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“Time Magazine’s” Top 100 English Novels

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I know that top 100 lists are highly subjective and that there is no point in really getting irate about people’s choices, but I just can’t help myself in this instance. “Time Magazine” has published a list of what they call the top one hundred English language novels written since 1923.

Although there are some fine writers represented on the list, and even some works that I would agree belong on the list, there are many things about their choices that I find questionable. They have selected lesser works of deserving authors; they have omitted some of the most innovative writing in the English language; and finally they have included books that have little or no literary merit.

Aside from that, I have hard time seeing the point of compiling a list made up of only English language writers. How many winners of the Nobel Prize for literature does that leave out? How many cultures will not be represented because of this decision? Does “Time Magazine” think that their readers don’t read anything that has been translated into English from another language? Do they know that the Bible wasn’t written in English originally? Just wondering.

How anyone can think that a book like Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With The Wind has more literary merit than anything written by Henrich Boll, Gunter Grass, Jorge Luis Borges, or Gabriel Garcia Marquez I don’t know. Including a pot boiler romance novel on a list representing best novels is ridiculous to begin with, but to do so at the inclusion of books simply because they were not written in English is insane.

To say this is any sort of definitive list when it only includes English language books diminishes the stature of the books that are on the list. How would some them fared if they had been held up against the work of Grass or Borges? Compared to something like Marquez’s One Hundred Years Of Solitude books like Robert Graves I, Claudius, A Passage To India by E. M. Forrester, and Philip Roth’s Portnoy’s Complaint don’t even deserved to be mentioned.

Okay, I’ve got that out of my system, I hope, and will turn my attention to the merits of their so-called Best 100 English Language Novels since1923. Without doubt they have selected some highly deserving authors to be on this list; Thomas Pynchon, Jersey Kosinski, William Faulkner, Evelyn Waugh, Kurt Vonnegut to name a few. There are even some authors whose work I was pleasantly surprised to see included: Paul Bowls, William S. Burroughs, and Henry Miller in particular.

The problem I have in some of those cases are the works that have been chosen as being an author’s best. Take the case of Paul Bowls for instance. The expatriate American lived in Tangiers in the late forties and early fifties and was one of the fore runners of the whole “beat” scene. When people like Burroughs and Ginesberg came to Algeria, it was Paul Bowls who took them in and showed them around.

His novels dealt with the misadventures of those who were not native to Algeria, and how they were seduced by the absolute freedom granted to foreigners in the days prior to Algerian independence. The book chosen for the list, The Sheltering Sky is by far his least interesting work: Let It Come Down would have been a much better choice.

In cases like this, and others, it seems like the selectors have picked the books people are more likely to have heard of, or that have had some degree of popularity, rather than judging strictly on literary merits. The Sheltering Sky was made into a movie, as was Slaughterhouse Five by Vonnegut, and The French Lieutenant’s Woman by John Fowls. While they are all good books each author has produced better.

Why was Faulkner’s As I Lay Dieing, by far his best book excluded in favour of The Sound and the Fury and Light In August? While I have no argument with the inclusion of Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow, The Crying of Lot 49 is taking up space that could have been used by something more deserving.

That seems like a good lead in to novels that were omitted. They have picked the arbitrary date of 1923, because that’s the year “Time” started publishing, and by doing so they claim that excuses them from having to include James Joyce’s Ulysses. While it’s true the novel received a small publication in 1922, it was banned in the United States until 1933, so technically there was no American publication until that time.

Anyway, why would you even consider creating a list of the best contemporary novels written in the English language when you know it’s going to omit one of the most influential books of the twentieth century? To me that not only throws the whole list into disrepute, but is idiotic. What’s their excuse for omitting Finnegan’s Wake, the culmination of Joyce’s experimentation with the English language?

Other author’s whose omission leave glaring holes in this list include Morley Callaghan, any of whose novels would be better than Portnoy’s Complaint by Roth, Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient, T. Coraghessan Boyle’s The Road To Wellville, The Wars by Timothy Findlay, Animal Dreams by Barbara Kingsolver. I could probably continue until I had made my own top 100 list, but you get the idea.

