December 3, 2007

Personal essay: Announcing the CCLaP 100

(UPDATE, October 2010: My lengthy mid-project report is now online, examining what I've so far learned by reading the first 50 titles of this series.)

Looking for the list itself? It's at the bottom of the page.

(Every day, I like to post at least a thousand words of original content to the CCLaP website; on the days I don't have a review of a book or movie ready, I thought I would try other material, such as this series of personal essays, looking at a topic in the arts from my life that I think you might find relevant or entertaining too. You can click here for a master list of all personal essays now written, if you're interested.)

What exactly makes for a 'classic?'

If there's one thing I like to emphasize here at CCLaP more than anything else, it's that the artistic diet of the smart fan should be as well-rounded as possible; that even as all of us as humans have certain themes and genres we naturally gravitate to (including -- gasp -- supposedly objective reviewers), we as fans of the arts should also be trying to add projects to our lives that fulfill tertiary interests, as well as the occasional random project just to stir up the intellectual juices a little. One of the things I've been thinking about a lot in my own life recently, for example, is the idea of "classic" books, or those which end up on those endless series of "books to read before you die" lists that seemingly breed on the internet like bunnies. To be truthful, I spent a huge majority of my time in my twenties becoming an expert on modern art alone; as of the beginning of my thirties, at least, I would've been able to tell you a ton of things about what's happened to us as humans during the 20th century, but not very much about anything that happened before then.

It's a number of things, I think, that lead me at this moment in my life to a newfound interest in so-called classic literature, and especially work from the 18th and 19th centuries; slipping recently into the bottom rung of middle age, for example, becoming a full-time literary critic and wanting to understand more about the history of novels, becoming an international traveler recently for the first time as well, and starting to visit the places where knowledge of centuries-old history is crucial. In fact, one of the things that I've noticed recently is how much classic literature I've been adding to my regular reading list -- it seems, in fact, for the last couple of years to be at least one classic book I'm currently getting through at any given moment, of the five or six books I'm simultaneously reading at any given moment in my life (one for cafes, one for the bus, one for bed, one just for the toilet, one just for my mobile device...oh, you have no idea, the complexity of it all).

As soon as I stopped and realized this, I quickly came to the following conclusion; that if I'm just adding random classic books to my life willy-nilly these days, I bet it'd be extra-interesting to sit down and actually compile a deliberate list of classic books to get through, and then to keep a public journal of the entire experience for the website. So that's what I've decided to do, a project I call "The CCLaP 100," the entire list of which can be found below, reviews of which will start appearing at the site this coming January, 2008; they are 100 books I in particular have never read, that have been judged by others to fall under the general category of "classic" (but more on this in a bit), that I will hopefully be getting through at a general rate of about a book per week, for a total project length of two years. Sound interesting? Want to participate yourself? Read on, please! Sound stupid? You can go ahead and skip to the next entry, then, because the remainder of this entry is nothing but even more geeky details for my fellow lit nerds.

So how did I compile this list? Well, basically I started by first turning to the following five lists:

The Everyman's Library 100 Essentials
Winners of the Pulitzer Prize
Modern Library's 100 Best Books of the 20th Century
Project Gutenberg's Top 100 Downloaded Authors
Winners of the Hugo Award

I then pulled out the titles that had made several of these lists at once, which made up the core of the CCLaP 100 list below; then the rest were chosen from the individual lists on a case-by-case basis, based on things like my personal interest, historical significance, how many times the author already appeared on the list, how many books by that author I'd already read in the past, etc. And that of course is ultimately why I'm uncomfortable every time I use the word "classic" here, and have this obsessive desire to put the word inside quotation marks each time I use it; and that's because one of the first things you realize when compiling a list like this is just what a difference of opinion there is out there over what makes something "classic," leading one to question whether it's fair to even use the term at all. For example, although it's nearly impossible for a title to make all five of the lists at once that I cite above (because of the time periods of books being considered for each list), there are only a handful of books in existence that made even three of these lists simultaneously; instead of having to weed out a lot of titles after the consolidation process, like I had originally guessed was going to happen, I ended up instead with a woefully small master list that needed a lot of personal finessing to fill out.

