Saturday, May 17, 2003

The Rodney Canon

I started this list with the best of intentions -- to come up with my own Top 50 novels. As you will see, I only got to 43. Does this mean I haven’t read 50 great books? No, not exactly. It just means that as I was coming up with names I kept asking myself the same questions: Did it make a striking impression? And, more importantly, Did it make a lasting impression? It’s no trick to come up with fifty titles, but I wanted to come up with fifty I really believed in, really loved or adored, and what kept coming back to me is the fact that in the end maybe I’m not as ardent or generous a lover as I thought. I’d jot down a title and then scratch it out, muttering “Nah, it was overrated.” Or “Would you even dream of sitting through that again? So I finally had to settle on 43. I didn’t want to pad the list with books I either kinda liked or whose virtues -- which in many cases I am certain are there, and need only be rekindled -- had been forgotten.

I also told myself, despite a lot of going back and forth, that my only rule would be to strictly stick to novels: fictional prose of some length. This raises the obvious problem of not being able to include any short stories, dramatic literature or poetry, so I wound up making seperate catch-all lists. Then I decided to list a second string of also-rans: books I liked but which didn’t quite become a permanent part of my mental furniture. As is also naturally the case in making lists such as this, you also think of the books you really don’t want to include, and those you wish you could, but which for whatever reason you’ve never read.

The Best

1.) In Search of Lost Time, Marcel Proust
2.) Ulysses, James Joyce
3.) Moby-Dick, Herman Melville
4.) Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov
5.) The House of Seven Gables, Nathanael Hawthorne
6.) Pale Fire, Vladimir Nabokov
7.) Absalom, Absalom! William Faulkner
8.) David Copperfield, Charles Dickens
9.) The Sound and the Fury, William Faulkner
10.) Persuasion, Jane Austen
11.) The Scarlet Letter, Nathanael Hawthorne
12.) The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald
13.) Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy
14.) Howards End, E.M. Forster
15.) Where Angels Fear to Tread, E.M. Forster
16.) Little Dorrit, Charles Dickens
17.) Dead Souls, Nikolai Gogol
18.) War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy
19.)The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde
20.)Rabbit Tetralogy, John Updike
21.)The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Milan Kundera
22.) The Day of the Locust, Nathanael West
23.) Bleak House, Charles Dickens
24.) The Violent Bear It Away, Flannery O’Connor
25.) Demons, Feodor Dostoevsky
26.) Gravity’s Rainbow, Thomas Pynchon
27.) Burr, Gore Vidal
28.) Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant, Anne Tyler
29.) Franny and Zooey, J.D. Salinger
30.) Midnight’s Children, Salman Rushdie
31.) Money: A Suicide Note, Martin Amis
32.) A Handful of Dust, Evelyn Waugh
33.) Madame Bovary, Gustave Flaubert
34.) Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte
35.)The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain
36.) Angels, Denis Johnson
37.) Angels on Toast, Dawn Powell
38.) Nothing Like the Sun, Anthony Burgess
39.) Mason & Dixon, Thomas Pynchon
40.)The Verificationist, Donald Antrim
41.) The Unconsoled, Kazuo Ishiguro
42.) A Suitable Boy, Vikram Seth
43.) The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen

Top Short Story Collections

Cathedral by Raymond Carver
A Visit From the Footbinder and Other Stories by Emily Prager
Collected Stories, Franz Kafka
Great Tales of Terror and the Supernatural
Collected Stories, William Trevor
Collected Stories, Flannery O’Connor
Collected Stories, John Cheever
Collected Stories, Vladimir Nabokov
Dubliners by James Joyce
Nine Stories by J.D. Salinger
The Piazza Tales by Herman Melville

Stranger Than Truth (Stunning Works of Art I Wish Were Novels, So I Could Include Them)

Hamlet, William Shakespeare
The Winter’s Tale, William Shakespeare
King Lear, William Shakespeare
The Tempest, William Shakespeare
As You Like It, William Shakespeare
Henry IV, Part One, William Shakespeare
Uncle Vanya, Anton Chekhov
The Cherry Orchard, Anton Chekhov
Hedda Gabler, Henrik Ibsen
Ghosts, Henrik Ibsen
Inferno, Dante
Faust, Goethe
Mont Saint Michel and Chartres, Henry Adams
The Education of Henry Adams, Henry Adams
The Years of Lyndon Johnson: The Path to Power, Robert A. Caro
The Journals of Eugene Delacroix, Eugene Delacroix
The Executioner’s Song, Norman Mailer
Armies of the Night, Norman Mailer
In Cold Blood, Truman Capote

The Second String List: Kinda There, But Not Quite

Portrait of a Lady by Henry James
Emma by Jane Austen
The Tin Drum by Gunter Grass
Return of the Native, Thomas Hardy
A Room With a View, E.M. Forster
Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami
A Passage to India, E.M. Forster
Ragtime, E.L. Doctorow
Loon Lake, E.L. Doctorow
The Satanic Verses, Salman Rushdie
The Quick and the Dead, Joy Williams
Neighbors, Thomas Berger
The Houseguest, Thomas Berger
Being Invisible, Thomas Berger
Animal Farm by George Orwell
The Pilgrim Hawk by Glenway Westcott
The Field of Vision by Wright Morris
Deliverance, James Dickey
The Passion, Jeanette Wintersen
The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
The Winter of Our Discontent by John Steinbeck
Cannery Row by John Steinbeck
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey
Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.
The Accidental Tourist by Anne Tyler
A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad
The Bonfire of the Vanities, Tom Wolfe
Libra by Don DeLillo
Mao II by Don DeLillo

You ARE the Weakest Link (Famous or Critically Acclaimed Books That Just Don’t Impress Me as Much As They Do Everyone Else in Town)

The Brothers Karamazov, Feodor Dostoevsky
Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe
To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee
The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien
Omensetter’s Luck and The Tunnel, William Gass
Underworld, Don DeLillo
Tropic of Cancer, Henry Miller
The Adventures of Augie March, Saul Bellow
Mrs. Dalloway, Virginia Woolf
Look Homeward, Angel, Thomas Wolfe
The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway
The Confidence-Man, Herman Melville
One Hundred Years of Solitude, Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Will This Be On the Test? (Classic Novels That Might Have Made the Cut, If Only I Had Read Them)

Tom Jones, Henry Fielding
Middlemarch, George Eliot
Don Quixote, Don Miguel Cervantes
Vanity Fair, William Makepeace Thackeray
Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen
The Canterbury Tales, Geoffrey Chaucer
Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte
Pere Goriot, Honore de Balzac
The Magic Mountain, Thomas Mann
The Red and Black, Stendahl

And You Call Yourself a Book Reviewer (Well-Received Contemporary Novels I Certainly Should Have Read By Now )

Infinite Jest, David Foster Wallace
The Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, Michael Chabon
The Blind Assassin, Margaret Atwood
Atonement, Ian MacEwan
White Teeth, Zadie Smith
A Staggering Worlk of Heartbreaking Genius, David Eggers

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