Tuesday, July 12, 2016

100 Novels, Round 4

Hey all! Back after 2 years with another round of 100 novels. I wish I was reading more consistently, but this probably represents a pace I can actually maintain.

Over the course of round 3 I took part in my first two book clubs: Kelly Pappageorge’s excellent Women Authors book club and the small Vacek-Josh book club, consisting of only my father, brother, friend Josh and myself. With both Kelly and Josh having moved away, these closed shop, but other doors opened. I joined the St. Louis Science Fiction book club at the Clayton public library, met the wonderful Chance and joined his book club, and started GNIFty, a graphic novel and interactive fiction club, along with friends Sarah S. and Emre.

In addition, I enjoyed reading and discussing 2015’s Hugo nominees for science fiction with friends Ben and Katie W. It was the first year I’ve taken part in voting. Though it was inspired by a low-point in the SF community (a sabotage campaign by embittered right-wing internet trolls), it was fun to get back into my favorite genre. I managed 20 SF works and 6 fantasy; more than in recent memory.

This last round I also delved deeper into plays than ever before. For several months I was reading them exclusively, although I've found foreign plays very hard to track down in libraries. I’ve also made graphic novels a major part of my reading diet. I’ve decided to start listing them separately.

I fulfilled a goal of reading several major ancient classics by the likes of Homer, Virgil and Milton, as well as modern works that rely on an awareness of these and more prose poetry in general. I'd like to get into some ancient Eastern works at some point in the future (but they're all so long!).

The usual statistics:
US: 33
UK: 19
France: 5
Russia: 4
Canada: 3
Argentina, Australia, China, Czech Republic, Germany, Greece, Italy, Mexico, Sweden: 2
Belgium, Brazil, Croatia, Egypt, Finland, Iceland, India, Ireland, Japan, Kenya, Romania, Senegal, South Africa, Spain, Sudan, Switzerland, Zimbabwe: 1

This was my first time reading novels from Belgium, China, Croatia, Finland, Iceland, Kenya, Romania, Senegal, Sudan, Switzerland and Zimbabwe. At this point I’m half way to my goal of reading a novel from 100 countries. I’m seriously considering a Novel Atlas (similar to the Film Atlas), though it is a very long term project.

I’ve seen movie adaptation of 19 of these books. Of them, I might argue that Casino Royale, Tom Jones, and The Guide are better than their sources. The Ladies of the Bois de Boulogne (adapted from Jacques the Fatalist), several of the many Dangerous Liaisons adaptions and Doctor Zhivago are also quite good. The 15 hour Berlin Alexanderplatz miniseries, however, was a colossal waste of time.

I find that despite a conscious effort to read more women authors, authors of color and authors who identify as LGBT, I’m still not doing a terribly good job. Of the 100 novels in this round, only 29 are by women (which is at least up from 22 last round, despite being in a women author book club). I’ve recently started tracking my progress on two awesome lists: Feminista’s 100 20th century novels by women and The Publishing Triangle’s 100 best lesbian and gay novels, which are filling in some of my blind spots.

Overall favorite: Voss
Best SF: Permutation City and The Sparrow
Best fantasy: American Gods and A Game of Thrones
Best crime fiction: Shadow without a Name and Kiss of the Spider Woman
Best graphic novel: Are You My Mother? and Ghost World
Best play: The Tragedy of Man (tragedy) and The Lieutenant of Inishmore (comedy)
Best romance: Dangerous Liaisons and The Passion
Best obscurities: Aniara (Swedish existentialist epic poem about a runaway spaceship) and Pointed Roofs (Unfairly neglected modernist work that gave birth to the “stream of consciousness” style)
Best premise: Zoo City (A Johannesburg detective and her sloth work a missing persons case in a future where criminals are bonded to animal familiars)
Most wasted premise: Accelerando
Best story: The Goldfinch and House of Suns
Best prose: Independent People and The Summer Book
Best structure: A Visit from the Goon Squad and I’m Not Stiller
Most Difficult: The Recognitions and The Death of Virgil
Longest: A Dance to the Music of Time (3013 pages)
Funniest: Cold Comfort Farm and The Napoleon of Notting Hill
Angriest: The Elementary Particles and Woman at Point Zero
Weirdest sex: Bear
Most fun: The Martian
Most depressing: The Land of Green Plums
Most energetic: The Sot-Weed Factor
Most emotional: Independent People
Most ambiguous: Pedro Paramo and The Southern Reach Trilogy
Most decadent: Against Nature
Most disappointing: The Castle
Best bookclub discussion of a book I liked: Are You My Mother?
Best bookclub discussion of a book I disliked: Geek Love
Best title: By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept

** Excellent
* Very Good
[blank] Fair to Good
^  Bad  

The List:

-710: The Iliad by Homer (Greece)
-700: The Odyssey by Homer (Greece) *
-19: The Aeneid by Virgil (Italy) *
1664: Paradise Lost by John Milton (UK) *
1749: Tom Jones by Henry Fielding (UK)
1780: Jacques the Fatalist by Denis Diderot (France) *
1782: Dangerous Liaisons by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos (France) **
1839: The Charterhouse of Parma by Marie-Henri Stendhal (France)
1840: A Hero of Our Time by Mikhail Lermontov (Russia) **
1854: Walden by Henry David Thoreau (USA)
1883: Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson (UK) *
1884: Against Nature by Joris-Karl Huysmans (France) *
1891: Tess of the d'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy (UK) *
1899: Dom Casmurro by Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis (Brazil) *
1904: The Napoleon of Notting Hill by G.K. Chesterton (UK) *
1908: The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame (UK) *
1910: The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge by Rainer Maria Rilke (Czech)
1911: Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton (USA)
1914: Kokoro by Natsume Soseki (Japan) *
1915: Pointed Roofs by Dorothy Richardson (UK) *
1926: The Castle by Franz Kafka (Czech) ^
1929: Berlin Alexanderplatz by Alfred Doblin (Germany) **
1930: The Foundation Pit by Andrei Platonov (Russia) ^
1932: Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons (UK)
1932: Light in August by William Faulkner (USA) *
1934: Appointment in Samarra by John O'Hara (USA)
1934: Call It Sleep by Henry Roth (USA) **
1935: Independent People by Halldor Laxness (Iceland) **
1938: On the Edge of Reason by Miroslav Krleza (Croatia) *
1940: The Invention of Morel by Adolfo Bioy Casares (Argentina) *
1945: Pippi Longstockings by Astrid Lindgren (Sweden) ^
1945: By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept by Elizabeth Smart (Canada)
1945: The Death of Virgil by Hermann Broch (Austria) *
1946: Titus Groan by Mervyn Peake (UK)
1951: The Hive by Camilo Jose Cela (Spain) **
1951: Memoirs of Hadrian by Marguerite Yourcenar (Belgium) **
1952: The Killer Inside Me by Jim Thompson (USA) *
1953: Casino Royale by Ian Fleming (UK)
1954: I'm Not Stiller by Max Frisch (Switzerland) **
1955: Pedro Paramo by Juan Rulfo (Mexico) **
1955: The Recognitions by William Gaddis (USA) *
1956: Aniara by Harry Martinson (Sweden) *
1956: Giovanni's Room by James Baldwin (USA) *
1957: Voss by Patrick White (Australia) **
1957: Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak (Russia) *
1958: The Once and Future King by T.H. White (UK) ^
1958: The Guide by R.K. Narayan (India) *
1960: God's Bit of Wood by Ousmane Sembene (Senegal) **
1960: The Sot-Weed Factor by John Barth (USA)
1965: The River Between by Ngugi Wa Thiong'o (Kenya)
1966: Season of Migration to the North by Tayeb Salih (Sudan) *
1966: To Each His Own by Leonardo Sciascia (Italy) *
1969: The French Lieutenant's Woman by John Fowles (UK) **
1970: Moscow to the End of the Line by Venedikt Erofeev (Russia) ^
1970: Are You There God? It's Me Margaret by Judy Blume (USA)
1972: The Summer Book by Tove Jansson (Finland) **
1975: A Dance to the Music of Time by Anthony Powell (UK) *
1975: Woman at Point Zero by Nawal El Saadawi (Egypt) *
1976: Kiss of the Spider Woman by Manuel Puig (Argentina) **
1976: Bear by Marian Engel (Canada) *
1977: Falconer by John Cheever (USA) *
1979: Kindred by Octavia Butler (USA) **
1979: On Wings of Song by Thomas M Disch (USA) ^
1980: The Color Purple by Alice Walker (USA) *
1984: Cassandra by Christa Wolf (Germany) *
1984: The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros (USA) **
1985: Eon by Greg Bear (USA) *
1986: The Sportswriter by Richard Ford (USA) *
1987: Consider Phlebas by Iain M. Banks (UK) ^
1987: The Passion by Jeanette Winterson (UK) **
1988: Nervous Conditions by Tsitsi Dangarembga (Zimbabwe)
1989: A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving (USA) *
1989: Cyteen by C.J. Cherryh (USA)
1989: Geek Love by Katherine Dunn (USA) ^
1994: Permutation City by Greg Egan (Australia) **
1994: The Land of Green Plums by Herta Muller (Romania) **
1996: A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin (USA) **
1997: The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell (USA) **
1998: The Elementary Particles / Atomized by Michel Houellebecq (France) *
2000: Shadow Without a Name by Ignacio Padilla (Mexico) **
2000: White Teeth by Zadie Smith (UK) **
2001: American Gods by Neil Gaiman (USA) **
2004: River of Gods by Ian McDonald (Ireland)
2005: Accelerando by Charles Stross (UK) ^
2006: Life and Death Are Wearing Me Out by Mo Yan (China)
2008: The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu (China)
2008: House of Suns by Alastair Reynolds (UK) **
2010: Zoo City by Lauren Beukes (South Africa) *
2010: A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan (USA) **
2011: The Martian by Andy Weir (USA) *
2011: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline (USA)
2012: The Last Policeman by Ben H. Winters (USA)
2012: The Drowning Girl by Caitlin R. Kiernan (USA) ^
2013: Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie (USA) *
2013: Life After Life by Kate Atkinson (UK) *
2013: The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt (USA) **
2013: The Fifth Wave by Rick Yancey (USA) *
2014: The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison (USA)
2014: Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel (Canada) *
2014: Southern Reach Trilogy by Jeff VanderMeer (USA) *