Now I love Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, and John Le Carre. I also like Len Deighton, Ian Rankin, Tony Hillerman, and a host of other mystery writers. But would I include their works on a list of the best novels since 1923. Not if it caused other more deserving authors or titles to be left off. The same applies for Snow Crash by Neal Stevenson and Neuromancer by William Gibson. They may be good reads but they are not deserving of such recognition.

I can see how one could argue that The Big Sleep and Red Harvest be included on the list; there could even be a case made for Snow Crash. However, it is beyond me how anybody could justify other books that have made the grade.

I believe I may have mentioned my disbelief at the inclusion of Gone With The Wind already, as well as a few others along the way. So it may come as something of a surprise, (or not) that I still have a few more titles that I would see stricken from the list. I won’t bore you by listing all of them, but there are a couple more that I can’t let go by without commenting.

I know this will get me in trouble with the Gods of CanLit, and I’ll probably never be published in my own country, but I’ve never thought much of Margaret Atwood. (Perhaps I have a thing about the name) Her writing just seems to try to hard to be literary for me to take it seriously. If they had been searching for a token Canadian novel to include there are plenty of others far more deserving than The Blind Assassin.

I have never understood the appeal of John Updike. All his novels seem to revolve around the trials and tribulations of professional white people, and their struggle for identity. The whole series of “Rabbit” books has always seemed a pointless exercise in navel gazing, with Rabbit Run not being the exception to the rule. Perhaps middle class sexual politics have just never appealed to me, so I’m missing the point, but sometimes I think John Updike has missed the boat.

To give Lev Grossman and Richard Lacayo their due, they had the balls to try and do what I consider an impossible task. Taste in writing is as personal as taste in partners. Just as everybody is looking for something different in choosing whom they will spend their life with, (and how often do we even get that right the first time) everybody wants something different from what they read.

Putting questions of personal taste aside for the moment the real problem with this list lies in the two limitations they have placed upon it. It may have seemed like a cool idea to parallel the selections with the history of “Time Magazine”, but all it did was create an arbitrary date that ignored a significant artistic movement.

To cut off almost the first quarter of the twentieth century eliminates one of the most important periods of artistic innovation. The ripples from this time affected the writings of almost every ensuing author, including most of those on the list. It would not have been that difficult to extend the time frame 23 years back to 1900.

By ignoring the great body of work that has been translated into English over the past one hundred years, the creators of this list have not only insulted over half the world’s population, but also taken some of the world’s best authors out of the picture.

When all is said and done this list appears to have little or no value as an indicator of quality writing. The arbitrary cut off date and exclusion of non-English language titles precludes the inclusion of some of the world’s best writing thereby reducing the significance of any titles actually included on the list. It seems the object of this list was nothing more than an attempt to lend credence to “Time Magazine” as an arbitrator of taste.

This might have been an interesting exercise if it was done for more of a reason than “Time” blowing their own horn. As it is, the whole thing is pretty much meaningless.

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About Richard Marcus

Richard Marcus is the author of two books commissioned by Ulysses Press, "What Will Happen In Eragon IV?" (2009) and "The Unofficial Heroes Of Olympus Companion". Aside from Blogcritics his work has appeared around the world in publications like the German edition of Rolling Stone Magazine and the multilingual web site Qantara.de. He has been writing for Blogcritics.org since 2005 and has published around 1900 articles at the site.
  • http://www.betterinasong.com James Avery

    Have you ever read Gone with the Wind? I doubt you have. It is more than a romance, it is the American War and Peace. It is about the fall of the south and the destruction of a civilization, the love story is just the means of telling this much bigger story.

  • http://dumpsterbust.blogspot.com/ Eric Berlin

    Gone With the Wind is great storytelling, pure and simple, which always ranks high for me.

  • http://www.rodneywelch.blogspot.com/ Rodney Welch

    Have you ever read Finnegans Wake? Real Joyceans tend to know how to punctuate it. And the Faulkner novel is As I Lay Dying, not Dieing. And it’s Bowls, not Bowles. Forster, not Forrester.

    Ever read any of the Rabbit books? You’d know they are NOT about a professional white man. Rabbit — in the novel listed — is a working class joe pushing products at a grocery store. In later books he becomes a typesetter; then he winds up running his father-in-law’s Toyota dealership. You call it “navel-gazing” — what in in the world is Ulysses, if not that? That’s what stream-of-consciousness is, really. Or in Molly Bloom’s case, tittygazing and pussygazing. And Joyce’s novel has more than enough “middle class sexual politics.” Hell, so do most novels, from the 19th Century onward.

