Go on. I DARE you to read the whole thing|
2004-04-08 11:47 a.m.
I found this the other day, and it got me thinking. I've read approximately 39.6 of those books.
I can't be more precise, I'm afraid. I started giving myself partial credit for stuff I've read excerpts from, and then I had to take away partial points for all the stuff I know I've read, but don't really remember, and then I gave myself an extra .1 or so for some of the really painful stuff, and--
What? OK, so maybe I've already put almost too much thought into this. I really need to get out more.
The point is, the more I looked at that list, the more it bothered me. Is anything on there from later than 1950? Instead, I present to you the Definitive List of Things Jen Says You Should Read. If I'm really clever, I'll even end up with 101 items, but don't count on it.
Anon, Beowulf. This is one that I'll have to admit I don't really remember. But it's pretty central to something or other, or maybe it's the earliest example of something. I swear this list won't have very many "I read it, so you have to," so how's about just humoring me on this one?
Anon "The Book of Job." How is this not on the list already? I had one semester in college that I ended up reading the damn thing THREE times! Ok, yeah, you probably should just read the whole Bible. But make sure you read Job. Read it three times.
Adams, Douglas Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. And the other four books in the trilogy, of course.
Austen, Jane Pride and Prejudice. I have not read this. I was having a totally unrelated freakout about Austen the other day, (OMG! I have NEVER read any Jane Austen! How can this be? I majored in English, and I'm a girl, fer chrissakes! How did the quintessential Chick Lit pass me by?), so she stays, just to make me feel guilty.
Beagle, Peter S.The Last Unicorn. Sigh. Schmendrick, I love you. Poor tragic Lady Amalthea, and cruel King Haggard, I love you too. Hey, shut up! I think out of 101 Great Books, I'm allowed one that only a 14-year-old girl could endure. I said SHUT UP!
Bradbury, Ray The Illustrated Man. Most people would just say Fahrenheit 451 and be done with it. But, I had to delete a whole bunch of stuff from the master list already, and this is only "B" so now I'm going to overcompensate to make myself feel smart again. Read The Martian Chronicles. Read Something Wicked This Way Comes. Read that other story collection, whose name escapes me right now. Ahh. I feel much better.
Brontė, Charlotte Jane Eyre. I get partial Chick Lit credit, I guess.
Brontė, Emily Wuthering Heights. And another one! Scooooore!
Burgess, Anthony A Clockwork Orange. No, the movie does NOT count.
Carroll, Jonathan Bones of the Moon. KC and I had a whole conversation about this guy. J. Carroll writes beautiful, brilliant books full of intruiging plot twists and dreamlike imagery that will make you want to bear his children. Then, he lets his eight-year old daughter write the last chapter. I have thrown several of his books against the wall upon finishing them. (ALIENS?? You're just going to wave your little Deus ex Machina wand, and tell me fucking ALIENS did it all? YOU BASTARD!!!) But, I will read every single book of his I can find, because up until the last 20 pages, it really is worth it. BOTM had maybe the least unsatisfying ending I've found so far. Start with that one, and maybe you won't hate me for getting you addicted to this accursed man too.
Chaucer, Geoffrey The Canterbury Tales. I read a few of these in college, but not the whole thing. The funnest part was trying to pronounce Chaucerian. Did you know "knight" was pronounced "ka-nicked?" So, in Monty Python and the Holy Grail when the French guy calls Arthur "feelthy English ka-niggit!" it's really funny, because those Pythons were being all oldschool and smart. I am glad I'm still paying for my brain. I use it every day, for stuff like this.
Chopin, Kate The Awakening. Meh. I read it, but it really didn't do much for me.
Conrad, Joseph Heart of Darkness. See above.
Dante Inferno. Again, I've just read excerpts. But it's full of all sorts of good stuff. At least, that's what I've heard.
de Cervantes, Miguel Don Quixote. I did in fact read this. All of it. And it wasn't even for a class! I are smart!