-458: The Oresteia by Aeschylus (Greece)
-442: Antigone by Sophocles (Greece) *
-431: Medea by Euripides (Greece)
-411: Lysistrata by Aristophanes (Greece) ^
400: Shakuntala by Kalidasa (India) *
1510: Everyman by Anonymous (UK) ^
1592: Doctor Faustus by Christopher Marlowe (UK) ^
1602: Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare (UK)
1605: Volpone, or The Foxe by Ben Jonson (UK) *
1619: Fuenteovejuna by Felix Lope de Vega (Spain) ^
1635: Life Is a Dream by Pedro Calderon de la Barca (Spain) **
1637: Le Cid by Pierre Corneille (France) *
1666: The Misanthrope by Jean-Baptiste Moliere (France) **
1677: The Rover by Aphra Behn (UK) *
1700: The Way of the World by William Congreve (UK) ^
1721: The Love Suicides at Amijima by Monzaemon Chikamatsu (Japan)
1746: Servant of Two Masters by Carlo Goldoni (Italy)
1773: The Barber of Seville by Pierre Beaumarchais (France)
1777: The School for Scandal by Robert Brinsley Sheridan (Ireland) *
1778: The Marriage of Figaro by Pierre Beaumarchais (France) *
1799: Wallenstein by Friedrich Schiller (Germany) **
1837: Woyzeck by Georg Buchner (Germany) *
1842: The Government Inspector by Nikolai Gogol (Russia) ^
1859: The Storm by Alexander Ostrovsky (Russia) ^
1861: The Tragedy of Man by Imre Madach (Hungary) **
1884: The Wild Duck by Henrik Ibsen (Norway) **
1891: Spring Awakening by Frank Wedekind (Germany) *
1895: An Ideal Husband by Oscar Wilde (Ireland) *
1897: Cyrano de Bergerac by Edmond Rostand (France) **
1897: The Round by Arthur Schnitzler (Austria)
1904: Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie (UK) *
1907: The Playboy of the Western World by John Millington Synge (Ireland) *
1913: Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw (Ireland) **
1921: The Verge by Susan Glaspell (USA) *
1928: The Suicide by Nikolai Erdman (Russia) *
1930: Private Lives by Noel Coward (UK)
1932: Blood Wedding by Federico Garcia Lorca (Spain)
1934: Thunderstorm by Cao Yu (China) *
1934: The Children's Hour by Lillian Hellman (USA) *
1938: The Imposter by Rodolfo Usigli (Mexico) **
1943: The Wedding Dress by Nelson Rodrigues (Brazil) **
1944: The Caucasian Chalk Circle by Bertolt Brecht (Germany) *
1950: The Bald Soprano by Eugene Ionesco (France) *
1957: The Birthday Party by Harold Pinter (UK)
1959: A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry (USA) **
1962: Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? by Edward Albee (USA) *
1964: Tango by Slawomir Mrozek (Poland) *
1964: Marat/Sade by Peter Weiss (Germany) *
1970: The Burdens by John Ruganda (Uganda) *
1973: The Norman Conquests by Alan Ayckbourn (UK) *
1975: Death and the King's Horseman by Wole Soyinka (Nigeria)
1980: True West by Sam Shepard (USA) **
1982: Top Girls by Caryl Churchill (UK) **
1982: Master Harold… and the Boys by Athol Fugard (South Africa) *
1983: Glengarry Glen Ross by David Mamet (USA) *
1985: Fences by August Wilson (USA) **
1987: The Piano Lesson by August Wilson (USA) ^
1988: M. Butterfly by David Henry Hwang (USA) **
1990: Death and the Maiden by Ariel Dorfman (Chile) **
1990: Six Degrees of Separation by John Guare (USA) **
1991: Angels in America by Tony Kushner (USA) **
1993: Arcadia by Tom Stoppard (UK) **
1994: Art by Yasmina Reza (France) *
1995: Wit by Margaret Edson (USA) **
2001: The Lieutenant of Inishmore by Martin McDonagh (Ireland) **
2004: The History Boys by Alan Bennett (UK) **
2010: Clybourne Park by Bruce Norris (USA) **

Graphic Novels:

1959: Tintin in Tibet by Herge (Belgium)
1970: Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths by Shigeru Mizuki (Japan)
1986: Batman (compilation) by Frank Miller (USA) *
1992: Flood by Eric Drooker (USA) ^
1995: The Tale of One Bad Rat by Bryan Talbot (UK) *
1996: From Hell by Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell (UK) **
1997: Ghost World by Daniel Clowes (USA) **
1998: Ethel and Ernest by Raymond Briggs (UK)
1999: Uzumaki by Junji Ito (Japan) *
2000: David Boring by Daniel Clowes (USA)
2000: Safe Area Gorazde by Joe Sacco (USA) **
2000: Blacksad by Juan Diaz Canales and Juanjo Guarnido (Spain) **
2002: One Hundred Demons by Lynda Barry (USA)
2003: What I Did: Hey, Wait... / Sshhhh! / The Iron Wagon by Jason Saeteroy (Norway)
2003: Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi (Iran) **
2003: Superman: Red Son by Mark Millar (USA) *
2005: Black Hole by Charles Burns (USA)
2006: The Arrival by Shaun Tan (Australia) *
2008: Heads or Tails by Lilli Carre (USA)
2009: Stitches by David Small (USA) *
2011: Daytripper by Fabio Moon and Gabriel Ba (Brazil) **
2012: Are You My Mother by Alison Bechdel (USA) **
2013: Bad Houses by Sara Ryan and Carla Speed McNeil (USA) **
2013: The Property by Rutu Modan (Israel)
2014: Here by Richard McGuire (USA) *
2014: Seconds by Bryan Lee O'Malley (Canada) *
2015: The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage by Sydney Padua (UK) *

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Favorite 100 Novels

I've been meaning to post this for a while. Years ago I got together with a group of friends to argue over a top 50 novels. It was a great exercise, full of impassioned defenses of various books, authors, and even approaches to literature. I got a lot of recommendations out of it and it started me thinking about which works gave me a thoroughly enjoyable read, changed me as a person, taught me something new, provided a fresh perspective, challenged my intellect, taxed my emotions, tickled my odd sense of humor, confronted or confirmed my opinions, and served as fuel for further discussions.

