Monday, October 20, 2008


Modern Library's 100 Best Novels is a list of the best English-language novels of the 20th century as determined by the Modern Library. In the spring of 1998 the Modern Library polled its editorial board to find the best 100 novels of the 20th century. The board consisted of Daniel J. Boorstin, A. S. Byatt, Christopher Cerf, Shelby Foote, Vartan Gregorian, Edmund Morris, John Richardson, Arthur Schlesinger Jr., William Styron and Gore Vidal.
The top 100 list was selected that committee that included writers Gore Vidal, whose books did not make the cut, and William Styron, whose novel ``Sophie's Choice'' placed fifth from the bottom. Ulysses by James Joyce topped the list, followed by The Great Gatsby and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. The most recent novel in the list is Ironweed (1983) by William Kennedy, and the oldest are Sister Carrie (1900) by Theodore Dreiser and Lord Jim (1900) by Joseph Conrad.
The list purports to contain only English-language novels (in fact, 'Darkness at Noon' is a translation from the German).
A separate list of the 100 best non-fiction books of the 20th century was created the same year. A list of reader choices was published separately by Modern Library in 1999.

Board selections:

Best 20th century novels:

Ulysses by James Joyce
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner
Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
Darkness at Noon by Arthur Koestler
Sons and Lovers by D. H. Lawrence
The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
Best 20th century non-fiction
The Education of Henry Adams by Henry Adams
The Varieties of Religious Experience by William James
Up From Slavery by Booker T. Washington
A Room of One's Own by Virginia Woolf
Silent Spring by Rachel Carson
Selected Essays, 1917-1932 by T. S. Eliot
The Double Helix by James D. Watson
Speak, Memory by Vladimir Nabokov
The American Language by H. L. Mencken
General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money by John Maynard Keynes

Reader selections

Best 20th century novels

Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand
The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand
Battlefield Earth by L. Ron Hubbard
The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell
Anthem by Ayn Rand
We The Living by Ayn Rand
Mission Earth by L. Ron Hubbard
Fear by L. Ron Hubbard

Best 20th century non-fiction

The Virtue of Selfishness by Ayn Rand
Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health by L. Ron Hubbard
Objectivism: the Philosophy of Ayn Rand by Leonard Peikoff
101 Things to do 'Til the Revolution by Claire Wolfe
The God of the Machine by Isabel Paterson
Ayn Rand: A Sense of Life by Michael Paxton
The Ultimate Resource by Julian Lincoln Simon
Economics in One Lesson by Henry Hazlitt
Send in the Waco Killers by Vin Suprynowicz
More Guns, Less Crime by John R. Lott

Criticism of the list includes that it did not include enough novels by women, and not enough novels from "Anglophone" countries (besides the US and the UK). In addition some say it was a "sales gimmick" as most of the titles in the list are also sold by Modern Library.
(Source: Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)
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It didn't take long for the Modern Library's list of the best 100 novels of this century to meet heavy criticism from the masses:
Released on Monday, the library picked James Joyce's "Ulysses" as the literary topper, with "The Great Gatsby" by F. Scott Fitzgerald, "A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man" by Joyce, Vladimir Nabokov's "Lolita" and Aldous Huxley's "Brave New World" rounding out the top five. Aside from the usual brickbatting that accompanies any list that tries to encapsulate a century, the Modern Library's rankings has rankled both women and people of color. Only eight female authors were represented in the top 100, and minority authors were noticeably scarce, despite a considerable presence in literature over the past 100 years.
"I don't know if this is the last great gasp of the white patriarchal male literary establishment, or if we are just going to try and bury all the wonderful writers out there," says Linda Bubin, co-owner of Women and Children First, a Chicago bookstore that specializes in feminist and children's books.
Bubin, while angered by the list, was not surprised. "We (women) tend to think we've arrived someplace, so it's good to remind people that the whole establishment is incredibly sexist," says Bubin. "And this is one more piece of evidence of that."
By CNN Interactive Writer
Jamie Allen
May 6, 1999

While Christopher Cerf, a member of the Modern Library panel that voted in the list, told reporters Monday that the list was created to spark debate and to get people reading, he also acknowledged his regret over some books left off the list, including works by Doris Lessing and Toni Morrison. The Modern Library's panel, a division of Random House, included Cerf, Daniel J. Boorstin, A.S. Byatt, Shelby Foote, Vartan Gregorian, Edmund Morris, John Richardson, Arthur Schlesinger Jr., William Styron and Gore Vidal -- seven men and one woman.
Message board response

