July 5, 2006

Your pick(s) for best novel?

Posted in Literature, Musings at 11:52 pm by The Lizard Queen

The Little Hedgehog recently linked to the Modern Library’s lists of the 100 best novels, one chosen by “the board,” the other chosen by “the reader” (which I suspect is supposed to be “the readers”). I found the lists interesting, to say the least. (I’ve read more of the books on the readers’ list–22 as opposed to 15–though I find some of the choices completely bizzare, particularly the fact that four of the top ten books are by Ayn Rand, and another three are by L. Ron Hubbard…) And they made me wonder–what would be my lovely readers’ pick or picks for best novel? I would love to hear your thoughts, if for no other reason than that it’ll give me more books to add to my already-ridiculously long to-read list…

Here are a few of my picks. Not an easy decision for me, but I managed to cull a shorter list from the short list by removing the novels that are already on the Modern Library’s list (namely Lolita, The Sound and the Fury, The Catcher in the Rye, The Grapes of Wrath, My Antonia, and Slaughterhouse V). Anyway, here are three books that I think could contend for the title of Best Novel, in no particular order:

1. Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway–I don’t quite understand how To the Lighthouse (which I’ve not yet gotten around to finishing, though it is of course on The List…) made it onto both lists when this one didn’t. And, of course, if you read Mrs. Dalloway then you must read Michael Cunningham’s The Hours, which is not exactly a retelling of the same story, but covers some of the same ground in fascinating ways (note to self: find modernist classic to update, do so, then reap the rewards…).

2. Leslie Marmon Silko, Ceremony–maybe this is merely the result of the fact that the only literature written after 1950 that I read when I was an undergrad was written in China or France, but I’m not sure I’d even heard of this book before I moved to New Mexico, which is a shame. It may not be the most accessible novel, but it’s certainly more accessible than Virginia Woolf’s fiction…

3. Tim O’Brien, The Things They Carried–technically a book of short stories, I suppose, but I think, unlike many such books, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. I realize that it’s a book that might not hold a great amount of interest to those not interested in fiction writing or in the Vietnam war, but all the same it’s an impressive work.

So… your thoughts?



  1. luaphacim said,

    My explanation for the Ayn Rand novels is that objectivists are crazy enough to spoof IP addresses in order to get Ayn Rand on the list. 🙂

  2. luaphacim said,

    Oh, so are Scientologists.

  3. Cara M. said,

    What a couple bizarre lists! I’m always a little leery of “best books” lists published by publishing companies… they’re in the business of selling their books. Anyhoo, how is it possible that they ranked Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness below The Secret Agent? Not that they’re both not great, but come on. As for the readers… strange at best. I must be out of the times, because I have no idea who Nevil Shute or Charles de Lint are, yet they’re on there multiple times each. Conspicuously missing (from either/both lists), in my opinion: The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara and probably One Hundred Years of Solitude by GGM, and His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman. The lists, I see, were published circa 1999 (and 1998 for the Radcliffe one). Too early for Harry Potter (should be on there) and The DaVinci Code (would be on there- haven’t read it personally, so I can’t speak for its importance).

  4. It is kind of a weird list. But we’ve had a printout on the fridge since 2000 and we make a check on it when we read one from the list. Just to feel nerdy I guess. I agree that the His Dark Materials series (at the very least The Amber Spyglass) should be on it. I haven’t read the Da Vinci Code either. I’m not sure if I’ll be ok reading L Ron Hubbard. I’d get a good laugh though.

  5. Sera said,

    Well, we all know that I’d put “Native Son” WAY higher on the MLA list, and I’d also put “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” way higher on the readers list…and overall, I’d add Sapphire’s “Push” and Ann Petry’s “The Street.”

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