Monday, February 9, 2009

List-o-Phile Monday

Last week we wrapped up the 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die, 2008 edition – the added books. The next three weeks I’ll be posting the books they REMOVED from the 2006 edition. I wanted to post what they added first, so you could get a sense of that before I showed you what they removed to make way. This is the list that will make you angry. It makes me angry. The first 100 here aren’t so bad, though. It’s nice to see some of the 10 or so J.M. Coetzee that were on the original list be removed, as well as books like Memoirs of a Geisha. On the other hand, even with this part of the list, there are ones that were removed that are very frustrating. Now, I’ve never read a novel by Chuck Palahniuk (which is something I intend to correct this year), but I know that he’s very popular, and that his fiction is innovative and unique. And yet they remove the ONLY Palahniuk novel that was on the list, and it is not replaced by another one.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the criticism of the list – like most of these types of lists - being male-centered, and Western centered. It’s my understanding that the 2008 update to the list was done in part to correct these deficiencies. While it seems to me that they certainly did regarding the Western part, I’m not so sure about the male part. While they certainly added some women who were overlooked for the first edition, such as Eudora Welty and Alice Monro, as well as a number of lesser known and non-Western female authors, they did so at the expense (once again) of some of the giants not only of women’s literature, but of Western literature in general. They removed one of the two Gertrude Stein’s on the list (and arguably the one that had more influence), and they removed multiple titles by Charlotte Bronte, Jane Austen, Edith Wharton and Virginia Woolf, in addition to Margaret Atwood and Jeanette Winterson. Now, I’m not arguing that because of who Virginia Woolf or Jane Austen were, that because of their place individually in the history of literature all of their works need to be on the list. Far from it. But if any of their novels, taken individually are better books than, oh, say some works by Henri Barbusse, which was left ON the list…then the better book should be on there. And frankly, the works of Jane Austen ARE better than the works of Henri Barbusse – at least what I’ve read. And THAT’s what makes me angry. I don’t really have beef with most of the books that were added – except, *cough, cough* Suite Francaise (oh how I wanted to like it!) – but with what they took off to make room.

As always, list is in reverse chronological order and red (or a link) indicates that I've read it.