    You seem to think there ought to be a law against anyone making a list of English novels since 1923 — that a list by law has to include Marquez. Well, I tellya, I’ve come to admire that great novel, but it’s on enough lists. Who cares? Everyone knows it’s great. It’s not like every fucking list ever made has to get on its knees and polish Marquez’s weary old knob. Books like that don’t need lists.

    Personally it wouldn’t bother me if there was some sort of a ban on all these lists, as it’s become a rather tiresome fetish that just gets all talked out really quickly with everyone yammering over why this made it and that didn’t. When the Modern Library list came out a few years ago, then it was fresh and new and you could get a good chat going. But all these years later — and all these lists later, with everyone getting into the act — I wonder if the subject just hasn’t been completely talked out.

  • http://www.maskedmoviesnobs.com El Bicho

    While a disagreement with the list is as valid as the list, I had these thoughts while reading your piece.

    I agree that it’s foolish that the lists excludes foreign language novelists. It’s similar to the Oscars’ Foreign Film category.

    If they had a reason for picking the year 1923, then it hardly seems arbitrary. Your suggestion that they go back going back 23 years and starting at 1900 is arbitrary since they weren’t creating the Top 100 20th Century English novels.

    You didn’t explain how Updike missed the boat other than you don’t get the point of him. I’m guessing you think Woody Allen’s serious films missed the boat as well.

    By the way, here are some more corrections: Allen Ginsberg, Neal Stephenson.

    You could have quickly illustrated the inadequecies of the list by pointing out its exclusion of Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces.

  • http://www.suddennothing.net LegendaryMonkey

    Whoa there, gman, I think you forgot the happy pills. Take a deep breath and think about what the folks at Time are doing.

    They’re not saying these are the greatest novels ever, period. They’re saying these are the greatest novels written in English and first published since the magazine started.

    They state that over and over. By only giving that little tidbit backhand mention, you’re giving the list more power than it should have.

    As for some of the books you rail against being included:

    1. Gone With the Wind
    While you may see it as a simple romance, I, like an earlier commenter, must question whether or not you’ve read it. The novel captured an era, and a war, the destruction of a way of life, and made it a personal struggle. It’s a lengthy book, but that is still a lot to include. It may not be to your personal taste. Hell, it’s not even really mine, but I read it and I can perfectly well understand why it is a great novel, particularly from the critical perspective of a writer.

    2. Snow Crash

    You have got to be kidding me. Really. gman, understand that I have the utmost respect for you and that I greatly enjoy your writings. That said, I must ask — do you understand the qualities that are near universally accepted in “great” novels? Neal Stephenson, with Snow Crash, laid the groundwork for much of the discussion of virtual reality that followed. Further, his description of society, with hyperinflation and franchise ghettos, with loglo and bimbo boxes, makes us bite our lips in fear — much in the same way that the bleak world of 1984 springs to mind every time someone mentions the Patriot Act. This is without even getting into what he does with the novel, plot-wise, and all the elements he combines within to create a riveting story that is high action, razor-edged humor, and moral lesson all at once. He captured a future, and a society, that is frighteningly similar to where we might well end up — that that does in fact put that novel on par with 1984 and Brave New World, in my opinion, and I’m thrilled to see it get some much-deserved recognition here, even if it is just from a couple of guys who work for a magazine.

    3. On the “best” novels for some authors not being chosen:

    I quibble with you here for some of the same reasons I’ve listed above, and will use The Great Gatsby as an example. Now, I really enjoy Fitzgerald, but this book has consistently been at the bottom of the list of his works for me. I much prefer This Side of Paradise; for me, it is his best work and most entertaining read. I’m pretty sick of Gatsby. But I understand why it is lauded over the rest of his books. More completely than any other, it captures a specific time in history and reflects that time, and its lessons, in a way that endures. Gatsby will live forever, as will the strange nihilism of that era, because Fitzgerald captured it perfectly and still wrote a good story.

    Argue with the list. Rail about some books being chosen over others. Do as you will. But please, do try to understand the parameters they selected to make their list — and if you want to use different ones, make your own.

