Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Modern Library 100 Best Novels Challenge

Between the time I moved to Cincinnati in May and started my job in July, I desperately needed something to do. This wouldn't normally be an issue, but since I was not yet receiving paychecks, I had to find something to do which was free. Enter the Modern Library 100 Best Novels.

This list was constructed by what I imagine is a bunch of crusty, old white men (in other words, publishers). By design, the list only includes novels from the 20th century.  It has been criticized relentlessly since it was released  for focusing too much on Western authors and, in particular, Western male authors. These criticisms are appropriate, but all "best of" lists are going to be somewhat arbitrary in their rankings and, due to societal constraints, a large majority of published writers in the early to mid-20th century were white men. I can only imagine how many literary masterpieces written by women and minorities were tossed in the dust bin because of racist and/or sexist publishers.

Regardless of all of the criticism, I decided that with all of the hours (and days) I had to waste, it was high time to start becoming cultured. I opened a library account and went to town. I actually started my first novel (#100: The Magnificent Ambersons by Booth Tarkington) and roughly five months later I am at #82. Some books have been amazing (Sophie's Choice) and others have been terrible (The Ginger Man). Most of the others have fallen somewhere in between. All in all, I haven't been tremendously impressed, but I'm hoping the quality will get better as I move down the list. At #1 stands my Mordor, my Mt. Everest, my final adversary: Ulysses. The thought of it horrifies me, but I still have plenty of time before I have to confront it.

Speaking of #82, it is Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner. The story focuses on a paraplegic former history professor who is writing a biography of his grandmother. I know it sounds boring, but it's really not. I'll cover it in more detail when I finish it and type up a review. I only have 100 of so pages left, so it shouldn't be too long.

So that is the Modern Library 100 Best Novels Challenge. I hope some of you actually find this interesting and are willing to join me in this journey. Who knows? Maybe you'll find a new favorite book in this list. In the meantime, feel free to check out the books on the list. I've strike through'd those novels which I've already read.