David Lodge featured the game “Humiliation” in his book, Changing Places, and it looks like James Tata is raising the stakes, bolding the NYT‘s “Best Work of American Fiction of the Last 25 Years” that he’s read. Since this is a better (although still flawed) list than the other one, I’m in.
Blood Meridian–Cormac McCarthy
Rabbit Angstrom: The Four Novels–John Updike
— Rabbit, Run, Rabbit Redux, Rabbit Is Rich, Rabbit at Rest
American Pastoral–Philip Roth
A Confederacy of Dunces–John Kennedy Toole
Winter’s Tale–Mark Helprin
White Noise–Don DeLillo
The Counterlife–Philip Roth
Where I’m Calling From–Raymond Carver
The Things They Carried–Tim O’Brien
Jesus’ Son–Denis Johnson
Operation Shylock–Philip Roth
Independence Day–Richard Ford
Sabbath’s Theater–Philip Roth
Border Trilogy–Cormac McCarthy
— All the Pretty Horses, The Crossing, Cities of the Plain
The Human Stain–Philip Roth
The Known World–Edward P. Jones
The Plot Against America–Philip Roth
Yes, I’m sadly slack on Cormac McCarthy. And Marilynne Robinson’s two novels have been staring at me for the past year.
Gilead is beautiful. Read it now.
What’s humiliating is the fact that I’ve read only three (White Noise, Where I’m Calling From, and The Things They Carried) and a half (A Confederacy of Dunces) books on that list. I know we’ve discussed before how reading isn’t a competition, but that doesn’t keep me from feeling like a bit of a loser…
Chin up: I faired a bit better on the second list, Modern Library’s Best 100 Novels of the 20th century: 27 out of 100.
But who’s counting, right?
(The humiliation is complete: writing “FARED a bit better” might have made me look slightly more literate.)
Two of the books on this list are by women. On the Modern Library list of one hundred, nine–two of them by Edith Wharton.
Ratios like this aren’t just a matter of a taste for “large” novels. A whole body of literature has been simply overlooked.
I’ll focus on the ML list: one Cather to three Waugh? If Winesburg, Ohio is a novel, why not Welty’s The Golden Apples, and Alice Munro’s Lives of Girls and Women? Where is Joyce Carol Oates groundbreaking Them? Where are the novels of Jane Bowles, Nadine Gordimer, Cynthia Ozick, Margaret Atwood, Elizabeth Hardwick, Hortense Calisher, Maureen Howard, Francine Prose, Penelope Fitzgerald (whose THE BLUE FLOWER surely stands out in the century), Lydia Davis, Diane Johnson, Janet Lewis, Joan Didion, Beryl Bainbridge, Meridel LeSueur, Anita Desai, Jamaica Kincaid, Susan Sontag, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, Joy Williams?
TOBACCO ROAD, and not THE VIOLENT BEAR IT AWAY? THE ALEXANDRIA QUARTET and not Mary Lee Settle’s BEULAH TRILOGY?
Where’s Gertrude Stein’s monumental THE MAKING OF AMERICANS? Where’s Marguerite Young’s MISS MACINTOSH, MY DARLING? Where are Christina Stead and Elizabeth Jolley? In a hundred years, did none of these women write anything as good as DELIVERANCE or APPOINTMENT IN SAMARRA?
If the rule is “Stick to Men,” the list of missing male writers is nearly as jarring. Why do we pay attention to these lists?? Why am I writing to you about them??? Help!