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Taking on Modern Library

Happy New Year, readers! I’ll be honest: I miss December a little and I’m still adjusting to this new year. But I need to hurry up. After all, I can only mistakenly write 2010, cross it out and write 2011 for so long. But I digress.

Today, I wanted to share with you this post on Edward Champion’s website that I thought was very interesting.  Part his own personal challenge, part a literary case study, Champion plans to read the entire Modern Library list of top 100 novels of the 20th century from #100 to #1.  Throughout the process, Champion will write about each on his site in an effort to “track some quirky course of literature.”  I find this interesting for a few reasons. First, I appreciate Champion’s ambition. I’ve written in the past on lists and reading the classics, and I think this list is a respectable and broad representation of titles considered canon, even within the temporal limits of the 20th century.

But I also wonder about his aim to somehow trace a path, whether linear or not, through literature.  When these one hundred books were chosen, I imagine they were selected for their distinction as individuals, not as a whole.  So I guess I’m just a little skeptical. And of course I wonder how books of this century measure up, and whether in ninety years we’ll be able to make a similar list and track a similar progression.

At the end of the day, I admire Champion’s drive. I’d love to think I could take on a challenge like this, but honestly, where is he going to find the time? Would any of you ever attempt something like this?

8 Responses to Taking on Modern Library

  1. stephen matlock says:

    I would not take this on.

    While I have nothing against lists of the top X or whatever, I would not watch or read them solely based upon that list.

    And if I were to do it gamely from 100 to 1, I would feel as if I were doing it as an assignment and not for pleasure.

    Unless I have to read something for my job or for a task, I do not read unless I want to read it. I do not read something because someone says I “must” read it. I do not read something because it is a best-seller. I do not read it because everyone who is someone important has read it.

    I read it because it sounds interesting, and usually because I have picked it up myself.

    Now, do I read stuff recommended by others, or a top-seller, or a popular book? Well, yes, I do – but I have to understand the recommendation or appeal and look at the book myself. I don’t read just to make someone else feel validated, and I will never read a book so that someone else feels like they can control my reading list. I don’t read the top best-sellers in any category just because they’re the top-seller – I do so if it sounds interesting.

    I have read the top 10 debut mystery novels or top 10 YA novels – but I did so as part of my “job” as a writer, looking to see why they made the list, and trying to understand the genre and the audience, but I didn’t do so because I wanted to be in the “in” group. And I do read mysteries and YA novels, but I read the ones I want to read, browsing brick & mortar and online bookstores to find what I want. When I read for enjoyment, I pick the books. When I read for my job, I’ll read what others point out.

  2. I always imagine that one day I’ll complete a challenge like this, but it would take me years and years (and years and years) and I’d probably end up hating every single book. Like Stephen said above, it sounds like an assignment. Kudos to Edward for trying it, though.

  3. Yevgeny says:

    I’m really glad to see someone else trying to read 100 books! I see he’s actually aiming for 121, counting series.

    I’m embarking on a journey just like this, and I’m giving myself until December 22nd, 2011. I call it a book marathon and I keep track of them at The Book Roster. Unlike the Modern Library list, my reads are random picks, mostly from lesser-known and debut authors.

  4. Teri C. says:

    I blogged on this topic last week after I checked out TIME Magazine’s Top 100 list. I was surprised to learn I’d only read 14 — and of the 14, liked just 5.

    A few years ago I started a classics book club and we used the Modern Library list. The 8 of us were feeling pretty good about our soon-to-be-cultured selves. Our first pick was ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST, which only half the group finished. The next pick was ATLAS SHRUGGED. Only 2 people read it. End of club.

  5. Kendra says:

    I admire him but this would never work for me. I like the feeling of not knowing where my reading journey will take me next. Also, something in me rebels against reading only “great literature.”

  6. I’d also feel like it was an assignment, and I’d hate feeling obligated to read something on the list instead of something else I’d enjoy more. I also feel like there’s a lot of literature out there that has merit, but didn’t make the list, and occupying myself with only these hundred books would make me miss out on a lot. In my mind, it’s similar to bookstores/publishers only promoting a few items, garnering massive sales for those titles but leaving the rest to collect dust on the shelves. Some of the best treasures I’ve found have been those dusty, less-promoted books!

  7. Curt Cragin says:

    I went over this site and I conceive you have a lot of fantastic information, saved to my bookmarks (:.

  8. This really answered my downside, thank you!

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