Friday, September 18, 2009

Forgotten Books: ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST -- Ken Kesey

Okay, maybe everybody remembers this one, but I'm guilty of forgetting it. Some recent memes have gone around asking for favorite books, and I don't think I included this one in any of them. That was remiss of me. It's certainly one of my favorite novels, funny, touching, well-paced, just right. It's the perfect book for the '60s, too, with it's attitudes toward authority and individuality. Maybe the movie eclipsed it for some people, but certainly not for me. The Chief, Nurse Ratched, and Randall Patrick McMurphy live for me in the pages of the book, not on the screen, even as good as the performers were.

When I was a graduate assistant at The University of Texas, the freshman English instructors had a saying: "When all else fails, teach The Cuckoo's Nest." It always connected with the students; it could save a whole semester. After I started teaching full-time, I taught it for years in an American fiction class. I don't know if the students loved it, but I did, and I went over it so many times that I practically had it memorized. If you've seen the film but never read the book, you really should give the novel a try. I think you'll be glad you did.


Todd Mason said...

Much more powerful as a novel. I remember scaring a few people doing a reading from it in my hs English class.

John Simon's criticisms of the film seem valid to me...that Nicholson was less effective as McMurphy than Kirk Douglas undoubtedly was on stage, as more of a smartass and less of an ever-more enraged if hardly unblemished spokesman for human decency in the face of corporate convenience.

B. Rehder said...

This is one of the rare cases where I like the movie and the book equally. Both are nearly flawless.

Stephen B. said...

I found that one in college, from a stack of an uncle's books. A real eye-opener!


CONFEDERACY OF DUNCES (the 1st reading)


Right, excellent film also - pretty close.

Charlieopera said...

I'm with Ben on this, (book and movie equally great). Another Kesey book, "Sometimes a Great Notion", was so much better than the movie (with Paul Newman I think)?

Todd Mason said...

You think correctly, Charlie, at least about the film version of SOMETIMES starring Newman.