You can know anything. It's all there. You just have to find it.

-Neil Gaiman


Thursday, November 13, 2008


So I have this list that I cut out of the newspaper about 10 years ago. It was the top 100 list of the best English novels ever written. That means, the book was originally written in the English language, not a translation. So right off the bat there aren't the big Russian novelists like Tolstoy or Dostoevsky or Chekhov. Nabokov is on it though, because he wrote in English. And it wasn't even his original language. And his books are incredible! That kind of blows my mind.

But, anyhoo...

The list is quite impressive and when I first saw it, I made up my mind I was going to read every book on that list. As if that would mean something, as if I would know the secrets of the universe.

That was 10 years ago.

Over the ten years the newspaper clipping grew ragged and smudged so I photocopied it, and about a month ago I looked it over again. Every time I finished a book I would check off a mark next to the title. The books are ranked in order by some panel, I forget who, and the number 1 book on the list is Ulysses by James Joyce. I decided I would save it for last, partly because I'm scared of it (it's thick as a tombstone) and partly because I heard it's difficult, and partly because I have only read one James Joyce story (The Dead) and I absolutely loved it. I'm guessing this book will be a winner, but before I can get to it, I have to finish the other 99.

So I'm back on my mission. Last I looked I have only read about 30 of the books, so I still have a ways to go. The last book I finished that was on the list was Henderson the Rain King, by Saul Bellow. I loved it, especially the last few pages. Right now I'm finishing up Of Human Bondage, by W. Somerset Maugham. I got hooked on Maugham when I read The Razor's Edge, and while this book is quite a bit heavier, it really is magnificent. Maugham is the type of writer who is able to get into your head and articulate your own thoughts back to you. You know the feeling when you are reading something and this flash of insight happens and you think, "My God! Someone just read my mind. How did they know?" This only happens when the writer is articulating some deeply moving human truth and the honesty of the revelation hits you like a slap in the face. Those are the books that really stay with me, and I think a lot of the books on this list deliver that kind of awesome insight.

For those who are curious, the top 5 books are:

1. Ulysses
2. The Great Gatsby
3. Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
4. Lolita
5. Brave New World

I've read 2,4 & 5.

So far the only book I've really struggled with is The Sound and the Fury, by William Faulkner. I've read it twice. I still don't get it. It took me three tries just to get through the first reading. Then on the second read through, at the urging of a teacher, I felt like I got close to glimpsing something. But...Nope. Maybe I'll have to try again someday. I had the same impression while reading Mrs. Dalloway. I didn't like it. I didn't get it. Then I had a wonderful teacher explain it to me and thought, "Oh! So that's what she (Virginia Woolf) was trying to do!"

So now my goal is to try to finish this list, and I have a Barnes & Noble gift card burning a hole in my pocket. Thanks, Kelly! But I'm a little torn. Should I purchase some good classic literature like On the Road or The Good Soldier, or should I blow my wad on the Twilight series by Stephenie Meyer? The teenage girl in me says, "Oooooh! Sexy vampires and damsels in distress! Yippee!"

Decisions, decisions....

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