26 October, 2008

F.'s done this, so I will do it too: the Time magazine list of the 100 greatest novels 1923-2005. Green for books I've read, blue for authors I've read other works by:

1 - Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe

2 - A Death in the Family, James Agee

3 - Lucky Jim, Kingsley Amis

4 - Money, Martin Amis

5 - The Blind Assassin, Margaret Atwood

6 - Go Tell it on the Mountain, James Baldwin

7 - The Sot-Weed Factor,John Barth.

8 - The Adventures of Augie March, Saul Bellow

9 - Herzog, Saul Bellow

10 - The Sheltering Sky, Paul Bowles

11 - The Death of the Heart, Elizabeth Bowen

12 - Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret Judy Blume

13 - A Clockwork Orange, Anthony Burgess

14 - Naked Lunch, William Burroughs

15 - Possession, A S Byatt

16 - Death Comes for the Archbishop, Willa Cather

17 - The Big Sleep, Raymond Chandler

18 - Falconer, John Cheever

19 - White Noise, Don DeLillo

20 - Ubik, Philip K Dick

21 - Deliverance, James Dickey

22 - Play It As It Lays, Joan Didion

23 - Ragtime, E L Doctorow

24 - An American Tragedy, Theodore Dreiser

25 - Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison

26 - Light in August, William Faulkner

27 - The Sound and the Fury, William Faulkner

28 - The Great Gatsby, F Scott Fitzgerald

29 - The Sportswriter, Richard Ford

30 - A Passage to India, E M Forster

31 - The French Lieutenant's Woman, John Fowles

32 - The Corrections, Jonathan Franzen

33 - The Recognitions, William Gaddis

34 - Neuromancer, William Gibson

35 - Lord Of The Flies, William Golding

36 - I, Claudius, Robert Graves

37 - Loving, Henry Green

38 - The Heart of the Matter, Graham Greene

39 - The Power and the Glory, Graham Greene

40 - Red Harvest, Dashiell Hammett

41 - Catch-22, Joseph Heller

42 - The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway

43 - Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston

44 - The Berlin Stories, Christopher Isherwood

45 - Never Let Me Go, Kazuo Ishiguro

46 - On The Road, Jack Kerouac

47 - One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Ken Kesey

48 - The Painted Bird, Jerzy Kosinski

49 - The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, John le Carre

50 - To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee

51 - The Golden Notebook, Doris Lessing

52 - The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, C S Lewis

53 - Under the Volcano, Malcolm Lowry

54 - The Assistant, Bernard Malamud

55 - Blood Meridian, Cormac McCarthy

56 - The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, Carson McCullers

57 - Atonement, Ian McEwan

58 - Tropic of Cancer, Henry Miller

59 - Gone With the Wind, Margaret Mitchell

60 - Watchmen, Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons

61 - Beloved, Toni Morrison

62 - Under the Net, Iris Murdoch

63 - Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov

64 - Pale Fire, Vladimir Nabokov

65 - A House for Mr Biswas, V S Naipaul

66 - At Swim-Two-Birds, Flann O'Brien

67 - Appointment in Samarra, John O'Hara

68 - Animal Farm, George Orwell

69 - 1984, George Orwell

70 - The Moviegoer, Walker Percy

71 - A Dance to the Music of Time, Anthony Powell

72 - Gravity's Rainbow, Thomas Pynchon

73 - The Crying of Lot 49, Thomas Pynchon

74 - Wide Sargasso Sea, Jean Rhys

75 - Housekeeping, Marilynne Robinson

76 - Call It Sleep, Henry Roth

77 - American Pastoral, Philip Roth

78 - Portnoy's Complaint, Philip Roth

79 - Midnight's Children, Salman Rushdie

80 - The Catcher In The Rye, J D Salinger

81 - White Teeth, Zadie Smith

82 - The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, Muriel Spark

83 - The Man Who Loved Children, Christina Stead

84 - The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck

85 - Snow Crash, Neal Stephenson

86 - Dog Soldiers, Robert Stone

87 - The Confessions of Nat Turner, William Styron

88 - The Lord of the Rings, J R R Tolkien

89 - Rabbit, Run, John Updike

90 - Slaughterhouse-Five, Kurt Vonnegut

91 - Infinite Jest, David Foster Wallace

92 - All the King's Men, Robert Penn Warren

93 - Brideshead Revisited, Evelyn Waugh

94 - A Handful of Dust, Evelyn Waugh

95 - The Day of the Locust, Nathanael West

96 - The Bridge of San Luis Rey, Thornton Wilder

97 - Mrs Dalloway, Virginia Woolf.

98 - To the Lighthouse, Virginia Woolf

99 - Native Son, Richard Wright

100 - Revolutionary Road, Richard Yates

Edit - found the link. They're in alphabetical order of title here.

24 October, 2008


If I don't do this I will never catch myself up.

