Sunday, January 24, 2010

Books I read on my own, some time in college or grad school

Although I spent most of my time in college and grad school reading French lit, I did try, however, to broaden my mind beyond the lovely Hexagone of French literature.  The next few blogs will concentrate on books I read "just because".

A.S. Byatt, Possession
Quick summary: This gorgeous novel takes place in two different time periods and follows two different odd couples.  The contemporary couple, Roland Mitchell and Maud Bailey are two 19th century Brit Lit scholars searching for clues to their poet's secret lives and sources of poetic symbolism.  The trouble is: Maud is a British scholar ensconced in the politics of feminist theory and rhetoric who studies 19th century poet Christabel LaMotte (supposed lesbian and early feminist), while Roland is an American scholar living in England in an unhappy relationship and pathetic apartment, trying all the while to conduct research on manly poet Randolph Henry Ash.  So, how do Maud and Roland even meet?  It turns out that Roland discovers some previously unknown notes and letters Ash had written.  As he continues his research, he discovers they are to LaMotte, which leads him directly to Maud, the foremost LaMotte scholar.  From this point, the novel unfolds as a sort of literary detective novel as the two contemporary scholars try to reveal the true nature of the relationship between LaMotte and Ash, whose story is told entirely through letters and poetry (except for one, very important scene).  Ultimately, as the title connotes, this book is about possession: being possessed by passion... for a person, literature, an idea.

This was a book I read in grad school because I had heard about it through a friend and because A.S. Byatt was coming to give a lecture through my favorite Boston (ok, Brookline) bookstore: the Brookline Booksmith.  They knew this would be a large audience, so the lecture was held at the wonderful independent movie theatre, the Coolidge - a restored art deco theatre.  My favorite place to see indie films in Boston!

Reading this book was a wonderful experience (and so was the lecture!)... It has since been on my personal list of favorites.  Not only does Byatt write astoundingly well, but she has also done her fair share of academic work and research, which helps her to create an academic universe that is accurate in its portrayal of the politics and passion that drive so much scholarly work.  The frustrations and joys of academia are all there.  One of my favorite passages is when Roland first discovers Ash's work in the library and knows instantly that it must certainly be Ash's writing; for, all of his hours laboring in the library painstakingly writing, filing, and cross-indexing his note cards (laptops weren't quite the thing yet) have made him feel that he knows Ash's writing to its core.  I remember feeling this way when I was writing my dissertation; yet any time I read Sylvie Germain (my subject author), there is always a new mystery with every read.  I think I would miss that if I really knew everything possible in her work.

This is one of the interesting things the book has to say: scholars can't know everything, especially ones who rely on biographical information; there will always be something beyond the grasp of the literary critic.  Although both Roland and Maud think they know their respective scholars to the core, the most important (and private) aspect of Ash and LaMotte's story together is the only part not told through primary sources; here, the narration shifts to 3rd person, and it's wonderful and melancholic... Maud and Roland will never know about it.

As a literary, this passage makes me both happy and sad because it makes you feel as if there is always some extremely important motivation behind the scenes that remains inaccessible.  This, of course, makes me sad because there will necessarily be an incomplete aspect about any literary criticism; however, this makes me happy as well because literature should also exist in a world where some things are sacred, where literature remains private and personal, for authors and readers alike; a world beyond criticism.  Byatt beautifully shows us this untouchable part of literature, and she does it well.  Actually, everything about this book is simply beautiful:

"…words have been all my life, all my life--this need is like the Spider's need who carries before her a huge Burden of Silk which she must spin out--the silk is her life, her home, her safety--her food and drink too--and if it is attacked or pulled down, why, what can she do but make more, spin afresh, design anew…."
A.S. Byatt (Possession: A Romance)