    And I recommend thinking twice about shunning some of these others. You may not feel that, say, Neuromancer deserves any real accolades, it did, after all, spawn an entire subgenre (cyberpunk) that pushed science fiction into the spotlight as something with literary merit rather than just what teenage boys read on rainy Saturdays. Did The English Patient do that?

    No?

    Then perhaps, in the grand scheme of things, Neuromancer is the greater novel after all. Maybe not better… but certainly the more influential of the two.

  • http://homepage.mac.com/donfrancisco864/iblog/index.html alpha

    Gypsyman. Excellent post since I had not seen this list. Do I agree with you all around? No. Do I agree with Time all around? No. Can I even agree with myself for more than a few minutes at a time? Difficult. And do one’s tastes change? Yes, although the books on the list should be of the lasting variety and Time managed a lot more than I expected. And some that surprised me in both directions.

    Gone With the Wind is not to my taste except as a movie with Clark Gable saying “Frankly, I don’t give a damn.” Not on my book list either.

    But The Lord of the Rings, The Moviegoer (boring), Portnoy’s Complaint, I don’t think Roth keeps up, The Crying of Lot 49 I agree wasn’t the right Pynchon. So you are right. There are bad errors and interesting leads and fine choices. I loved the Rabbit series, for example.

    The fact of the matter is that 100 books is damned hard to decide on. It was hubris to try and amazing how many were right on and how many were missed and might be of interest.

    Thanks for the tour.

  • http://www.diablog.us Dave Nalle

    The list is a joke. The words ‘all time’ need to be removed from the title and replaced with ’20th century’.

    Ferchrissakes. No Tale of Two Cities, no Robinson Crusoe no Vanity Fair no Moby Dick no Return of the Native. For that matter, where the hell is anything by Melville, Dickens, Stephenson, Victor Hugo, Thomas Hardy, Henry James, Upton Sinclair, Daphne DuMaurier, Jane Austin, Emily Bronte, Henry Fielding, etc.

    Instead we get a bunch of pretentious contemporary crap and a fucking comic book – and it’s not even Sandman.

    This list really goes beyond being bad to being offensively ridiculous.

    Dave

  • http://www.suddennothing.net LegendaryMonkey

    Well, Dave, if you’d bother to go look at the list, you’d see that it’s not a list of the all-time anything. Not even the full 20th century anything.

    1923-present

    Not difficult.

    Have you read that “fucking comic book?” It’s better than Sandman. It’s on par with any of the novels listed, and the fact that it is a different format doesn’t detract from its greatness.

    Speaking of pretentious, Dave. I mean, really.

  • http://www.diablog.us Dave Nalle

    Ah, I missed the bit about the list only applying to stuff published since 1923.

    Ok, in that case where the fuck is Billy Budd or On the Beach or A Farewell to Arms or Elmer Gantry and the list could go on and on.

    Bleh. Piffle.

    Dave

  • http://dumpsterbust.blogspot.com Eric Berlin

    I’d have preferred For Whom the Bell Tolls to The Sun Also Rises.

    If this list is “piffle,” Dave, when can we expect to see yours?

  • http://www.diablog.us Dave Nalle

    Ah Eric. I have much better things to do with my time than to come up with a list of books that no one will ever agree on.

    Did I mention that the list doesn’t have The Red Badge of Courage on it?

    The best you can hope for from me might be a list of the 10 best dystopian novels of the 20th century sometime down the road.

    Dave

  • http://www.pippensqueak. gypsyman

    I’ve read the whole Rabbit series, Gone With The Wind, and pretty much every other book on that list. I don’t agree with their choices.

    I thought I made it quite clear why picking 1923 as a date and excluding foreigh language novels was irresponsible. I’m just curious about why people are so defensive about their favourite books; if these lists are supposed to be subjective, why are my opinions so suspect while yours are correct.

    If I don’t consider something a good novel, or a genre that important, why should I would I include it on a list of books I like?

    In the end I’ll just refer everybody to Dave’s supperior editorial skills for my opinion of the list.

    cheers

  • http://dumpsterbust.blogspot.com Eric Berlin

    The Red Badge of Courage, great novel that it is, was originally published in 1895.

    Ah, Dystopia…

    A Canticle for Leibowitz
    1984
    Brave New World
    A Clockwork Orange
    End of the World News (also Burgess)

    …and especially…

    The Dark Tower I – VII

    …come to mind.

