Monday, June 30, 2008

The Fun of Lists, The Joy of Books

by Julia Buckley

This week Entertainment Weekly Magazine released several lists of what they called "The New Classics" in books, movies, music, etc. They were drawing their material from works produced in the last twenty-five years. I've already heard some complaints about what was left off of the list (which can be read here)
both because of things that were put on or things that were left off. Still, I like reading lists, because they give me a gauge for my own reading. I check how many of the books I've read, and I get a sense of how many of them I'd like to read.

To compare, here's a similar list of great books since 1923 that TIME Magazine compiled in 2005.

There are some books that the two lists have in common. In any case, I didn't fare so well on either list. On the first list, I've read 17 of the 100 books. On the second, I've read 12. Naturally, this makes me wonder which of those other 171 books I should read if I don't want to miss something really amazing. I will say that all of the books I read from the lists WERE most excellent books, so I'm assuming that some care was taken in the choosing of these novels.

The enjoyment of books is a subjective thing, though, and no one will ever agree entirely with anyone else's list.

But here's my question: where are all the mysteries? This seems to be such an ignored genre when people are composing their "great" lists--although I was pleased when Mayor Daley chose THE LONG GOODBYE for this year's One Book, One Chicago program.

But in general, mysteries seem to be overlooked as great fiction. In the EW list there are only two that are sort of mysteries--THE LOVELY BONES, which is about a murder, and narrated by the victim from heaven, and THE MYSTERIOUS CASE OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHTTIME, which is about an autistic boy who tries to solve the murder of a dog. Did I miss any? Did you see any other mysteries on those lists? And how many of the books have you read?

I realize I'm probably being most prosaic in counting my accomplishments (especially when they're not that impressive) but I find it fun, anyway. Share yours with us, as well!


Anonymous said...

Wow, first commenter. :-)

I won't say how many I've read exactly [single digits] but I have seen the movies of several additional titles. I was surprised to see King's On Writing listed, as well as Susan Faludi's Backlash, two books that I own. The majority on the list seemed to be litfic, with a few thrillers and contemporary commentary stories [Bonfire of the Vanities for example]

I'm not sure 25 years is long enough to determine a 'classic'. 'Popular' yes, classic, no. Twenty-five years is a period that is a sign of the short-term 'payback on investment thinking' times. Classics are Twain, Austen, James, etc. A century is needed, I think, before labelling anything a classic.

But the list isn't bad for identifying good books and covering a range.

Is 51. The Journalist and the Murderer, Janet Malcom (1990) a mystery? The title sounds like one.

paul lamb said...

I've managed to read 24 of them, but like jwhit says, I don't think most of these will qualify as classics in the next century, and many of them I have no interest in reading at all.

Julia Buckley said...

Good points, JWhit and Paul. A friend of mine also objected to that new buzz word, "iconic." Everyone seems to be using it, but few seem to be investing it with its original connotation. An icon, like a classic, has to earn a reputation over time.

Julia Buckley said...

JWhit, I'm not sure about The Journalist . . .

I'll look it up!

Sandra Parshall said...

I'm inclined to sneer at any "best" list put together by Entertainment Weekly -- okay, I'm a snob -- but it looks likes a good list. I've read 36 of them.

Other crime novels on the EW list are Mystic River, A Sight for Sore Eyes, Presumed Innocent, and the Da Vinci Code.

Sandra Parshall said...

I agree that a "classic" has to be around a long time to earn the label. None of us will live long enough to know what the classics of our time are. Somehow I don't think The Da Vinci Code will be one of them. Cold Mountain may be one.

Julia Buckley said...

I just took a very interesting class in which we analyzed COLD MOUNTAIN as a re-telling of THE ODYSSEY. Surprisingly many parallels.

I think some of the classics of the future will be books none of us really talk about now--books that will be "discovered" by future generations who say "and this book was never even acknowledged in the 21st Century."

Sandra Parshall said...

I believe Charles Frazier himself acknowledged that Cold Mountain is a retelling of The Odyssey. It's a beautiful book with timeless elements. (And the movie, while entertaining, didn't do the book justice.)

I see that Snow Falling on Cedars was not on the EW list. That's another wonderful book, and it's sad to think that many people know the story only through the perfectly wretched movie that was made of it!

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