"No mere human can stand in a fire and not be consumed."
A.S. Byatt (Possession

Monday, January 4, 2010

Philip Roth - American Pastoral

Quick summary: American Pastoral is one of Roth's many "Zuckerman" novels, which use the character of Nathan Zuckerman, himself a writer, as a narrative frame for the (imagined) life of Seymour "the Swede" Levov.  The novel first recounts Zuckerman's idealized memories of the Swede from their childhood, during which the Swede was the star of about any sport at school.  Zuckerman meets the Swede again at a ball game and later at a restaurant; the former encounter leaves him with the remaining impression that the Swede still leads a charmed life.  However, after a meeting at a restaurant (requested by the Swede), Zuckerman is somewhat puzzled about the reason for the lunch and wonders whether the Swede still leads the ideal American life.  Later, at a high school reunion Zuckerman meets Jerry Levov, the Swede's younger brother, who reveals that the Swede's daughter was the one who bombed a post office as a means of protest against the war.  After his conversation with Jerry Levov, Zuckerman pens a novel in which he imagines the deterioration of the Swede's ideal life from the inside out.

I will start by saying that I place this book among my favorites on the list so far.  Roth's prose in and of itself is a major reason for undertaking a good reading of this novel.  If you are a skimmer, this one might force you to slow down and smell the roses, or it might frustrate you.  When I say Roth can write, I don't mean in the way that David Foster Wallace can write (you'll eventually see a blog on Infinite Jest); unlike DFW's prose, which springs out of some sort of manic obsession, Roth is so controlled, much like the exterior of the Swede's ideal life.  As the lives of the Levovs spin out of control, Roth's prose loosens and seems to wander, but Roth is still in control of every word.  This is good writing, and you can feel it.

Beyond the writing, I love this book for its construction and its relationship with the past.  It's Proust's attempt to regain an idealized past, but with the backdrop of the fading American dream.  (Zuckerman even explicitly references the madeleine scene from Proust as he contemplates his reunion experience).  The Swede's generation is the generation eager to fight the good fight in WWII, the generation that seemed to know right from wrong.  However, as much as the Swede seems to lead the American dream (ex-pageant winner of a wife, a house in the country, the owner of a successful business), the American Pastoral that Roth offers up is an illusion.  Most of the Swede's story takes place during the Watergate era, when the US was being ripped in half by politics and a war that would just not end.  History and personal tragedy are woven together in magical storytelling that leaves you wondering if things really were better "back then" or if the American dream itself is simply a thinly veneered façade. 

I haven't read it yet, but Revolutionary Road is on the list, and it seems to me that Roth's novel is similar in that it eats away at the American pursuit of happiness.  Whereas Yates' novel plucks the feathers from the 1950s goal of perfection, Roth uses the intersection of the dreams of the Greatest Generation and the failure of those dreams in the turmoil of the 60s and 70s.   It gives me some insight into how my grandparents must view the world from whence they came.  It's control meets chaos, and the result is brilliance.  I love it.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Books I Read in High School (or before), Part III

Hopefully, I will finish the list of books I read in high school (or before) with this blog... then I can move on to the book I just finished before I backtrack through college and other books I read on my own, before the dawning of the Great Book Throw-Down.

Zora Neale Hurston.  Their Eyes Were Watching God.
Quick summary: This book is set in Florida in the early part of the 20th century and follows the life of Janie Crawford, whose life has been mostly sorrowful and tragic, and yet Janie is a woman made stronger by her travails.  Her story is relayed through her conversation with her friend Pheoby, which frames the story.  There are lots of letdowns (even the most tender part of Janie's life doesn't seem safe), but it is a great work of African American fiction to be sure.

I have read this book a couple of times, the first being in ninth grade, and the last being a couple of years ago via Ruby Dee's superb reading on an audiobook.  I can't say how many people have borrowed my discs, but it is truly magnificent.  Dee's reading adds depths that I think I missed the first time around because I was trying to get past the thick drawl and dialect of the dialogues. 

As for high school, I remember two things: 1) the opening metaphor of the pear tree, representing Janie's burgeoning sense of her own sexuality; 2) Tea Cake.  I won't tell you about number two because I don't want to ruin anything for anyone out there.  The metaphor though is absolutely striking, although in high school, I thought our teacher had gone mad trying to tell us that a blossoming tree could in any way have anything to do with a metaphor for burgeoning sexuality.  I guess this is another moment that I could hold up to signify the good education I had, even before I was ready for it.  Want a taste of the prose?