Years have passed. I've read a lot more books. I've had a lot more discussions about them. Some of my tastes have changed, others remain the same. Many I still haven't had the time to reread and reevaluate. But more than ever, I still love literature and value it.

I finally sat down and created this list alone and without overthinking it (I failed). I didn't try to do "best," "most influential," "most representative" or anything like that. I don't make any claim beyond that these are my favorites at this point in my life.

A lot of my biases are on display, based on what I've been exposed to (more white male English-language writers than a truly well-read person would have) and what I like (science-fiction and 20th century international classics). A few favorite authors didn't make the cut: William Faulkner, Kurt Vonnegut, Jane Austen, Christopher Priest, Franz Kafka. Other big names are absent on purpose: James Joyce, Ernest Hemingway, Arthur C Clarke, D.H. Lawrence. There will always be more worthwhile books than can fit on a top 100 list.

Anyway, enjoy! And share a few of your favorites back at me if you get a chance.

And now, in chronological order with a limit of one book per author:
  • The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman by Laurence Sterne (1767, UK) Comedy
  • Dangerous Liaisons by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos (1782, France) Romance
  • Father Goriot by Honore de Balzac (1835, France) 
  • The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexander Dumas (1846, France) Adventure
  • Moby-Dick by Herman Melville (1851, US) Adventure
  • Bleakhouse by Charles Dickens (1853, UK) 
  • Les Miserables by Victor Hugo (1862, France) 
  • Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll (1865, UK) Fantasy
  • Middlemarch by George Eliot (1872, UK) Romance
  • Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy (1877, Russia) Romance
  • The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky (1880, Russia) Crime
  • Portrait of a Lady by Henry James (1881, UK) Romance
  • Germinal by Emile Zola (1885, France) 
  • Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle (1902, UK) Crime
  • Nostromo by Joseph Conrad (1904, UK) Adventure
  • Howards End by E.M. Forster (1910, UK) 
  • The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford (1915, UK) 
  • The Return of the Soldier by Rebecca West (1918, US) War
  • The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton (1920, US) Romance
  • Main Street by Sinclair Lewis (1920, US) 
  • The Forsyte Saga by John Galsworthy (1921, UK) 
  • Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf (1925, UK)  
  • The Treasure of the Sierra Madre by B Traven (1927, Germany) Adventure
  • Berlin Alexanderplatz by Alfred Doblin (1929, Germany) Crime
  • Red Harvest by Dashiell Hammett (1929, US) Crime
  • A High Wind in Jamaica by Richard Hughes (1929, UK) Adventure
  • Tender Is the Night by F Scott Fitzgerald (1934, US) Romance
  • The Street of Crocodiles by Bruno Schulz (1934, Poland) Magical Realism
  • Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell (1936, US) Romance
  • The Man Who Loved Children by Christina Stead (1940, Australia) 
  • The Third Policeman by Flann O'Brien (1940, Ireland) Fantasy
  • Embers by Sandor Marai (1942, Hungary) 
  • Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh (1945, UK) 
  • All the King's Men by Robert Penn Warren (1946, US) 
  • Under the Volcano by Malcolm Lowry (1947, Canada) 
  • 1984 by George Orwell (1949, UK) SF
  • Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger (1951, US) 
  • The Hive by Camilo Jose Cela (1951, Spain) 
  • Memoirs of Hadrian by Marguerite Yourcenar (1951, Belgium) 
  • Wise Blood by Flannery O'Connor (1952, US) Southern Gothic
  • I'm Not Stiller by Max Frisch (1954, Switzerland) Crime
  • The Quiet American by Graham Greene (1955, UK) Crime
  • Voss by Patrick White (1957, Australia) Adventure
  • Jealousy by Alain Robbe-Grillet (1957, France)  
  • Billiards at Half-Past Nine by Heinrich Boll (1959, Germany) 
  • The Tin Drum by Gunter Grass (1959, Germany) Magical Realism
  • Catch-22 by Joseph Heller (1961, US) War
  • The Death of Artemio Cruz by Carlos Fuentes (1961, Mexico) 
  • Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov (1962, US)  
  • Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates (1962, US) 
  • The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing (1962, UK)  
  • Woman in the Dunes by Kobo Abe (1962, Japan) 
  • Hopscotch by Julio Cortazar (1963, Argentina)  
  • The Spy Who Came in from the Cold by John le Carre (1963, UK) Crime
  • Dune by Frank Herbert (1965, US) SF
  • The Magus by John Fowles (1965, UK) Adventure
  • One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (1967, Colombia) Magical Realism
  • Ubik by Philip K Dick (1969, US) SF
  • Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner (1971, US) Romance
  • Lives of Girls and Women by Alice Munro (1971, Canada) 
  • The Summer Book by Tove Jannson (1972, Finland)
  • Gravity's Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon (1973, US) War
  • Past Continuous by Yaakov Shabtai (1977, Israel) 
  • If On a Winter’s Night A Traveler… by Italo Calvino (1979, Italy) Magical Realism
  • A Bend in the River by V.S. Naipaul (1979, UK) 
  • The Book of the New Sun by Gene Wolfe (1980, US) SF
  • Housekeeping by Marlynne Robinson (1980, US) 
  • So Long, See You Tomorrow by William Maxwell (1980, US) 
  • Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie (1981, UK) Magical Realism
  • Startide Rising by David Brin (1984, US) SF
  • The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera (1984, Czech Republic) Romance
  • Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy (1985, US) Adventure
  • White Noise by Don DeLillo (1985, US) Comedy
  • Beloved by Toni Morrison (1987, US) Magical Realism
  • The Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons (1987, US) SF
  • Oscar and Lucinda by Peter Carey (1988, Australia) Romance
  • The Melancholy of Resistance by Laszlo Krasznahorkai (1989, Hungary) 
  • Wise Children by Angela Carter (1991, UK) 
  • The Notebook, the Proof, the Third Lie by Agota Kristof (1991, Hungary) War
  • A Heart So White by Javier Marias (1992, Spain) Romance
  • Red Mars Trilogy by Kim Stanley Robinson (1993, US) SF
  • Permutation City by Greg Egan (1994, Australia) SF
  • His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman (1995, UK) Fantasy
  • Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace (1996, US) SF
  • The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson (1996, US) SF
  • American Pastoral by Philip Roth (1997, US) 
  • Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee (1999, South Africa) 
  • Shadow Without a Name by Ignacio Padilla (2000, Mexico) War
  • A Deepness in the Sky by Vernor Vinge (2000, US) SF
  • The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood (2000, Canada) Romance
  • Under the Skin by Michel Faber (2000, UK) SF
  • White Teeth by Zadie Smith (2000, US)
  • The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen (2001, US) 
  • Austerlitz by W.G. Sebald (2001, Germany)
  • American Gods by Neil Gaiman (2001, US) Fantasy
  • Atonement by Ian McEwan (2001, UK) War
  • Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell (2004, UK) SF
  • Fun Home and Are You My Mother by Alison Bechdel (2006, US)
  • Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel (2009, UK)
  • A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan (2010, US)

Saturday, August 30, 2014

100 Novels, Round 3

It's been over 3 years since I posted on this blog soooo… I’m, admittedly, a bit overdue. My hobbies tend to wax and wane at 2-3 year intervals, often peaking with unsustainable all-consuming binges. One such movie spree took place between when I posted round 2 and today. I got a bit sidetracked from reading.

This pattern dates back to my childhood. The first time I really fell head-over-heels into reading was after discovering my father’s 1000+ collection of sci-fi and fantasy in a bunch of cardboard boxes lined with spider eggs and left in the basement, unpacked, from a previous move. Already a compulsive data cruncher [nerd], I volunteered to air out, alphabetize and shelve this pulpy bounty for the pure fun of it. I asked my dad, almost incidentally, where to start if I were going to read any of it. He gave me Dune. I was several years too young; my mother would have made a different judgment call. While always encouraging me to read, and buying me books with what then seemed reckless abandon, she didn’t greatly approve of my spending hours below earth thumbing through dusty $0.79 paperbacks whose psychedelic covers featured a preponderance of mushroom clouds, half-naked alien princesses and gratuitously explicit artist’s renditions of melting and/or exploding faces. But I was hooked. Reading science-fiction, often when I should have been paying attention in class, took me well into high school. There, around the time of my freshman year, I discovered film and the next decade of my life more or less disappeared into the rival medium.

