can design the literary version to be from the start what the real Mount Rushmore has become: a place to honor those who truly influenced history.
The first writer I would add would be William Shakespeare.
I’m not a talented enough writer to adequately describe the contribution Shakespeare made to literary history, but I do know that we’re still reading and enjoying his work five hundred years later. And it still speaks to us. Whenever I see or read Shakespeare, I’m moved by the power of his words and his stories.
The second author I would honor would be Jane Austin.
I’m not a particular fan of Austin, although I admit I haven’t read any of her books since college. I put Austin on the list (or mountain) because of her sharp commentaries on the times as well as the role she played in the history of women writers. Although not the first woman to be published, she certainly helped pave the way for women in the literature.
The next author that should be on the literary Mount Rushmore is Mark Twain.
I’m not sure I can explain why I picked Twain. Again, it’s hard for someone with limited writing skills to describe someone else’s literary genius. I’ve written seven or eight sentences trying to define the important contributions he made and erased them all. I’ll just say that his writing made powerful statements about civil rights and other causes, and yet is thoroughly readable and enjoyable. Twain proved you don’t have to hit someone over the head with it to make your point.
Lastly, and this may be my most controversial choice, I pick J.D. Salinger.
The other three authors I picked were very prolific and J.D. Salinger is really known for one novel, but what a novel it is! The Catcher in the Rye practically defined a generation. Just mention Holden Caulfield and everyone knows who that is and what the character represents.
As you can tell from my sad little attempts to illustrate the greatness of these writers, literary commentary isn’t my strong suit. But I think my choices are good ones and they would make a very impressive Mount Rushmore, one that any reader would be proud to visit.
Thanks to Books on the Nightstand for this great topic!