books tell stories

A few years ago, a friend and I sat down one summer night and watched “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.” It was the first in a these-days-aborted attempt to watch all the movies on AFI’s top 100 movies list. I’d seen a good chunk of them already, he’d seen another batch, and there were about 30 that were new to both of us. We got through “Singin’ in the Rain” (#10), “Maltese Falcon” (#23), “Treasure of the Sierra Madre” (#30), “Network” (#66) and a few others with the help of Netflix queues and the AFI Silver Theatre, but somewhere along the way we stopped actively attacking the list. (“Rebel Without a Cause” (#59) is playing tomorrow night at Screen on the Green.)

The lesson here? I approach top 100 lists with enthusiasm, and then that enthusiasm wanes. The lists, in short, are like many other aspects of my life.

The last time I tried similar project for books, I settled on the Time 100. It came out in 2005 and had a few main advantages over other lists, such as the good sense to include “Watchmen” and the noticeable absence of Ayn Rand and  James Joyce (I’m looking at you, Modern Library).  That’s as far as I got, though: settling on the list. I think that was about four years ago.

And so, inspired by someone else’s attempt at that good old Time list, I’m trying again. As this journey of 100 books begins with a list, a few thoughts emerge already:

— Two books (“Grapes of Wrath” and “Watchmen”) are already part of my book project photo set.

–Several authors (William Gibson, Willa Cather, Evelyn Waugh) are well-represented on my shelves, but I’ve somehow skipped the particular books on this list.

–I Do. Not. Want. to read “Revolutionary Road.”

–Speaking of movies, the adaptation of James Dickey’s “Deliverance” isn’t on AFI’s main 100, but it’s #15 on the thrillers. I wonder how many other movie/book crossovers there are among these collections? For their Dashiell Hammett entry, Modern Library went with “Maltese Falcon” (#23 on AFI); Time here picked “Red Harvest.” Oh, and here’s “Gone with the Wind” on both, too (#4 at AFI).

–I swear among the 6 or 7 times I was assigned to read “Beloved” between 11th grade and graduating with a BA in English, I actually did read it at least once. But in those five years, that book was so dissected, so ripped apart, so analyzed as to no longer resemble anything worth reading. I want to try it again for fun without having to hand in a paper at the end of the semester. (No book reports here, right?)

–My favorite part about the Time collection is how few books on it I’ve read

And now, the list:

The Adventures of Augie March, Saul Bellow

All the King’s Men, Robert Penn Warren

American Pastoral, Philip Roth

An American Tragedy, Theodore Dreiser

Animal Farm, George Orwell (* but I should probably reread this)

Appointment in Samarra, John O’Hara

Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, Judy Blume

The Assistant, Bernard Malamud

At Swim-Two-Birds, Flann O’Brien

Atonement, Ian McEwan

Beloved, Toni Morrison (*yeah, probably ought to reread this, too)

The Berlin Stories, Christopher Isherwood

The Big Sleep, Raymond Chandler

The Blind Assassin, Margaret Atwood

Blood Meridian, Cormac McCarthy

Brideshead Revisited, Evelyn Waugh

The Bridge of San Luis Rey, Thornton Wilder

Call It Sleep, Henry Roth

Catch-22, Joseph Heller

The Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger

A Clockwork Orange, Anthony Burgess

The Confessions of Nat Turner, William Styron

The Corrections, Jonathan Franzen

The Crying of Lot 49, Thomas Pynchon

A Dance to the Music of Time, Anthony Powell

The Day of the Locust, Nathanael West

Death Comes for the Archbishop, Willa Cather

A Death in the Family, James Agee

The Death of the Heart, Elizabeth Bowen

Deliverance, James Dickey

Dog Soldiers, Robert Stone

Falconer, John Cheever

The French Lieutenant’s Woman, John Fowles

The Golden Notebook, Doris Lessing

Go Tell it on the Mountain, James Baldwin

Gone With the Wind, Margaret Mitchell

The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck (*actually in progress now)

Gravity’s Rainbow, Thomas Pynchon

The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald (please note the Web address you are currently visiting)

A Handful of Dust, Evelyn Waugh

The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter, Carson McCullers

The Heart of the Matter, Graham Greene

Herzog, Saul Bellow

Housekeeping, Marilynne Robinson

A House for Mr. Biswas, V.S. Naipaul

I, Claudius, Robert Graves

Infinite Jest, David Foster Wallace

Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison

Light in August, William Faulkner

The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, C.S. Lewis

Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov

Lord of the Flies, William Golding

The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien

Loving, Henry Green

Lucky Jim, Kingsley Amis

The Man Who Loved Children, Christina Stead

Midnight’s Children, Salman Rushdie

Money, Martin Amis

The Moviegoer, Walker Percy

Mrs. Dalloway, Virginia Woolf

Naked Lunch, William Burroughs

Native Son, Richard Wright

Neuromancer, William Gibson

Never Let Me Go, Kazuo Ishiguro

1984, George Orwell

On the Road, Jack Kerouac

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Ken Kesey

The Painted Bird, Jerzy Kosinski

Pale Fire, Vladimir Nabokov

A Passage to India, E.M. Forster

Play It As It Lays, Joan Didion

Portnoy’s Complaint, Philip Roth

Possession, A.S. Byatt

The Power and the Glory, Graham Greene

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, Muriel Spark

Rabbit, Run, John Updike

Ragtime, E.L. Doctorow

The Recognitions, William Gaddis

Red Harvest, Dashiell Hammett

Revolutionary Road, Richard Yates (ugggghhhh)

The Sheltering Sky, Paul Bowles

Slaughterhouse-Five, Kurt Vonnegut

Snow Crash, Neal Stephenson

The Sot-Weed Factor, John Barth

The Sound and the Fury, William Faulkner

The Sportswriter, Richard Ford

The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, John le Carre

The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway

Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston

Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe

To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee

To the Lighthouse, Virginia Woolf

Tropic of Cancer, Henry Miller (Do I get half credit for reading Anais Nin’s diary?)

Ubik, Philip K. Dick

Under the Net, Iris Murdoch

Under the Volcano, Malcolm Lowry

Watchmen, Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons

White Noise, Don DeLillo

White Teeth, Zadie Smith

Wide Sargasso Sea, Jean Rhys

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