An interesting "Best of the 20th Century English Language" list

January 24, 2013 § 3 Comments

This one that HTML Giant copy/pasted from Larry McCaffery (who has a post explaining each of his 100 selections) had some surprising choices on it.  Food for debate, I presume?  Bold for books read, italics for those owned but not yet read (just over 50 read, if I counted correctly):

1. Pale Fire, Vladimir Nabokov, 1962.
2. Ulysses, James Joyce, 1922.
3. Gravity’s Rainbow, Thomas Pynchon, 1973.
4. The Public Burning, Robert Coover, 1977.
5. The Sound and the Fury, William Faulkner, 1929.
6. Trilogy (Molloy [1953], Malone Dies [1956], The Unnamable [1957]), Samuel Beckett.
7. The Making of Americans, Gertrude Stein, 1925.
8. Nova Trilogy (The Soft Machine [1962], Nova Express [1964], The Ticket that Exploded, [1967]), William S. Burroughs.
9. Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov, 1955.
10. Finnegans Wake, James Joyce, 1941.
11. Take It or Leave It, Raymond Federman, 1975.
12. Beloved, Toni Morrison, 1986.
13. Going Native, Stephen Wright, 1994.
14. Under the Volcano, Malcolm Lowery, 1949.
15. To the Lighthouse, Virginia Woolf, 1927.
16. In the Heart of the Heart of the Country, William H. Gass, 1968.
17. JR, William Gaddis, 1975.
18. Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison, 1952.
19. Underworld, Don DeLillo, 1997.
20. The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway, 1926.
21. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, James Joyce, 1916.
22. The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald, 1925.
23. The Ambassadors, Henry James, 1903.
24. Women in Love, D.H. Lawrence, 1921.
25. 60 Stories, Donald Barthelme, 1981.
26. The Rifles, William T. Vollmann, 1993.
27. The Recognitions, William Gaddis, 1955.
28. Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad, 1902.
29. Catch 22, Joseph Heller, 1961.
30. 1984, George Orwell, 1949.
32. Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neal Hurston, 1937.
32. Absalom, Absalom!, William Faulkner, 1936.
33. Dhalgren, Samuel R. Delany, 1975.
34. The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck, 1939.
35. The Four Elements Tetrology (earth: The Stain [1984], fire: Entering Fire [1986], water: The Fountains of Neptune [1992], and air: The Jade Cabinet [1993]), Rikki Ducornet.
36. Cyberspace Trilogy (Neuromancer [1984], Count Zero [1986], Mona Lisa Overdrive [1988]), William Gibson.
37. Tropic of Cancer, Henry Miller, 1934.
38. On the Road, Jack Kerouac, 1957.
39. Lookout Cartridge, Joseph McElroy, 1974.
40. Crash, J.G. Ballard, 1973.
41. Midnight’s Children, Salmon Rushdie, 1981.
42. The Sot-Weed Factor, John Barth, 1960.
43. Genoa, Paul Metcalf, 1965.
44. Brave New World, Aldous Huxley, 1932.
45. A Passage to India, E.M. Forster, 1924.
46. Double or Nothing, Raymond Federman, 1972.
47. At Swim-Two-Birds, Flann O’Brien, 1951.
48. Blood Meridian, Cormac McCarthy, 1965.
49. The Cannibal, John Hawkes, 1949.
50. Native Son, Richard Wright, 1940.
51. The Day of the Locust, Nathaniel West, 1939.
52. Nightwood, Djuna Barnes, 1936.
53. Housekeeping, Marilynn Robinson, 1981.
54. Slaughterhouse-Five, Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., 1969.
55. Libra, Don DeLillo, 1986.
56. Wise Blood, Flannery O’Conner, 1952.
57. Always Coming Home, Ursula K. LeGuin, 1985.
58. USA Trilogy (The 42nd Parallel [1930], 1919 [1932], and The Big Money [1936]), John Dos Passos.
59. The Golden Notebook, Doris Lessing, 1962.
60. The Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger, 1951.
61. Red Harvest, Dashiell Hammett, 1929.
62. What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, Raymond Carver, 1981.