Janie had spent most of the day under a blossoming pear tree in the back-yard. She had been spending every minute that she could steal from her chores under that tree for the last three days. That was to say, ever since the first tiny bloom had opened. It had called her to come and gaze on a mystery. From barren brown stems to glistening leaf-buds; from the leaf-buds to snowy virginity of bloom. It stirred her tremendously. How? Why? It was like a flute song forgotten in another existence and remembered again. What? How? Why? This singing she heard that had nothing to do with her ears. The rose of the world was breathing out smell. It followed her through all her waking moments and caressed her in her sleep. It connected itself with other vaguely felt matters that had struck her outside observation and buried themselves in her flesh. Now they emerged and quested about her consciousness.

She was stretched on her back beneath the pear tree soaking in the alto chant of the visiting bees, the gold of the sun and the panting breath of the breeze when the inaudible voice of it all came to her. She saw a dust-bearing bee sink into the sanctum of a bloom; the thousand sister-calyxes arch to meet the love embrace and the ecstatic shiver of the tree from root to tiniest branch creaming in every blossom and frothing with delight. So this was a marriage! She had been summoned to behold a revelation...

Oh to be a pear tree - any tree in bloom! With kissing bees singing of the beginning of the world! (pp 10-11)

Pretty obviously about sex, wouldn't you say?  Hey, I was a freshman and not so worldly!

I can't say much about this book with regards to a plot because everything is so intertwined and beautifully crafted, I do not think I could do it justice.  This is Alice Walker's the Color Purple before it's time.  It's a shame Zora Neale Hurston is not read more often... maybe you'll read her next?

Mitchell, Margaret - Gone With the Wind
Quick summary: Fiddle-dee-dee!  I'm sure most of you know the plot of this one: young, beautiful, and spoiled Scarlett O'Hara (Hamilton Kennedy Butler) uttered these words  and put off thinking about unpleasant events until tomorrow more than once as she sashayed through the South embroiled in the Civil War.  It's about life, love, loss... and growing up, sort of.

I have to admit, I'm not the biggest fan of Gone with the Wind.  Oh, I don't mind it, to be sure, but it just never captured me the way lots of other historical fiction did when I was younger.  Perhaps I didn't know enough about the South in the Civil War or enough about the life people led then, but I just didn't get sucked in the way many girls did.  That's ok if you're shocked and awed, I can take it.  

To be honest, I remember more of the film than I do of the book.  In neither case did I really find Scarlett a sympathetic character, not even when Rhett leaves for good.  Maybe you guys out there can fill me in on what the hullabaloo is all about, but I just don't see it.  Go ahead, tell me. 

Virginia Woolf - To the Lighthouse Quick summary: One of the Woolf greats, not Mrs. Dalloway (which I have NOT read), but wonderful and melancholy.  This is another book that is difficult to summarize because it is extremely modern in its narrative technique replete with requisite number of philosophic musings as the reader follows the Ramsay family.  Wonderful passage with stream of consciousness - not to be missed!

We read this some time in junior or senior year, which I know because it was an option for the IB exam.  Alongside The Sound and the Fury, this was my first introduction to "modern" writing (although from across the puddle this time), and it only reinforced my liking for strange plotless fiction.  Not a small wonder, considering my love for French novels.  How many times have people said that both French fiction and film are plotless and depressing?  Sounds a lot like Woolf, eh?

Let me just say that I don't find Woolf depressing, and I don't find French books all that depressing either.  They tend towards thought processes and life and the ways in which it unendingly disappoints.  What I love about To the Lighthouse is exactly what I love about Marguerite Duras' Moderato Cantabile, which is also a rather intriguing labyrinth: To the Lighthouse and Moderato Cantabile center around those parts of life that often go unspoken.  

