31 May 2005
For the past five months I've been in a foreign country where English books are easy to get but the selection is not top-notch. The library I've been using the most (where I went Monday to look for books for the impending start of this project) did not have #100, nor #99, nor #98... and so on down for quite a while.
So while I'll be back in the States within two weeks, I'll be starting with a kind of bibliographic free-for-all. The first book will be Edith Wharton's THE HOUSE OF MIRTH (#69), and I will start it tomorrow. Yikes, tomorrow. I'd better do some mental calisthenics before then.
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.
15 May 2005
Sheer bravado. That, and I’m an avid reader to begin with.
Aren’t you missing out on these classics entirely by trying to read them in a hurry?
It’s probable, but I hope that the ones I really like I will be able to go back to and savor. Besides, given an unlimited amount of time, I probably would never finish the list, because it would expand to fill the time allotted.
How are you going to find all those books?
I like libraries, so I’m going to use those primarily and bookstores only if necessary. I would love to support the book industry by buying all of these in hardcover -- perhaps even in the Modern Library editions! -- but I am a student with a limited access to funds and buying all of those just isn’t feasible. I am currently a card-carrying member of three libraries, the Eastern Shores Library System, the New York Public Library and the Emmaus Public Library. If all those fail, there are always inter-library loans. I have also gotten a fair amount of these books from BookMooch which I highly recommend.
Are you being sponsored by the Modern Library?
Oh, do I wish! It would certainly make getting hold of the books easier. No, I am not affiliated with the Modern Library, Random House, or any other backing institution.
So what do you do besides reading?
I'm a writer, editor and published poet living in New York City. I love going to plays, coffee-shop hopping, traveling, finishing 5Ks, soup, snow peas, the outdoors, talking and not talking...
I want to do it with you!
Super. Would love to follow along either by e-mail or on your own blog. Drop me a line.
Any other questions, comments, complaints: e-mail lnvsml (at) gmail (dot) com.
01 May 2005
2. THE GREAT GATSBY by F. Scott Fitzgerald
3. A PORTRAIT OF THE ARTIST AS A YOUNG MAN by James Joyce
4. LOLITA by Vladimir Nabokov
5. BRAVE NEW WORLD by Aldous Huxley
6. THE SOUND AND THE FURY by William Faulkner
7. CATCH-22 by Joseph Heller
8. DARKNESS AT NOON by Arthur Koestler
11. UNDER THE VOLCANO by Malcolm Lowry
14. I, CLAUDIUS by Robert Graves
15. TO THE LIGHTHOUSE by Virginia Woolf
16. AN AMERICAN TRAGEDY by Theodore Dreiser
17. THE HEART IS A LONELY HUNTER by Carson McCullers
19. INVISIBLE MAN by Ralph Ellison
21. HENDERSON THE RAIN KING by Saul Bellow
23. U.S.A. (trilogy) by John Dos Passos
25. A PASSAGE TO INDIA by E.M. Forster
27. THE AMBASSADORS by Henry James
29. THE STUDS LONIGAN TRILOGY by James T. Farrell
31. ANIMAL FARM by George Orwell
32. THE GOLDEN BOWL by Henry James
34. A HANDFUL OF DUST by Evelyn Waugh
37. THE BRIDGE OF SAN LUIS REY by Thornton Wilder
38. HOWARDS END by E.M. Forster
39. GO TELL IT ON THE MOUNTAIN by James Baldwin
41. LORD OF THE FLIES by William Golding
42. DELIVERANCE by James Dickey
43. A DANCE TO THE MUSIC OF TIME (series) by Anthony Powell
44. POINT COUNTER POINT by Aldous Huxley
46. THE SECRET AGENT by Joseph Conrad
47. NOSTROMO by Joseph Conrad
50. TROPIC OF CANCER by Henry Miller
51. THE NAKED AND THE DEAD by Norman Mailer
53. PALE FIRE by Vladimir Nabokov
54. LIGHT IN AUGUST by William Faulkner
56. THE MALTESE FALCON by Dashiell Hammett
57. PARADE'S END by Ford Madox Ford
59. ZULEIKA DOBSON by Max Beerbohm
61. DEATH COMES FOR THE ARCHBISHOP by Willa Cather
62. FROM HERE TO ETERNITY by James Jones
64. THE CATCHER IN THE RYE by J.D. Salinger
65. A CLOCKWORK ORANGE by Anthony Burgess
67. HEART OF DARKNESS by Joseph Conrad
68. MAIN STREET by Sinclair Lewis
69. THE HOUSE OF MIRTH by Edith Wharton
70. THE ALEXANDRIA QUARTET by Lawrence Durell
72. A HOUSE FOR MR BISWAS by V.S. Naipaul
73. THE DAY OF THE LOCUST by Nathanael West
77. FINNEGANS WAKE by James Joyce
79. A ROOM WITH A VIEW by E.M. Forster
81. THE ADVENTURES OF AUGIE MARCH by Saul Bellow
83. A BEND IN THE RIVER by V.S. Naipaul
85. LORD JIM by Joseph Conrad
86. RAGTIME by E.L. Doctorow
88. THE CALL OF THE WILD by Jack London
89. LOVING by Henry Green
90. MIDNIGHT'S CHILDREN by Salman Rushdie
93. THE MAGUS by John Fowles
95. UNDER THE NET by Iris Murdoch
96. SOPHIE'S CHOICE by William Styron
98. THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE by James M. Cain
99. THE GINGER MAN by J.P. Donleavy
Number of books I’d already read on this list when I started: 30
Books that will take a long, long time to read: #43 is a ten-book series. How the makers of this list were able to sneak that one by, I’ll never know. And let’s not forget #77.
Hidden trilogies: #23 and #29.
Books I checked as done and then had to undo: #15, TO THE LIGHTHOUSE. I have attempted it several times, but let’s be honest here, I’ve never actually finished it. So don’t go telling me everyone dies in the end.
Three favorites of the books I’ve read: I really enjoyed THE AGE OF INNOCENCE (#58) even though it was assigned reading for AP English in high school. Like the vast majority of people my age I like Fitzgerald in pretty much all his efforts (#2 and #28 here). And after I finish all these, maybe I ought to re-read ALL THE KING’S MEN (#36) in advance of the star-studded filmic remake -- though I hate Sean Penn, but that’s really neither here nor there.