In fact, that's something I wanted to make clear about this upcoming essay series, that they will most likely be significantly different than the usual book reviews I write here; that since we can all agree beforehand that the books listed below are at least all well-written, there will be no need or point for me to do the normal kind of literary critique that I do for contemporary novels. Instead, I'll be devoting "CCLaP 100" essays to the subject of whether or not that book deserves the label "classic" -- of whether you should consider it a book you should read before you die, or merely a well-done book that has influenced a lot of people. The more I think about the subject, the more I'm fascinated by it, of what exactly we mean when we say that something is a "classic," and I hope that you too will enjoy following along over the next two years with that idea and goal in mind.

And speaking of which -- yes, I encourage you to participate in the CCLaP 100 project as well if you want, which is why I'll be publishing with each entry a newly updated schedule of upcoming reads. The first two essays, for example, coming the first and second week of January, are easy ones to pick, because they're books I'm actually reading as we speak (or, well, I recently finished one), Charles Dickens' Great Expectations and Nathaniel Hawthorne's House of the Seven Gables. (For what it's worth, I ended up having to eliminate around a dozen books from the "long list" I compiled for the CCLaP 100, because of having read them already as an adult; there are also books on the list below that I technically actually have read already, but while back in high school in a piecemeal format while hating the entire experience and thus remembering almost nothing of it.) The schedule for the rest of January and February, then, looks like the following:

January, week 3: The Great Gatsby, F Scott Fitzgerald
January, week 4: Midnight's Children, Salman Rushdie
February, week 1: The Man Who Was Thursday, GK Chesterton
February, week 2: The Ripley Trilogy, Patricia Highsmith (three small books)
February, week 3: The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Mark Twain
February, week 4: The Name of the Rose, Umberto Eco

I hope you'll get a chance to follow along with any of the books that sound particularly interesting, and that you'll of course add your own comments about the experience to the eventual essays that will be published.

Anyway, the entire list can be seen below; if a title has a hyperlink, it means that the essay has now been written and can be found online. Oh, and notice that I'm not being too strict about the actual number; that this list in actuality comprises 111 novels and not 100, in that some are listed here as a series instead of as individual books, and that I'll be reading those series in order for this project and reviewing them as if one centralized manuscript. As always, your thoughts and input are welcome, either as a comment to this entry or via email to cclapcenter [at] gmail.com.

