Friday, January 14, 2011

100 Novels, Round 2

Well, it took me awhile but I'm back with another set of 100 novels that I've read since my last post. Round 2 took me significantly longer than Round 1, and I'm tempted to claim it has something to do with the major life changes I've had in the meantime (more on that in a second), but that excuse doesn't hold much water. Looking over what I've read in 2010, I definitely tackled a lot thicker novels on average than in 2009 so I'm just going to blame the increased page count for my tardiness.

Other than reading compulsively, I've done a few other activities worth mentioning. In September I got married, quit my job and moved to Wyoming. I spent the latter parts of 2010 road tripping around the North Central states playing disc golf while the sun shone and reading classic literature in cheap hotel rooms after nightfall. This is a lifestyle I highly recommend. Sadly, anyone who knows what winters are like in Wyoming knows that this couldn't last all too many months; I'm now huddled indoors with my fireplace, cat and book firmly in place. I'm indulging rather contentedly in my joblessness, but my plan is to eventually try and put together a book of my own. Wish me luck on that!

Anyway, I really enjoyed the chance to read so many fantastic novels and I tried to expand my horizons by trying new, occasionally lesser-known, authors while also continuing to explore English and International classics. I've been appreciating the recommendations, discussions, arguments and encouragements of my family and friends, especially my literary compatriot Josh. His reincarnated book blog is a much more active location for reviews than The BookWalrus manages nowadays and houses our first go at a collaborative top 50 put together by Josh, my brother and I.

I tend to be much more generous in my evaluations of books than Josh, but alas, there were five books this year that I would give my emphatic thumbs down to: Don Quixote, Castle Rackrent, The Rainbow, The Sun Also Rises and The Witches of Eastwick. I had my share of indifferent reactions as well, but I tend to find something to enjoy in almost any book and even the aforementioned have their moments. You'll see my rating alongside the list of books at the end of this post. I'm using the same rating system from Round 1, but borrowing Josh's idea to mark the rotten apples.

Now for the statistical breakdown. I wouldn't be who I am if I didn't love statistical breakdowns:

UK: 31
USA: 29
France: 11
Ireland, Russia: 4
Germany: 3
Austria, Italy, South Africa: 2
Bosnia-Herzegovina, Canada, Colombia, Cuba, Czech Republic, Japan, Netherlands, Peru, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Turkey: 1

This was the first time I've read books from Austria, Bosnia- Herzegovina, Cuba, Netherlands, Peru, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and Turkey. As usual, every non-English book I read is in translation (about 35).

The decades I read the most from were the 1940's and the 2000's (at 10 each). The 1950's dominated Round 1 with 14 books. This round I read at least one book from every decade from 1800 to 2000. I don't actually consciously ensure an even distribution of publication dates and I suspect next year the average release date will be more contemporary. I do think I've gained a better appreciation for books from various time periods, but I still don't know enough yet to draw any conclusions about what eras fostered my favorite works.

I've seen 26 movie adaptations of these novels, oddly the exact same number as the last round. If you know how obsessed I am with film you can probably guess that I'm not exactly a purist as far as "the book is always better" goes. It is certainly usually the case, but not always. This round includes 3 books that I think worked better as films, even if only slightly (Hangover Square, The Shining and The Vanishing) and one play (Suddenly, Last Summer). Last year I cited Frankenstein and The Third Man and I would now add Sons and Lovers, which, after seeing the movie, made me better realize what the novel was trying to say. Most of these films manage to excel visually as well as maintaining or reworking the original. I can also highly recommend the film versions of Orlando and The Tin Drum.

I applied the same rule as last year that I would limit myself to 2 books per author, but I'm introducing an exception: trilogies. This will probably come up more often in the future, but the only example in Round 2 is Beckett's rather disappointing trilogy of existential novels. I definitely prefer his plays.

Some special distinctions within this batch:
Overall favorite: The Corrections.
New favorite authors: Fyodor Dostoevsky, Philip Roth, Leo Tolstoy, Jonathan Franzen, W. G Sebald, David Mitchell and Malcolm Lowry.
Best genre books: Cloud Atlas (Science-Fiction) and The Hound of the Baskervilles(Mystery).
Best prose: Austerlitz.
Best story: Midnight's Children.
Best premise: The City and the City – A murder mystery spanning two cities with their own unique cultures but sharing the same geographic location. The law requires that everyone simply not acknowledge in any way the "other" opposite city. I could almost as easily call this one of the worst premises.
Most difficult: Ulysses.
Longest: Les Miserables
Funniest: A High Wind in Jamaica, Tristram Shandy and A Confederacy of Dunces.
Most depressing: Revolutionary Road and Germinal.
Most energetic: Ragtime and Journey to the End of the Night.
Happiest: Orlando and Loving.
Angriest: Native Son and Woodcutters.
Anger Inducing: Disgrace (but I loved it!).
Most disturbing: Blood Meridian and House of Leaves.
Most Ambiguous: The Magic Mountain, Barabbas and Molloy.
Best title: “The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner” – An anomalous 1820's anti-predestination-themed gothic horror meta-novel.

