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Friday, July 03, 2009

Newsweek's 50 Books for Our Times

Newsweek recently posted a list of "Fifty Books for Our Times." It is laden with contemporary works of non-fiction, in stark contrast to the novel-heavy "meta-list" of the "Top 100 Books" compiled from other top booklists: "Modern Library, the New York Public Library, St. John's College reading list, Oprah's, and more." This is their justification for wanting a new list to supplement the classics:
which books—new or old, fiction or nonfiction—open a window on the times we live in, whether they deal directly with the issues of today or simply help us see ourselves in new and surprising ways.
Fair enough.

In scanning through the 50 books, I discovered that I haven't read very many of them. In the first 20, I've read only Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick. Many others look interesting (some were already on my "to-read" wishlist) and I plan to read them eventually.

As for the remainder of the list, I've read some Mark Twain (three books are compiled as "The Mississippi Books"), Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi, and Underworld by Don DeLillo. That's it, five of fifty. Nearly all are novels.

I do much better on the classic list of 100: 1984 by George Orwell, The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger, F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby, Joseph Heller's Catch-22, John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath, Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, Niccolo Machiavelli's The Prince, J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, Harper Lee To Kill a Mockingbird, Twain's Huckleberry Finn, Shelley's Frankenstein, Ernest Hemingway's For Whom the Bell Tolls, Kurt Vonnegut Slaughterhouse-Five, Orwell's Animal Farm, William Golding's Lord of the Flies, Raymond Chandler's The Big Sleep, Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, Rabbit, Run by John Updike, Dashiell Hammett's Maltese Falcon, and Phillip Pullman's "His Dark Materials" (actually 3 books).

That's 20 of 100, though I confess that many were read in high school or college English classes.

Plus, I've read memorable portions of many others on the list: Alexis de Tocqueville's Democracy in America, Jean-Jacques Rousseau's Social Capital, Karl Marx's Das Kapital, The Leviathan by Thomas Hobbes, Thucydides's Peloponnesian Wars, A.A. Milne's Winnie the Pooh (I likely read this entire book to my daughters), John Milton's Paradise Lost, various works of Shakespeare, and The Holy Bible.

That's 8 to 10 more, depending upon how many works of Shakespeare I can recall reading (as opposed to simply viewing)

Some more from the top 100 compiled list are on my shelf, just waiting to be read one of these days. Top-listed works by Evelyn Waugh, Ralph Ellison, Conrad, Anthony Burgess, and Robert Penn Warren are literally stacked or shelved nearby in a "to read" collection.

Maybe I should set them aside in favor of books from the contemporary list?

Take a look at that Newsweek list and make a recommendation if something is familiar -- and good.

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