The Age of Innocence, Edith Wharton
The Alexandria Quartet, Lawrence Durrell (four small books)
Alice Through the Lookingglass, Lewis Carroll
All Quiet on the Western Front, Erich Maria Remarque
Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy
The Art of War, Sun Tzu
Babbitt, by Sinclair Lewis
Beloved, Toni Morrison
The Border Trilogy, Cormac McCarthy (three small books)
Brave New World, Aldous Huxley
Brideshead Revisited, Evelyn Waugh
The Brothers Karamazov, Fyodor Dostoevsky
Buddenbrooks, Thomas Mann
The Call of the Wild, Jack London
Candida, George Bernard Shaw
The Canterbury Tales, Geoffrey Chaucer
The Castle, Franz Kafka
Catch-22, Joseph Heller
The Catcher in the Rye, JD Salinger
A Confederacy of Dunces, John Kennedy Toole
The Confessions of Nat Turner, William Styron
Democracy in America, Alexis de Tocqueville (two books)
Doctor Zhivago, Boris Pasternak
A Doll's House, Henrik Ibsen
Dracula, Bram Stoker
The End of the Affair, Graham Greene
Empire Falls, Richard Russo
The Executioner's Song, Norman Mailer
A Farewell to Arms, Ernest Hemingway
Faust, Johann Goethe
The Fixer, Bernard Malamud
Flatland, Edwin Abbott
Frankenstein, Mary Shelley
The Gods Themselves, Isaac Asimov
The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck
Great Expectations, Charles Dickens
The Great Gatsby, F Scott Fitzgerald
Gulliver's Travels, Jonathan Swift
The Handmaid's Tale, Margaret Atwood
Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad
The Hours, Michael Cunningham
House of the Seven Gables, Nathaniel Hawthorne
Humboldt's Gift, Saul Bellow
Interpreter of Maladies, Jhumpa Lahiri
The Island of Dr. Moreau, HG Wells
Ivanhoe, Sir Walter Scott
Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte
A Journal of the Plague Year, Daniel Defoe
Jude the Obscure, Thomas Hardy
The Jungle, Upton Sinclair
Kim, Rudyard Kipling
The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula K Le Guin
Les Miserables, Victor Hugo
Little Women, Louisa May Alcott
Lord of the Flies, William Golding
Madame Bovary, Gustave Flaubert
The Magnificent Ambersons, by Booth Tarkington
The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love, Oscar Hijuelos
The Man in the High Castle, Philip K Dick
The Man Who Was Thursday, GK Chesterton
The Masterpiece, Emile Zola
Meditations, Marcus Aurelius
Middlemarch, George Eliot
Middlesex, Jeffrey Eugenides
Midnight's Children, Salman Rushdie
The Mill on the Floss, George Eliot
Les Miserables, Victor Hugo
Le Morte d'Arthur, Sir Thomas Malory
Mrs. Dalloway, Virginia Woolf
The Name of the Rose, Umberto Eco
Northanger Abbey, Jane Austen
One Hundred Years of Solitude, Gabriel Garcia Marquez
A Passage to India, EM Forster
The Plague, Albert Camus
Pnin, Vladimir Nabokov
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, James Joyce
The Postman Always Rings Twice, James M Cain
Rabbit, Run, John Updike
The Republic, Plato
The Ripley Trilogy, Patricia Highsmith (three small books)
The Shipping News, E. Annie Proulx
Sister Carrie, Theodore Dreiser
Slaughterhouse Five, Kurt Vonnegut
The Sound and the Fury, William Faulkner
Stranger in a Strange Land, Robert Heinlein
Tarzan of the Apes, Edgar Rice Burroughs
The Thin Man, Dashiell Hammett
The Three Musketeers, Alexandre Dumas
To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Mark Twain
Treasure Island, Robert Louis Stevenson
Tropic of Cancer, Henry Miller
Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, Jules Verne
Uncle Tom's Cabin, Harriet Beecher Stowe
Vanity Fair, William Makepeace Thackeray
Walden, Henry David Thoreau
Washington Square, Henry James
The Way of All Flesh, Samuel Butler
Winesburg, Ohio, Sherwood Anderson
Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte
Zuleika Dobson, Max Beerbohm

Or, view the list in chronological order:

Pre-Victorianism
~500 BC: The Art of War, Sun Tzu
~360 BC: The Republic, Plato
~170 AD: Meditations, Marcus Aurelius
~1350: The Canterbury Tales, Geoffrey Chaucer
1485: Le Morte d'Arthur, Sir Thomas Malory
1722: A Journal of the Plague Year, Daniel Defoe
1726: Gulliver's Travels, Jonathan Swift
1806-32: Faust, Johann Goethe
1818: Northanger Abbey, Jane Austen
1818: Frankenstein, Mary Shelley
1819: Ivanhoe, Sir Walter Scott
1835-40: Democracy in America, Alexis de Tocqueville (two books)

Early Victorianism
1844: The Three Musketeers, Alexandre Dumas
1847: Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte
1847: Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte
1848: Vanity Fair, William Makepeace Thackeray
1851: House of the Seven Gables, Nathaniel Hawthorne
1852: Uncle Tom's Cabin, Harriet Beecher Stowe
1854: Walden, Henry David Thoreau
1857: Madame Bovary, Gustave Flaubert
1860: The Mill on the Floss, George Eliot
1861: Great Expectations, Charles Dickens
1862: Les Miserables, Victor Hugo

