I have written about his before in passing and on comments in and around the blogosphere. But in my recent list mania, it seemed like this would be a good topic for a post and a new tab up top.
Anticipating the end of the century back in 1998, the Modern Library promulgated a list of the 100 Best Novels of the 20th Century. Like any such list, this one engendered much discussion in the media. The list after all is very white and very male. Two responses to the furor were kind of interesting. The more thoughtful was a rival list created by students of the Radcliffe Publishing Course that is much more diverse in its makeup. Much, much, much less thoughtful was the online voting that the Modern Library allowed to create a reader’s list. Being 1998, Internet usage was not what it is today and the reader’s list was quickly jammed with Scientologist nuts, Ayn Rand disciples and Star Trek geeks. None of which qualify for literary accolades. For a laugh you can look at it alongside the official list here.
Despite its shortcomings I used the Modern Library list to guide my reading for several years. These certainly weren’t the only books I read, but the list came in handy many times when I wasn’t sure where to turn next. Of course I don’t have that problem these days but I still look at it from time to time for ideas.
I used to have a goal of reading the whole list but I have realized that life is too short to spend too much time on books that just aren’t going to be enjoyable for me. I highly, highly doubt I will will ever read any, and certainly not all, of the James Joyce and William Faulkner on the list. I feel like I have already spent enough time in those two prisons.
The thing I found with some of these classics is that they aren’t as daunting or unreadable as that moniker might imply. On the other hand, some of them were exactly as daunting and unreadable as that moniker implies. Some of the books I had read before the list came out and others were totally new to me. It was this list that first introduced me to some of my favorites like Iris Murdoch and Muriel Spark.
To see the list and which ones I have read click here or on the tab at the top of the page.