Dick, Philip K. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? I don't care how many times you've seen Bladerunner. The reason the movie has a different title is they left out 2/3 of the plot. Read it. Read it now!
Dickens, Charles A Tale of Two Cities. It wasn't Great Expectations but that's really the most charitable thing I can say about it. Ohh, wait! It's also the one that starts out with that whole "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times" spiel. Good stuff.
Dostoyevsky, Fyodor Crime and Punishment. Never read it. I plan to, some day. Several people have told me it's not nearly as intimidating as it seems, once you get started.
Ellison, Ralph Invisible Man. Sadly, the main charcter isn't really invisible. He's black. It's a metaphor, ya see. Moving onward.
Ellison, Harlan "I Have No Mouth, But I Must Scream." Any Ellison, really. To be honest though, he made ze list because it amused me to put him right next to Ralph.
Eliot, T.S. "Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock." I have in fact measured out my life in coffee spoons.
Fitzgerald, F. Scott The Great Gatsby. The novel that captures America's Lost Generation! The Jazz Age, rendered in thrilling prose! No, really. It's good stuff.
Gaiman, Neil Sandman. Pfft. What kind of a literary canon includes comic books, fer chrissakes? Trust me. Look at all the other smart-type stuff I read. If I say you need to read Sandman you had best fucking get reading. If it makes you feel less dirty, you can read American Gods or Neverwhere first. Those are "real" books.
Ginsberg, Allan "Howl." In addition to being a fine poem in its own right, Ginsberg is standing in for the entire Beat generation for me tonight. I really didn't think Kerouac was that great.
Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von Faust. The judges will also accept Marlowe's Tragicall History, or at least excerpts from it, because that's all I ever read. Basically, it's a classic story, and you won't really get any of the hundreds of retellings if you don't know the original.
Golding, William Lord of the Flies. There really is no excuse for not having read this. It's an afternoon's read. Get cracking.
Hardy, Thomas Tess of the d'Urbervilles. I started this one, then found something else to read instead. I'll probably go back to it eventually, just so I can feel smug.
Hawthorne, Nathaniel The Scarlet Letter. I remember enjoying this a lot more than I thought I was going to. Then, because it was high school, I had to be all, "EW! NOT HAWTHORNE!" but I like to think my man Nathaniel knew the truth.
Heller, Joseph Catch-22. So much fun.
Hemingway, Ernest A Farewell to Arms. I decided long ago that I simply did not like Hemingway. At the time it was a really liberating feeling. There's a Classic Author, and No, Sir, I DON'T LIKE IT! Buahahaha! I actually haven't read this one, but The Old Man and The Sea sucked.
Homer The Iliad and The Odyssey. The Iliad had far far too many lists of everyone who showed up to the battle every day for TEN WHOLE YEARS. The Odyssey was pretty sweet, though.
Huxley, Aldous Brave New World. My freshman year of high school, Mike was totally unable to bring himself to say "sex" during his oral report on this book. He ended up rolling his hands and saying "uh, you know" every single time. Strangely, his presentation involved a whole lot of hand rolling. His whole report centered on the "uh, you know" aspect of the book, and he couldn't even bring himself to say it. I have absolutely no idea why I shared that story right now.
Joyce, James Finnegans Wake. "riverrun past Eve and Adam...." I've read that first sentence maybe 20 times. Once, I made it through almost three whole pages! Anyone who claims to have read and enjoyed Finnegans Wake is either a liar or dangerously insane. OK, the actual title on the original list was Portrait of the Artist. That one I have in fact read. FW just makes me SO VERY ANGRY that I had to pause a minute to rant about it.
Kesey, Ken One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. The movie is one of my mom's personal favorites, and I was really confused when I finally read the book. Wait, McMurphy isn't the main character? It really does make a lot more sense that way, though. Damn you, Mom!
Kafka, Franz The Metamorphosis. Man turns into giant cockroach. I knew that much going in, and that's really all I came away with, to be perfectly honest.
Lee, Harper To Kill a Mockingbird.I read this, I swear I did. I can't even come up with the main girl's name right now, though. I hang my head in shame.
