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More Lists; Oh, the Shame!
Topic Started: May 20 2008, 10:13 AM (9,549 Views)
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Dinanukht wannabe
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To provide some outsider perspective, perhaps it would be nice to have a list that is not referenced often on English language literary boards.

In 2001 the Spanish newspaper El Pais published a list of the 100 best Spanish language fictional works of the 20th. Century. The selection favored Spanish writers over Latin American ones, but it offered a very good overview of the evolving canon at the time.

Of course, the choices from the 10 years just before the list was assembled were mostly misses rather than hits due to the brief time for a selection to emerge at that point. Also, Spanish language fiction of the 20th. Century before Borges with a few notable exceptions (e.g. Unamuno) is not that interesting.


Given those two criteria, I excised the 1992-2001 and pre-1944 selections, and this is the list that remained:

Ficciones, Jorge Luis Borges 1944
Nada, Carmen Laforet 1944
The President, Miguel Angel Asturias 1946
Men of Maize, Miguel Angel Asturias 1949
The Cypress Casts a Long Shadow, Miguel Delibes 1947
Five hours with Mario, Miguel Delibes 1966
The holy innocents, Miguel Delibes 1981
La cabeza del cordero, Francisco Ayala 1949
The adventures of Alfanhui, Rafael Sanchez Ferlosio 1951
The River: El Jarama, Rafael Sanchez Ferlosio 1955
Plaza del Castillo, Rafael Garcia Serrano 1951
The Beehive, Camilo Jose Cela 1951
San Camilo, 1936, Camilo Jose Cela 1969
Cypresses Believe in God, Jose Maria Gironella 1953
Pequeno teatro, Ana Maria Matute 1954
Good Intentions, Max Aub 1954
Pedro Paramo, Juan Rulfo 1955
Behind the Curtains, Carmen Martin Gaite 1957
Retahilas, Carmen Martin Gaite 1974
Los gozos y las sombras, Gonzalo Torrente Ballester 1957-1962
La saga/fuga de J.B., Gonzalo Torrente Ballester 1972
Requiem for a Spanish Peasant, Ramon J. Sender 1960
Las mocedades de Ulises, Alvaro Cunqueiro 1960
Truce, Mario Benedetti 1960
On Heroes and Tombs, Ernesto Sabato 1961
Time of Silence, Luis Martin Santos 1961
The Shipyard, Juan Carlos Onetti 1961
No One Writes to the Colonel, Gabriel Garcia Marquez 1961
One Hundred Years of Solitude, Gabriel Garcia Marquez 1967
Chronicle of a Death Foretold, Gabriel Garcia Marquez 1981
Explosion in a Cathedral, Alejo Carpentier 1962
Bomarzo, Manuel Mujica Lainez 1962
Hopscotch, Julio Cortazar 1963
The Time of the Hero, Mario Vargas Llosa 1963
Conversation in the Cathedral, Mario Vargas Llosa 1969
Jose Trigo, Fernando del Paso 1966
Marks of Identity, Juan Goytisolo 1966
Paradiso, Jose Lezama Lima 1966
Return to Region, Juan Benet 1967
Three Trapped Tigers, Guillermo Cabrera Infante 1967
Infante's Inferno , Guillermo Cabrera Infante 1979
El dia que murio Marilyn, Terenci Moix 1969
No digas que fue un sueno, Terenci Moix 1986
The Obscene Bird of Night, Jose Donoso 1970
La oscura historia de la prima Montse, Juan Marse 1970
Perpetual Motion, Augusto Monterroso 1972
Agatha Cat's Eyes, Jose Caballero Bonald 1974
I, the Supreme, Augusto Roa Bastos 1974
The Nymphs, Francisco Umbral 1975
A Mortal Spring, Francisco Umbral 1975
The Legend of the Visionary Caesar, Francisco Umbral 1992
The Maravillas District, Rosa Chacel 1976
Kiss of the Spider Woman, Manuel Puig 1976
Extramuros, Jesus Fernandez Santos 1978
The South Seas, Manuel Vazquez Montalban 1979
Galindez, Manuel Vazquez Montalban 1990
Volaverunt, Antonio Larreta 1980
The Ages of Lulu, Almudena Grandes 1980
Martin Romana, Alfredo Bryce Echenique 1981
Octubre, octubre, Jose Luis Sampedro 1981
The Etruscan Smile, Jose Luis Sampedro 1985
Museo de cera, Jorge Edwards 1981
Belver Yin, Jesus Ferrero 1981
The House of the Spirits, Isabel Allende 1982
Tower Struck by Lightning, Fernando Arrabal 1983
Tiempo nublado, Octavio Paz 1983
Voyage to Nowhere, Fernando Fernan Gomez 1985
Burning Patience, Antonio Skarmeta 1985
The City of Marvels, Eduardo Mendoza 1986
The Fencing Master, Arturo Perez-Reverte 1988
Juegos de la edad tardia, Luis Landero 1989
Like water for Chocolate, Laura Esquivel 1989
El camino del corazon, Fernando Sanchez Drago 1990
The Polish Horseman, Antonio Munoz Molina 1991
A Heart So White, Javier Marias 1992
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Dinanukht wannabe
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At the TLS blog they just posted a list of the best 108 novels of all time as seen from the vantage point of 1898. Surprisingly enough, sexism in the selection was not a problem: about 35 of the chosen books where written by women.

