Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Bucket List Books (Modern Library edition)

I suppose that my bucket book list could simply be cut and pasted from my overall reading list, since I certainly hope to read them, but that's not entirely accurate.  If I was given only 6 months to live, and if I couldn't travel around to museums or visit favorite vacation spots (as in The End of the Alphabet), I would probably 1) quit work to take care of things I really prefer doing such as reading and writing and maybe even watching some movies, 2) toss out all the books on the To-be-read-and-discarded list and 3) comb through my shelves to come up with the books I really feel I must read or reread.  That would entail a major reworking of my reading list.  I am not going to undertake that exercise at this time.

What I am going to do is go to the Modern Library's list of 100 best novels and supplement it with the rival list from Radcliffe Publishing.  However, I am only going to list the novels on these lists that I still need to read, with some judicious editing.  No way in the world am I taking the time to read Ayn Rand, for example.

I have to admit these lists are kind of boring.  They heavily skewed towards male American writers from the first half of the 20th Century and, unless I am mistaken, do not include any novels not originally written in English.  Indeed, they disqualified any novel written before 1900, which eliminates most of the great Victorian era novels.  So this list is quite limited in scope and not really aligned with my interests, but they are still worth a look in.

I'll go ahead and keep the Modern Library rankings and then just supplement after that in no particular order.  This is certainly not the order I would rank these novels.  It looks like I have read just under half of the 100 best novels off the main list with a few more slated to be read later this year.  I have to admit I simply don't remember whether I've read one or two or not, and for a few of them (Henry James's The Ambassadors and O'Hara's Appointment in Samarra in particular) I remember only smatterings from reading them so that I probably ought to just leave them on the list as unread, though I won't actually do that.

There's no particular reason to get into debates about whether more genre fiction should be on the list or why Toni Morrison's Song of Solomon isn't on the list* when it is better than the ones that are included or indeed why not more from Henry Green, who is sort of considered a writer's writer.  There are a couple of surprises, and that's probably the best one can expect with this sort of project.  After all, this is not really my bucket list of 20th Century fiction, but I will try to remember to cross them off the list if I read them in the course of my own meanderings through the literary canon.  In a couple of cases, looking over this list does inspire me to push on through with my reading project, so that I can add a few more that I have overlooked.  What more can one really ask?

Books remaining from Modern Library's top 100:

8. Darkness at Noon -- Arthur Koestler
9. Sons and Lovers -- D.H. Lawrence **
10. The Grapes of Wrath -- John Steinbeck
11. Under the Volcano -- Malcolm Lowry
12. The Way of All Flesh -- Samuel Butler
14. I, Claudius -- Robert Graves
17. The Heart is a Lonely Hunter -- Carson McCullers
18. Slaughterhouse-Five -- Kurt Vonnegut
24. Winesburg, Ohio -- Sherwood Anderson
25. A Passage to India -- E.M. Forster
26. The Wings of the Dove -- Henry James
28. Tender Is the Night -- F. Scott Fitzgerald
29. The Studs Lonigan Trilogy -- James T. Farrell
32. The Golden Bowl -- Henry James
34. A Handful of Dust -- Evelyn Waugh
36. All the King’s Men -- Robert Penn Warren
37. The Bridge of San Luis Rey -- Thornton Wilder
38. Howards End -- E.M. Forster
39. Go Tell it on the Mountain -- James Baldwin
41. Lord of the Flies -- William Golding
42. Deliverance -- James Dickey
44. Point Counter Point -- Aldous Huxley (probably did read this but don't remember anything about it)
46. The Secret Agent -- Joseph Conrad
47. Nostromo -- Joseph Conrad
48. The Rainbow -- D.H. Lawrence
49. Women in Love -- D.H. Lawrence
50. Tropic of Cancer -- Henry Miller
51. The Naked and the Dead -- Norman Mailer
53. Pale Fire -- Vladimir Nabokov
58. The Age of Innocence -- Edith Wharton
59. Zuleika Dobson -- Max Beerbohm
60. The Moviegoer -- Walker Percy
61. Death Comes for the Archbishop -- Willa Cather
62. From Here to Eternity -- James Jones
64. The Catcher in the Rye -- J.D. Salinger
66. Of Human Bondage -- W. Somerset Maugham
68. Main Street -- Sinclair Lewis
69. The House of Mirth -- Edith Wharton
71. A High Wind in Jamaica -- Richard Hughes
74. A Farewell to Arms -- Ernest Hemingway
75. Scoop -- Evelyn Waugh
77. Finnegans Wake -- James Joyce
78. Kim -- Rudyard Kipling
79. A Room with a View -- E.M. Forster
80. Brideshead Revisited -- Evelyn Waugh
84. The Death of the Heart -- Elizabeth Bowen
86. Ragtime -- E.L. Doctorow
87. The Old Wives’ Tale -- Arnold Bennett
89. Loving -- Henry Green
91. Tobacco Road -- Erskine Caldwell
92. Ironweed -- William Kennedy
93. The Magus -- John Fowles
94. Wide Sargasso Sea -- Jean Rhys
96. Sophie’s Choice -- William Styron
97. The Sheltering Sky -- Paul Bowles
98. The Postman Always Rings Twice -- James M. Cain
100. The Magnificent Ambersons -- Booth Tarkington