That took me up to May 2009. My previous two “rounds” of reading took place between then and Jan 2011, sandwiched between multi-year bouts of excessive movie watching. My latest cinephelia bender culminated in the Film Atlas Project, where I reviewed a favorite film from each of 120+ countries. A few months later, for whatever reason, the switch flipped back. I’ve returned to books.

Round 3, like the previous two, spans 100 novels. These were read between Jan 2011 and May 2014. When I posted last I was living in Wyoming and working on a novel. Little from that period of my life panned out, and, with many lessons learned, I’ve since moved back to St. Louis and returned to the software industry. During this time I also participated in two bookclubs, now both defunct: a quasi-family affair consisting of my brother, father and a friend (Josh) and an eclectic St. Louis-based group focused on women authors. I also started using Goodreads, which has made the personal bookkeeping aspect of this post less pressing, but I enjoy the exercise/indulgence of writing it up just the same.

Each round I set a few goals for pushing outward my horizons. For round 3 I wanted to get more into Eastern European literature (in part because of my family background) and to sample some writing from the Middle East and Australia (which will continue into round 4). Another focus was to not limit myself by what is easily available on Amazon.com and, towards that end, I tracked down half a dozen out-of-print books that I was interested in. Thank god for libraries!

And now for the inevitable statistical breakdown:
US: 28
UK: 17
France: 7
Russia: 5
Czech Republic: 4
Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Poland, Spain: 3
Australia, Austria, Germany, India, Japan: 2
Albania, Argentina, Canada, Chile, Egypt, Georgia, Iran, Israel, Mexico, Norway, Palestine, Portugal, South Africa, Trinidad: 1

This was my first time reading books from Hungary, India, Albania, Egypt, Georgia, Iran, Israel, Mexico, Palestine and Trinidad. About half the books I read were translations (I still only read English). The best revelation was Hungary; all three books landing in my top 100. On the other hand, the three books I read from Poland left me disappointingly cold. I read somewhat fewer books from the “big name” novel countries like the US, UK, France, Germany and Russia.

I’ve seen movie adaptations of 25 of the books from this batch. Of these films I’d peg only 3 as notably superior to their source material: The Home and the World, The Magnificent Ambersons, and Valerie and Her Week of Wonders. I would, however, also highly recommend the movie adaptations of Heart of Darkness (Apocalypse Now), The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, All the King’s Men, A Ghost at Noon (Contempt), Men in the Sun, The Melancholy of Resistance (Werckmeister Harmonies) and Under the Skin as well as the anime adaptation of The Count of Monte Cristo (Gankutsuou).

Special distinctions from this batch:
Overall favorite: The Death of Artemio Cruz
Best SF: Infinite Jest, Under the Skin
Best crime fiction:  The Quiet American
Best graphic novel: Fun Home
Best romance: Oscar and Lucinda, Gone with the Wind
Best obscurities: Past Continuous, The Notebook The Proof and the Third Lie, The Ice Palace
Best premise: Perfume: The Story of a Murderer – A serial-killer in 18th century France uses his heightened olfactory sense to hunt specially-chosen victims to use as ingredients for the ultimate perfume.
Most wasted premise: Exercises in Style - The same short story told [poorly] in dozens of [lackluster] styles.
Best story: The Magus, A Heart So White, The Forsyte Saga
Best prose: Wolf Hall
Best structure: Hopscotch
Most Difficult: The Flanders Road
Longest: War and Peace, Infinite Jest
Funniest: War with the Newts, At Swim-Two-Birds
Angriest: Embers, Contempt
Most fun: Wise Children, The Big Over Easy
Most depressing: The Man Who Loved Children, The Floating Opera
Most energetic: Insatiability
Most emotional: Angle of Repose, So Long See You Tomorrow
Most ambiguous: The Book of Disquiet
Best bookclub discussion of a book I liked: The Talented Mr. Ripley
Best bookclub discussion of a book I disliked: Divergent
Best title: The Melancholy of Resistance

** Excellent
* Very Good
[blank] Fair to Good
^  Bad   

The List:

1207: The Knight in the Panther's Skin by Shota Rustaveli (Georgia) ^
1820: Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott (UK) *
1833: Eugene Onegin by Aleksander Pushkin (Russia) *
1838: Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket, The by Edgar Allan Poe (USA)
1842: Dead Souls by Nikolai Gogol (Russia)
1846: The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas (France) **
1846: Cousin Bette by Honore de Balzac (France) *
1853: Bleakhouse by Charles Dickens (UK) **
1857: Barchester Towers by Anthony Trollope (UK) *
1869: War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy (Russia) **
1885: Bel-Ami by Guy de Maupassant (France)
1895: Quo Vadis by Henryk Sienkiewicz (Poland) ^
1902: Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad (UK) **
1913: The Lost Estate (Le Grand Meaulnes) by Henri Alain-Fournier (France) *
1916: The Home and the World by Rabindranath Tagore (India) ^
1918: The Magnificent Ambersons by Booth Tarkington (USA)
1921: The Forsyte Saga by John Galsworthy (UK) **
1925: An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser (USA) *
1927: Envy by Yuri Olesha (Russia) ^
1927: Insatiability by Stanislaw Witkiewicz (Poland) ^
1927: The Treasure of the Sierra Madre by B Traven (Germany/Mexico) **
1930: The 42nd Parallel by John Dos Passos (USA) *
1932: 1919 by John Dos Passos (USA) *
1934: Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller (USA)
1934: A Week of Kindness by Max Ernst (France)
1934: I, Claudius by Robert Graves (UK) **
1935: Mr. Norris Changes Trains by Christopher Isherwood (UK) *
1935: The Book of Disquiet by Fernando Pessoa (Portugal) *
1935: Valerie and Her Week of Wonders by Vitezslav Nezval (Czech) *
1936: The Big Money by John Dos Passos (USA) *
1936: War with the Newts by Karel Capek (Czech) **
1936: Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell (USA) **
1937: Ferdydurke by Witold Gombrowicz (Poland)
1937: The Blind Owl by Sadegh Hedayat (Iran) *
1938: The Death of the Heart by Elizabeth Bowen (Ireland) *
1939: Goodbye to Berlin by Christopher Isherwood (UK) *
1939: At Swim-Two-Birds by Flann O'Brien (Ireland) *
1940: The Tartar Steppe by Dino Buzzati (Italy) *
1940: The Man Who Loved Children by Christina Stead (Australia) **
1942: Chess Story by Stefan Zweig (Austria) *
1942: Embers by Sandor Marai (Hungary) **
1946: All the King's Men by Robert Penn Warren (USA) **
1947: Exercises in Style by Raymond Queneau (France) ^
1948: The Heart of the Matter by Graham Greene (UK) **
1949: The Sheltering Sky by Paul Bowles (USA)
1954: Contempt / A Ghost at Noon by Alberto Moravia (Italy) **
1955: The Quiet American by Graham Greene (UK) **
1955: The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith (USA) *
1956: The Floating Opera by John Barth (USA) *
1959: The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson (USA)
1960: The Flanders Road by Claude Simon (France)
1961: A House for Mr. Biswas by V.S. Naipaul (Trinidad)
1962: The Death of Artemio Cruz by Carlos Fuentes (Mexico) **
1962: The Garden of the Finzi-Continis by Giorgio Bassani (Italy) *
1962: The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing (UK) **
1963: Hopscotch by Julio Cortazar (Argentina) **
1963: The Ice Palace by Tarjei Vesaas (Norway) **
1963: V. by Thomas Pynchon (USA)
1963: Men in the Sun by Ghassan Kanafani (Palestine) *
1963: The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath (USA) *
1965: The Magus by John Fowles (UK) **
1966: Silence by Shusaku Endo (Japan)
1966: Spring Snow by Yukio Mishima (Japan) *
1967: Miramar by Naguib Mahfouz (Egypt)
1970: Play It As It Lays by Joan Didion (USA) **
1971: Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner (USA) **
1971: Lives of Girls and Women by Alice Munro (Canada) **
1971: The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula K. Leguin (USA)
1971: I Served the King of England by Bohumil Hrabal (Czech) *
1975: Humboldt's Gift by Saul Bellow (USA)
1975: Correction by Thomas Bernhard (Austria)
1977: Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison (USA) **
1977: Past Continuous by Yaakov Shabtai (Israel) **
1977: Delta of Venus by Anais Nin (USA)
1978: Broken April by Ismail Kadare (Albania)
1979: The Book of Laughter and Forgetting by Milan Kundera (Czech)
1980: So Long, See You Tomorrow by William Maxwell (USA) **
1981: July's People by Nadine Gordimer (South Africa) *
1983: The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley (USA)
1984: Love Medicine by Louise Erdrich (USA) *
1985: Perfume: The Story of a Murderer by Patrick Suskind (Germany) *
1988: Oscar and Lucinda by Peter Carey (Australia) **
1989: The Melancholy of Resistance by Laszlo Krasznahorkai (Hungary) **
1990: The Flanders Panel by Arturo Perez-Reverte (Spain)
1991: The Notebook, The Proof and The Third Lie by Agota Kristof (Hungary) **
1991: Wise Children by Angela Carter (UK) **
1992: A Heart So White by Javier Marias (Spain) **
1993: The Life of Insects by Victor Pelevin (Russia)
1996: Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace (USA) **
1997: The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy (India) *
1998: The Savage Detectives by Robert Bolano (Chile) *
2000: Bartleby & Co by Enrique Vila-Matas (Spain) ^
2000: Under the Skin by Michel Faber (UK) **
2005: The Sea by John Banville (Ireland) *
2005: The Big Over Easy by Jasper Fforde (UK) *
2006: Fun Home by Alison Bechdel (USA) **
2009: Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel (UK) **
2011: Divergent by Veronica Roth (USA) ^
2011: The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes (UK) *
2012: Marbles by Ellen Forney (USA) 

