Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Just the knowledge that a good book is awaiting one at the end of a long day makes that day happier

Back in 2005, Time listed the 100 best English-language novels from 1923 to the present. Why 1923 you ask? That's the year when Time Magazine was first published.

It pleases me that my two favorite writers, William Gibson and Neal Stephenson, are both on the list, though not for what I believe to be their best books (that would be Pattern Recognition and Cryptonomicon, respectively), and that Watchmen is on there. A graphic novel on that list. Amazing.

Out of the 100 books, I've read 15:
Animal Farm - George Orwell
Catch-22 - Joseph Heller
The Catcher in the Rye - J.D. Salinger
A Clockwork Orange - Anthony Burgess
The Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck
The Great Gatsby - F. Scott Fitzgerald
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe - C.S. Lewis
Lord of the Flies - William Golding
The Lord of the Rings - J.R.R. Tolkien
Naked Lunch - William Burroughs
Neuromancer - William Gibson
1984 - George Orwell
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest - Ken Kesey
Snow Crash - Neal Stephenson
Watchmen - Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons

These two are on my bookshelf, waiting to be read:
Blood Meridian - Cormac McCarthy
The Crying of Lot 49 - Thomas Pynchon

And I tried to read Gravity's Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon eight years back, and couldn't get past page 20. I've evolved considerably as a reader since, and I need to try it again. I need to read The Crying of Lot 49 first though. And the dozen or so other books waiting on my shelves.

Which ones have you read?


Steelwheels said...

I've read the following. Many were for Englsih class at university.

An American Tragedy
Theodore Dreiser

Animal Farm
George Orwell

Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret
Judy Blume

Toni Morrison

The Big Sleep
Raymond Chandler

Brideshead Revisited
Evelyn Waugh

The Bridge of San Luis Rey
Thornton Wilder

Joseph Heller

The Catcher in the Rye
J.D. Salinger

A Clockwork Orange
Anthony Burgess

The French Lieutenant's Woman
John Fowles

The Grapes of Wrath
John Steinbeck

The Great Gatsby
F. Scott Fitzgerald

A House for Mr. Biswas
V.S. Naipaul

Light in August
William Faulkner

The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe
C.S. Lewis

Vladimir Nabokov

Lord of the Flies
William Golding

The Lord of the Rings
J.R.R. Tolkien

Henry Green

Midnight's Children
Salman Rushdie

Mrs. Dalloway
Virginia Woolf

Naked Lunch
William Burroughs

William Gibson
George Orwell
Read the Original Review

On the Road
Jack Kerouac

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
Ken Kesey

Kurt Vonnegut
Read the Original Review

Snow Crash
Neal Stephenson

The Sound and the Fury
William Faulkner

The Sun Also Rises
Ernest Hemingway
Read the Original Review

Their Eyes Were Watching God
Zora Neale Hurston
Read the Original Review

Things Fall Apart
Chinua Achebe

To Kill a Mockingbird
Tropic of Cancer
Henry Miller

Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons

White Noise
Don DeLillo

White Teeth
Zadie Smith

ege said...

I think this is a very strange list. I have definitely read 23 of them, I think I might have read three more but can't recall for certain, and another two or three I started and said "Ugh" and put them down. Two more I saw the movie, and one I saw the play, but that doesn't count.

Some I know I'll never read (hello, Messrs. Gaddis, Pynchon and Bellow! Oh, and Ms. Morrison!), and some I never heard of the title or the auther (Housekeeping? Marilynne Robinson> Huh?). Some I read when I was soooo little, and some I've re-read since and really can't believe they're on here (Are you there, God? It's me, Holden).

But if nothing else, I've been reminded that I need to read both Infinite Jest and Invisible Man -- both of which will now be particularly poignant reads.

(Oh, and also? Mr. Word Verification? SATIN IS A WORD!!!)

beardonaut said...

steelwheels: Quite the list there. Good for you.

ege: I'm mostly interested in which ones you put down.

ege said...

I might have underestimated the number of books I started and put down. Upon re-review, they are (in no particular order):

1. Gravity’s Rainbow – given to me by an old boss (and situational friend at the time) who said he thought I was “too smart to have never read it.” Ugh. He also later gave me a copy of Ulysses for the same reason. Double ugh. I’m sure you’re very smart, dude, and I don’t pretend to claim these books are not good or important, but I’m secure enough in my own intelligence not to feel the need to plow through something that doesn’t speak to me just so I can put a prestigious notch in my literary belt.

2. The French Lieutenant’s Woman – I read and loved The Collector, so I snatched this up when I found it on a “take it/leave it” shelf. Ugh. Sometimes, a little critical acclaim does bad things for a man.

3. Naked Lunch – I just never did that many drugs, okay?

4. Portnoy’s Complaint – Yes, Phillip, it is very tough to be a man. Especially a white man. In America. Women suck. I got it. Screw.

5. The Sound and the Fury – I have a friend (a dear friend) who says Faulkner changed her life, and when she heard I’d never read him she lent me the collected stack. I slogged through Light in August out of deference to her, and then I picked up this. Oh, my freakin’ ugh.

6. Tropic of Cancer – Too much space between the dirty parts. Ugh.

And if you read this list thinking “She just doesn’t want to work that hard when she reads,” well, you’re right. (Except for Portnoy. He can go fuck himself.). I am all for language being “the skin of a living thought … vary[ing] in color and content according to the circumstances and time in which it is used,” but I think that for literature to work, it has to be accessible. People have to be able to read it. And not just those who will congratulate themselves for doing so.

I understand why these books were good and important. (Some of them. Not Portnoy. He can still go fuck himself.) I know that some of these works (and others like them) changed the course of English-language literature, sometimes even for the betterment of humankind. But does that mean I should feel obliged to read them?

I don’t think so.


beardonaut said...

I'm going to read Gravity's Rainbow at some point. Like I wrote, I've tried once. I need to try again. But there are so many other books to read before that.

mistlur said...

out of your fifteen i've read none. now i really feel like white trash.

beardonaut said...

It's not a race or about being an elitist. And you've read stuff I haven't. You should read Clockwork, 1984, Cuckoo's Nest and Neuromancer. At least.