I guess, for me, I will always have a penchant for the thinking man's literature.  As my dissertation adviser and friend (hi Kline!) says when talking about the difference between American and French cinemas: If Americans had a motto, it would be, just do it; if the French had a motto it would be, just think about it.  I think that applies beyond cinema and into deep cultural differences as well... I like to think, to ponder, to wonder... I'm not a Nike, I'm a Mont Blanc.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Books I Read in High School (or before), Part II

William Golding.  Lord of the Flies.
Quick summary: Time... WWII.  Place... an island.  Who... A plane full of young English prep school boys.  Let's just say it's like the original "Lost", but without polar bears or mysterious magnetic fields.  However, there is the same dichotomy of "us" versus "them."  As the young boys try to survive, two leaders inevitably emerge: Ralph and Jack.  They gather followers, and a tribalistic clash ensues.  Some survive.  Some don't.

This was another 9th grade read, or so it seems to me... This is one of those books - like Le Petit Prince - that has different depths depending on the reader's maturity.  On the surface, it's all about the savagery of the society that the boys create, which ultimately reflects back on our own.  Yes, it makes you think about how violent men can be towards each other, but when you consider that these are children, the innate nature of the supposedly most innocent is strikingly cruel.  The backdrop of the novel is the war, from which these children are supposed to be escaping, but in the end, they run towards it most eagerly.

The ending of this novel made me sad and wary.  I don't remember much of the actual plot line, - although I remember the essential scenes - but I do recall the void the book left.  Even at 15, I was depressed and pessimistic.  It's one of those books that leaves you asking: "what is humanity good for?"

Earnest Hemingway.  The Sun Also Rises.
Quick summary: To be honest, this is one of those books that doesn't have much of a plot; it's just a bunch of ex-pat Americans running around 1920s Europe (mostly Spain) drinking their pain away, not really saying what they ought or want to say to each other.  Lots of repressed feelings in this one.

I read this book for the first time in the 6th grade, on my own.  I'm not really sure what gave me the bright idea to attempt Hemingway on my own at such an impressionable age, but I did.  I simply remember that my mom had three green hardback Hemingway titles on our bookshelf: A Farewell to Arms, For Whom the Bell Tolls, and The Sun Also Rises.  What made the last title so much more appealing than the other two, I don't know, but I chose it.  I read it fairly quickly and thought that these people were rather crazy and had an awful lot of time on their hands to run around Europe drinking and having sexually frustrated liaisons (I didn't really understand that one until later).

Fast forward... a few years ago, I decided to give this novel another go to see what else I could get out of it.  The drinking and repressed emotions were still front and center, but the culture of the post-war generation meant much more to me.  These were a disillusioned set of folk who had just seen one of the most destructive wars of recent memory, especially for nice, young Americans.  When you read this book in the context of the European artistic and literary movements emerging at the time, the constant tightrope walk between reserve and the rage just under the surface in Hemingway's prose is fascinating.  Take Dadaism, for instance.  This movement was also born out of the destructiveness of WWI, but it is so overtly angry and pessimistic.  The meaninglessness of human existence is always at the forefront for the Dadaists, but for these young folk running around Europe, it's the thing they are trying to escape.

One thing for sure: this book made me realize how restrained Hemingway could be and how startlingly different it was from anything else I'd read from the time in continental literature.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Books I Read in High School (or before), Part I

Instead of attempting to write about the 26 books I have read on the list all at once, I want to break them down into when I read them (although some of them I've read more than once).  So, first... the early years...

I have to preface this by saying that there are a lot of "100 Best" lists out there, and, depending on the list, I have read a few to a lot of books on each list.  The experience of looking over the lists got me thinking about my experience in high school, during which I spent a lot of time reading for my IB English classes.  But, you'll notice that in my high school list, I did not read The Catcher in the Rye, 1984, Catch-22, or To Kill a Mocking Bird.  In retrospect, we did skip many of the "greats" as far as most canonical English classes in the American high school are concerned, but we also read things like Yasunari Kawabata's Thousand Cranes, Sawako Ariyoshi's The Twighlight Years, Natsume Soseki's Kokoro, R.K. Naryan's The Guide, Sylvia Plath's poetry, Virginia Woolf's To the Lighthouse, and William Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury.  These varied experiences taught me to be a good reader, a deep reader, and a curious reader.  For that, I thank my early teachers.

