50 Book Challenge Fever - Catch It!

#8. Candide by Voltaire - I first read this book for an Honors class in college, but I don't recall ever actually finishing it. See, with classes in the Honors Program, you never really had to finish any of the books. I mean, sure, they said you did, and of course, you'd imply that you did, but you didn't really need to; so long as you had a working knowledge of more or less what was going on in the book, could adequately participate in discussions and could look like you were carefully considering whatever the professor had to say, you could get by rather easily. Dear lord, did I ever hate the University of Maine Honors Program. The things you do sometimes to keep parents happy.

But I digress.

I discovered that when removed from the academic setting, the book takes on a very different feeling. In school, you're supposed to search for the greater socio-political underpinnings of the work. You're supposed to be very concerned with What Voltaire Means. Out of school, none of that really matters, and the story becomes a trite-but-still-mildly-entertaining farce, the sort of broad comedy that would've made a terrific Buster Keaton movie. A naive lad is cast out into a world that proceeds to kick him square in the sack (metaphorically speaking) every time something even remotely good happens to him, though all the while he clings to the belief that his is the best of all possible worlds - that's pretty much every movie Keaton ever made!

So yeah, it's cheesy, and looking at it from the perspective of the 21st century, it's less an "Age of Enlightenment" masterwork and more a "Age of Why Didn't Stuff This Just Seem Like Common Sense to Anyone?" rambling narrative. But Voltaire did help to expand the boundaries of low comedy, and for that we should be forever grateful.

Plus, there's lots of sex and killing. Always a good combination.

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