Lewis, Sinclair Babbitt. George Babbit has exactly the same perfect little life as all his friends, and he couldn't be happier about it. A fun satire about conformity.
London, Jack The Call of the Wild. There's a wolf. Meh.
Marquez, Gabriel Garcķa One Hundred Years of Solitude. I started reading this at the bookstore, but quickly realized it was something I'd want to actually pay attention to, and I usually can't do that while I'm working. The first 15 pages were pretty good.
Melville, Herman "Bartleby the Scrivener" If you would prefer not to read this one, it's OK by me.
Melville, Herman Moby Dick. This was the very first thing I made myself read, post college. I'm glad I did, but I really can't in good conscience recommend it to anyone else. "Bartleby" is not only about 5000 pages shorter, but it's funnier, too.
Miller, Arthur The Crucible. Mike (yes, the same one as above) was also in my Junior year English class. His presentation was a home video of him and a bunch of his friends staging a witch trial. "I saw Goody Solsrud with the devil!"he squeaked at one point. It was a catch phrase for the rest of the year. Ms. Solsrud being the teacher, you see. It's sad, really, that so much of my lit experiences are tied up in Mike's interpretations.
Morrison, Toni Beloved. There's a ghost, sort of. The white man done her wrong. That's about it, really, but it's better than I'm making it sound.
O'Connor, Flannery "A Good Man is Hard to Find." I'm honestly not sure if I've read this or not. I know I've read some of her stories. She's good people.
Orwell, George Animal Farm. Any book with talking sheep is ok by me. (I've been doing this damn list for so long, and I'm so very tired. Is anyone even still reading?)
Pirsig, Robert Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. A book of real quality. Oh, I just kill me.
Plath, Sylvia The Bell Jar I haven't read this one either. But I really want to.
Pratchett, Terry Good Omens. Cowritten with N. Gaiman, who, as has been established, is in fact a god, walking the earth and blessing us with his fiction. I'm also a total sucker for the Diskworld novels.
Poe, Edgar Allan. Selected Tales. "Masque of the Red Death" is a fave, though I'm also fond of "The Cask of Amontillado." Screw it. I never read a bad Poe story. "Selected tales" it is.
Powers, Tim Last Call Not really a "classic" by any standards, I guess. But a damn good read nonetheless.
Pynchon, Thomas The Crying of Lot 49.. OK, Time for another rant. I haven't read this. But I've got a copy of Gravity's Rainbow sitting right next to my copy of Finnegans Wake, mocking me. They're even part of the same series, it seems. "Incomprehensible Books that Jen Will Never, Ever Finish" with matching blue covers. I've gotten a lot farther in this one than I ever did with FW but I've never actually finished it either
Rand, Ayn. The Fountainhead. While I was reading Atlas Shrugged I was all "Booyah! You go, girl! Build that railroad!" But then I finished it, and the fever broke. Fountainhead, with the more artistically driven main character, is much more the kind of novel I can get behind without feeling dirty.
Remarque, Erich Maria All Quiet on the Western Front.. War is bad,. but esprit de corps makes it slightly less bad. But it's still pretty bad.
Rushdie, Salman The Satanic Verses. I LOVE this book. It has about 5000 small substories, all wrapped up around two men, one who is crazy and thinks he's an angel, and one who's completely sane, and destroys him. Amazing book.
Salinger, J.D. The Catcher in the Rye. Another one that's there's really no excuse not to have read it.
Shakespeare, William Hamlet. Macbeth. Midsummer Night's Dream. Romeo and Juliet. Yes yes yes and yes. But what of Othello? And where the hell is King Lear? WHAT ABOUT THE HISTORIES?? I've read A LOT of Shakespeare! I wants my smartness cred, dammit!
Shaw, George Bernard Pygmalion. Or, just go see My Fair Lady.