One more thing before I delve into my first books... I'm not writing articles here, just impressions.  For you lit crit people out there: think of this as a Reader Response approach.  For me, English is the language I read for fun, the language to enjoy without writing an outline for an article or a lecture somewhere in the back of my head.  That is not to say I don't make literary connections or have deep thoughts, but it's just not a time when theory pops into my marginal notes!

Here goes...

Chinua Achebe.  Things Fall Apart.
Quick summary: Okonkwo is a great, respected man living in a small village in Nigeria.  He puts a lot of merit into titles and honor.  Things go awry when British missionaries arrive on their steel horses (bicycles), luring the weak (the elderly, women, and children) and the outcasts (the crazy, the disabled) into their circle.  The fabric of the village starts to fall apart, and Okonkwo finds that his respected name does not go very far once the foreigners arrive.  Nothing seems to go right, especially once his son, Ikemefuna, joins the Westerners...

This is one of those books that many people seem to read some time in high school or college, and it's one of the classics we did cover.  If I remember correctly, we read it somewhere in 9th grade, and it was my first experience with anything post-colonial.  The first time I read this book, I don't think I really "got it": the loss, the sadness, the pathos.  And, I didn't get the social commentary about Western imperialism, which functions largely through religion and commerce.  I think I understood it as one of those books that showed us a character about a man who refused to change with the times, who couldn't handle modernity, and who is stuck in the past.  I was too young, too Catholic, too white and too American to see any sort of reflection of my history in the British missionaries.

I did reread this book when I was visiting Jeevan in Kenya.  Seeing the modern culture that colonialism has left in even in rural Matoso brought a new understanding of the book.  I began to understand the sense of loss and distress that Achebe was addressing through Okonkwo.  Of course, my second time through this book, I was no longer too young, too Catholic, or too American.  I'd gained a little wisdom, I'd say, I'd fallen from the papal ties, and, well, let's just say I'd rather be French.  The too white part I can't do much about, but to my defense, I did marry a brown man!  And, I did gain the valuable experience of being the only white person in a crowd, the stranger in a strange land.

I had also read West African and Caribbean post-colonial novels in grad school, and this knowledge informed my second reading.  I cannot help but think of Achebe's novel in parallel with Ahmadou Kourouma's groundbreaking novel, Les Soleils des Indépendances (The Suns of Independence), which tells a similar tale of a man who can't quite come to grips with his changing culture, though this time the colonists are from the other side of the Channel.  It's worth a read, if you like this sort of literature.  I also put it in the realm of Alice Walker's Possessing the Secret of Joy.  One note of advice for both Kourouma and Walker: not for the faint of heart... female circumcision.

Judy Blume.  Are You There God?  It's Me, Margaret
Quick summary: Basically it's your typical pre-pubescent girl who wants desperately to fit in, but she doesn't have a religion.  Should she join the JCC or the YMCA?  When, how, where does she buy a bra?  What about her first period?  These are tough questions.

Who knows when I read this one?   5th grade?  Somewhere around there.  So maybe I didn't have any questions about what religion I was, but, man, did I ever want to fit in!  I wanted pants and shoes like everyone else, but it was hard to find them in my size.  For those of you who have memories of me in those days, you probably know that I should have just given up, that the safety pins on the jeans just don't look good on a dwarf (or anyone, for that matter).  Oh, and don't get me started on the shoes I have tried to fit my feet into over the years.  I could show Cinderella's step-sisters a thing or two!

All in all, this book helped me make it through some tough years, but I don't remember many of the details.  Maybe it'll be worth a reread some day.  But, if you have a pre-pubescent daughter or were ever one yourself, you should read this.  It will break your heart, and make you laugh, like only Judy Blume can.

William Faulkner.  The Sound and the Fury.
Quick summary:This one is tough to summarize.  First of all, the title comes from MacBeth:
"Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time,
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing."