  • http://rodneywelch.blogspot.com/ Rodney Welch

    Get a clue, Dave — the fact that Billy Budd wasn’t published until 1924 does not make it a 20th Century novel. It was written between 1885 and 1891.

    gypsyman — You’re the one who’s so defensive. In your world any list without Marquez is a bad list, and you don’t make much of an argument for the books you want to include.

  • http://www.elitistpig.com Dave Nalle

    Rodney, Billy Budd is still better than 90% of what’s on the list, and the criteria was not ’20th century novels’, but novels published while Time was being published, which it fits. Admittedly, a retarded criteria.

    Dave

  • WTF

    Hmmm. While I agree with I, Claudius. Where’s Atlas Shrugged? Hemingway must have missed the 1923 parameter.

    This list is dubious. Does Time-Warner publish? Which of these books have the publishing rights held by Time?

    Maybe none… but I’m feeling Conspiritorial right now.

  • http://dumpsterbust.blogspot.com Eric Berlin

    Hemingway made the list, WTF.

  • Nancy

    I don’t care for the list, either, but my objection lies in “Who died & appointed THEM experts (or God)?” As far as that goes, then any of us has the right to trumpet a list; it’s just they have the capability of inflicting it on the rest of us thru their publication. Oh well.

    I have read GWTW, a couple of times, twice straight thru (last week, coincidentally), and the rest skipping about. Most of it, in my opinion only, is dreck, over-written 30’s bodice ripper, but it does have several parts containing passages of merit & historical value. So it’s value is mixed, at best, I think. I certainly wouldn’t class it as world-class great American 20th century lit, I don’t think. There’s too much other really good stuff around.

  • http://www.markiscranky.org Mark Saleski

    On The Road is not pretentious, contemorary crap.

    geezuz, i’ve just wasted 20 seconds of my life.

  • http://dumpsterbust.blogspot.com Eric Berlin

    Who said that it was, Mark?

  • http://www.markiscranky.org Mark Saleski

    …Where’s Atlas Shrugged?

    on the floor, holding open the door of my second story bathroom.

  • http://www.suddennothing.net LegendaryMonkey

    gman, how are their parameters “irresponsible?” Will children die because they didn’t include foreign language novels?

    It’s their list. They get to do whatever they want. No one will die because of it. They’re not saying these are the END ALL, BE ALL, BEST EVER. If they were, I could see where you’d have a bitch. But it’s correctly labeled. Rail against the selections all you want, but the parameters? I kinda think that’s a waste of breath.

    And Dave… if you don’t have time to produce a better list, one must wonder how you do find the time to be so confrontational about this one. With your busy schedule and all.

    Seriously, guys, unwad thy panties. So what? It doesn’t mean anything. The world isn’t going to change because of this list. It’s fun, it gives us a reason to talk about books instead of other tripe. Does EVERYTHING have to be a massive argument?

  • http://rodneywelch.blogspot.com/ Rodney Welch

    Good post, LM

  • http://www.modernpeapod.com Megan

    Honestly, I think the reason why the foreign language books were kept off the list was due to the fact that judging a translated book is at times the equivalent to judging how well the book was actually translated.

    I think this list is fair. I think the editors did a good job of incorporating a good deal of novels that are still being taught and read today by masses of English reading people. If Time was a literary magazine, perhaps they would’ve gone for the more obscure choices, but Time is a magazine read by a good deal of people. Their choices reflect the fact that there are people out there who only read when they have to and they chose a large number of books that frequently surface on school curriculums. I can see how many of these novels can be considered great because even people who don’t love reading enjoy these novels.

  • http://www.markiscranky.org Mark Saleski

    Who said that it was, Mark?

    see comment 7. maybe he wasn’t talking about the whole list.

  • Nancy

    Megan has a good point. I’ve read some wildly differing translations of “Tale of Genji”; more applicable, I’ve read translations of both Latin & French lit & also read the originals in Latin & French (with difficulty sometimes, I confess), and it just ain’t the same in translation no matter how good the translation is.

  • http://www.suddennothing.net LegendaryMonkey

    Thanks, Rodney. And Megan does have a good point. It’s always best to judge foreign language novels in their native language, which takes a whole other set of qualifications altogether. Do I love Marquez? Sure. Have I seen crazily different translations of his work? Double sure.