I'm happy to say that I've only read 28 of them, so I have another 80 great novels to enjoy for free :)

from here

1. Don Quixote - 1604 - Miguel de Cervantes
2. The Holy War - 1682 - John Bunyan
3. Gil Blas - 1715 - Alain Rene le Sage
4. Robinson Crusoe - 1719 - Daniel Defoe
5. Gulliver's Travels - 1726 - Jonathan Swift
6. Roderick Random - 1748 - Tobias Smollett
7. Clarissa - 1749 - Samuel Richardson
8. Tom Jones - 1749 - Henry Fielding
9. Candide - 1756 - Françoise de Voltaire
10. Rasselas - 1759 - Samuel Johnson
11. The Castle of Otranto - 1764 - Horace Walpole
12. The Vicar of Wakefield - 1766 - Oliver Goldsmith
13. The Old English Baron - 1777 - Clara Reeve
14. Evelina - 1778 - Fanny Burney
15. Vathek - 1787 - William Beckford
16. The Mysteries of Udolpho - 1794 - Ann Radcliffe
17. Caleb Williams - 1794 - William Godwin
18. The Wild Irish Girl - 1806 - Lady Morgan
19. Corinne - 1810 - Madame de Stael
20. The Scottish Chiefs - 1810 - Jane Porter
21. The Absentee - 1812 - Maria Edgeworth
22. Pride and Prejudice - 1813 - Jane Austen
23. Headlong Hall - 1816 - Thomas Love Peacock
24. Frankenstein - 1818 - Mary Shelley
25. Marriage - 1818 - Susan Ferrier
101. An Egyptian Princess - 1864 - Georg Ebers
102. Rhoda Fleming - 1865 - George Meredith
103. Lorna Doone - 1869 - R. D. Blackmore
104. Anna Karenina - 1875 - Count Leo Tolstoi
105. The Return of the Native - 1878 - Thomas Hardy
106. Daisy Miller - 1878 - Henry James
107. Mark Rutherford - 1881 - W. Hale White
108. Le Reve - 1889 - Emile Zola

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According to some links posted at The Literary Saloon, for Spanish reviewers the top three books of the year were Carrere's Limonov, Munoz Molina's Everything Solid and, on top of them all, Rafael Chirbes' En La Orilla (On the Water Margin).

Chirbes' own list of his top ten favorite books is interesting and revealing:
1. Communist Manifesto, Karl Marx & Friedrich Engels.
2. Remembrance of Things Past, Marcel Proust.
3. De Rerum Natura, Lucretius.
4. The death of Virgil, Herman Broch.
5. La de Bringas (Bringas' ), Benito Perez Galdos .
6. The Celestina, Fernando Rojas.
7. Essays, Montaigne.
8. Poetry, Francisco de Quevedo.
9. Sanctuary, William Faulkner.
10. Decameron, Giovanni Bocaccio.

