28 May 2005


I remember when the Modern Library put out its list of the 100 best novels of the 20th century. I was sitting at the breakfast table with my parents and, just for fun, I thought we ought to go through the list and mark off what each of us had read. I had read about 20 at the time, I think. My parents had each read somewhere in the 30s, though not all the same ones, and my mom (as a frustrated English major) had read more than my dad.

After this very silly exercise, I thought, wouldn’t it be neat to say you had read ALL of them? Sure, the list is arbitrary, and I don’t know that the readers’ choices which run along the same page to the right are any better or fairer. All kinds of groups attacked the Modern Library after it put this list out, which in terms of diversity and discussion is only fair.

But then again, I’ve always been the kind of person who liked to work off of lists. I remember getting a copy of my high school summer reading list and wishing I could say I had read all the books enclosed, however improbable. (That list, as long as we’re giving credit, was compiled by my former boss and the much admired Margaret Rossetto formerly of the University School Upper School Library, and if you e-mail her she might send it to you.) Besides, I feel like I might get some kind of literary bragging rights from having done the whole thing. I focus on contemporary novels, after all, and at least one particular group of accredited people believe these are the ones worth studying.

I've posted the entire Modern Library list with the books I've already read marked off, as well as a short FAQ that may or may not answer your burning questions. Re-reading is a joy and a pleasure, but with 12 months at stake there just isn’t time. I’ll also post anything else I turn up about the Modern Library’s list, book lists in general and so on.

Oh, and just for fun, I’m going to start from the bottom of the list and work up. I get a feeling those books down there below 80 might feel a bit neglected.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Ayn Rand at #1 and #2? The readers are twits.