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

The List:

1615: Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes (Spain) ^
1678: The Princess of Cleves by Madame de La Lafayette (France) *
1719: Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe (UK)
1767: The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman by Laurence Sterne (UK) **
1800: Castle Rackrent by Maria Edgeworth (Ireland) ^
1813: Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austin (UK) *
1824: The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner by James Hogg (UK) *
1830: The Red and the Black by Marie-Henri Stendhal (France)
1833: Eugenie Grandet by Honore de Balzac (France)
1847: Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte (UK) *
1847: Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte (UK) *
1848: Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray (UK)
1851: Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell (UK) *
1859: The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins (UK) *
1861: Great Expectations by Charles Dickens (UK)
1861: Silas Marner by George Eliot (UK) *
1862: Les Miserables by Victor Hugo (France) **
1869: The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoyevsky (Russia) **
1872: Middlemarch by George Eliot (UK) **
1877: Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy (Russia) **
1880: The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky (Russia) **
1881: Portrait of a Lady by Henry James (UK) **
1884: The Way of All Flesh by Samuel Butler (UK)
1885: Germinal by Emile Zola (France) **
1900: Lord Jim by Joseph Conrad (UK) **
1900: Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser (USA) *
1902: The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle (UK) **
1902: The Immoralist by Andre Gide (France) **
1910: Howards End by E.M. Forster (UK) **
1911: Zuleika Dobson by Max Beerbohm (UK) *
1913: Petersburg by Andrei Bely (Russia) *
1914: Dubliners by James Joyce (Ireland) *
1915: The Rainbow by D.H. Lawrence (UK) ^
1918: My Antonia by Willa Cather (USA) *
1919: Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson (USA)
1920: Main Street by Sinclair Lewis (USA) **
1922: Ulysses by James Joyce (Ireland)
1923: The Good Soldier Svejk by Jaroslav Hasek (Czech)
1924: The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann (Germany) **
1926: The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway (USA) ^
1926: Dream Story by Arthur Schnitzler (Austria) *
1928: Orlando by Virgina Woolf (UK) **
1929: A High Wind in Jamaica by Richard Hughes (UK) **
1932: Journey to the End of the Night by Louis-Ferdinand Celine (France) *
1934: A Handful of Dust by Evelyn Waugh (UK)
1937: Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston (USA) *
1940: The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers (USA) **
1940: Native Son by Richard Wright (USA) **
1941: Hangover Square by Patrick Hamilton (UK)
1943: The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery (France) *
1945: The Bridge on the Drina by Ivo Andric (Bosnia-Herzegovina) *
1945: Loving by Henry Green (UK) *
1945: Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh (UK) **
1947: Under the Volcano by Malcolm Lowry (Canada) **
1948: Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton (South Africa)
1949: The Kingdom of this World by Alejo Carpentier (Cuba) **
1950: Barabbas by Par Lagerkvist (Sweden) *
1951: Molloy by Samuel Beckett (France)
1951: Mallone Dies by Samuel Beckett (France)
1953: Go Tell It On the Mountain by James Baldwin (USA) *
1953: The Unnamable by Samuel Beckett (France)
1953: The Adventures of Augie March by Saul Bellow (USA) **
1953: Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury (USA) *
1954: Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis (UK)
1959: The Tin Drum by Gunter Grass (Germany) **
1960: Rabbit, Run by John Updike (USA) **
1961: The Moviegoer by Walker Percy (USA)
1961: Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates (USA) **
1966: Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys (USA) *
1967: The Third Policeman by Flann O'Brien (Ireland) **
1970: Deliverance by James Dickey (USA) *
1975: Ragtime by E.L. Doctorow (USA) **
1975: The Periodic Table by Primo Levi (Italy) **
1977: The Shining by Stephen King (USA)
1978: Dreamsnake by Vonda McIntyre (USA)
1980: A Month in the Country by J.L. Carr (UK)
1980: The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco (Italy) **
1980: Housekeeping by Marlynne Robinson (USA) **
1980: A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole (USA) **
1981: Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie (UK) **
1984: The Vanishing by Tim Krabbe (Netherlands) *
1984: The Witches of Eastwick by John Updike (USA) ^
1985: Woodcutters by Thomas Bernhard (Austria) *
1985: Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (Colombia) *
1985: Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy (USA) **
1995: The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles by Haruki Murakami (Japan) *
1995: Blindness by Jose Saramago (Portugal) *
1997: American Pastoral by Philip Roth (USA) **
1998: My Name Is Red by Orhan Pamuk (Turkey)
1999: Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee (South Africa) **
2000: House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski (USA) **
2000: The Feast of the Goat by Mario Vargas Llosa (Peru) **
2000: The Human Stain by Philip Roth (USA) **
2001: The Body Artist by Don DeLillo (USA)
2001: The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen (USA) **
2001: Atonement by Ian McEwan (UK) **
2001: Austerlitz by W.G. Sebald (Germany) **
2004: Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell (UK) **
2005: The March by E.L. Doctorow (USA) **
2009: The City and the City by China Mieville (UK) *

