An Update on the 100 Greatest Novels (and Other Readings)

So it has been an embarrassingly long time since I’ve posted any thing on here. And I have excuses. Many of them. Some have to do directly with the list of the 100 greatest novels we’ve been working through. Some have to do with new adventures and new cities in my life. And the rest have to do with my job situation. Let’s get started.

The 100 Greatest Novels: An Update

Joyce_wakeIf you read my last post on the 100 greatest novels, you’ll know that I’ve completed 76 novels from the list and started on #77, Finnegans Wake by James Joyce, a few months ago. I also mentioned my fear of reading this “novel” because of the difficulty involved. I have read everything else James Joyce has written and love every bit of it but Finnegans Wake is the most difficult piece of literature in the English language. I actually don’t agree with it’s addition into this list because it is nothing like any other book on here. How could anybody decide it is slightly better than #78 but not as good as #76? How can you compare this piece of art made from letters to these other novels with characters, plots, complete sentences, and lack of made up words? You can’t. At least I can’t.

I did start to work my way through it. I am currently on page 169 of 628. That said, nothing of the first 168 pages meant anything to me. I am literally looking at one collection of letters (in the form of made up words) after another. I’m slowly roaming my eyes across line after line, page after page, as if I’m looking through rooms in a modern art gallery. But am I getting anything out of it? It’s hard to say. I’m not thinking so. I have been taking a break from the book and reading other things (more on that later) so it’s been a few weeks since I’ve roamed the rooms of Finnegans Wake. 

So that brings up my next questions. Do I finish the book? I have completely read all of the first 76 books of this list and I fully intend to read numbers 78-100. So how could I leave this one unfinished? Wouldn’t that be a failure on my part? I do think so. But on the other hand, me looking at 459 more pages of this book will most likely not change anything about my understanding or appreciation of Finnegans Wake. I don’t think I’ll somehow be able to start comprehending anything differently in a few dozen or hundred pages. Could I, not being a Joycean scholar, add anything to the world’s knowledge of this book by completing it? I highly doubt it. So would my time be more wisely spent moving on to the rest of the novels and leaving Finnegans Wake for the students at Oxford? I would think so. But my mind isn’t made up yet.

Lack of Posting: Some Excuses

If you follow me on any of my other social outlets, you probably already know that at the beginning of August my wife and I moved to Philadelphia. With the process of preparing for the move, the actual move, and settling in to a new house and new city, I have had little time to “read” through Finnegans Wake or write any other type of posts for this blog. And I’m incredibly sorry for it. That said, I do love our new city. We’ve had an amazing time experiencing what Philly has to offer and have spent most of our free time exploring different areas. You can look up #pevetosinphilly on Instagram to see some of our pictures and adventures over the last few weeks.

As time got closer to school starting here, I had still not heard from the Department of Education about my teaching certificate transferring to Pennsylvania. Soon enough I realized there was little to no chance that my certificate would happen in time for me to find a teaching job and start the school year. So I started looking at other opportunities for an income. After thinking about what I can do, what I want to do, and what will help me in my future, I narrowed down my options to two part-time jobs until I can get back into teaching. So for this next year I’ll be substitute teaching for the School District of Philadelphia (to keep me connected to the schools) and giving historical walking tours of Philadelphia with Bow Tie Tours (to keep me connected to teaching history). Which brings me to my next topic…

Other Readings

To prepare for my historical walking tours of Old City Philadelphia, I’ve been reading and researching Philadelphia’s role in the American Revolution. I knew the facts of the signing of the Declaration of Independence and the writing of the Constitution but I didn’t know all the stories of the Founders who accomplished all of this in 18th century Philadelphia. The owner of Bow Tie Tours recommended me a few books by historian Richard Beeman.

51-UyMUG4vLI first read his book on the Declaration of Independence: Our Lives, Our Fortunes and Our Sacred Honor: The Forging of American Independence, 1774-1776And for a book with that pretentious of a title, I loved every page of it. This book gives us the stories of the Founders and the events that led them to our independence. It includes all of their bickering, their clashing egos, their imperfections and selfish desires. But through all this, Beeman really makes it clear how revolutionary, how incredible, and how audacious it was for this group of men to declare war against and independence from England, the strongest empire in the world.