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die

I have eulogized lists and the art of listmaking so many times that I know I risk repetition. However, I am just one of those people. I love lists. Others hate them, or more accurately, view them primarily with skepticism and suspicion. In the view of the nay-sayers lists are restrictive, exclusionary, essentialist and arbitrary. They are too often used, they will tell you, as a form of authority to mask blind consensus, received opinions or a flawed and incomplete checklist that obscures the dazzling variety and complexity of art.

But I have generally found lists, or at least the best of them, to be the opposite: testaments to variety, catalysts for further exploration, platforms for debate. When it comes to books, I have often relied on a host of lists from disparate sources to piques my interest, expose me to new authors and solidify my resolution to tackles long, difficult or lesser-known works. This is all the more true when the list is large.

So it isn't a surprise that I'm a big fan of the "1001 Before You Die" series by Quintessence Editions Ltd. which includes such problematic and yet, for me, irresistible titles as "1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die" (I'm at 943), "1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die" and, subject of today's musings, "1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die." The morbid imperative of the titles may be overwrought, the whole series might be compromised by installments for wines and gardens and the individual choices may be the subject for endless carping, but the idea, and the ambition that lies behind it, compels my applause.

The first 1001 Books list was published in 2006, but the earliest edition I encountered was the 2008 list. Though I didn't buy or even read the descriptive entries, I immediately incorporated it into my inevitable spreadsheet of novel recommendations. Much of my reading from the past 3 years has involved members of the list and, though it has served me well, I identifies a couple overarching problems with the list.

One was that the definition of 'book' was somewhat sketchy. The core of the list is clearly novels, but occasional non-fiction, short-stories and epic poems creeped in, with an inconsistency that bugged me. Ovid's Metamorphosis appears, but not Dante's Divine Comedy? That makes me wonder where is the line being drawn on epic poetry? And are Edgar Allen Poe's "The Purloined Letter" or Swift's "A Modest Proposal" really books, short as they are?

My second problem was that the creators (a team of around 300 writers, critics and scholars) clearly focused on a list of great authors (particularly English-language ones) and then put every creditable work by those authors on the list, at the expense of lesser-known writers. The result is fairly unassailable, but too overburdened with the established Western giants and a little too safe and obvious for my taste.

When the 2010 edition came out I immediately noticed that my first complaint (about the definition of what qualifies as a 'book') still holds, but the changes in the line-up have utterly shattered my second qualm. Around 150 selections shifted. Almost all new additions are from writers previously absent from the list (including lots of unsung masterpieces), while most of the books shed from the line-up are 2nd and 3rd tier works by authors already well-represented. I couldn't approve more!

I also found it both exciting and gratifying that so many of the new additions are books that either 1) I've read recently, 2) I already planned to read in the near future after hearing about them through other sources or 3) my friends have already read or plan to read. This overlap might make it sound like the new additions are simply popular, recent or well-known works, but it strikes me that the opposite is often true. Thus reading over the list got me excited to discuss what I know about some of the new additions, which I plan to do in a casual and rather solipsistic manner (you have been warned). Later I'll go over what has been dropped from the list, especially the handful of casualties that leave me aghast.

By this point, if you haven't already, you'll probably want to look over the full list for yourself.

Selected Comments on the New Additions

Many of the new additions are a total mysteries to me, so I'm only going to mention the ones that I've at least heard of or have something to say about. I've ordered the list alphabetically by author's last name. I refer several times to my reading companero Josh Potter, whose book blog covers several of the titles. N.D., who knows who he is, also gets several shout outs. When I mention my book club, it actually just means Josh, my brother, my father and me.

Of Love and Shadows (Isabel Allende) - Hailing from Chile, Allende has achieved a huge level of international popularity and is one of the most recognized contemporary Central American authors. While I haven't read any of her works, my mother is a big fan and Josh a fierce dissenter. This works joins her The House of the Spirits on the list.

I'm Not Scared (Niccolo Ammaniti) - A short tense Italian thriller about a boy who finds another child in the hidden pit of an abandoned farmhouse, ejecting him from the innocence of his scorching rural summer. Coworkers introduced me to the movie adaptation, which is pretty decent. My friend N.D. enjoyed the book, rating it 3/5.

Bosnian Chronicle (Ivo Andric) - This work by Bosnian Nobel-prize winner Ivo Andric is his second to make the list. It joins his The Bridge on the Drina, a book I read last year which functions as a 400-year historical-fiction biography of the titular bridge. Sadly, it's troubled tale continued long after the novel with the 1992 Visegrad massacre.

Ashes and Diamonds (Jerzy Andrzejewski) - If the book is anywhere near as good as the Polish Film School classic by Andrzej Wajda, than the book must be fantastic. The story follows an attempted assassination of a rising communist officer by a member of the resistance on the eve of VE day, complicated by the moral and political crises of the anchorless protagonist.

The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter (Anonymous) - A 10th century Japanese folktale that happens to be one of the earliest recorded sci-fi stories. I first came across this while playing the 2008 videogame Okami, which required me to buff up on Japanese mythology a bit. If you don't know, for instance, that the ancient Japanese thought the moon held a rabbit making rice cakes, elements of the game can be rather confusing.

Invisible (Paul Auster) - Something of a change of pace for Auster, this 2009 novel follows a group of intellectuals whose literary ambitions fall apart in 1960's New York. I'm a fan of Auster's previous novels The New York Trilogy (existential anti-detective stories) and In the Country of Last Things (dreamlike post apocalyptic sci-fi).

The Mandarins (Simone de Beauvoir) - Intellectuals struggle to determine their role in modern society in this works by influential French feminist de Beauvoir, best known for her treatise The Second Sex.

2666 and Savage Detectives (Roberto Bolano) - One of only a handful of authors to have two novels burst onto the list, Chilean author Bolano's has been hailed as a brilliant postmodern maximalist, though some of his works weren't translated into English until after his death in 2003. Josh and I plan to read Savage Detectives in the near future.

The Death of Virgil and The Guiltless (Hermann Broch) - Another author to break into the list with two titles, Broch is known as one of the lost modernist masters, an Australian writer with a reputation for erudition, profundity and difficulty. He came up in discussions between Josh and I about joint reads, but didn't make the cut. I hope to tackle The Death of Virgil or The Sleepwalkers in the mid-future.

The Way of All Flesh (Samuel Butler) - Too daring to publish in its day (1870's/1880's), Butler's coming-of-age story follows the repressed life of a third-generation clergyman and his struggles with parents, religion, society and women, under the watchful eye of the cynical humanist author. Not a personal favorite for me, but I appreciated Butler's guts, humor and sensitivity.

The Children's Book (A. S. Byatt) - The latest book from the author of the well-regarded Possession (on my reading list despite dropping off of this installment) follows several families whose lives loosely parallel several troubled children's writers.

War with the Newts (Karel Capek) - Considered to be the masterpiece of Czech sci-fi writer Capek, best-known for coining the word "Robot" in his play Rossum's Universal Robots (which is OK, but not great). On my long-term reading list.