63. Dubliners, James Joyce, 1915.
64. Cane, Jean Toomer, 1925.
65. The House of Mirth, Edith Wharton, 1905.
66. Ridley Walker, Russell Hoban, 1982.
67. Checkerboard Trilogy (Go in Beauty [1955], The Bronc People [1958], Portrait of the Artist with 26 Horses [1962]), William Eastlake.
68. The Franchiser, Stanley Elkin, 1976.
69. New York Trilogy (City of Glass [1985], Ghosts [1986], The Locked Room [1986]), Paul Auster.
70. Skinny Legs and All, Tom Robbins, 1986.
71. Infinite Jest, David Foster Wallace, 1995.
72. The Age of Wire and String, Ben Marcus, 1996.
73. Tlooth, Harry Mathews, 1966.
74. Pricksongs and Descants, Robert Coover, 1969.
75. The Man in the High Castle, Phillip K. Dick, 1962.
76. American Psycho, Brett Easton Ellis, 1988.
77. The French Lieutenant’s Woman, John Fowles, 1969.
78. The Book of the New Sun Tetrology (The Shadow of the Torturer [1980], The Claw of the Conciliator [1981], The Sword of Lictor [1982], The Citadel of the Autarch [1982]), Gene Wolfe.
79. A Clockwork Orange, Anthony Burgess, 1962.
80. Albany Trilogy (Legs [1976], Billy Phelan’s Greatest Game [1978], Ironweed [1983]), William Kennedy.
81. The Tunnel, William H. Gass, 1995.
82. Omensetter’s Luck, William H. Gass, 1966.
83. The Sheltering Sky, Paul Bowles, 1948.
84. Darconville’s Cat, Alexander Theroux, 1981.
85. Up, Ronald Sukenick, 1968.
86. Yellow Back Radio Broke Down, Ishamel Reed, 1969.
87. Winesburg, Ohio, Sherwood Anderson, 1919.
88. You Bright and Risen Angels, William T. Vollmann, 1987.
89. The Naked and the Dead, Norman Mailer, 1948.
90. The Universal Baseball Association, J. Henry Waugh, Prop., Robert Coover, 1968.
91. Creamy and Delicious, Steve Katz, 1971.
92. Waiting for the Barbarians, J.M. Coetzee, 1980.
93. More than Human, Theodore Sturgeon, 1951.
94. Mulligan Stew, Gilbert Sorrentino, 1979.
95. Look Homeward, Angel, Thomas Wolfe, 1929.
96. An American Tragedy, Theodore Dreiser, 1925.
97. Easy Travels to Other Planets, Ted Mooney, 1981.
98. Tours of the Black Clock, Steve Erickson, 1989.
99. In Memoriam to Identity, Kathy Acker, 1990.
100. Hogg, Samuel R. Delany, 1996.

§ 3 Responses to An interesting "Best of the 20th Century English Language" list

  • The original list includes Larry McCaffery's explanations, which makes it an interesting, personal canon (the only sort of canon I particularly like). I knee-jerkingly agree with any list that includes both Dhalgren and Hogg (although I'd put them side by side, since they were written at the same time and form a kind of loose diptych. I'm anxiously awaiting the Library of America volume with both books in it [in my dreams…])

  • Larry Nolen says:

    Yeah, I forgot about linking to that link (I had only skimmed over the list when I copy/pasted the titles themselves), so I'll edit that in shortly.The personal nature of it appealed to me more than a few of the selections (which is to be expected, being a different person and all), as several I thought were bold choices, while wondering why certain favorite writers appeared 2-3 times instead of a slot or two going to others. More A-A writers than the normal, but also fewer women writers, but those that appeared I could understand why they appeared. The commentaries on HTML Giant are interesting as well, although I think some of them miss the point in order to make their own arguments for authors x or y.

  • Kathleen says:

    interesting list. I've only read 15 or so (always forget which Hemmingways I've read, which probably means I shouldn't count them – ha)nice to see some different books on there.

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