May 14, 2009



Really not a bad list. It's particularly nice to see Dick Meyer give good representation to genre literature, particularly noir masterpieces like The Killer Inside Me.

And yet...

Wallace Stegner has not just one, but two novels on the list? Really? He was that good? Don't think so. This decision seems even sillier when you realize what great novels didn't make his list, like Gravity's Rainbow or The Golden Bowl. That Stegner can get two berths on Meyer's luxury liner, and Thomas Pynchon and Henry James get none is hard to understand or take seriously.

And please remove Humboldt's Gift immediately. Bellow was an unreadable writer, his prose a knotty, meandering quagmire of the pretentious and uninteresting.

It's also interesting to note: No erotica. Have we really been that repressed for the past century? I think not.

Rachael King

Good to see women holding their own with 6 out of 100.

Jacob Williamson


He admits that fault ahead time...

James Harrigan

the least one can hope for with a list like this is that it contain no crap. Like Niall I couldn't stand "Humboldt's Gift", but crap it is not. I also am mystified by the cult of Philip Roth that Meyer is clearly a member of, but that's probably my problem. As for Henry James, he wrote most of his best known work pre-1900 and is thus not eligible, no?

What I like about lists like this is that they give me ideas about what to read, and this list is no exception.


the list's obvious lack of women authors is gaining attention from a blogger at the LA Times...and Meyer may or may not have responded to the talkbacks.



A fine pastime, putting
together lists of things
you really like. This book,
that chapter, another verse
you don't quite remember

always just beneath
the bough of breaking tastes
that go this way and that
it's all a man can do to keep up
with her latest best book

listening to a dream
recounted past good sense
we have to listen well
and you know it's not
exactly a meal

it's not actually a list
you can sit on for long either
there are ants on the way
and one has already arrived
damn but he's got a piece of paper too.

Rob Schackne

Alvy Singer

Wow. Underworld, Mao II or any from DeLillo aren't in the list of Meyer. No Pynchon, off course. Nicole Kraus is in the list for her american realist magic novel of jews and their inner life? Am I the only who thinks that DFW's Infinite Jest is superb?


Henry James published the Golden Bowl in 1902, and so should be eligible for this list.


Is this where I put in a plug for William Gaddis? Does anyone still read his books?


Don, you're not alone in loving Gaddis! "The Recognitions" definitely needs to be on this list. Certainly more than anything Bellow or Stegner ever wrote.

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  • The Elegant Variation is "Fowler’s (1926, 1965) term for the inept writer’s overstrained efforts at freshness or vividness of expression. Prose guilty of elegant variation calls attention to itself and doesn’t permit its ideas to seem naturally clear. It typically seeks fancy new words for familiar things, and it scrambles for synonyms in order to avoid at all costs repeating a word, even though repetition might be the natural, normal thing to do: The audience had a certain bovine placidity, instead of The audience was as placid as cows. Elegant variation is often the rock, and a stereotype, a cliché, or a tired metaphor the hard place between which inexperienced or foolish writers come to grief. The familiar middle ground in treating these homely topics is almost always the safest. In untrained or unrestrained hands, a thesaurus can be dangerous."


  • The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald


    Penelope Fitzgerald's second novel is the tale of Florence Green, a widow who seeks, in the late 1950s, to bring a bookstore to an isolated British town, encountering all manner of obstacles, including incompetent builders, vindictive gentry, small minded bankers, an irritable poltergeist, but, above all, a town that might not, in fact, want a bookshop. Fitzgerald's prose is spare but evocative – there's no wasted effort and her work reminds one of Hemingway's dictum that every word should fight for its right to be on the page. Florence is an engaging creation, stubbornly committed to her plan even as uncertainty regarding the wisdom of the enterprise gnaws at her. But The Bookshop concerns itself, finally, with the astonishing vindictiveness of which provincials are capable, and, as so much English fiction must, it grapples with the inevitabilities of class. It's a dense marvel at 123 pages, a book you won't want to – or be able to – rush through.
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    Tim Krabbé's superb 1978 memoir-cum-novel is the single best book we've read about cycling, a book that will come closer to bringing you inside a grueling road race than anything else out there. A kilometer-by-kilometer look at just what is required to endure some of the most grueling terrain in the world, Krabbé explains the tactics, the choices and – above all – the grinding, endless, excruciating pain that every cyclist faces and makes it heart-pounding rather than expository or tedious. No writer has better captured both the agony and the determination to ride through the agony. He's an elegant stylist (ably served by Sam Garrett's fine translation) and The Rider manages to be that rarest hybrid – an authentic, accurate book about cycling that's a pleasure to read. "Non-racers," he writes. "The emptiness of those lives shocks me."