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Read Redemption

March 18, 2011

Inadvertent hiatus. There are a number of excruciatingly banal and frivolous reasons for that but why bore you with the details? I offer no excuses and instead climb back in the saddle from where I shalt dispense that most challenging and byzantine form of online writing; a list! Not impressed? Thence I shalt deliver unto thee instead a list derived from another list!

Before I actually found the Time 100 list of the 100 best English-Language novels from 1923 to the present (as selected by Lev Grossman and Richard Lacayo), I first caught sight of a blog entitled 101 Books where a guy called Robert is detailing his ongoing quest to read through the entire list plus Ulysses. As of this writing, he’s twelve down with a mere 89 left to go and, impressively, he started in August last year.

I have the constant, (and I would argue, perfectly healthy) niggling fear that I simply haven’t read enough, that the esteemed moniker of being “well-read” is not something I qualify for. I have an equivalent anxiety when it comes to films also. Out of curiosity I glanced over the list yesterday to see how I fared in terms of what novels I’ve read that two dudes employed by Time reckon are the best since Time Magazine went into publication (1923). It turns out I’ve managed 17% of the list, which is better than I was expecting. My list of their list, goes like this –

  • Animal Farm – George Orwell
  • Atonement – Ian McEwan
  • Beloved – Toni Morrison
  • Blood Meridian – Cormac McCarthy
  • A Clockwork Orange – Anthony Burgess
  • Midnight’s Children – Salman Rushdie
  • Money – Martin Amis
  • Naked Lunch – William S. Burroughs
  • Neuromancer – William Gibson
  • 1984 – George Orwell
  • On The Road – Jack Kerouac
  • Portnoy’s Complaint – Philip Roth
  • The Sound and the Fury – William Faulkner
  • The Sun Also Rises – Ernest Hemingway
  • Ubik – Philip K Dick
  • Watchmen – Alan Moore
  • White Noise – Don DeLillo*

Note my strong bias for American fiction manifesting in there. I lucked out with Watchmen, of course, and in a fortunate coincidence read two of the above only recently these past few weeks. If I had to pick favourites I would have Blood Meridian and 1984 tied for the top with Beloved, Midnight’s Children, Neuromancer and The Sound and the Fury occupying a very respectable second tier. My least favourites would be On The Road and Ubik.

(*Seriously, where the fuck is DeLillo’s Underworld? As good as White Noise was, his magnum opus was shockingly absent from that list. I’m giving it an honorary mention as being up there amongst my top choices.)

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8 comments

  1. I’ve managed a respectable 16 reads to date (9 from your list). Surprised that you’ve not read Catch 22. Is that not Allan’s favourite book? Did you not read The Big Sleep at uni? The Grapes of Wrath at school? The Lion, The witch…? Defo read Lord of the Flies in 2nd year, no?


  2. I haven’t read Catch 22 yet, criminal I know. I’ve read The Long Goodbye by Chandler. No Grapes of Wrath, only Cannery Row. Only Narnia I’ve read was The Magician’s Nephew and no Lord of the Flies.


  3. Ironically, the creator(s) of Watchmen are probably the only foreigners involved. Everything else in that (graphic) novel is American as FUCK.

    USA USA USA!

    Check out Dharma Bums by Jack Kerouac. It instantly makes you cooler if you prefer that to On the Road.

    Also, Philip Roth = JERSEY what what what

    P.S. Not a Vonnegut fan?


  4. I probably would be a Vonnegut fan but I’m just a lazy bastard that hasn’t read any of his major books yet(read a short story or two).

    As well as the burning desire to get into Michael Chabon’s writing, I plan to revisit the main Time list in future as a guide to some books I’ve been wanting to read but may have forgotten about.

    Novels I have already had an eye on from that list include – The Corrections, Gravity’s Rainbow, Infinite Jest, Lolita, Pale Fire, and Snow Crash.


  5. 100? 101? Try 500. With a yearly plan:

    http://www.interleaves.org/~rteeter/grtward.html


  6. Also, I immediately recalled your recent reading of Portnoy’s Complaint. What was the other one you’d finished only weeks ago?

    I’ve got a few “sins” I need to address from this list, though glad to see a healthy selection of genre fiction here: The Big Sleep, Red Harvest, Neuromancer, Snow Crash, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold.

    Of the list I’ve completed a meager 14, three of which are graphic novels. Though, to my credit(?) I’m coincidentally in the middle of three books on that list: The Blind Assassin, Invisible Man and Never Let Me Go.


  7. I read Beloved, the majority of it I read in South Africa, and it was fucking amazing. The sheer, unrelenting weight of the writing was magnificent and not at all what I expected.


  8. I’ve read all the ‘cliche’ books (To Kill a Mockingbird, The Sun Also Rises, Catcher in the Rye, etc) on the list which amounted to about 17 books…

    But am I the only one with a problem with the fact that Watchmen made a top 100 novels list? First of all comics are a different medium — if you’re going to include Watchmen, shouldn’t Citizen Kane or Pulp Fiction be considered?

    Secondly, if you’re going to include a comic on the list, it should at least stand up as a great work of ‘literature’. Many consider Watchmen to be the greatest comic of all time and I really don’t dispute that. But isn’t what makes it great the interaction between the words and images, and the layered meaning that interaction produces? That’s something completely unique to the comic medium.

    Beyond that, the themes are dated, the dialog is a bit off and there are some pretty far-fetched ideas that could only avoid criticism within the pages of a comic book. Separate the actual story from the medium and it becomes a rather lacklustre sci-fi/superhero story (as evidenced by the recent Hollywood adaptation*).

    p.s. David wins. I don’t see the merit in talking about art within a ‘top 10’ mentality and i’ve been trying to ‘boycott’ his posts on lists in spite of — nay, because of — their overwhelming popularity and ability to generate a strong response from core readers. And yet in the end I couldn’t resist and engaged in a recent email. Only fair I should post here and take part actively in the debates.

    Also can’t believe David couldn’t get into a book like On the Road. I expected to hate it and ended up loving it. My beef with a book on the list (other than Watchmen, on technicality) is ‘Lord of Flies’. Read it for the first time a few years back and thought it wasn’t at all profound and more than slightly dated.

    * that is to say the Watchmen movie wasn’t bad beyond the inherent problem in adapting it to the screen in the first place. I stand by this opinion, but invite arguments to the contrary.



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