The Lost Steps (Alejo Carpentier) - A composer abandons New York City for a vague quest into the Amazon. Carpentier is a brilliant Cuban magical-realist. This work joins his Kingdom of This World on the list, which I've read and enjoyed so much that I immediately vowed to read more by him one day.

Journey to the Alcarria and The Hive (Camilo Jose Cela) - Another author with two titles entering the list. Cela is a Spanish writer who writes ensemble cast realism. I put The Hive on my long-term reading list a few years back and I'm glad to have something confirm my interest.

Monkey: Journey to the West (Wu Cheng-en) - One of the cornerstones of Chinese mythology, my only encounters with this 16th century classic have been films that I was drawn to because of my interest in time-travel (A Chinese Odyssey Part 1 & 2) and obscure animation (Havoc in Heaven, Princess Iron Fan). The protagonist, Monkey, is one of the key progenitors of the prankster/jester archetype.

Falling Man (Don DeLillo) - Considered to be DeLillo's return to form after a decade long slump, Falling Man addresses the repercussions of 9/11 as it applies to a single survivor. I've read his magnificent White Noise and disappointing Body Artist (rightly dropped from the list since the last installment), and shortly plan to tackle Underworld, often designated as his masterpiece.

The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (Junot Diaz) - One of the most lauded books of the last decade, I've been waiting for this book to start appearing on lists. It concerns a Dominican boy growing up in Jersey, is riddled with sci-fi references, and addressed Domincan history and stereotypes. I've got it on my mid-to-long term reading list.

Democracy and Play It As It Lays (Joan Didion) - Two of the best known titles by hard-hitting New-Journalist Didion. Play It As It Lays, a disenchanted look at failed Hollywood dreams told from the perspective of an actress recovering from a breakdown, is on my near-future reading list.

The Crime of Father Amaro (Jose Maria Eca de Queiros) - Portugal's top realist writer (a Flaubert contemporary). I've only come across his name in very old reviews and dedications by other authors, but I want to investigate him further some day.

Deep River and Silence (Shusaku Endo) - It is nice to see Endo, a Japanese Catholic whose works deal with difficult moral dilemmas throughout many different eras, score two books on the list. Silence is actually on my reading list for next month.

Thais (Anatole France) - A historical fictional account of a Christian in 4th century Egypt. Anatole France, a semi-forgotten Nobel-prize winner from the turn-of-the-century, also wrote the satire Penguin Island, which I read a couple of years ago. It never quite achieves brilliance outside the inspired premise: a half-blind monk baptizes the natives of a glacier where he ship-wrecks, accidentally endowing penguins with souls. Their civilization humorously parallels the history of France.

The Death of Artemio Cruz (Carlos Fuentes) - One of the best books I've read so far this year. A dying executive looks back with regret on his moral and political compromises during the turbulent changes in Mexican history. Josh read and admired Fuentes's longer, fantasy-tinged Terra Nostra.

No One Writes to the Colonel (Gabriel Garcia Marquez) - A short work by Latin America's best-known author, and a rare departure from his trademark magical realism. Josh and I read Marquez's Love In the Time of Cholera. My family and almost everyone I know has read One Hundred Years of Solitude, one of my favorites.

Ferdydurke (Witold Gombrowicz) - My bookclub read this in February, and while we all had reservations, it is certainly a unique work of Polish surrealism. It deals with dichotomies like youth vs. maturity, pride vs. humiliation, city vs. countryside in a frenetic, ambiguous, tongue-in-cheek fashion.

Dog Years (Gunter Grass) - Joins the other two parts of Grass's Danzig trilogy (The Tin Drum and Cat and Mouse) on the list. My brother and I are both big Tin Drum fans.

Martin Fierro (Jose Hernandez) - It's only fair that Argentina's most important epic poem join the other examples on the list. Though I've never read it (I'm worried about issues with translation), I keep coming across references to it in Borges, Pynchon, Bolano, Brazilian films, etc.

Closely Watched Trains (Bohumil Hrabal) - I've seen the Acadamy Award winning movie adaption. The book is a Czech dramedy in which a naive train station employee disastrously conflates his virginity and an act of wartime sabotage. Hrabal's Too Loud a Silence is on my mid-future reading list.

Three Trapped Tigers (Guillermo Cabrera Infante) - A modernist exploration of Havana's pre-Castro nightlife. On Josh's reading list.

The Successor (Ismail Kadare) A semi-stream-of-conscious investigation into the murder of an Albanian tyrant's right-hand man, Kadare continues to solidify his reputation as a major author with this book, his third to make the list. I want to try out Kadare's Broken April late this year.

A Thousand Cranes (Yasunari Kawabata) - Nobel prize winner Kawabata seems to be undergoing a bit of a revival, with four different sources that I follow all adding different works by the Japanese great within the past year. As an avid chess player and casual go fan, who enjoys observing the differences between the games, I read Kawabata's The Master of Go a couple of years ago. I plan to follow-up on it with his Snow Country in the vague future.

On the Edge of Reason and The Return of Philip Latinowicz (Miroslav Krleza) - Krleza is one of Croatia's great poet-novelist (not the only to be added to the list this installment). He is a proponent of the "novel of ideas," though he is considerably more concise than many of the better known examples. On the Edge of Reason, about a man plunged into social rejection, imprisonment, exile and degradation due to a single ill-advised comment about an influential man, has lingered in the middle-distance of my reading list, but I might move it up.

Barabbas (Par Lagerkvist) - Last year I read this short work by Swedish Nobel prize winner Lagerkvist, which tells the story of Jesus's crucifixion and the aftermath through the eyes of Barabbas, the criminal set free in Jesus's place. I found the book to be surprisingly more subtle, quiet and ambiguous than I was expecting and, though I didn't know quite what to make of it at first, it has grown on me ever since.

The Namesake (Jhumpa Lahiri) - Lahiri follow-up to her equally successful Pulitzer-prize winning debut, Interpreter of Maladies, has me somewhat intrigued, but skeptical. The movie adaptation was engulfed by rave reviews, but I found it to be somewhat by-the-numbers, and haven't yet been inspired to pick up the novel.

The Dispossessed (Ursula K. LeGuin) - My dad and I were recently discussing LeGuin, a feminist sci-fi mainstay, and we have rather differing opinions (he's a big fan; I've been unimpressed so far). She is probably best known for The Left Hand of Darkness, which I found dated and overrated, so I'm glad that this work was the one chosen for the list. The Dispossessed follows a moon visitor representing a Buddhist-esque philosophy who visits his original planet, a clear stand-in for Cold War era Earth. Prepare to be beaten over the head with political metaphors and 1970's New Agey philosophy.

A Hero of Our Times (Mikhail Yurevich Lermontov) - After Pushkin, Lermontov is acknowledged as Russia's greatest Romantic writer (not a movement I sympathize with). Better known for poetry, this is his only major prose work. I've not heard positive personal testimony myself, but it is probably an unavoidable classic at some point. Josh plans to read it eventually, and I may just await his review.

The War of the End of the World and The Time of the Hero (Mario Vargas Llosa) - The latter is a prismatic-perspective take on Peruvian military school. Josh and I read his excellent The Feast of the Goat (already present on the list) around the time of his Nobel prize announcement last year.

The Call of the Wild (Jack London) - An important young-reader novel told from the POV of a canine who ends up pulling dogsleds in Alaska and goes through many adventures before responding to the call of the wild and joining a pack of wolves. I was sad to see this added to the list at the expense of London's lesser-known The Iron Heel, the first dystopic novel, which I still intend to read one day.

Midaq Alley and Miramar (Naguib Mahfouz) - Two internationally admired works by Egypt's premier 20th century writer. I recently saw the surprisingly good Mexican adaptation of Midaq Alley and Josh and I, mere weeks ago, decided to put Miramar on our monthly book club list.

Man's Fate (Andre Malraux) - Malraux's masterpiece is a French Existentialist take on the 1927 Shanghai Massacre. I've been told it's essential reading by several Francophile sources, but I'm not sure when I'll get around to it.

Joseph and His Brothers (Thomas Mann) - Mann is the only big-name author on the list who not only didn't lose any titles, but had one added. Mann experts and German literary critics are virtually unanimous in hailing Joseph and His Brother's as Mann's highest achievement, but few in the English-speaking world seem to read it (at 1500 pages, who can blame them?). I've enjoyed The Magic Mountain and A Death in Venice by the titanic author, and will one day read Buddenbrooks with my brother.