The idiot is Benjy Compson, and the first section is told from his point of view.  Although it's not clear exactly what is wrong with him, Benjy clearly has a mental handicap.  This makes for an interesting narration because events don't necessary mean much to him, nor does time; so, it's all out of order, and you spend the rest of the novel figuring his section out from the remaining parts.  The second part is Quentin's section, and it tells the events leading up to his suicide and explains some of the past events Benjy relates.  The third part is Jason's section; he's another Compson brother and is quite jaded.  The fourth part is told in the third person but concentrates on the Compson's maid, Dilsey, and takes place on Easter Sunday (Benjy's section takes place on the preceding Saturday, and Jason's on Good Friday).  It's all sorts of symbolic, in the stream of consciousness,  and I love it!  It's full of Faulkner's tortured visions of the South after reconstruction. So, if you like tortured souls in discombobulated narrative form, this is your novel!

I could go on and on about this novel.  It's one of my all time favorites.  (Sorry, Christy!)  This is one of those novels that taught me to read.  The prose is amazing, the narrative structure challenging, and I just couldn't help but be sucked into the decadent world of the Comptons.  I still have my high school copy, and I would be horrified if I ever lost it.  I don't know if I would have gotten a much better reading of it in college.  One of the things we had to do for every novel we read in IB English was to memorize 10 sentences from every book (to use on essay exams).  Oh, at the time, it seemed an annoying task, but as a teacher now who struggles to force students to memorize a poem here and there, I understand the purpose... plus, it makes you sound and feel smart.  Of the 10 sentences we had to memorize, one always had to be the first sentence of the text, and the other had to be the last.  Our teacher, Mrs. Rhodes, maintained that you could tell an immense amount about a text by it's opening and closing lines.  How right she is!  One of the most important opening lines in literature: "Longtemps, je me suis couché de bonne heure."  Proust anyone?

In any case, the opening line of The Sound and the Fury?... "Through the fence, between the curling flower spaces, I could see them hitting."  This is Benjy's voice, and it says a lot.  Benjy seems to always be looking from outside, through a barrier.  He doesn't say what is going on because he doesn't really know, but the reader slowly figures it out.

The last line?... "The broken flower drooped over Ben’s fist and his eyes were empty and blue and serene again as cornice and façade flowed smoothly once more from left to right, post and tree,window and doorway and signboard each in its ordered place.” It all loops back to Benjy.  It's sad and brilliant.  Nothing has changed, and everything has changed. 

E. M. Forster.  A Passage to India.
Quick summary:  Dr. Aziz, an Indian doctor, and three Brits (two women and a man) make a day trip to the Marabar Caves.   In the darkness and claustrophobia of the caves, Adela experiences a moment of terror after which she goes on to accuse Dr. Aziz of attempted rape, even though nothing of the sort ever happened.  The trial that ensues brings to the surface the increasing discontent smoldering under the surface of colonial India.

Another high school read, one that led me to Forster.  Sometimes I have a strange habit of finding an author I adore and then I gobble up books by that person.  Examples: E.M. Forster, John Irving, Milan Kundera, Sylvie Germain, Albert Camus.  (Bonus points if you know which one was the topic of my dissertation).  Anyway, I don't know why, but having favorite authors is like having favorite musicians or actors: they have some sort of je ne sais quoi that speaks to you from the depths of your being without rhyme or reason.  My dissertation adviser did say though that the topic of my dissertation was no accident.  Aren't you curious?

Forster.  So proper.  So British.  Just as in Howard's End or A Room with a View, it's all about class struggle and social divisions, although this one is set in colonial India.  The obliviousness of the colonial rulers to the life and struggles of the Indians is so uncanny.  The Indians really become a prop against which the Brits conduct their lives and contrive scandals to escape the monotony and heat of life in the colonies.  Oh, these are the days of the budding independence movement, and tensions are high, but the British still seem to continue on as if everything should and will remain as it is.

The descriptions are interesting... Everything in the British quarters is straight and orderly, while the Indians live in disorder.  Ask my husband about this stereotype; he'll say this is true.  But, it's not that the stereotyping is upsetting; it's that it's stated with such ease and frankness: order must be imposed.  There's no, "you go your way, and I'll go mine," about it.  It comes from another time, and it has an idyllic aura about it.  Although Forster is bring the social unrest to the forefront, there is still an undertone of wanting to maintain the good ol' days of the Empire.  Unless you read it with a critical post-colonial eye, the book does not make you want to up and cry freedom.  It took another book to make me see just how one sided this novel is, even though I still love it.