Babbitt -- Sinclair Lewis
Bonfire of the Vanities -- Tom Wolfe
Cat’s Cradle -- Kurt Vonnegut
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest -- Ken Kesey
Ethan Frome -- Edith Wharton
The Bostonians -- Henry James
The Wings of the Dove -- Henry James
Portrait of a Lady -- Henry James
For Whom the Bell Tolls -- Ernest Hemingway
In Our Time -- Ernest Hemingway
The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas -- Gertrude Stein
The Beautiful and the Damned -- F. Scott Fitzgerald
This Side of Paradise -- F. Scott Fitzgerald
Where Angels Fear to Tread -- E.M. Forster
Lady Chatterley’s Lover -- D.H. Lawrence
Look Homeward, Angel -- Thomas Wolfe
My Antonia -- Willa Cather
O Pioneers! -- Willa Cather
Naked Lunch -- William S. Burroughs
The Awakening -- Kate Chopin
Rabbit, Run -- John Updike
The World According to Garp -- John Irving
A Separate Peace -- John Knowles
To Kill a Mockingbird -- Harper Lee
Of Mice and Men -- John Steinbeck
Rebecca -- Daphne du Maurier
A Good Man Is Hard to Find -- Flannery O’Connor
Jazz -- Toni Morrison
In Cold Blood -- Truman Capote
Franny and Zooey -- J.D. Salinger

* Oops, it is on Radcliffe's list after all.  There are still quite a few great novels that ought to be there, but it is a popularity contest at some level.  Probably if they had done the list 15 years earlier, John Barth would have had a place and perhaps a bit more Philip Roth (Zuckerman Bound?).  And probably Joyce Cary -- after all they cheat a bit by including other trilogies so why not Cary's first trilogy, the one that ends with The Horse's Mouth? I don't think Edmund White and his trilogy is on any of the lists (nor is Christopher Isherwood, though it is arguable he wrote very few novels at all aside from A Single Man).  Well, Cary and White are both represented on my list of long-works that I hope to get to some day.  A few key authors are not represented primarily because they are more known for their short stories than novels, if indeed they wrote any at all (Alice Munro, Mavis Gallant, Raymond Carver, Donald Barthelme, and perhaps T.C. Boyle).  It's not particularly surprising that almost no Canadian authors make the list.  A Canadian focused list would certainly have Timothy Findley on it, though probably The Wars and not my personal favourite Not Wanted on the Voyage.

** This may be even a bit more embarrassing, but I simply cannot recall whether I read Lawrence's Sons and Lovers or Lady Chatterley's Lover back in an undergrad lit. course.  Most likely Sons and Lovers.  I guess in this case, I might as well keep both on the list, as it would be essentially like reading Sons and Lovers for the first time, if indeed that is the one I read.  I suppose it is just my gut feeling that Lawrence's star has set, and he is no longer a major figure in the literary canon, mostly because people cannot appreciate how he was one of the primary leaders in the move towards confessional, highly sexualized writing, i.e. the putative literary father of Erica Jong and the grandfather of Lena Dunham.

† Actually as I was researching something for this post, I read that Sons and Lovers had been significantly edited when it was first published, though not really to tone down the "pornographic" aspects of the novel but to cut out some of the scenes that didn't directly involve Paul Morel. This is somewhat reminiscent of how Raymond Carver stories had been edited into a different shape than when they started. Nearly 10% of the book was cut away. Most likely this was the correct decision, as authors generally are not truly the best judges of their own work and a bit of pruning usually improves a novel. However, not everyone agrees, and in general the cult of the solitary author has swamped a lot of other schools of interpretation, in no small part due to the efforts of Lawrence and Joyce and other authors who braved persecution and unsympathetic editors but were proved right in the end. This unexpurgated edition came out in 1992 from Cambridge University Press, so it would not have been the version I read in university (I am leaning more and more to the idea that it was Sons and Lovers I read). Thus, it is not too much of a stretch to go ahead and leave it up above on the unread list.

The same thing happened with Lady Chatterley's Lover, though there the editing was deemed necessary to keep the book from being considered pure pornography in Britain (beyond the passages just deemed somewhat risqué in Sons and Lovers).  At any rate Penguin published an edition that restores all or essentially all of these cuts (so the complete reverse of the Kraken edition of Melville's Pierre).  As it happens, I just noticed that I picked up a copy of this edition from the Salvation Army consignment shop in New Westminster. What a curious coincidence stumbling across this book as I start to pack up the books yet again, though only for a 1 km move north of the railroad tracks.

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