Shelley, Mary Frankenstein. "Frankenstein was the creator, not the monster. It's a common misconception, held by all truly stupid people." For jeez. Now I'm stealing literary jokes from Red Dwarf Hey, is RD on The List yet? It totally should be, you know. RD is in fact the greatest work in English. *twitch twitch* I'm almost done, almost done, almost done....
Solzhenitsyn, Alexander One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich.I just read this about a month ago. A good enough story, but it didn't change my life or anything.
Sophocles Antigone and Oedipus Rex. Yup. I read that. Really, all you need to take away from this one is that sometimes, oracles are tricksy bastards.
Steinbeck, John The Grapes of Wrath.Is it bad that so many things on my list are things I don't really remember reading? Chapter three was about a turtle. I don't think I liked the rest of it very much at all.
Swift, Jonathan Gulliver's Travels. I actually really liked this. Lilliputia and Brobdingnag were in many ways the weakest sections.
Thompson, Hunter S. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Gonzo journalism at its finest, from the man who invented it. In my brain, Gonzo the muppet is a tribute to Hunter S., but I'm fully aware that might not actually be true.
Thoreau, Henry David Walden. I've read excerpts. I'd like to read the rest, if for no other reason than bragging rights.
Tolkien, J.R.R. The Lord of the Rings. I'm glad I read the trilogy before seeing the movies, but it was kind of dry in places. When I said that over at Hans' one night, Dan and Hans were all, "HA! You think that's dry? You don't know from dry till you read The Silmarillion!" Actually, dry isn't something I actively seek out in reading material,. so I think I'll pass.
Toole, John Kennedy A Confederacy of Dunces. A must-read for every college-educated slacker. No matter how bad you are, you are not Ignatious Reilly.
Trumbo, Dalton Johnnny Got His Gun. When I first read this in high school, it completely blew me away. "You're dead, man. Dead." I reread it a few months ago, and was a little disappointed. Still good, of course, but not quite as good as I remembered.
Twain, Mark The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Yet another one you should have read about 20 years ago. What's wrong with you?
Vonnegut, Kurt Jr. Slaughterhouse-Five. "Listen. Billy Pilgrim has come unstuck in time." See? That time, I remembered the first TWO sentences! Seriously, good book.
Wallace, David Foster Infinite Jest. See? See? I can TOO read smart books! This is the book I point to whenever Finnegans Wake and Gravity's Rainbow start mocking me. Not a lot of people can say they've read the whole thing, but I HAVE. Several times, in fact. Smug Mode On.
Whitman, Walt Leaves of Grass. Oh, come on. Who's really read ALL of Leaves of Grass? I enjoyed what I read of it, though..
Wilde, Oscar The Picture of Dorian Gray. 80% of Wilde is epigrams, and 10% is a valiant attempt to string all the witticisms together. That doesn't leave a whole lot for plot and character development, but somehow, it works.
Willis, Connie The Doomsday Book. Again, maybe not really a "classic" but I couldn't put it down. Also, To Say Nothing of the Dog is set in basically the same universe, but with a completely different tone. Read both of them, and then prepare to name your next four children Connie. There is absolutely nothing the woman can't do.
Wilson, Robert Anton Illuminatus! I think I've mentioned this before, (fnord) but Illuminatus kind of (fnord) sucks. Schrodinger's Cat is wonderful, and (fnord) Wilson's collections of essays will make your brain explode, but none of it (fnord) makes any sense unless you slog through Illuminuatus (fnord) first.
Wodehouse, P.G. Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves. You didn't really think I could leave my man P.G. out, did you? I chose that particular one simply because it was the very first Wodehouse I read, but you should read as many as you can find. The Jeeves novels are the best, but Mr. Mulliner is pretty good too.
Wubble, Wubble Wubble. Wubble. Guess who's been watching too much Blackadder lately? I'm tired and my brain hurts. Is this 101 books yet?
Aa I count it, I have mentioned 103 books, of which I have not read even a little bit of 7. That's a much more satisfying score than I got with the original list. I need to get far far away from my computer for a long time now. If there's a book that you think should have been included, write your own damn list.