We read this book set against R.K. Naryan's The GuideIt was colonialism from both points of view: the British and the Indian.  I remember pouring over both books looking for quotes (those quotes, again!) to find ways in which the Empire was portrayed from varying points of view.  Lesson learned: history is not just dead, white men.  Cliché?  Yes, but a good one to learn at an age when most students are mostly learning about just that.

One more thing.  I don't know if it's an accident or not, but I think I was in love with Dr. Aziz in A Passage to India.  A sign of things to come, perhaps.  If only I could marry an Indian doctor... oh... I did!

The Story

Ok, it seems as though everyone and his or her brother has a blog these days, and why should I be different? My husband had a blog a couple of years ago that chronicled his HIV/TB relief efforts in Kenya, but I don't have any travels that adventurous going on any time soon... and, to be frank, I don't think my day to day life is that interesting...

... so, what could I possibly blog about?

... I do have a Ph.D. in French literature, but I don't think that many people would enjoy a blog about phenomenology or deconstruction. A few, but not many.

I clearly love books, but what could I blog about that might interest other people? ... "hmmm...", I said, and then forgot about it for a while. Then, I have to admit I saw Julie and Julia and thought about how I could incorporate books into a blog. Then, the flash of brilliance: a friend (hi Christy!) and I have been reading our way slowly through the Times 100 list. Not necessarily because it's the best or most inclusive (certainly not the latter), but because it was the list from which we had both read about the same amount of books before starting our adventure. So, if Julie can blog her way through Julia Child's cookbook, I can blog my way through a book list.

So, I intend on blogging as I read books... hopefully, as I finish them. I think this is a task I can accomplish. Indeed.

Now, for the list. Time critics Lev Grossman and Richard Lacayo chose what they consider to be the best English-language novels from 1923 (the year Time went into publication) to present (the list is from 2005). While, as a French lit person, I wish there were non-English novels on here, I accepted the challenge from Christy. There will be more lists later. Both of us are such dedicated readers that we will probably continue until we are senile. But I digress... if you have any more questions about why what is on the list is on the list, visit this link. Given the size of the list, Christy decided today that she is calling it the Great Book Throw-Down, so I stole it for the name of my blog. But, to avoid stealing intellectual property, I give credit where credit is due: thanks Christy!

Our first task was to set up a table of the books and to mark which books we had each read. Then, we were to try to independently catch up with each other while reading a book together. As I was checking off books, or not checking off books, I realized how much I still have left to read. Sometimes I thought the list made me look ill read, but I also realize how many books I have read not on the list, some of them by authors on the list.

The plan is to blog about the books I already read in one fell swoop (or so) and then to blog the remaining books as I finish.

So, here's my part of the list (I'll keep it updated!)... the books I have read, and the books I have not.    I hope you enjoy the ride.

