Tuesday, August 16, 2011

My Quest: To read the 100 Greatest Novels of All Time

 The Quest

The first inspiration came in 2003, when The Guardian, British newspaper, published a list of the 100 Greatest Novels of all Time. I considered myself pretty well read, but upon examining their list I discovered I’d read less than one-fourth. (to see my actual list, click HERE)

And the quest began…though not very systematically, and ultimately not very faithfully. The first problem; there were some titles I seemed to remember reading, but I wasn’t certain. There were also a few, such as Animal Farm, that I had read to me. Should these count? And I was very haphazard. I jumped around, just picking titles I liked, and I wasn’t blogging about it at all. Finally, I wasn’t very committed and soon gave it up. 

Until a second inspiration: the movie Julie and Julia, about a young woman, Julie, who sets out to make every recipe in Julia Child’s cookbook and blog about it. It was a cute movie, and it also inspired me to take up my quest again. This time more systematic, more committed, and of course this time I’d blog about my progress. I settled the systematic part with the following rules. The blog helps me stay committed.

The Rules

Rule #1 Use the Official 100 Greatest Novels of All Time List. Alas, I‘m confounded before I’ve begun. There is no such list. There are plenty of lists, just not THE list. I could pick one but I didn’t want my first step to be so arbitrary. I wanted something unbiased that would satisfy academic scrutiny and popular opinion at the same time. Therefore, I created a composite of six different Greatest Novels lists: Time Magazine, The Guardian Newspaper, The Great Books Guide, The Modern Library (the Board’s list and the Reader’s list), and The Best 100 Lists (voted by regular people). It is still somewhat arbitrary but I believe it achieves a degree of consensus. If you disapprove and care to sponsor my quest (pay me), you may choose the list. Rank is first a factor of how many source lists on which each book appears. Novels 1-4 are on all six lists; 5-15 are on five of six; 16-25 are on four of six; 26-69 are on three of six; and 70-100 are on two of six. Subsequent rank is the result of simply averaging each novel’s rank on the source lists. Hereafter, there shall be no more math. This is about readin and ritin…not rithmatic.

Rule #2 No cheating. I know; a no cheating rule is superfluous; I have my reasons. There are novels that I think should be on the list that are not, such as Tom Sawyer which I think is better than Huck Finn, but as I said in rule #1, I am aiming for unbiased. You’ll probably discover an omission that you find outrageous. Don’t whine. I’m not changing the list. That’d be cheating and there is no cheating. Get it now?

Rule #3 Disclaimer: it’s not really “of all time”, but rather all time up to and including 2010. If someone writes the 32nd greatest novel of all time tomorrow, I’m not reshuffling the entire list.

Rule #4 No time limit. I love to read but I have other demands on my time. I don’t know how long it will take. If you care to sponsor my quest, we can discuss a deadline, right after we negotiate salary. Upon reaching mutually agreeable terms, I’ll quit my day job. Otherwise, I’ll finish when I close the cover of The Stand.

Rule #5 No credit for previous reads. I’ve read many of these before, but it doesn’t count. It all starts now.

Rule #6 I may disqualify a book at my discretion. I’m not a prude but I don’t want to read porn. There are a few titles that already concern me a bit. If I discover one that offends my sensitivities I will eliminate that novel and select the next alternate from the remaining books not in the top 100 selected by rule #1.

Rule #7 To be read in order, unless I have some difficulty in obtaining a book. In that case, I will skip ahead, and return to the skipped title when possible.

Rule #8 And final (I think…for now), No Spoilers. I know no one will be reading this blog at first, but I am naïve enough to think I will have millions of fans by the time I get to A Passage to India. I’d welcome comments, or objections to my own, but please don’t spoil what I have not yet read. Dig? Cool.

Not a rule, just an FYI sort of thingy New to blogging, learning as I go. Unless this is much harder than I think, My List will be posted shortly hereafter. I'd welcome comments on what you think of My List.


  1. Any blogger who cites the movie Julie & Julia as an inspiration is a friend of mine :-)

    Although for me, the inspiration led me to Julia's biography & another french phase!

  2. You have the same inspiration for your book blog as I do! I saw Julie and Julia and wanted to come up with a blog challenge for myself to keep me motivated. I realized I just didn't travel enough to fill a blog and when I saw The Novel 100 book at Chapters I had my subject matter. Good luck on your list.

  3. Julie & Julia was such a fun movie, and no wonder it was an inspiration!

    I think these are great rules, and I definitely agree with #6. I hoped to read all of the books on The Well-Educated Mind, but I had to disqualify one so far. At some point, I had to put my foot down.

  4. I like Tom Sawyer better than Huckleberry Finn too - much better! I've never been able to complete reading the latter.

  5. You made me laugh! Love your writing. We are different in that I always have a "reading schedule" to keep up with book clubs/challenges in which I participate, etc., but I like to vary my reading and not follow a comprehensive list. My goal is to allow myself to read something totally unplanned (typically a new release) as I wish. For example, The Girl on the Train by Hawkins awaits... :) I am anxious to view your list and admire your conscientious compilation among multiple lists.

  6. Now that I read your motivation, I think I may have subconsciously been impacted by that movie too. Boy, they have a lot to answer for :)
    Very best of luck although I see you are much of the way there. I'd love to hear what you think of my quest too. (www.chronolit.com)
    I'm off now to read randomly through some more of your posts.

    1. Thanks. I did take a look at your quest...no hyperbole, but Wow! I haven't delved into the ancients much...other than the Bible. I do plan on getting to some of them once I'm done with the 100.

  7. I feel stupid. Where can I find your list?

    1. No you know what? It's my bad. I should have had a link to the list on the page. Here ya go: http://100greatestnovelsofalltimequest.blogspot.com/2011/08/the-official-list-of-100-greatest.html
      (it's also linked at the top, under "The Greatest Novels" tab. Thanks for stopping by.


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