And as before, I also made time for a few plays, although much less than last year. Drama is a secondary priority for me, but I consider it important.

1667: Andromaque by Jean Racine (France) *
1957: The Balcony by Jean Genet (France) *
1958: Suddenly, Last Summer by Tennessee Williams (USA) **
1961: The Physicists by Friedrich Durrenmatt (Switzerland) *
1970: The Accidental Death of an Anarchist by Dario Fo (Italy) *
1973: Equus by Peter Shaffer (UK) **


JDP said...

First question: seems like you would highly recommend Tristram Shandy?

Second: were many of these audio books you listened to en route to various disc golf courses? I'm simply blown away at the logistics of reading 100 books of this caliber in such a short period of time.

I really (pleasantly) surprised at (and proud of) your consumption of novels that I was pretty sure neither you or I would ever touch: Bronte, Thackeray, Austen, Eliot, Defoe, Cervantes, etc. What was it like dipping into this old well? Is it worth it?

I'm excited that you really like some of the novels I have fairly high up in my queue. I'm a bit disappointed that Hasek and Pamuk didn't come off all that well (not because I've completed either book, but simply because I'm either all set to read them soon or have already commenced).

Also good to see that you enjoyed one of my recommendations (Vargas Llosa) and hopefully you'll find Cortazar just as entertaining. I'm going to continue my tour of the Latin American continent in the coming months with Bolano, Fuentes, Onetti, Infante, and Carpentier.

What's next up for you in the coming weeks?

Walrus said...

1) Tristram Shandy is my favorite pre-1800 book and while I can't at all guarantee you'll like it I was certainly very impressed by it and thought it was genuinely funny and inspired. Sterne is over-reliant on references to Cervantes and Rabelais and has some extended asides that didn't work for me, but overall I thought it was very original. Also way ahead of its time.

2) Yes, you are correct in assuming that a lot on the list was audiobooks. Last round 10 were. This round it was about 20. Here is the list: Middlemarch*, Native Son, Jane Eyre, Great Expectations*, Vanity Fair, Robinson Crusoe, Brideshead Revisited*, The Shining, The Woman in White, Cry the Beloved Country, Don Quixote, Fahrenheit 451* (I read it back in high school), The March*, The Son Also Rises*, Les Miserables, The Human Stain*, Dreamsnake, The Idiot* and Witches of Eastwick*.

The ones with asterisks are by authors who I'd previously read in book form. I have a complicated policy for choosing which books to listen to on audio, but some factors are:
a) Long classics I wouldn't otherwise read.
b) Books by authors I'm familiar with and feel comfortable that I will be able to follow on audio.
c) Genre books that are better known for plot than prose.

3) I do think dipping into the old well is worthwhile, but it has to be looked at on a case-by-case level and for that I should compose a whole post. I really enjoyed Eliot, Sterne, Hugo, Zola, Balzac, Henry James, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Melville, Dumas, Hamsun, Wilde, Gaskell, Lafayette and Doyle. The Brontes I actual found fairly worthwhile though not personal favorites. I suspect I will ultimately give my thumbs up to Austin and Dickens, both of whom wrote something I liked (P&P and Tale of Two Cities) and something I didn't (Emma and Great Expectations). Collins could also eventually make the list. Thackeray was not quite worth it for me, due to length. Defoe was too dated for me and I was already familiar with the story. Cervantes was outright bad.

4) I will propose a substitute for Hasek. I'll either write up my thoughts on it or give them to you by phone. Short summary: kind of disappointing. I'll save the Pamuk discussion for the comment section of your blog when you review it.

5) I am so looking forward to Cortazar. For Fuentes, it might be cool if we did a simulread of the author, but reading our separately chosen books. It would be something a little different for us. I'm tempted to tackled Bolano with you, but Savage Detectives is pretty hefty!

Currently I'm reading Henry Miller's Tropic of Cancer. I was braced to not like it, but I'm actually appreciating it in a qualified sense. His prose is better than Burroughs and Kerouac who he resembles and influenced. Hopscotch will be next.