  • http://rodneywelch.blogspot.com/ Rodney Welch

    Megan, I’m indifferent toward the list, but these books are not exactly the choices of Mr. and Mrs. Joe Average American. Anyone who has read Gravity’s Rainbow, The Crying of Lot 49, The Recognitions, Infinite Jest, Mrs. Dalloway, To the Lighthouse, The Sound and the Fury, Pale Fire, Naked Lunch, Midnight’s Children and Light in August can attest to their complexity and in some cases outright maddening difficulty; these books, in fact, are ONLY loved by people who love reading.

  • http://www.markiscranky.org Mark Saleski

    the idea of ‘goodness’ in writing is extremely malleable.

    i mean, i read Gravity’s Rainboy and can see that Pynchon sure has a way with a sentence (even if thoughts are completed hundreds of pages later)….though i do have to say that i’m not sure i even enjoyed the experience.

    it was the last book i ever forced myself to complete. i vowed never to do that again.

  • david johnson

    John FowlEs not John Fowls – Paul BowlEs not Paul Bowls.

    You can’t be a literary critic AND use a computer spell check.

    But then with ‘As I Lay Dieing’ – maybe you need one.

    Twit!

  • http://www.nrlc.org/ Anthony Grande

    Why not “The Top 100 Italian Novels” you damn Racists?!?!?!?!!?!?!!?

  • http://www.modernpeapod.com Megan

    But Rodney, you just purposely manipulated the facts to your advantage (as does everyone in an argument I know). You spouted off only about eleven percent of the list, there’s still eighty-nine other novels you have to consider. You just saw what you wanted to see.About seventy-five percent of these novels are taught in schools around the United States, and a good eighty-five percent of them are on the AP Literature review board’s list of novels applicable to their tests. I’m not saying these are novels that everyone are reading for fun, but novels that for the most part, everyone can enjoy without having to take in account literary theory or the rising social changes of the day or having to really struggle with the writing style.

  • http://www.rodneywelch.blogspot.com/ Rodney Welch

    I wasn’t manipulating anything — I was just pointing out how a chunk of the list has zip to do with your thoughts, so your characterization of the list is about as accurate as the percentages you made up.

  • http://www.modernpeapod.com Zach

    Seems to me a lot of you are confusing the terms “literary” and “pretentious.” There’s nothing which makes Thomas Pynchon any more worthwhile than Philip Roth, unless you’re so insecure with your intellect that you need everything you read to be, if I may paraphrase Rodney, “complex and/or outright maddening.” Joyce, Pynchon, et. al. have their place. But has it ever occurred to you voracious readers that it’s just this kind of academic snobbery (more impenetrable = better) which accounts for less and less Americans CARING about literature? If we’re not careful – if, for example, we continue to turn up our college-educated noses at writers like Roth and Kerouac – we run the risk of reverting literature back to the sole domain of the elite.

    Oh, and Rodney – you do realize 11 examples out of 100 total books is 11%. Um, right?

  • http://www.suddennothing.net LegendaryMonkey

    See, that’s all subjective as well. I personally find Pynchon easier to follow than Kerouac (I know, this makes me blasphemous) because the run-on sentences, very hip for Kerouac’s time, make me want to beat my head against a wall.

    -LM, who didn’t even graduate college and who enjoys Harry Potter right along with Pynchon

  • http://dumpsterbust.blogspot.com Eric Berlin

    Zach brings up an old-time and always fascinating debate between the relative worth of “literary” versus “popular” fiction.

    My bottom line is story story story and I don’t care where it comes from or what form it takes. This, in my view, places me more firmly on the popular side. Which is sad in a way because I do think Zach is correct in that too many MFAs are churned out who think that novels should be non-linear, non-plot oriented, snoozers (in my view, again!) aimed at pleasing dull-as-paste academic critique groups.

    It took me some number of years to come out and say: I love Stephen King, JK Rowling, Jack Kerouac, Stephen Fry, Ernest Hemingway, John D. MacDonald, etc. Those are my kind of writers because they tell rip-you-off-your-ass don’t-leave-the-house stories.

  • http://www.markiscranky.org Mark Saleski

    I personally find Pynchon easier to follow than Kerouac

    blasphemous?! hell no, it makes you legendary!

