The Tropic of Cancer, or “You don’t have to read the book to have an opinion”

Last night’s discussion of The Tropic of Cancer started out on the right foot with the declaration, “You don’t have to read the book to have an opinion.” Especially when it comes to a title with as much notoriety as Miller’s landmark work, a reader’s experience can start before page one.

Having never read Miller, but read plenty about him, I was wary of The Tropic of Cancer, but intrigued by praise from writers like Orwell and Mailer and appearances on “best novels” lists. Despite my prior interest, I didn’t manage to finish the book before Tuesday’s discussion. And I was not alone. A handful of our regulars read only part of the text, and others struggled through until the very end. It was not a group favorite.

Most members of the group disliked The Tropic of Cancer, for reasons ranging from the lack of plot, to the mega-sentences, to the rampant misogyny. Jennifer and Mark were in the minority, stating early on in the night that they enjoyed it, and valued it’s humor, Miller’s observational skills, and beautiful prose.

My relationship with Miller was a little more complicated. I couldn’t stand the first part of the book, and as a result, pushed reading it to the bottom of my to-do list. The night before the discussion, I was but halfway through when, I decided to set Miller aside and take a look at the historical context and some criticism.

After flipping through George Orwell’s Inside the Whale, Kate Millet’s Sexual Politics, Erica Jong’s Devil At Large, and Frederick Turner’s Renegade, I didn’t find that I liked Miller any more (and in fact, like him a little less), but I have a greater appreciation for what The Tropic of Cancer is, why it matters, and how it excels. If nothing else, Miller set a goal: “first person, uncensored, formless–fuck everything!” and stuck to it.

And now, for your viewing enjoyment, a 35 minute, NSFW, tour of Henry Miller’s bathroom. Because why not? (via Flavorwire)

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