Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Entertainment Weekly's "Best 100 Novels" List, 1-25

1. Anna Karenina. I was weirdly conflicted when I saw this as the number one book on the list, and I couldn't figure out why. I certainly couldn't think of a book that was better or more deserving. Ulysses would be the expected choice, I guess, but I wasn't angry on its behalf. I finally figured it out, though, and I think it's the translation thing. Because what makes a book "the best"? To me: the plot, the characters, the scope, the themes, the motifs... and the language. It seems like a weird oversight to ignore the role of the translator here, since they should get double billing with Tolstoy if indeed the language in English is magnificent. So I don't know, I don't hate this pick, but I also don't love it. (I love the book, mind you. It just doesn't seem quite the right placement for it.)

2. The Great Gatsby. So would I promote this one? Honestly, probably. It doesn't quite have the scope of Anna Karenina, but it has everything else. Certainly if you're talking Great American Novels, this is on your shortlist. Along with Beloved. Which should be higher. But we'll get to that.

3. Pride and Prejudice. No arguments here. A great, great novel. Perhaps the themes are less weighty, but they're universal nevertheless.

4. Great Expectations. My first instinct was that it is too high on this list, but then again, I haven't read it since ninth grade. Ian assures me that it deserves this spot. Perhaps a re-read is in order? I will reserve judgment until then.

5. One Hundred Years of Solitude. I haven't read it. I know. Tiny letters of shame.

6. My Antonia. Her? This is a book that I do think belongs on the list, but does not belong this high up. Just looking down the list, Beloved is better, Mrs. Dalloway is better, The Sound and the Fury is better, To Kill a Mockingbird is better. I would move this down by at least 10 places. Still a great book, but not my favorite Cather (which is Death Comes for the Archbishop) and too high.

7. The Harry Potter series. You know what? Yeah, I think this is about right. And bravo to them for putting a "kids" book so high. It is a huge accomplishment and awesome world-building and it's not perfect but yes, it deserves it.

8. The Rabbit quartet. Ugh, fucking Updike, of course they had to put Captain Penis on here this high. This spot should be taken by Revolutionary Road. I understand why this is on here but blech. Lower, please. It should not by any stretch be beating...

9. Beloved. An amazing and important novel. Move it higher.

10. Charlotte's Web. Well this is a charming choice, but it really shouldn't be quite this high. I love this book, but should it be higher than Moby-Dick or Invisible Man or Lolita? No.

11. Mrs. Dalloway. A wonderful and brilliant and original novel. I'm proud of them for putting Woolf higher than Joyce and Faulkner, since usually she gets short shrift because she's all circular and vagina-having. Girl power!

12. The Sound and the Fury. Faulkner's best. No argument with this placement.

13. To Kill a Mockingbird. Another Great American Novel. This is probably about right for this one also. The list is on a roll!

14. Crime and Punishment. I can't remember if I read this one or not. I don't think I did. I know I read Karamazov and was underwhelmed. I fall squarely in Camp Tolstoy in the Dostoevsky vs. Tolstoy debate, and my friend Brad will never not be disappointed with me for that one. 

15. Ragtime. This was an incredibly pleasant surprise, since I do think this book has historically been underrated and it is definitely a wonderful novel with important themes, and it's doing a lot of interesting things structurally. Good spot for it on the list.

16. Jane Eyre. You know, almost half of these novels so far are by women (and deservedly so, might I add). Nice job, Entertainment Weekly. I think this should be a little lower down, although it is a great book. I just see some novels lower down the list that deserve to beat it.

17. The Road. No. I do not hate this book, but it is way too high, probably should be bumped entirely. At least swap it with Infinite Jest, which for some ridiculous reason is all the way down in the 60s. And if you want to put something contemporary on here, Cloud Atlas. WHERE IS CLOUD ATLAS. AND WHY IS THIS BEATING LOLITA.  I HAVE FEELINGS.

18. Moby-Dick. Too low by at least five spots. Not perfect, but it's Moby-Dick. Come on. Like it shouldn't be beating Charlotte's Web? Let's get real.

19. Lolita. One of the best books ever written and should be in the top 10. I understand that I am a Nabokov fangirl, and I also understand that the legacy of Lolita the character and how misunderstood she is is problematic, culturally speaking, but that's not the book's fault, and this is a top 10 novel. (As an aside, I just found my old book blog where I called it "a transfixing chiaroscuro." What the hell was wrong with me.)

20. Lonesome Dove. I haven't read it. I don't feel bad about it. Sorry, Larry McMurtry.

21. An American Tragedy. This is the first book on this list that I straight-up hate. I acknowledge that people love it though, for some dumb reason.

22. Wuthering Heights. Yes. I would probably swap it with Jane Eyre but that just might be the teenage girl in me, who thought Heathcliff and Catherine were so OMGROMANTIC and OMGDOOMED. Way sexier than Jane and Rochester, I have to say.

23. The Brothers Karamazov. I don't love it, but I won't argue with it either. I feel like this just comes down to personal taste. (As opposed to my other judgments, which are scientific and empirical.)

24. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Sure, you have to have some Joyce up in here, although I kind of wish they have been ballsy enough to put Finnegans Wake here. Or they could have split the difference and put Ulysses, which shockingly is not on this list at all. Or Dubliners which is wonderful. Oh, I don't know what to do with Joyce. Just have an entry for "all of James Joyce" and put it really high on the list and then go home.

25. Bleak House. Another Dickens so soon? I haven't read it though. I should probably read it. Then maybe this wouldn't be so anticlimactic.

Stick around for my thoughts on 26-50, up next!