All Souls and Your Face Tomorrow (Javier Marias) - A visiting Spaniard professor wryly observes the stagnation and ineffectuality of Oxford intellectuals in Marias's debut novel, All Souls. I had previously planned to read his sophomore effort, A Heart So White (now dropped from the list), but I might change to one of these. Marias is considered one of the great bards of memory, a structural model and literary theme that interests me quite a bit.

All the Pretty Horses and Blood Meridian (Cormac McCarthy) - All the Pretty Horses (read back in high school) was one of my least favorite novels. Blood Meridian (read post-college) is, despite its relentless disturbing imagery chronicling amoral bounty-hunters in mid-19th century Mexico , a favorite. I find it hard to explain the discrepancy. I also thumbs-up The Road, his sparse, bleak post-apocalyptic tale.

Day of the Dolphin (Robert Merle) - I was surprised to find that this was a book (and apparently a good one), as I'm only familiar with the underrated movie, a charmingly ridiculous thriller about a terrorist plot to used trained dolphins for evil. Originally French and titled "A Sentient Animal." I'm curious.

The Sound of Waves (Yukio Mishima) - A novella about a young man's burgeoning love life. I'm significantly less interested in this than Mishima's Sea of Fertility cycle, already present on the list. I plan to read the first novel, Spring Snow, sometime this year. Mishima is most notorious for staging an ultranationalist pro-emperor military coup in Japan and, when it failed, committing seppuku.

The Lives of Girls and Women and The Beggar Maid (Alice Munro) - Absolutely everyone seems to love Canadian short-story writer Munro, especially other writers, and I think the only reason for her previous absence was that no one is quite sure rather her works count as novels. I plan to start with Lives of Girls and Women, a coming-of-age story with feminist undertones.

The Shipyard (Juan Carlos Onetti) - A luminary from Uruguay, I knew nothing about this book until Josh read it and reviewed it on his website. He recommends it and, besides, its short, so I'll have to give it a shot soon.

Snow (Orhan Pamuk) - An exiled poet returns to Turkey after 12 years absence to investigate a series of suicides in a small border town. Josh and I read Pamuk's My Name Is Red just a few months back, which he was quite taken with, but which left me frequently annoyed and unimpressed. In retrospect, perhaps I should have read Snow, which also comes recommended by N.D. Maybe I still will, eventually.

The Book of Disquiet (Fernando Pessoa) - This was already in my queue within the next 10 books I planned to read, having been recommended as the favorite book of friend R.C. A non-linear, poetic diary of an acerbic bookkeeper, I'm extremely excited about this acclaimed Portuguese experimental novel.

Heartbreak Tango and Kiss of the Spider Woman (Manuel Puig) - I know little about this Argentinean writer, but years ago I was impressed by the movie adaptation of Kiss of the Spider Woman, a surprisingly touching homoerotic prison thriller. I've forgotten enough of it that I'd gladly give it a read.

Eugene Onegin (Alexander Pushkin) - I should get to this within a few months. Pushkin, Russia's best-known and most-beloved poet, wrote this "novel in verse" culminating in a duel gone wrong and I figured it would be a perfect introduction for me to his work.

Against the Day (Thomas Pynchon) - I've been told, by those who can find any words to describe it at all, that Against the Day is basically an elaborate, large-cast, epic-scope historical metafiction revenge drama sprawling 1000+ pages. Two Pynchon novels were dropped from the list: Vineland and Mason & Dixon (which I might read anyway). I'm a veteran of Gravity's Rainbow and The Crying of Lot 49. This month, my bookclub is tackling V.

Home (Marilynne Robinson) - A sequel, of sorts, to Robinson's Pulitzer-winning Gilead, I actually came really close to buying this while in Iowa last week (the book is set in Iowa, so I figured it would be fitting) mostly on the strength of her novel Housekeeping, whose ineffable atmosphere and gorgeous images of water and light still haunt me.

Baltasar and Blimunda (Jose Saramago) - Joins The History of the Siege of Lisbon and The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis, also by Saramago, on the list. Before he died last year he was widely regarded as not just the best living Portugese novelist, but one of the best in the world. I read Blindness about a year ago and liked it well enough, but in retrospect I wish I had ignored the hype (driven by the movie adaptation) and gone with one of Saramago earlier works like this one, a love story set against the Inquisition and the construction of a famous convent. Josh plans to read Blindness in the very near future.

None but the Brave (Arthur Schnitzler) - On my brother's advice I read Schnitzler's Dream Story (loose source of Kubrick film Eyes Wide Shut), which weaves a wonderfully unsettling blend of eroticism and conspiracy. Schnitzler is an Austrian known for his plays and short fiction.

The Street of Crocodiles (Bruno Schulz) - This ecstatic work of Polish surrealism about a young boy and his adventures in his father's textile shop and streets and alleys of the surrounding town, is a personal favorite. Schulz is being widely rediscovered by many readers (both N.D. and K.P. read him independently of me), and I hope he is eventually universally acknowledged as an enduring master.

To Each His Own (Leonardo Sciascia) - A brief, punchy Italian murder mystery about the mafia and the tenacity of corruption, I've had this on my reading list for a long while, and should probably move it up.

God's Bit of Wood (Ousmane Sembene) - A novel about a railroad strike in Africa told from the point of view of the navies and implicitly a critique of colonialism. Josh read this and seems generally favorable. I've watched a few of Sembene's films, icons of Senegalese and African cinema in general, and I should probably check this out.

The Magician of Lublin and The Manor (Isaac Bashevis Singer) - Singer is a Jewish-American Nobel prize winner who writes in Yiddish and is known equally for his short stories and long family novels. I'll probably read The Family Moskat one day, but I don't have much enthusiasm after viewing, a few years back, a rare but underwhelming movie adaptation of The Magician of Lublin.

The Man Who Love Children (Christina Stead) - I've heard this 1940 dysfunctional family epic described as a cult classic and the best 20th century Australian novel ever written. I'm excited to see it make the list as I already own a copy and planned to get to it within a few months.

As a Man Grows Older (Italo Svevo) - Joins Svevo's Zeno's Consciousness on the list, an Italian modernist staple and a novel both Josh and I plan to read.

Some Prefer Nettles (Junichiro Tanizaki) - I read Tanizaki's Naomi, a sort of Japanese Lolita where the girl represents the seduction of the West in a rapidly sinking ship of Japanese traditions, for a Japanese history class in college. Since then I've planned to read more. This one uses a crumbling marriage as a staging point for contrasting old world vs. western influenced values.

Kristin Lavransdatter (Sigrid Undset) - I came across this 1168-page 1920's Norwegian novel about a woman in medieval Norway twice within two months on separate and unrelated visits to Salt Lake City. I first saw it sitting in a shop (not a bookstore; there were no other books) and asked the manager about it, who said she kept copies for sale because it was her favorite book. I saw another copy on a ski trip at the house of a friend's aunt, who told me it was her late mother's favorite book. It won a Nobel Prize, too. Seems daunting though, especially with so many better-known epics I still need to partake of.

Z (Vassilis Vassilikos) - A French-language political thriller about the assassination of a Greek anti-nuclear advocate by right-wing agents with government connections. I'm a huge fan of the famous film adaptation by Costra-Gavras, required viewing by every film lover.

The Birds (Tarjei Vesaas) - I'm pleased to find Vesaas made the list, possibly Norway's greatest modernist, though barely known here. On N.D.'s recommendation I read The Ice Palace last month and the title chapter is the best chapter I've read this year. It sent chills down my spine and ensnared me in the otherworldly atmosphere. The Birds, about a mentally disabled man who looks with fear and skepticism upon his older sister's romantic involvement with a transient lumberjack, will likely be a must-read for me.

Michael Kohlhaas (Heinrich von Kleist) - This 1811 German novella about injustice, revenge and reprisal is part of Kleist's collection The Marquise of O and Other Stories, which I already planned to read sometime this year. Kleist came to my attention through Eric Rohmer's witty film adaptation, Harold Bloom's Western Canon, and E. L. Doctorow's references to the story in his novels Ragtime and The March.

