/lit/ is apparently a discussion board on something called 4chan, which, if I understand correctly, is an Internet community. I don’t know folks…I’m old. I pretty much stick to Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, with Wikipedia in the mix as well. Anyway, /lit/ does an annual Favorite Books list based on polling of its users, and I stumbled upon this aggravate list, which is based on cumulative results from 2014-20. I find the rankings fascinating, and have been pondering use it as a jumping off point. For what?? Well, that is to be determined, though I will provide more context going forward. For now I have decided to simply provide my gut reaction to each book, some of which I am quite familiar, while several others I’ve never even heard of before now. I’m a pretty open minded guy though, so perhaps this project will lead to some impactful entertainment.
1 Moby Dick / Herman Melville
I read it in high school and didn’t hate it. I wouldn’t mind reading it again, although my time might be spent more wisely with new material rather than rereading a book that didn’t really impact me much in the first place.
2 The Brothers Karamozov / Fyodor Dostoevsky
I have it. It came as part of a Great Books collection I spent way too much money on that I didn’t really have many years ago. I find Russian literature challenging, and at 50 years old I’m kind of past making myself do anything unnecessary just to impress anyone. Never say never though.
3 Ulysses / James Joyce
May I contradict myself?? Ulysses is thought by many to be one of the most difficult books to read & interpret…but I’d actually like to give it a whirl. How far can I get?? Stay tuned.
4 Infinite Jest / David Foster Wallace
I actually have a copy of Infinite Jest sitting on the desk beside me. Procrastination has always been a character flaw, and quite frankly I am intimidated by everything I’ve heard about Infinite Jest. However, I am equally fascinated by its place as a modern classic, since it was actually written in the 1990s & the author wasn’t that much older than me. Sadly Wallace suffered from depression and hung himself at the age of 46 in 2008. It’d be less than honest if I told you that part of the equation didn’t intrigue me just a bit.
5 Lolita / Vladimir Nabokov
It is my understanding that it is one of the more controversial books of the 20th century, with the narrator being a middle aged professor who has an inappropriate relationship with a young girl. That sounds like a train wreck that one should look away from but can’t stop staring at. I’m sure a psychologist could explain our fascination with such things.
6 Crime & Punishment / Fyodor Dostoevsky
Another Russian novel that I own but really feel no pull to actually read. Kudos to Dostoevsky though…two books in the Top 10 is impressive.
7 Gravity’s Rainbow / Thomas Pynchon
I’m intrigued by the title. Is that odd?? I am also interested to see another book actually written in my lifetime (1973) show up, versus novels written centuries ago.
8 Don Quixote / Miguel de Cervantes
It’s a huge book…over 800 pages. There was a time in my life when I could blow thru something like that in a week, but those days are long gone. Still, I’d like to give it a whirl because everything I’ve heard indicates that it’s a really cool read.
9 Blood Meridian / Cormac McCarthy
Though written in 1985 it is set in the mid-1800s. I’d be more inclined to read it if it was actually set in 1985. McCarthy is probably best known for writing No Country For Old Men in 2005, a book that was adapted into a film that won the Academy Award for Best Picture a few years later. I have zero interest in that film, which makes me wonder if Blood Meridian would frost my cupcake.
10 Stoner / John Williams
This is the first book on the list that I’ve never heard of, and after reading a little about it I think I understand why. The first thing you should know is that it’s not what you might think it is given the title. It’s not about that at all. To be honest the description sounds rather boring, so I doubt I’ll waste my time.
11 The Holy Bible / God
I realize that The Bible can be viewed thru the prism of great literature, but that’s not what it’s about in my eyes. Do I need to do a better job of studying God’s Word?? Absolutely. However, I don’t view it the same as reading novels.
12 The Stranger / Albert Camus
I actually own a copy of The Stranger. I don’t remember when or why I got it, but it’s a short book that I will be tackling in the near future.