  • http://www.markiscranky.org Mark Saleski

    i’ve gotta agree with eric about storytelling. i guess there are folks out there who ‘get’, say, Ulysses enough to enjoy the story. too me it seemed too much like work.

    i brought up Pynchon because i did read Gravity’s Rainbow. after so many years of hearing about this thing, i just had find find out what all the fuss was about. when i was done my reaction was similar to when i finished watching Eraserhead for the first (and only) time: well, i’m glad that’s overwith.

    give me Stephen King any old day.

  • http://rodneywelch.blogspot.com/ Rodney Welch

    Have you ever noticed thatr when people talk about today’s fiction being too non-linear or experimental they are almost never talking about anything that’s been published in the last twenty years?

  • http://www.suddennothing.net LegendaryMonkey

    blasphemous?! hell no, it makes you legendary!

    Rawr! That’s why I’m the special monkey. :)

    Rodney, good point. Nonlinear storytelling certainly does show up in more recent novels — I submit Chuck Palahniuk as an example — but more often, people are talking about older books.

  • http://rodneywelch.blogspot.com/ Rodney Welch

    Non-linear, maybe, but Chuck isn’t exactly a hard read.

  • http://www.suddennothing.net LegendaryMonkey

    Nah, not a difficult read at all… certainly not comparable to something like Ulysses.

  • http://www.modernpeapod.com Zach

    LM: exactly, it’s all just personal taste. I loved On the Road (been a while since I read it, though) but hated Visions of Cody (Kerouac may be a great writer, but reading transcripts of stoned Beats’ meandering conversation is, unsurprisingly, no more interesting than reading the stoned conversations of anybody else). I loved Naked Lunch, just could not slog through Ulysses in time to get it back to the library. And, my misgivings about the outright dismissal of popular fiction aside, I thought Gone with the Wind just blew. “South will rise again” propaganda disguised as sweeping, epic romance, Birth of a Nation with sugary frosting, whatever you wanna call it, it’s no classic in my book.

    I guess what I’m saying is that what bothers me is not so much the existence of literary fiction as it is the tendency for more well-read types to decree anything which is supposedly less stimulating as inferior. What about emotionally stimulating books, not tearjerkers per se but stories that captivate you on a visceral level? Are we to assume these are not “literature” in the way that long-form syntax experiments like Finnegans Wake are literature? I’m a fiction writer myself, but I still find something indulgent in “experimental” writers like, say, Gertrude Stein…it seems like they’re writing only for the benefit of themselves and for other writers, and I find it shallow.

    And the other problem with this is just that people don’t care anymore. Who still reads poetry, outside of colleges and “literary communities?” Or like Rodney brought up, why is no challenging “modern” literature from the last 20 years ever discussed? Maybe it has to do with shortening attention spans or whatever the popular explanation is, but I think it also has to do with the literary world marginalizing itself, turning itself into something that can only be appreciated by those of us with graduate degrees and a lot of spare coffee money.

    I’ll be the first to admit that I just don’t read for pleasure much anymore. Actually, because I’m at college three fourths of the year and exhausted the remaining quarter, I almost NEVER read on my own. And I don’t care. What does that mean? I’m not an idiot. I’m reasonably intelligent and reasonably well-educated. So why don’t I care about reading new books anymore, and if I don’t care, how can we expect less formerly-voracious readers to give a shit?

  • \kipland

    Have you actually read passage to India… Crying of Lot 49 has been argued to be in some respects more innovative than Gravity’s Rainbow.
    Get over your Marquez hang-up

  • http://www.webliterature.net S Dey

    Why after 1923? Why not across all times?

    If that is how one wants to define classic literature (written before 1923), and only wants to compare against non-classic (contemporary or slightly old) literature then I am not in total agreement. Even after 1923 I suppose books have been written which are treated as classic today.

    And yes, comparing Gone With The Wind with works by the likes of Gunter Grass, Jorge Luis Borges, or Gabriel Garcia Marquez doesn’t make sense to me (and I know this is subjective). Without questioning anything about the greatness of Gone With The Wind, it simply doesn’t compare. In my mind, this is analogous to comparing a regular high school district topper (who is excellent no doubt) with a Nobel Laureate Scientist.

  • http://www.kyrillevin.wordpress.com khareen

    a farewell to arms!

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