An Updated List

I wrote a list of books more than three years ago, not a list of my favourite books necessarily, but of the books that I thought were relevant to our times, a project that I undertook because Dave Humphrey prompted me to do so.  I had occasion to return to this list the other day, and I found it somewhat unsatisfactory in the light of three years of reading, so I thought I might update it, retaining all the same reservations and adding a further one, that I would include only a single title by any one author, with the understanding that any author with a book on the list is probably worth reading further.

I have dropped the idea of books that are “relevant to our time”, as the original task specified. Instead I have substituted the idea of the books that are relevant to me personally, still not necessarily my favourite books, but those that have influenced me most profoundly and that I would be most likely to recommend. I have also decided to rewrite only the fiction list and not the non-fiction.

The changes to the list are mostly due to having read some new writers — Roberto Bolaño, Mario Vargas Llossa, Jose Saramago, John Gardiner, Juan Rulfo, Elias Canetti, and others — but it is also due to a gradual reevaluation of what I think is important in writing.  I recognize that the list is much more contemporary now, that it still includes only two women,  and that it does not include a number of books that I would classify as children’s literature.  It still only goes a short way toward representing what I read, and I am still not quite certain why some of the titles are on the list, but it will have to do for another three years or so.

Alessandro Baricco, Silk
Roberto Bolaño, 2666
Jorge Luis Borges, Collected Fictions
Italo Calvino, If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller
Elias Canetti, Auto da Fé
Albert Camus, The Plague
Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness
Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek
Fydor Dostoevsky, The Idiot
Alaxandre Dumas, The Count of Monte Christo
William Faulkner, As I Lay Dying
John Gardner, Michelson’s Ghosts
William Golding, The Spire
Günter Grass, The Tin Drum
Franz Kafka, The Trial
Doris Lessing, Briefing for a Descent into Hell
C. S. Lewis, Til We Have Faces
Mario Vargas Llossa, The Feast of the Goat
Malcolm Lowry, Under the Volcano
Dow Mossman, The Stones of Summer
Gabriel Garcia Marquez, A Hundred Years of Solitude
Thomas Pynchon, The Crying of Lot 49
Juan Rulfo, Pedro Páramo
Salman Rushdie, Midnight’s Children
Jose Saramago, All the Names

  1. Lauren said:

    You mention this list doesn’t include any children’s literature. Could I persuade you to create such a list at some point?

  2. Lauren,

    That would be an interesting idea. Would you have parameters about age? Or maybe I should do one list of young adult books and one for children proper.

  3. Curtis said:

    I notice a distinct lack of Canadians on this list…

  4. Curtis,

    With very few exceptions, I have found Canadian literature to be a wasteland of contrived plots, forced emotion, and stylistic complacency. Though there is a list of Canadian writers that I would call good, I do not know that there have been any that I would call great.

  5. Lauren said:

    I like the idea of one list for children and one for young adults.

    I wonder if your distaste for Canadian literature has anything to do with your preference for male writers. Canlit does seem to have a higher level of contribution by / popularity of female authors than other markets, for some reason.

  6. John Jantunen said:

    There is but one English Canadian-born novelist who has written anything that I would call truly great and, being so conspicuous, I hardly need mention his name. One of his trilogies would surely make my best 25 and a second might possibly crack the top fifty. Surprised to see the first absent here and can only assume, judging from the comments you’ve received thus far, that this omission was your attempt at provocation. If so, I applaud you for so successfully baiting your loyal readership. If not, then shame on you Jeremey Luke Hill. Shame on you!

    (Also Gardner is not spelled with an i.)

  7. Curtis said:

    You need to read Douglas Coupland.

  8. Lauren,
    My preference is not for male writers per se, but for certain styles of writing that (perhaps) have historically been practised by men more than by women and that have not often been practised in Canada at all, so in this sense there may be a connection between the two, but only in this sense.

    I do like Davies, but not enough to put him on the list.

    I have read Douglas Coupland. I find him entirely uninteresting.

  9. Curtis said:

    Not even Cohen?

  10. Curtis,

    I had Cohen’s Beautiful Losers on the last list, and he would certainly have been there when I was younger, but I no longer have the same response to him that I used to have.

  11. Curtis said:

    Luke, I understand that this is a list largely out of your personal preference, and that cannot be found in fault by a mere alternative of opinion. However, this is a list of books you feel are relevant to the times, our times, likely in the feeling of most relevant, as much as they contain the reasons you find fitting to that cast and requirements- I do not doubt your taste in expectation for literature- but without the inclusion of at least one Canadian officianado- it’s hard to really come to grips with that preference, or the implications, if those implications, by the domestic absence on such a list are true… that Canadian culture is not relevant, or most relevant to our time. Of course that’s my feeling on the communication and they cannot be seen to change your preference- however, they impact me regarding the overall relevance, as well as make me conclude two things which as of yet cannot be proven [with no misgivings that this is not official and not meant to be in any way a static list] that you’re completely wrong, or there is a sudden and incredible tragedy going on in our midst. Or the more divisive conclusion I want to shy away from, that your list is what is irrelevant.

  12. Curtis said:

    Ahem*- I must express a clarification- irrelevant not in offense, but that there are no inclusions which speak to the capacity of shared of similar experiences- he most relevant aspect of culture- from our on varied and diverse numbers and places.

  13. Curtis said:

    Sorry for the spelling mistakes.

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