Empire of the sun, JG Ballard. This was quite amazing and I would like to write more about it. You can see why Ballard writes such weird books, given a childhood roughly like this (I think he was in a Japanese camp, but not separated from his parents). The bit when he is alone in Shanghai, eating cocktail food from the bars of the deserted but opulent houses of departed Westerners (the servants have already taken the food from the kitchens; all that's left is chocolates in bedside tables and bar snacks) has a haunting, post-apocalyptic feel. [53]

Just in case, Meg Rosoff. [54]

From the Boer war to the Cold war, AJP Taylor. A sort of follow-up to his colllection of essays on the nineteenth century, From Napoleon to the Second International, which I thought was terrific (although, looking back, I didn't manage to write anything about that either). This was very interesting as it deals with the twentieth century, and so a lot of the essays concern events that took place during Alan Taylor's lifetime. I really like the way he writes: he's very clear and understandable, and often very witty. [55]

Resistance by Welsh poet Owen Sheers was one of those rare books that I finished reading despite the fact that it actually wasn't very good. This was an alternative history novel, in which the Germans had successfully invaded the UK, and is set in a remote Welsh valley. I liked the evocation of wild Wales, but the alternative history bit of the story seemed a bit pointless, and the characters were very wooden, particularly the central woman, a farmers' wife whose husband has left to join the resistance. There were also a few grating bits - would a Welsh farmer's wife in the 1940s compare the smell of gorse to coconut? Perhaps that's very picky, but that sort of thing is very jarring. [56]

Confessions of a survivor, Doris Lessing. I really enjoyed this. One of the things I really like about this is that it's sort-of a post-apocalyptic novel, but the disaster (which is never fully explained) is gradual, rather than drastic: it's described in terms of things getting worse and worse, not some sudden event. I also really like Doris Lessing's almost squinty-eyed honesty about the way her characters think and behave. [57]

Dead end feminism, which I re-read for my women's group, but have written about briefly before. I like the critique of Andrea Dworkin, and what she characterises as 'victim feminism', but I think she goes too far in, for example, her claim that breast-feeding is fetishised in order to keep the mother tied to the child. (Although I think in France breastfeeding isn't considered as important as it is in other Western countries?) . The other smart-arse light-hearted book by a French philosopher I've read recently was How to talk about books you haven't read by Pierre Bayard, which was mildly entertaining, but which I now remember nothing about. [58] [59]

A collection of poetry about london, London lines, selected by Kenneth Baker. [60]

The ballad of Lee Cotton, by Christopher Wilson, which was light, entertaining, but trying a bit too hard to be unpredictable. [61]

15 October, 2008

Holiday reading

Of course, I actually read this in August, when I had my holiday.

Hilary Mantel's A place of greater safety was utterly gripping, despite being about eight hundred pages long, and I spent most of my time in France unable to put it down. It's a fictionalisation of the French revolution, following Camille Desmoulins, Danton and Robespierre from early life to their various deaths by the guillotine. I thought this was an utterly fantastic novel. It's very political, and in fact the characters talk almost exclusively of politics, but they are incredibly vivid for all that. And despite following the three central figures from childhood to adulthood, she manages to avoid biographical clichés and cheap sentiment.

In fact, I really like Mantel's view of history: there's a sense of irresistible forces constantly pushing change (the hunger of the people; migration of the starving to Paris), but at the same time with the key events - like the storming of the Bastille - there's a sense of randomness and chaos. People know that something big is going to happen, but when it actually does happen it almost comes as a surprise, even for the people who are later seen as leaders. There's no inevitability to the storming of the Bastille, or even the beheading of Louis XVI: these things are symptoms of the greater historical forces at work. And the way she represents this can be very powerful, cutting from a discussion of politics in Danton's bourgeois home to a short separate paragraph:

Under the bridges, by dim and precarious fires, the destitute wait for death. A loaf of bread is fourteen sous, for the New Year.
It's a very good representation of the way that material conditions force change, but when that change comes, it's difficult to predict exactly what it will be.

Despite the chilling depiction of the starving population, though, (the paragraph about the starving migrants who come from the country to Paris is genuinely spooky), the novel is actually very funny in parts. Camille Desmoulins in particular is very entertaining with a ridiculous love life and a sort of childish helplessness. [52]

10 October, 2008

Reading in public

I love this post with great photos of women reading in public, over at feminist blog Hoyden about town.

08 October, 2008

Book art

I love these book clusters by artist Nina Katchadourian.

07 October, 2008


Reading: I'm trying to finish off all the half-read books I have on the go before I start anything new: still to finish are Doris Lessing's Landlocked, Roth's Hotel Savoy, The ballad of Lee Cotton, and Riddley Walker.

Listening: the library was selling off CDs, so I have Stravinsky's Firebird and (I think) some random Brahms to listen to this evening.

Watching: spent quite a lot of the weekend rewatching the 70s BBC adaptation of Tinker, tailor, soldier, spy. I love 1970s London.