Blogger Beth said...

I agree with you about many things, most importantly #5. Your shame is well deserved. Read it soon.

Ian is smoking crack about Great Expectations. AHEAD OF LOLITA? For that matter, ahead of Bleak House? Also I hated Crime and Punishment and I don't really think Rowling belongs on the list but I am a big grump and I still don't understand what in the hell happened in Book 7.

I think you should read Lonesome Dove. It's fun, mostly (except when it is so gory you have to read it through your fingers). The mini series is pretty good, too. You could probably read it in two hours.

4:04 PM  
Blogger Annie said...

I actually like An American Tragedy! I know, I'm literally the only one. (See what I did there? SEE WHAT I DID THERE?)

7:28 PM  
OpenID evilgayunicorn said...

Please don't attack my views until I can explain them myself! And clarify!

9:09 AM  
OpenID evilgayunicorn said...

Okay...I guess Beth would be Beth if she didn't hate something (by the way, happy birthday!).

ONE, I assured Mo that Great Expectations deserved to be on the list and higher than Bleak House -- I didn't mean it deserved to be at #4. But if "a bunch of Rabbit books" is #8, why not?

TWO, really, you are going to slag Crime and Punishment??? Crime and Punishment. (Whereas Lonesome Dove is "fun, mostly" -- OK then, slap it on the top 100 books list!)

THREE, Bleak House is great and deserves to be on the list, but I can still wish it was a bit less repetitive, even while I understand that since it was originally a serial there's no help for that.

FOUR, for Portrait of the Artist, EW had the balls to write "It shows early stirrings of the modernist style that the author would more fully explore in Ulysses." -- so sad about Ulysses not making the cut!

10:18 AM  
Blogger Beth said...

I don't think Lonesome Dove belongs on this stupid list, I just think Mo would not consider the time wasted if she read it. There is a ton of racist and sexist bullshit in it because it is Larry McMurtry, but Gus is a pretty good character.

Great Expectations totally belongs on this list and so does Crime and Punishment, but if I were on my deathbed with only those plus Lonesome Dove to read, I would choose the racist western in a heartbeat. (I would also choose Harry Potter over them.)

6:44 AM  
Blogger Beth said...

Also I think Mom's translator observation is wise ... I am sure I read a particularly stilted translation of Crime and Punishment. I just remember it as neverending and dreadful, and it has to be better than that.

6:47 AM  
Blogger mo pie said...

In this case Annie, yes, you are the only one. You and Entertainment weekly.

I look forward to more Beth and Ian fights in future installments! For the record, Ian and I had our own argument about whether Dostoyevsky vs. Tolstoy was actually a thing, and on what grounds. The answer is yes, as they are the two great Russian novelists whom most people have read in translation (Pushkin and Gogol are far less universal, and Chekhov is just as known/acclaimed but for short stories). My theory is that people tend to prefer one over the other.

Team Tolstoy!

3:45 PM  
OpenID evilgayunicorn said...

I like both Dostoevsky and Tolstoy, so I must be insane! I need to learn to dislike one or the other, because it's a thing! Will post again after I am back from Russian Literature Re-Education Camp.

12:59 PM  
OpenID evilgayunicorn said...

One more note before I'm off to re-education camp, is that of all the books wrongly listed, and books wrongly omitted, WHY DO HUMOR BOOKS ALWAYS GET ELBOWED OUT OF THESE LISTS. Not even Lucky Jim made list. As P.G. Wodehouse once wrote,

"Nevertheless, partly because I know I shall get a very good lunch out of you but principally because you told Jack Goodman that you thought Bertie Wooster Sees It Through was better than War and Peace I inscribe this book


Half a league
Half a league
Half a league
With a hey-nonny-nonny
And a hot cha-cha
--P. G. Wodehouse Colney Hatch, 1954"

1:03 PM  
Blogger mo pie said...

I did not say you have to dislike one! I said most people prefer one over the other. But I will go into more detail on the first day of camp.

Humor books, yes. Catch-22 counts though, right? I would add Cold Comfort Farm and Hitchhikers Guide and (of course) Pale Fire.

1:09 PM  
OpenID evilgayunicorn said...

It's Day One of Russian lit re-education camp (RLRC), and the cook is making meals based on Tolstoy and Dostoevsky works! Dinner was from Crime and Punishment: "some sliced cucumber, some pieces of dried black bread, and some fish, chopped up small, all smelling very bad." Tomorrow is the restaurant meal that Levin shares with Stepan in Anna Karenina: three dozen Flensburg oysters, vegetable soup, turbot, roast beef, capon, stewed fruit, and champagne. I am starting to warm to Dostoevsky!

3:28 PM  
Blogger Beth said...

I can't like one over the other! I read all the Russian lit I will ever read in my life (apparently) in one college class, and I loved Tolstoy and hated Dostoyevsky, but when I tried to read that fancy new translation of Anna Karenina a few years ago I couldn't get into it at all. And I have convinced myself that I would probably like Dostoyevsky if I read a better translation, but I am unwilling to stop reading silly mystery novels long enough to find out.

Team Gogol!

I can't believe I accidentally called Mo "Mom" up there. Sorry, Mo.

11:43 PM  
Blogger Beth said...

I can't pick one to hate! I read all the Russian literature I will ever read in my life (apparently, since I haven't read any since) in the same college class, and I loved Tolstoy and hated Dostoevsky. But then I tried to reread Anna Karenina a few years ago when that fancy new translation came out, and I couldn't get past the first few pages. I may be too stupid for Russian.

Team Gogol!

10:38 AM  

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