Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Modern Library List According to the Authors

I came across this post today at slate.com (it's a few years old...ok, a decade). It's set up as a listserv between dead authors responding to the Modern Library's Top 100 list. Whoever put it together is a genius. The first post is by Edith Wharton to Henry James:

Saw Wings of the Dove last evening and was very impressed. So that was what it was about! Your writing has no bigger fan than EW, but I must admit to finding some of the later novels a bit, shall we say, murky...Is it true they're giving the Merchant-Ivory treatent to your Golden Bowl? Can't say I ever made it quite to the end of that one either.

Have you looked over the Modern Library list yet?...Ulysses, alas, is No. 1. Have you driven into this fog? It's a turgid welter of pornography (the rudest schoolboy kind) and uninformed and unimportant drivel. The ingredients of soup do not make soup without the cook's intervention. The same goes for Mr. Kerouac.
Just reading that, I didn't get where they were going with this. Then, they have Henry James response, and about three sentences into it, I thought...this doesn't make sense. Then I realized - oh...it's supposed to be Henry James writing! I get it!

...It is unlikely to fail to play upon the suspicions of such a one that the composition of his most esteemed should be that most lately converted into a wan cinematic confection of fretsome abbreviation. Neither, however, could a figure such as he neglect the obersvation that the personage with whom the former is now abstractly in conversation...

Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Faulkner, Woolf and Kerouac all take their turn at commenting, and for the most part, the voice is true to form. It's exaggerated of course - I noticed this most in the Kerouac part - but it is a humorous take on the list.

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