Late Victorianism
1868: Little Women, Louisa May Alcott
1870: Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, Jules Verne
1871: Alice Through the Lookingglass, Lewis Carroll
1874: Middlemarch, George Eliot
1876: The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Mark Twain
1877: Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy
1879: A Doll's House, Henrik Ibsen
1880: Washington Square, Henry James
1880: The Brothers Karamazov, Fyodor Dostoevsky
1883: Treasure Island, Robert Louis Stevenson
1884: Flatland, Edwin Abbott
1886: The Masterpiece, Emile Zola
1895: Jude the Obscure, Thomas Hardy
1896: The Island of Dr. Moreau, HG Wells
1897: Dracula, Bram Stoker
1898: Candida, George Bernard Shaw

The Interregnum
1900: Sister Carrie, Theodore Dreiser
1901: Buddenbrooks, Thomas Mann
1901: Kim, Rudyard Kipling
1902: Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad
1903: The Call of the Wild, Jack London
1903: The Way of All Flesh, Samuel Butler
1906: The Jungle, Upton Sinclair
1908: The Man Who Was Thursday, GK Chesterton
1911: Zuleika Dobson, Max Beerbohm
1914: Tarzan of the Apes, Edgar Rice Burroughs
1916: A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, James Joyce
1918: The Magnificent Ambersons, by Booth Tarkington
1919: Winesburg, Ohio, Sherwood Anderson

Early Modernism
1920: The Age of Innocence, Edith Wharton
1922: The Castle, Franz Kafka
1922: Babbitt, by Sinclair Lewis
1924: A Passage to India, EM Forster
1925: The Great Gatsby, F Scott Fitzgerald
1925: Mrs. Dalloway, Virginia Woolf
1928: All Quiet on the Western Front, Erich Maria Remarque
1929: A Farewell to Arms, Ernest Hemingway
1929: The Sound and the Fury, William Faulkner
1932: Brave New World, Aldous Huxley
1934: The Thin Man, Dashiell Hammett
1934: Tropic of Cancer, Henry Miller
1934: The Postman Always Rings Twice, James M Cain
1939: The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck
1945: Brideshead Revisited, Evelyn Waugh

Late Modernism
1947: The Plague, Albert Camus
1951: Catch-22, Joseph Heller
1951: The Catcher in the Rye, JD Salinger
1951: The End of the Affair, Graham Greene
1954: Lord of the Flies, William Golding
1955-74: The Ripley Trilogy, Patricia Highsmith (three small books)
1957: Doctor Zhivago, Boris Pasternak
1957: Pnin, Vladimir Nabokov
1957-60: The Alexandria Quartet, Lawrence Durrell (four small books)
1960: To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee
1960: Rabbit, Run, John Updike
1961: Stranger in a Strange Land, Robert Heinlein
1962: The Man in the High Castle, Philip K Dick
1966: The Fixer, Bernard Malamud
1967: The Confessions of Nat Turner, William Styron
1967: One Hundred Years of Solitude, Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Postmodernism and Contemporary
1969: The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula K Le Guin
1969: Slaughterhouse Five, Kurt Vonnegut
1972: The Gods Themselves, Isaac Asimov
1975: Humboldt's Gift, Saul Bellow
1980: A Confederacy of Dunces, John Kennedy Toole
1980: The Executioner's Song, Norman Mailer
1980: The Name of the Rose, Umberto Eco
1981: Midnight's Children, Salman Rushdie
1985: The Handmaid's Tale, Margaret Atwood
1987: Beloved, Toni Morrison
1989: The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love, Oscar Hijuelos
1992-98: The Border Trilogy, Cormac McCarthy (three small books)
1993: The Shipping News, E. Annie Proulx
1998: The Hours, Michael Cunningham
2000: Interpreter of Maladies, Jhumpa Lahiri
2001: Empire Falls, Richard Russo
2002: Middlesex, Jeffrey Eugenides

Filed by Jason Pettus at 10:26 AM, December 3, 2007. Filed under: CCLaP 100 | CCLaP news | Literature | Literature:Fiction | Reviews |