Speaking about Galdos, Bringas' is one of my own three favorite books written by him. El amigo manso and Misericordia being the other two. Galdos is Chirbes' favorite writer and inspiration as a novelist. Now, according to Wikipedia, Galdos translated just one book into Spanish, Dickens' Pickwick Papers (a very good choice!), so we can guess who Galdos himself admired as a writer
Edited by Cleanthes, Jan 10 2014, 04:04 PM.
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Dinanukht wannabe
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Thank you for the link Sub-pet. Ordered The Making of Americans, Nova Trilogy and Going Native based on it.
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I second OOMB regarding Oblomov.

The Story of the Stone is my favorite novel and also the best piece of fiction I've ever read, even though the last third of the book amounts to fan-fiction and almost a reboot of the plot. We know from hints inside the novel that the ending was going to be tragic and politically triggered, but an ending like that was not publishable at the time, so a different ending was commissioned from a hack.

Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant is very good for about the first 90% of the book, and then it becomes extraordinary, achieving an effect of time expanding that blew me away.

Needless to say, Pessoa's Book of Disquiet is a masterpiece, a book to revisit and get lost in.

Nightmare Alley is one of the very few movies I like, so I'll have to read the novel. It includes one of my favorite plot lines, a character becoming something that he fears or she is disgusted by.
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Hard to argue with the top ten in translation (I would have swapped #11 Celine's Journey to the End of the Night with #10, the Murakami thing, but that's me).

From a somehow similar French list, here are 16 books that match the selection criteria of the original list:

The Stranger, Albert Camus
Steppenwolf, Hermann Hesse
In Search of Lost Time, Marcel Proust
Journey to the End of the Night, Louis-Ferdinand Celine
Almost Transparent Blue, Ryu Murakami
Harrouda, Tahar Ben Jelloun
The Words, Sartre
The Kindly Ones, Jonathan Littell
The Trial, Kafka
The Joke, Milan Kundera
The Magic Mountain, Thomas Mann
Gold, Blaise Cendrars
Small Lives, Pierre Michon
One Hundred Years of Solitude, Gabriel Garcia Marquez
The Discovery of Heaven, Harry Mulisch
Whatever, Michel Houellebecq
Edited by Cleanthes, Sep 15 2014, 06:33 PM.
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Dinanukht wannabe
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Over at The Guardian an ongoing list of the best 100 English language novels.

The trick to this kind of list is to mix the usual suspects with a little bit of personal odd selections and omissions (say two out of every ten) and Mr. McCrum manages to do just that for the first two thirds of his list (covering the years up to the end of WWII, which are pretty much established canon).

Of the first two thirds of the books listed, I haven't read about a dozen of them: the Love Peacock, the Disraeli, the Rolfe, the Buchan, the Conan Doyle the Dos Passos, the Waugh and Babbitt (all of which I don't intend to read, life being too short).

On the other hand, Mr. McCrum has persuaded me to try Beerbohm's Zuleika Dobson, Well's History of Mr. Polly, Green's Party Going and Lolly Willowes by Sylvia Townsend Warner, and for that, I'm grateful to him.

I would have been nice to have seen included some titles like Ellison's Invisible Man, Gaskell's Cranford, Marius the Epicurean or the Confessions of a Justified Sinner.

Edited by Cleanthes, Apr 23 2015, 11:55 AM.
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The '100 best something of all time' kind of lists are meant to be for entertainment purposes only. And on that regard, the Guardian series was entertaining at least.

Time has pretty much already established the canon for the novels before the sixties. Which is why that cautious blowhard Tyler Cowen played it safe by limiting his own list to books published before the last 50 years here. (It also fills my heart with gladness to see how ignorant the right wing commenters on that conservative blog are).

Braver people would limit their lists to books published after 1950. Really brave people, to books published in the last 25 years.
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His choices for great novels by living writers are peculiar.

95% originally written in English. And out of the 5 translated ones, The Club Dumas and The Good Cripple take two spots... :facepalm: (The other three, though, are very risky and original choices, The Tin Drum, Unbearable Lightness of Being and Murakami)

And from what I've read of his English language choices, in most cases, well... Auster, Banville, Crace, DeLillo, Doctorow... Pass.

Even in the case of the authors we both admire, his choice of novel is, more often than not, peculiar.
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Funhouse, I concur with Didi: it's a brave thing to put out lists of books that are still not safely established as canon. I'm grateful to you for the effort to compile the list of works from living novelists. Also, as a primer on contemporary English language novels, it's better than most of the lists (or portions of lists) covering similar ground out there.

