Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Time 100 Books Update

To update the post below. Here are my thoughts on the books I've read from Time's top 100 English language novels since 1923.
  1. All the King's Men, Robert Penn Warren - Definitely. One of the best and most enjoyable novels I've ever read, for the beginning of chapter 5 if nothing else.
  2. American Pastoral, Philip Roth - Typical Philip Roth in its style and probably as good as any of his works for inclusion on this list (maybe Goodbye, Columbus should be considered instead)
  3. An American Tragedy, Theodore Dreiser - Read this in my undergraduate class on the American Novel. It definitely seems much older than 1923 or maybe that's just me recollecting the feel of Thomas Hardy.
  4. Beloved, Toni Morrison - Fantastic book that deserves to be on this list.
  5. Blood Meridian, Cormac McCarthy - I'd probably have included Sutree or All the Pretty Horses instead of this one, and I'm not even that quesy about near-motiveless violence.
  6. Catch-22, Joseph Heller - A classic in all senses of the word. I wish Heller had written more books that are as brilliant as this.
  7. The Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger - Doesn't everyone read this book in high school? I suppose the near cult-like status of the book and its reclusive author probably merit inclusion.
  8. A Clockwork Orange, Anthony Burgess - A fresh dystopia for the Cold War.
  9. The Confessions of Nat Turner, William Styron - I'm a little surprised that this book made the list given the amount of controversy it stirred up when published. That said, I thought it was a very thought provoking and enjoyable read.
  10. The Corrections, Jonathan Franzen - I enjoyed this book. I really did. But to put it on this list over Absalom, Absalom! or Underworld. You must be kidding. Talk to me in 40 years.
  11. The Crying of Lot 49, Thomas Pynchon - This one is a no brainer.
  12. Deliverance, James Dickey - This probably surprised a lot of folks, especially those who have only seen the movie, but it is quite a good novel in its own right.
  13. The French Lieutenant's Woman, John Fowles - Another book I was assigned to read in a British Novel class. I remember slogging through it and being ready to move on to another assignment, so my judgment shouldnt' be trusted.
  14. The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck - Can you imagine 20th century American literature without Steinbeck. This is his best novel. Q.E.D.
  15. Gravity's Rainbow, Thomas Pynchon - Somehow time has robbed me of the ability to read this. I read it right after I finished grad school, and I tried to re-read it again recently to no avail. I should dust off my brain I suppose, because this one also belongs.
  16. The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald - Perhaps the perfect American Novel.
  17. Infinite Jest, David Foster Wallace - A big, beautiful, sprawling, funny mess. Just like I like my novels.
  18. Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison - This book still leaves me in awe. It really opened my sheltered eyes and taught me to see in a way that I never thought possible.
  19. Light in August, William Faulkner - I suppose they had to include a Faulkner novel that was a little more accessible than The Sound and The Fury. It still probably deserves a spot (see below). Faulkner is an American literary giant.
  20. Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov - Too many people misread this one, probably because of the movies. There's more here than repressed sexual titters and winking.
  21. The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien - I admit that I'm a fan of this, and enjoyed the books and movies greatly. I also appreciate the sheer act of the imagination involved, but sometimes, well, Tolkien's prose can be, shall we say, a little florid. Remembering that their readers ranked this first a few years ago probably explains its presence.
  22. Money, Martin Amis - Amis the younger as his cynical, snarky best.
  23. The Moviegoer, Walker Percy - Probably one of my favorite novels of all time.
  24. Neuromancer, William Gibson - Uhh. You're kidding me right? I read this and enjoyed it for what it was. If you feel you need to have science fiction, where's more Philip K. Dick. This is only here because Gibson invented the term cyberspace.
  25. 1984, George Orwell - Neuromancer seems even more silly on this list since it's right next to this book
  26. On the Road, Jack Kerouac - The definitive novel of one of the major literary movements of the century. 'Nuff said.
  27. A Passage to India, E.M. Forster - Most people would probably have thought Howard's End or A Room with a View would be the Forster choice. In this case, I think the list is dead on.
  28. The Power and the Glory, Graham Greene - This one is always lurking on my "I have to reread that book" list.
  29. The Recognitions, William Gaddis - A confession. I haven't read this one fully through. Every time I try, life gets in the way, and this book required an investment of time. As far as I've gotten though, I can already say it belongs.
  30. Slaughterhouse-Five, Kurt Vonnegut - The perfect companion to Catch-22.
  31. Snow Crash, Neal Stephenson - What the hell? Another fun-to-read beach type book. Look, I enjoyed this, but Stephenson's style at times? Let's just he writes about women with all the depth of your average 10th grader.
  32. The Sound and the Fury, William Faulkner - This has to be on the short list for greatest novel of all time. Others? Ulysses, 100 Years of Soliture, Don Quixote, The Brothers Karamazov, Moby Dick, Tristram Shandy, Great Expectations, and The Tin Drum (and I know I'm probably missing a few, mainly in French)
  33. The Sportswriter, Richard Ford - Great book, but I'm not sure it rises to this level. I'd always recommend it to anyone though.
  34. The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway - Easily Hemingway's best if not most satisfying book. The perfect example of his writing style outside of the short stories.
  35. Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston - Memo to old white dudes with bowties. This book belongs. Deal with it.
  36. To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee - How could you not like a book that has Truman Capote as a character? I wish she had written more as well.
  37. To the Lighthouse, Virginia Woolf - File this one under appreciate more than I enjoy. I suppose I identify more with her portray Mr. Ramsay.
  38. Tropic of Cancer, Henry Miller - And how, can this man write.
  39. White Noise, Don DeLillo - I can see why they chose this one from DeLillo's works, but Underworld deserved a nod as well. I mean, what other "important" post-Pyncheon American authors can you think of.
Okay, in my estimation, here are the main omissions from their list:
  1. Ulysses, James Joyce - This book would be number one if they pushed the date back by a year (or 23). The book wasn't even available in the U.S., where Time is published, until well within their time period (how long Time has been published).
  2. Absalom, Absalom! William Faulkner - This is one of Faulkner's big three and the perfect companion to The Sound and the Fury. It should be included from a technical standpoint alone.
  3. Look Homeward Angel, Thomas Wolfe - Has this novel fallen so far in critical esteem?
  4. Underworld, Don DeLillo - This out corrections The Corrections and is as good a literary history of the second half of the 20th century as I'm aware of. It makes a good bookend to Gravity's Rainbow.
  5. Still Life With Woodpecker, Tom Robbins - Okay, I'm kidding about this one, but I enjoyed it just as much as some of the other questionable inclusions.

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