26 read
75 left to go

The List

Books I've Read Are Highlighted!  = 27
Current Throw-Down = ???
  1. Achebe, Chinua - Things Fall Apart
  2. Agee, James - A Death in the Family
  3. Amis, Kingsley - Lucky Jim
  4. Amis, Martin - Money
  5. Atwood, Margaret - The Blind Assassin
  6. Baldwin, James - Go Tell It on the Mountain
  7. Barth, John - The Sot-Weed Factor
  8. Bellow, Saul - The Adventures of Augie March
  9. Bellow, Saul - Herzog
  10. Blume, Judy - Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret
  11. Bowen, Elizabeth - The Death of the Heart
  12. Bowles, Paul - The Sheltering Sky
  13. Burgess, Anthony - A Clockwork Orange
  14. Burroughs, William - Naked Lunch
  15. Byatt, A.S. - Possession
  16. Cather, Willa - Death Comes for the Archbishop
  17. Chandler, Raymond - The Big Sleep
  18. Cheever, John - Falconer
  19. DeLillo, Don - White Noise
  20. Dick, Philip K. - Ubik
  21. Dickey, James - Deliverance
  22. Didion, Joan - Play It As It Lays
  23. Doctorow, E.L. - Ragtime
  24. Dreiser, Theodore - An American Tragedy
  25. Ellison, Ralph - Invisible Man
  26. Faulkner, William - The Sound and the Fury
  27. Faulkner, William - Light in August
  28. Fitzgerald, F. Scott - The Great Gatsby
  29. Ford, Richard - The Sportswriter
  30. Forster, E.M. - A Passage to India
  31. Fowles, John - The French Lieutenant's Woman
  32. Franzen, Jonathan - The Corrections
  33. Gaddis, William - The Recognitions
  34. Gibson, William - Neuromancer
  35. Golding, William - Lord of the Flies
  36. Graves, Robert- I, Claudius
  37. Green, Henry - Loving
  38. Greene, Graham - The Heart of the Matter
  39. Greene, Graham - The Power and the Glory
  40. Hammett, Dashiell - Red Harvest
  41. Heller, Joseph - Catch-22
  42. Hemingway, Ernest - The Sun Also Rises
  43. Hurston, Zora Neale - Their Eyes Were Watching God
  44. Isherwood, Christopher - The Berlin Stories
  45. Ishiguro, Kazuo - Never Let Me Go
  46. Kerouac, Jack - On the Road
  47. Kesey, Ken - One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
  48. Kosinski, Jerzy - The Painted Bird
  49. le Carre, John - The Spy Who Came in from the Cold
  50. Lee, Harper - To Kill a Mockingbird
  51. Lessing, Doris - The Golden Notebook
  52. Lewis, C.S. - The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe
  53. Lowry, Malcolm - Under the Volcano
  54. Malamud, Bernard - The Assistant
  55. McCarthy, Cormac - Blood Meridian
  56. McCullers, Carson - The Heart is a Lonely Hunter
  57. McEwan, Ian - Atonement
  58. Miller, Henry - Tropic of Cancer
  59. Mitchell, Margaret - Gone With the Wind
  60. Moore, Alan & Gibbons, Dave - Watchmen
  61. Morrison, Toni - Beloved
  62. Murdoch, Iris - Under the Net
  63. Nabokov, Vladimir - Lolita
  64. Nabokov, Vladimir - Pale Fire
  65. Naipaul, V.S. - A House for Mr. Biswas
  66. O'Brien, Flann - At Swim - Two Birds
  67. O'Hara, John - Appointment in Samarra
  68. Orwell, George - 1984
  69. Orwell, George - Animal Farm
  70. Percy, Walker - The Moviegoer
  71. Powell, Anthony - A Dance to the Music of Time
  72. Pynchon, Thomas - The Crying of Lot 49
  73. Pynchon, Thomas - Gravity's Rainbow
  74. Rhys, Jean - Wide Sargasso Sea
  75. Robinson, Marilynne - Housekeeping
  76. Roth, Henry - Call It Sleep
  77. Roth, Philip - American Pastoral
  78. Roth, Philip - Portnoy's Complaint
  79. Rushdie, Salman - Midnight's Children
  80. Salinger, J.D. - The Catcher in the Rye
  81. Smith, Zadie - White Teeth
  82. Spark, Muriel - The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie
  83. Stead, Christian - The Man Who Loved Children
  84. Steinbeck, John - The Grapes of Wrath
  85. Stephenson, Neal - Snow Crash
  86. Stone, Robert - Dog Soldiers
  87. Styron, William - The Confessions of Nat Turner
  88. Tolkien, J.R.R. - The Lord of the Rings
  89. Updike, John - Rabbit, Run
  90. Vonnegut, Kurt - Slaughterhouse-Five
  91. Wallace, David Foster - Infinite Jest
  92. Warren, Robert Penn - All the King's Men
  93. Waugh, Evelyn - Brideshead Revisited
  94. Waugh, Evelyn - A Handful of Dust
  95. West, Nathanael - The Day of the Locust
  96. Wilder, Thorton - The Bridge of San Luis Rey
  97. Woolf, Virginia - To the Lighthouse
  98. Woolf, Virginia - Mrs. Dalloway
  99. Wright, Richard - Native Son
  100. Yates, Richard - Revolutionary Road