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Randy Cassingham

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bullet  Literary Allusions

This week's story slugs (titles) are all book titles, in case you didn't already notice and figure it out. They are:

Most of those titles are in the Modern Library's "100 Best" books since 1900 list, which actually is four lists (with significant overlaps): they have a list of the 100 best novels and another list of the 100 best nonfiction books compiled by a board of editors, and then similar lists voted on by 200,000 readers. You can see both (all four) full lists online.

I've pulled the ten titles into an Amazon "AStore" where you can read complete descriptions and reviews of the books I used for the slugs, or click any of the individual titles above.

If you'd like to talk about this list, and maybe encourage other True readers to read any of these "400" books, you can post your comments below.

5 Comments on This Entry

All comments in this blog are reviewed prior to being published. Spammers: don't waste your time. The posting criteria are simple: if a comment is worth visitors' time to read, it's approved. If not, it's not.


Posted by Anthony, Canberra ACT on April 3, 2007:

Lists are always controversial and usually suffer from a score of statistical flaws that tends to fuel the controversy. As an exercise, compare the Modern Library reader's list for fiction with another list from a different country

I think there is a 10,000 word essay that could be written analysing these two lists, without even considering sample sizes and self-selection of voting.

The main point I want to make, however, is that books are powerful tools to inform, persuade and even cajole our societies. They often tell us about who we are where we have been and where we might go (1984 for example). Any list is going to reflect personal views and prejudices of the voters and can never be taken to be definitive. There are books in these lists that address social issues relevant to specific societies as well as those who have a polemic axe to grind.

I personally think that a literary work that does not inform us of ourselves as human beings trying to make sense of our place in the world would not be on a list of mine.

My favourite fiction book tends to be the one I am reading at the moment. I am reading an english translation of Miguel des Cervante's "Don Quixote", said to be the first modern novel. The novel speaks to me 400 years after it was written as it addresses keenly-observed human qualities like loyalty, perservence, love, foolishness, greed and self-delusion.

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Note that in my discussion, I said that most of the books I used were included in the "Modern Library" list. So even for my own evocative uses, I didn't think that list was enough. Pretty much my point was to stimulate discussion and interest in reading good books, rather than whatever fad-of-the-moment title happens to be on the best-seller lists. Since indeed, "a literary work that does not inform us of ourselves as human beings trying to make sense of our place in the world [should] not be on a list." -rc

Posted by Sharon, California on April 5, 2007:

Just wanted to tell you I really enjoyed your reference to literature in the headings of this week's stories. I was happy to see that I had read almost all of them, just finished Atlas Shrugged and moved on to The Fountainhead. My favorite of your references was to Fifth Business. I was pretty sure I was the only one who had ever read the trilogy. I have mentioned it to others and always received a blank stare. It is nice to know that some one else appreciates the somewhat surrealistic quality to Robertson Davies works.

Posted by Sixten, Finland on April 20, 2007:

You cannot compare lists from different countries because not every book exist in every country and, moreover, the differences in cultures also cause differences in preference. Also the (in)ability to read and understand a certain language influences the selection (even though the 'best' books are usually translated).

I do not agree with this: "a literary work that does not inform us of ourselves as human beings trying to make sense of our place in the world [should] not be on a list." Sometimes I want to relax and forget about the world around me. My favourite type of books is fantasy with scifi as a close number two, but I read all kinds of books. (Well, I once started on Stephen King's 'It' and read the first 30 pages but decided to call it quit after that.)

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I believe fiction also "informs us of ourselves as human beings". Especially scifi. -rc

Posted by Mike from Dallas on May 21, 2007:

Rod Serling created a TV program that lasted for 5 years and it was referred to as "science fiction for the masses." It also spawned similar programs, not to mention resurgence in a couple forms in the 70's/80's. While the setting for the Twilight Zone was often in a science fiction or fantasy world, the message was philosophical and, more often, social commentary.

The movie series "Planet of the Apes" was also a commentary on prejudice and bigotry. What made it so uncomfortable was that the "Majority" had become the Minority.

Fiction, and sci-fi, allows discussion of ideas that wouldn't be Politically Correct if mentioned in Real Life. Watch a group of lawyers in a private discussion, making sure to specify "HYPOTHETICALLY" in order to continue the discussion without one being obligated to report a possible violation.

I don't remember who said it, but it's an axiom that to win a debate, one must be able to successfully argue for his opponent's position. For that reason, I urge people to read books and articles that run counter to their own views.

Even culturally different writings, while difficult to follow, still illuminate that there IS a different world out there, and that we are NOT all the same, just living in different places.

Posted by Jim, California on August 4, 2007:

A short thank you from a long-time reader for recommending The Deptford Trilogy a few months back. I just finished it, and enjoyed it immensely.

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You're welcome! His other fiction is quite good too, but I haven't liked his non-fiction as much. Murther and Walking Spirits is a good stand-alone (non-trilogy); the narrator is killed in the first sentence, and then the book moves forward from there. :-) -rc

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