Monday, December 31, 2007

Radcliffe Wrapup

So why did I read Finnegans Wake? Lots of answers to this, really. For bragging rights. For street cred as an English teacher. To finish one huge chunk of my reading list project, which I started years ago. Because it was a challenge, and I love a challenge. So I could speak intelligently about Joyce without dissembling. Because it is a work of genius (and ego, and penis, but also genius). Because it was fun. Because it was there?

Why did I read all the books on the Radcliffe list? Some of the same reasons. Before I started my reading project, I had never read any Hemingway, Faulkner, Woolfe, Cather, Vonnegut, or James, among others. Keep in mind, this is after I graduated from college and was halfway through graduate school. Keep in mind, I read constantly and always have, and consider myself a literate person. Keep in mind that my goal has always been to teach English. You can see that those gaps in my exposure to literature were not small ones.

Here is where it all started in the year 2000. Holy shit, have I really spent seven years on this project so far? Insane. (Well, it's not like I wouldn't have been reading anyway.) Really, it's been fantastic. Although some of the books on this list gave me physical pain (Atlas Shrugged, anyone?) there are so many amazing books and authors on here that I never would have discovered otherwise. Here are some lists of the list for you.

Ten Books I'd Kick Off the List
This is purely based on my own personal taste, not on what I think "should" be on the list. Here are 10 that I simply didn't enjoy.
1. Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand
2. Women in Love by D.H. Lawrence
3. Look Homeward, Angel by Thomas Wolfe
4. Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys
5. Lord Jim by Joseph Conrad
6. An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser
7. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
8. The Jungle by Upton Sinclair
9. The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie
10. A Passage to India by E.M. Forster

Runners up included (as much as I love James and Wharton) both The Bostonians and Ethan Frome, as well as Rabbit, Run, Heart of Darkness, The Wind in the Willows, and The Naked and the Dead. A lot of my issues with these books is that I couldn't get past the misogyny (like Women in Love) or that I don't think they have aged well (like The Jungle). Also, I apparently don't like books about India, as A Passage to India, Kim, and both Rushdie books were on my shortlist. I also don't like allegories much, since I also shortlisted The Old Man and the Sea and The Lord of the Flies. Nice to know these things about myself.

My Personal Top Ten
What are the ten best books on this list? The ten best books in literature. Crap, this is harder than picking the ten worst. I want to include Finnegans Wake just because it is such a genius book, but it's the opposite of accessible, willfully obtuse, and I think that's a strike against it. We'll call it number eleven.

1. Portrait of a Lady by Henry James
2. All the King's Men by Robert Penn Warren
3. Beloved by Toni Morrison
4. Lolita by Vladmir Nabokov
5. The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
6. Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
7. The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton
8. Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
9. Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh
10. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

Runners up were books I've loved for a really long time (White Noise, A Clockwork Orange, Catch-22) some classics that I'm sure you all know and love that I'm just going to take as read because otherwise this list would be impossible (The Catcher in the Rye, The Great Gatsby, To Kill a Mockingbird) and a couple of great American novels (Go Tell It on the Mountain, the Grapes of Wrath). Honorable mentions also go to The Maltese Falcon, A Separate Peace, In Cold Blood, The Wings of the Dove, To the Lighthouse, and Death Comes for the Archbishop. Also, it killed me to cut Franny and Zooey, which I love more than Catcher in the Rye, and which you should all read.

Not on the Radcliffe list, but would have made this even harder? The Remains of the Day and, of course, Pale Fire.

So there you go. Feel free to take a gander at the Radcliffe list and let me know what you've read, what you loved, what you hated, and whether you agree with me or not!

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Blogger Melissa said...

OH crap I completely forgot about Atlas Shrugged being on this list. I couldn't finish it. I couldn't finish it even though I bought it to me to Kenya where there was very little TV and lots of free time.... and I still couldn't finish it... damn..... This is going to suck

3:57 PM  
Blogger Laurie said...

you've inspired me and i've had the radcliffe list printed out for about a year and a half. sadly i didn't do so well in reading the books from it this year. 16 so far ....84 more to go....

Rebecca is a great book and I listened to the audio of Charlotte's Web (which I read as a child) read by EB white and it was amazing.

8:33 AM  
Blogger mo pie said...

Melissa, I feel your pain. That book is a torture.

Wow, there's an E.B. White recording of Charlotte's Web? That is incredibly cool.

I went through the Modern Library List and the Time Magazine list to try and figure out which one to do next... I am still 40 books shy of the MLA list and probably 45 shy of the Time list, but there are a handful of books on both lists so I'm starting with those. Right now is Under the Volcano, which I know absolutely nothing about. Fun times!

11:08 AM  

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