  1. Never Let Me Go – Kazuo Ishiguro
  2. Saturday – Ian McEwan
  3. On Beauty – Zadie Smith
  4. Slow Man – J.M. Coetzee
  5. Adjunct: An Undigest – Peter Manson
  6. The Red Queen – Margaret Drabble
  7. Vanishing Point – David Markson
  8. *The Lambs of London – Peter Ackroyd
  9. Dining on Stones – Iain Sinclair
  10. Drop City – T. Coraghessan Boyle
  11. The Colour – Rose Tremain
  12. Thursbitch – Alan Garner
  13. The Light of Day – Graham Swift
  14. Elizabeth Costello – J.M. Coetzee
  15. London Orbital – Iain Sinclair
  16. Family Matters – Rohinton Mistry
  17. Fingersmith – Sarah Waters
  18. The Double – José Saramago
  19. Unless – Carol Shields
  20. The Story of Lucy Gault – William Trevor
  21. That They May Face the Rising Sun – John McGahern
  22. In the Forest – Edna O’Brien
  23. Shroud – John Banville
  24. Middlesex – Jeffrey Eugenides
  25. Youth – J.M. Coetzee
  26. Dead Air – Iain Banks
  27. The Book of Illusions – Paul Auster
  28. Gabriel’s Gift – Hanif Kureishi
  29. Schooling – Heather McGowan
  30. Don’t Move – Margaret Mazzantini
  31. The Body Artist – Don DeLillo
  32. Fury – Salman Rushdie
  33. At Swim, Two Boys – Jamie O’Neill
  34. Choke – Chuck Palahniuk
  35. An Obedient Father – Akhil Sharma
  36. Ignorance – Milan Kundera
  37. Nineteen Seventy Seven – David Peace
  38. City of God – E.L. Doctorow
  39. How the Dead Live – Will Self
  40. The Blind Assassin – Margaret Atwood
  41. After the Quake – Haruki Murakami
  42. Super-Cannes – J.G. Ballard
  43. House of Leaves – Mark Z. Danielewski
  44. Blonde – Joyce Carol Oates
  45. Pastoralia – George Saunders
  46. Timbuktu – Paul Auster
  47. The Romantics – Pankaj Mishra
  48. Cryptonomicon – Neal Stephenson
  49. Everything You Need – A.L. Kennedy
  50. The Ground Beneath Her Feet – Salman Rushdie
  51. Sputnik Sweetheart – Haruki Murakami
  52. Intimacy – Hanif Kureishi
  53. Amsterdam – Ian McEwan
  54. Cloudsplitter – Russell Banks
  55. Tipping the Velvet – Sarah Waters
  56. Glamorama – Bret Easton Ellis
  57. Another World – Pat Barker
  58. Mason & Dixon – Thomas Pynchon
  59. Memoirs of a Geisha – Arthur Golden
  60. Great Apes – Will Self
  61. American Pastoral – Philip Roth
  62. The Untouchable – John Banville
  63. Cocaine Nights – J.G. Ballard
  64. The Information – Martin Amis
  65. The Moor’s Last Sigh – Salman Rushdie
  66. Sabbath’s Theater – Philip Roth
  67. The Rings of Saturn – W.G. Sebald
  68. Mr. Vertigo – Paul Auster
  69. The Folding Star – Alan Hollinghurst
  70. The Master of Petersburg – J.M. Coetzee
  71. Trainspotting – Irvine Welsh
  72. Complicity – Iain Banks
  73. Operation Shylock – Philip Roth
  74. The House of Doctor Dee – Peter Ackroyd
  75. The Robber Bride – Margaret Atwood
  76. The Emigrants – W.G. Sebald
  77. A Heart So White – Javier Marias
  78. Jazz – Toni Morrison
  79. Black Water – Joyce Carol Oates
  80. The Heather Blazing – Colm Tóibín
  81. Black Dogs – Ian McEwan
  82. Time’s Arrow – Martin Amis
  83. Downriver – Iain Sinclair
  84. Señor Vivo and the Coca Lord – Louis de Bernieres
  85. Wise Children – Angela Carter
  86. Vineland – Thomas Pynchon
  87. A Home at the End of the World – Michael Cunningham
  88. Possession – A.S. Byatt
  89. A Disaffection – James Kelman
  90. Billy Bathgate – E.L. Doctorow
  91. The Temple of My Familiar – Alice Walker
  92. The Book of Evidence – John Banville
  93. Cat’s Eye – Margaret Atwood
  94. The Beautiful Room is Empty – Edmund White
  95. Libra – Don DeLillo
  96. The Player of Games – Iain M. Banks
  97. The Long Dark Teatime of the Soul – Douglas Adams
  98. The Passion – Jeanette Winterson
  99. The Child in Time – Ian McEwan
  100. Marya – Joyce Carol Oates

3 comments:

Chris said...

I totally understand your point of view. Austen would go in my "untouchable" category. And to replace her with something as bland as e.g. Carol Shield's Unless is totally out-of-bounds IMHO. In two decades noone will understand how that book ended up on this list, whereas Austen has been going strong for two centuries by now!

Kristin said...

Well, actually this list is the books that were ON the 2006 list but were removed from the 2008 list, Unless by Shields was one that was removed. But as you'll see in the next two weeks, they removed A LOT of GREAT books in favor of those I posted in the previous three List-o-Phile Mondays. And for me, it's not so much what they added, it's what they took off to make room in light of what they left on. I cannot see -in any way- the logic in removing two or three Jane Austen works, or Gertrude Stein's Three Lives for that matter, while leaving on authors such as Henri Barbusse and many others. It's a travesty.

Both lists were WAY too heavy on recent books to the detriment of amazing authors like Balzac, and I understand the logic behind the 2008 list...giving it a more international flavor, looking to introduce western readers to non-western writers...that's all well and good. But this book is marketed to Westerners, and to give us any excuse to say, well - I don't REALLY need to read Austen, or Dickens, or Dostoevsky, etc. is unexcusable.

An example is the rash of Austen-inspired works lately...movies, spin-off books, etc. But you can't understand them or make critical judgements about them unless you've already read and understand Jane Austen and why she was so important. You just don't have the context. And there are sooo many references to great literature in our culture, and if we lose the fight to have great books read by new readers, you completely lose the context, and that's sad.

And I agree about the two centuries comment. By being top-heavy with recent works, this list has dated itself. For most of the works more than 50 years old, time has already sorted out the bad ones. Look at the best-sellers of yesterday and compare it to what we now consider "great." (This is a great website for that) I don't think that Joseph Conrad ever made the best sellers.

Chris said...

Sorry, I mixed the lists up! But I still don't see how Unless ended up on such a list anyway :-). I wholeheartedly agree with your view on this! Only time can really tell what's worth having on the list... It could potentially be complemented with a short appendix: "Great contemporary reads" or similar, which could be updated every two years or so.