Those Top 100 novels, again

Slowly, slowly, slowly, I have carved my way through the Modern Library’s 100 Best Novels list. After working on this project for 9 years, I am only 14 titles away from finishing the list.

Granted, some of those “titles” are actually comprised of a series of books– Studs Lonigan is 3 books, as is de Passos’s U.S.A. series. A Dance to the Music of Time is, I think, 7 books. Eeep. But, as I just finished reading War and Peace and it only counts as one book, I suppose I can make allowances and just pretend that they’re really one novel.

I’m 86% finished, anyway. And, what’s more important, I am only missing a few books that I need to complete the whole list. I still need a copy of A Clockwork Orange, Catch-22, A Bend in the River, Book 1 of the aforementioned U.S.A. trilogy, and I don’t own a single one of those 7 books in that long series. Not a one. Sigh. Amazon wants a fortune for them, so I think I need to start trolling the other used book websites. I’m reading the James Joyce novels on Kindle, because I’d probably burn paper copies in a fit of frustration whenever that infamous glory-hound plays too cute (which is pretty much every chapter of each of his books, as far as I can tell.)

I am also just going to read Main Street on the Kindle app– it’s out of copyright, so why not? I never got the impression that it was a particularly difficult work (or even one that I’d choose to read if it wasn’t on the list.

I took a break over the past two weeks from the Top 100 books, simply because I felt sick after reading Koestler’s Darkness at Noon. Just something about the guy’s writing made me very disheartened and nauseated. Like that instant antipathy you sometimes feel when you meet someone, that uneasy feeling that there’s something wrong about them, that’s the lingering impression that novel left on me. Something was wrong with that dude. I’m sure it’s an important book and influenced a lot of people, but I wouldn’t pass it on to someone unless they asked.

Anyway, I took a break and read War and Peace. That took about 10 days to finish. Loved it, except for the historical commentary at the end. That part mostly confirmed what I suspected of Tolstoy– the guy took himself just a bit too seriously, and so did everyone else.

I also read Pride and Prejudice over the course of a lazy Sunday.  Oh my, why haven’t I read Jane Austen’s work before this? Well, obviously, because every woman reader I ran into always raved about her stuff. There’s nothing like universal acclaim to make me suspicious of a book’s merits. Quite often, the work just doesn’t live up to the hype. But that one was a lovely surprise, being a page-turner and a delight.

It also knocks a book off the next Reading Challenge that I’ve set for myself, reading the Library of World Literature’s 100 Best Books in World History list. I’ve slowly been collecting those books as I find them in the used book stores, using the credit I’ve accrued from trading in old books that I didn’t love anymore. Sometimes, even though a book may be out of copyright (and therefore available free online), I have just been buying a paper copy anyway. Reading on the computer or on my phone is a bit of a pain, and I just prefer the real paper copy in my hands. It’s hard to justify it for novels that I think I’m going to dislike anyway (such as anything by Joyce, comic as he may be), but for books that I suspect that I may love, I’d rather have the paper any day.

I have Anna Karenina to read, but I am going to hold off on it and give the previous Tolstoy some time to digest before I dip into his “other” masterwork. In the meantime, I still have those 14 books waiting for me. If I can find copies of those books that I’m missing, I think I can finish that darn list this year. Finally. I’m only, oh, 3 1/2 years off the pace that I set for myself.

I also have two Dostoyevsky books waiting for me. I’m saving those. My daughter says that I am basically just a Dostoyevsky fangirl. Which, yeah, pretty much sums it up.


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