A reader's poll on the Modern Library's Web site puts Ayn Rand at No. 1 and 3, with "Atlas Shrugged" and "The Fountainhead," respectively.
On CNN Interactive's message board, posts overflowed with questions regarding the list's apparent lack of diversity. The absence of Morrison and Rand was mentioned often. "I am surprised that the committee chose to omit African, Indian, South American, and Australian writers, many of whom write in English."
-- Micky Black
from the CNN Interactive message boards

"I scrolled down the list and noticed that F. Scott Fitzgerald's second mention on the list, 'Tender is the Night,' was ranked above the second female novelist mentioned," noted Kim Berndt in her message board post. "No doubt, F. Scott Fitzgerald is an incredible writer. But are you going to tell me that only one woman's novel (Virginia Woolf's "To the Lighthouse" -- ranked No. 15) was better than 'Tender is the Night?'"
"I am surprised that the committee chose to omit African, Indian, South American, and Australian writers, many of whom write in English," posted Micky Black. "Also, what about Arab writers? How about more women writers such as Doris Lessing and Isak Dinesen?"
While much of the faultfinding focused on the lack of women or minorities, some readers found other problems with the picks. Many noted that "To Kill a Mockingbird" by Harper Lee was excluded altogether from the list of 100.
"This list must be a practical joke, either from the Saturday Night Live crew or perhaps Monty Python," posted Howard Paul Burgess. "'Ulysses' as the greatest novel of the century? Sure. And 'Plan Nine from Outer Space' was the best movie of the century, too. 'Ulysses' is the biggest pile of gobbledygook ever perpetrated on the reading public. I defy anyone to make sense of anything in that (admittedly, sometimes poetic) flow of words, words, words."
Other readers were reminded of the recent list of the top 100 movies this century, as compiled by the American Film Institute.
"This list is far more subjective than even the AFI's 100 greatest movies, or that insipid Time article about the century's greatest entertainers," Jimmy John posted. "You simply can't narrow down a century of books into one little list of 100. It's impossible."
Impossible, no. The Modern Library has done it. To compile a list that finds no critics may be the impossible task.
"Ulysses as the greatest novel of the century? Sure. And Plan Nine from Outer Space was the best movie of the century, too."
-- Howard Paul Burgess
from the CNN Interactive message boards

Exactly a third of the titles on the list of “best” novels, including 6 of the top 10, have been removed or threatened with removal from bookstores, libraries and schools at some point. The Grapes of Wrath, number 10 on the list, has been one of the most vilified works since its publication in 1939. Burned at the St. Louis (Mo.) Public Library immediately after publication, it also was banned from the Buffalo (N.Y.) Public Library because of “vulgar words.” It was challenged in the Greenville (S.C.) schools because it used the names of God and Jesus “in a vain and profane manner” and was banned in Kern County (Calif.) where the story was set. It continues to be one of the most challenged books in schools and libraries.
Other banned books in the Modern Library’s “Top Ten” include The Great Gatsby and Brave New World. Today, it’s hard to imagine a library or a school curriculum without these works. Fortunately, few books are permanently banned from library and bookstore shelves in the United States. Why? Because librarians, booksellers, educators, parents and others actively defend our right to read.
The fact that 33 books on the Modern Library's “best” list have been either banned or challenged is not surprising. School and public libraries regularly receive requests to remove materials from their shelves and reading lists. In fact, the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom receives hundreds of reports of such challenges each year, with many more going unreported. Last year ALA tracked nearly 500 challenges on such acclaimed works as Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Katherine Paterson’s Bridge to Terabithia.
These challenges are not just complaints. They are requests to have materials removed from library shelves and curricula, most frequently in our nation’s schools.
The controversy over the Modern Library’s list reminds us that great literature is very much in the mind of the beholder. What is intellectually stimulating to one may be irrelevant or even offensive to another. That doesn't mean that differing viewpoints should not be heard or that parental guidance should not be exercised. Rather, it means we must respect the rights of others to choose for themselves and their families what they find appealing and appropriate.
(Source: Ann K. Symons, President, American Library Association, 1998–1999)

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