Most likely the fact that I found that list peculiar can be explained by the Dunning-Kruger effect on my part since, at most, I've read books by a third of the authors on that list (let alone the actual books listed).

The first list (the one with books from dead writers) is not peculiar at all, it's quite good and I have nothing but respect, agreement and piqued interest about your choices there (not to mention that it has more translated picks).

I'm glad to know that it was you who compiled the lists because I've been wanting to ask a few questions about several of the books in your list for years and I haven't found a friendly co-reader until now.

On Somebody the Sailor, who do you think is the green eyed woman Barth is addressing the book to? Honest question, I don't know the answer, or at least I'm not 100% convinced of the conventional answer being right (Barth's twin sister).

Edited by Cleanthes, Aug 19 2015, 09:45 AM.
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Several Irish readers respond to the list of contention here,
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‘What is a book worth - and especially a novel - if its author cannot communicate the substance to an audience of ten-year-olds?’ Michel Tournier asked in a 1971 article. The author has no doubt about the answer, ever since he subjected two of his novels to what he calls the ‘crible enfantin,’ the ultimate test of a children's screening. Texts which ‘put off’ children - and he doesn't hesitate to give such illustrious examples as Racine's and Shakespeare's plays, and Balzac's Comédie humaine - are ‘second-rate’. In Tournier's eyes, ‘the highest summits of world literature’ are:

Perrault's Contes,
La Fontaine's Fables,
Andersen's The Snow Queen,
Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland,
Selma Lagerlöf's The Wonderful Adventures of Nils,
Kipling's Just So Stories,
Saint Exupéry's Le Petit Prince.

Taken from here.

Very interesting list, I'd add some of Kafka's tales, The Arabian Nights, Gulliver's Travels and some Chinese Fox and Ghost tales and some Chuang Tzu.
Edited by Cleanthes, Feb 1 2016, 05:31 PM.
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Dmitry Bykov's list of 100 best books of world literature. Via MAO (no matter if one occasionally disagrees with MAO -take his surprise at Régis Jauffret, the genius who wrote Universe, Universe, being nominated to 2 of the big French prizes, for example-, there's no denying that he provides a great service to readers and I'm thankful for it).

Bykov's list is heavily Russian, but it contains a lot of interesting books and authors to discover: The Legend of Thyl Ulenspiegel and Lamme Goedzak, Teffi, Leonid Leonov, My Cousin Rachel, Dmitry Merezhkovsky, Vasily Shukshin, Yuri Nagibin's Daphne and Chloe - Eras of the Personality Cult (if and when it gets translated), Petrushevskaya's Number One (if and when it gets translated), Alexander Zhitinsky's The Flying House, or Conversations with Milord (the "milord" of the title being Laurence Sterne), Pelevin's Life of Insects, plus the songs and music of Bulat Okudzhava and the movie Respublika SHKID.
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Pascal Quignard on the second volume of his Petit traités (1990, p.384) writes about the model for Sei Shonagon's Pillow Book, Tang poet Li Shangyin's books of lists (a selection of which has been translated into English as Derangements of My Contemporaries: Miscellaneous Notes).

Among Li Shangyin's lists, there's one that enumerates signs of great wealth:

The neighing of a horse coming from the backyard.
Dried lychee shells found in the garbage.
Many wax tears surrounding a candle.
A flowery hairpin forgotten on the floor.
The noise of water boiling to brew tea.
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Two curmudgeonly bloggers put together a list of the Best American Fiction 1968-1998.

As it is usually the case with most of these lists, its real value lies in the possibility of finding great books you didn't know about rather, than in the list being comprehensive or even accurate. I know, because it cost me over $50 Earthican bucks, spent at a certain Brazilian river.

Prospective buyer beware!
Edited by Cleanthes, Oct 22 2017, 01:28 PM.
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nnyhav, thanks for the link to that list. It's one of the best of its kind I've read in a while.

I would have preferred instead of one book wonders like Sally Rooney and Claire-Louise Bennett (pace Gwendoline Riley) say, Julian Barnes, A L Kennedy, Kate Atkinson or James Kelman, though.
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One Story's top ten short stories list, here.
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