Insatiability (Stanislaw Ignacy Witkiewicz) - This year I am making an effort to read more obscure and out-of-print works, of which this is the one I am most excited about, perhaps because copies are so elusive. A work of forgotten Polish modernism, I've come across no fewer than 4 references to it so far this year: 1) culture-consuming polymath maverick Piero Scaruffi listed it amongst the greatest novels of all time, 2) the frequently informative blog Writers No One Reads featured the author, 3) N.D. read and reviewed a collection of Witkiewicz's plays and now 4) it pops up on this list! I'm hoping to get a copy through ILL. [2014 edit - After managing to track down the book, I ended up hating it! Oh, well.]

Dream of the Red Chamber (Cao Xueqin) - Another one of the four pillars of Chinese Classical novels (all four were added to the list), It is hard to get excited about this endless 18th century family chronicle due to its inordinate length and the consequent ubiquity of abridgement in translations, but one day I'd like to give it a shot.

Chess Story (Stefan Zweig) - A rapid-fire study of chess, localized genius and obsession. This was a pick just last month for my book club and we all found it an engrossing read, easy to whip through in one day. Joins Zweig's Amok on the list, of which I've seen an odd early film adaptation by Fassbinder.

Cut from the List

Again, I'm not including every name, just the authors I have some experience with or which I'm aware are considered major canonical writers. And remember, most of these authors still have their core works remaining on the list, so resist the temptation to fly into a rage if your personal favorites had a few titles trimmed.

Authors with 6 works cut: Charles Dickens (4 still remain)

Authors with 5 works cut: J. G. Ballard, Samuel Beckett (deservingly, in my opinion), J. M. Coetzee (I'm a big Coetzee fan, but 10 works on the original list did seem awfully high), Ian McEwan, Philip Roth (overkill! only two are left!), Virginia Woolf (overkill)

Authors with 4 works cut: John Banville (fortunately they kept The Sea, which I really liked), Saul Bellow, Don DeLillo (but one added), Thomas Hardy, Salman Rushdie (probably overkill)

Authors with 3 works cut: Martin Amis, Margaret Atwood, Paul Auster (although a new one was added), Iain Banks (quite happy to see The Player of Games chucked from the ranks), Thomas Bernhard, Elizabeth Bowen, William Faulkner (leaving only 1 work!) , Graham Greene, D. H. Lawrence (good riddance), Wyndham Lewis (doubtlessly his fascist sympathies play some part), Joyce Carol Oates, Iain Sinclair (gone from the list), Edith Wharton

Authors with 2 works cut: Peter Ackroyd, Jane Austin, Donald Barthelme, Charlotte Bronte, William Burroughs (deservingly), Angela Carter, Joseph Conrad, E. L. Doctorow, Maria Edgeworth (good riddance), Brett Easton Ellis, John Fowles, Henry Green, Dashiell Hammett, Nathaniel Hawthorne (I'm not a fan), Henry James, B. S. Johnson, Milan Kundera, Hanif Kureishi, Doris Lessing, Jack London (one added), Toni Morrison, Haruki Murakami, Iris Murdoch, Edna O'Brien, George Orwell, Thomas Pynchon (one added), W. G. Sebald (a shame, I suspect), Will Self (gone from the list), Muriel Spark, Robert Louis Stevenson, William Trevor, Anthony Trollope, Ivan Turgenev, Kurt Vonnegut Jr. (both were minor works), Sarah Waters (gone from the list), H. G. Wells, Rebecca West

Authors with 1 work cut: Kingsley Amis, Pat Barker, John Barth, Heinrich Boll, Jorge Luis Borges, Bertolt Brecht (his only entry, but it's his plays that make him great anyway), Anne Bronte, Fanny Burney, A. S. Byatt (but one added also), Italo Calvino, John le Carre, Raymond Chandler, Michael Cunningham, Daniel Defoe, John Dos Passos, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Alexander Dumas, George Eliot, Jeffry Eugenides, J. G. Farrell, Henry Fielding, Gustave Flaubert, E. M. Forster, Elizabeth Gaskell, George Gissing, William Golding, H. Rider Haggard, Patrick Hamilton (his only entry; I have mixed feelings), Peter Handke, Ernest Hemingway (they could have cut more), Hermann Hesse, Alan Hollinghurst (one added), Aldous Huxley, John Irving, Kazuo Ishiguro, Elmore Leonard, Mario Vargas Llosa (but two added), Malcolm Lowry, Javier Marias (but two added), William Somerset Maugham, Herman Melville, Henry Miller, Nancy Mitford, Flann O'Brien, Flannery O'Connor, Chuck Palahniuk (gone from the list), Georges Perec, Edgar Allen Poe, Jean Rhys, Jose Saramago (one added), Sir Walter Scott, Zadie Smith, Tobias Smollett, Gertrude Stein, John Steinbeck, Neal Stephenson (they picked the wrong title anyway), Jonathan Swift, Ngugi Wa Thiong'o, Jim Thompson, James Thurber, Sylvia Townsend Warner, Alice Walker, Jeanette Winterson, John Wyndham

Specific books I'm most sorry or surprised to see go

The Blind Assassin (Margaret Atwood) - Should have been kept. This genre-hybrid works on many levels and has left a more lasting impression on me than even Atwood's superb The Handmaid's Tale, which remains on the list.

The Drowned World (J. G. Ballard) - An early flooded-world SF classic. Though arguably a minor novel with a muddled second act, I liked this more his controversy-stirring Crash, which remains on the list.

The Adventures of Augie March (Saul Bellow) - My favorite Bellow book, often considered his greatest, and a nationally acknowledge classic. Yet they kept Bellow's thoroughly mediocre Humboldt's Gift...

Pilgrim's Progress (John Bunyan) - Mostly I'm just surprised to see it go. Turgid and preachy, it is undeniably influential and sometimes appreciably weird.

Wise Children (Angela Carter) - This was coming up on my reading list in just a few months! I'm still going to read it, anyhow.

Lord Jim (Joseph Conrad) - Nothing by Conrad that I've yet read is expendable. He's one of my favorite authors.
House of Leaves (Mark Danielewski) - Such a difficult call. The books is fatally flawed by its terrible framing story, but the core of the novel is a note-perfect send-up of film academia and one of the most effectively terrifying horror stories I've ever read. The experimental typography alone will ensure this work's place in history, and I hope it re-enter the list on some future date.

A Tale of Two Cities (Charles Dickens) - The initial list really overdid it on the Dicken's love (10 titles), but I think this one is a surefire keeper. I suspect most literary critics and book lovers are on my side.

The Brothers Karamazov (Fyodor Dostoevsky) - The biggest shock on the whole list, in my opinion. Almost every literary friend, critic and writer I've talked to would place this in the top 10 or 20 ever. I can't help thinking a mistake was made, as even Notes from the Underground made the list, a far less sophisticated and powerful novella by Dostoevsky. This is Dostoevsky's magnum opus.

Daniel Deronda (George Eliot) - I've only heard good things about this and several authorities, such as The Observer, consider this Eliot's best work.

The Sound and the Fury (William Faulkner) - Someone on the selection committee must have an ax to grind with Faulkner. This is a certified American classic and deservingly so.

The Heart of the Matter (Graham Greene) - I approve of The Third Man getting chopped, but I recently read this and found it very compelling. Josh was notably lukewarm, but I actually think I might prefer this over The Power and the Glory (which I read, admittedly, about a decade ago).

She (H. Rider Haggard) - One of the first and best adventure stories and one of the all-time best selling works of fiction. I'm a fan, though I admit it isn't terribly politically correct or psychologically nuanced.

Red Harvest (Dashiell Hammett) - Happens to be a personal favorite; a genre-defining mystery triple-feature set in a gangland rife with witty quips and bursts of signature violence. Better than The Maltese Falcon which remains (rightly) on the list.

Never Let Me Go (Kazuo Ishiguro) - I wasn't as wowed at Time Magazine or the others who hailed this as a millennial masterpiece, but I still thought it was rather good (just unoriginal for any experienced SF reader). I plan to read more Ishiguro in short order.

Billy Budd, Foretopman (Herman Melville) - Sad to see it go (despite it not being novel-length anyway) as I adore the film and intended to read it soon.

American Pastoral (Philip Roth) - I can't see how this could have been cut after making so many lists of the greatest contemporary American novels. Besides, it's just plain brilliant. Better than Portnoy's Complaint which stayed on the list.

Between Two Acts (Virginia Woolf) - I haven't read it yet, but it's a major work by Woolf and I'm surprised to see it go.