13 The Trial / Frank Kafka
Kafka is an interesting dude. There is actually a term…kafkaesque…which means “having a nightmarishly complex, bizarre, or illogical quality”. The Trial is amongst his best known works, and tells the story of a man who is arrested but has no idea why. I have a vague recollection of beginning to read the book but not finishing it, which sadly is not unusual for me. I thought I had a copy but can’t find it, so I might have to reinvest because the premise is intriguing.
14 The Divine Comedy / Dante Alighieri
I am intrigued, but…it isn’t a novel, it’s a narrative poem. I’m not really a poetry guy, and y’all know the deal with teaching old dogs new tricks. Still, Dante is a paisan, and though it’s a long book I’ve read lengthier stuff in the past. It is a challenge that holds a certain level of interest. We’ll see.
15 Ficciones / Jorge Luis Borges
I’ve never heard of it, but it’s a book of short stories originally written in Spanish in the 1940’s & 50’s. It isn’t high on my priority list, but short stories do seem a little more palatable than committing to one super long book.
16 Anna Karenina / Leo Tolstoy
I wonder if Tolstoy & Dostoevsky had kind of a Frazier/Ali, Brady/Manning, Bird/Magic rivalry?? They were contemporaries in Russia. At any rate, it’s a book I may or may not get around to someday.
17 War & Peace / Leo Tolstoy
Of the two I am more likely to tackle this Tolstoy masterpiece first, although I’ve heard it’s a bit of a slog.
18 One Hundred Years of Solitude / Gabriel García Márquez
I am intrigued by the concept…a story that follows seven generations of the same family. If you’re one of those folks who’ve watched the same soap opera for decades you’ll understand the idea. It’s high on my list.
19 Dubliners / James Joyce
Other works by Joyce get more love, but I’ve heard good things about this little collection of short stories about life in Ireland around a century ago. I am inclined to learn more.
20 The Odyssey / Homer
I own a copy. I know it’s one of those books I am supposed to have read long ago. However, it isn’t a novel, it’s an epic poem, which is defined as a “lengthy narrative poem typically about the extraordinary deeds of extraordinary characters who, in dealings with gods or other superhuman forces, gave shape to the mortal universe for their descendants”. The subject matter sounds cool, but poetry is supposed to be relatively short. If you’re going to write an “epic” why not do it in a novel?? The format weirds me out. I realize that sounds goofy, but it’s the truth.
21 1984 / George Orwell
It has been many years since I read it, but given the state of the world nowadays a refresher may be worth the effort.
22 In Search of Lost Time / Marcel Proust
It is a seven volume novel, and I don’t know if I have the strength. According to my research it contains “recollections of childhood & experiences into adulthood in the late 19th/early 20th-century high society France, reflecting on the loss of time & lack of meaning in the world.” Sounds like a real laugh riot, huh?? To be honest I hadn’t really heard of it until I saw the 2006 comedy Little Miss Sunshine, in which a character calls Proust the greatest writer after Shakespeare. It’s a mountain part of me has interest in climbing, but it would take a level of commitment & focus I haven’t exhibited in a very long time.
23 Hamlet / William Shakespeare
Not only did we study Shakespeare in high school, but I took an entire class dedicated to his works in college. Here’s the thing about ol’ Willie Shakes though…his stuff is really better experienced the way it was originally intended…as live stage performances…rather than read as books. Having said that, Hamlet is terrific, and if you can’t catch a stage production it has been faithfully adapted on film a few times. You ought to give it a whirl.
24 The Iliad / Homer
I own a copy, but have I ever read it?? Not that I recall, although surely we skimmed it in high school, right?? It’s not a novel, it is another epic poem, and I think we’ve established my feelings on that. Never say never though.
25 Notes from Underground / Fyodor Dostoevsky
He’s back!! Really…three books in the Top 25 almost makes me want to give Dostoevsky a whirl. Almost.