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 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)