After reading H. W. Brand’s mediocre biography of Benjamin Franklin, I started Beeman’s book on the Constitution a few days ago. This one is titled Plain, Honest Men: The Making of the American Constitution. With a considerably less pretentious name, this book is as good as his other. I’m not too far into it so I can’t really vouch for it as a whole, but I’m very excited about completing this one too.

With all this said, I guess I’ll have to decide if I’m going to complete Finnegans Wake after I’m done with my research mentioned above. Whatever decision I do make, I’ll try to keep all of you in the loop and I’ll try to get back to posting regularly.


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100 Greatest Novels: A Farewell to Arms, Scoop, & The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie

Sorry, I’ve had these novels read for a while but have been crazy busy with other things to write this post. I’m currently working on getting my teaching certificate transferred to Pennsylvania and it isn’t an easy task. Anyways, I enjoyed all of the following novels from the 100 greatest novels list and I’m excited to tell you about them. Let’s get started.

A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway

220px-Hemingway_farewellMy (current) favorite topic to study in history is World War I. The lack of bad guy vs. good guy, the crazy political alliances and nationalism that led to the war, and the disillusionment and despair that most soldiers ended up with make this war incredibly fascinating. And this is the backdrop for Hemingway’s first best-seller, A Farewell to Arms. Following an American ambulance driver who is a Lieutenant in the Italian army and his relationship with an English nurse, the novel gives us a great depiction of the Italian front of WWI without getting bogged down with historical information. The story is interesting and the writing is easy to read. You actually care for the protagonist. With a major loss against the Austrians, the war around Henry and Catharine start to unravel. And the story unravels with it with a gut-wrenching drive to the end of the story.

This is a near perfect war novel, a great love story, and an intense study of human nature. I’d recommend this to anybody.

Scoop by Evelyn Waugh

170px-ScoopwaughThis hilarious satirical novel takes a jab at journalism, specifically foreign correspondents and their reporting on foreign wars. A fictional war in a fictional East African nation is about to start. A British newspaper, The Beast, wants to send a popular novelist named Boot. Because of a mixup or employee laziness, the wrong Boot is sent. The man that’s sent to Africa is a lowly, naive nature journalist that hates to even visit London. And every step of his process of getting to Africa and every action he commits in Africa kept me laughing out loud during my reading. Of course, he is accidentally successful in Africa but when he finally makes it home, more confusions lead to more hilarity.

Scoop really was a quick, fun, and enjoyable read. Actually, everything I’ve read by Evelyn Waugh has been this way. I previously read Waugh’s A Handful of Dust for this list and while being completely different, the novel was just as fun.

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark

JeanbrodieNow this was a fairly odd novel. I was excited to read it because it’s about a teacher, Miss Brodie, and her unusual philosophies on teaching. She believes in being very open with her students and focusing her education on classical studies, art history, and stories of her travels and love life. The story follows the growth of a few of her students, the Brodie set, while the move up in the school and ultimately into being adults. The story isn’t told in sequential order but in short little events, using flashbacks and flash forwards to give us the whole picture. The headmistress of the school does not like Miss Brodie and tries to split the Brodie set up and gather information from them to use against Miss Brodie. I wouldn’t say the headmistress is very successful but one of the girls does “betray” Miss Brodie and parts of the novel are when Miss Brodie is much older and trying to figure out which student betrayed her. We learn of the betrayal fairly early on in the novel but don’t find out who it is till near the end. Overall, I’d say this novel is satisfying yet odd.


So next up, #77, is Finnegans Wake by James Joyce. While I’m a huge fan of Joyce, I’m very afraid of this novel. “It is significant for its experimental style and reputation as one of the most difficult works of fiction in the English language.” I have started reading (or struggling) through it but it will probably be a while before I finish. And on top of all this we’re in the process of moving to Philadelphia and I’m trying to find a teaching position up there. So, wish me luck with new cities, new jobs, and an insanely difficult novel.


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100 Greatest Novels: A High Wind in Jamaica, A House for Mr. Biswas, & The Day of the Locust

Well, these next three books from Modern Library’s 100 greatest novels bring us to some new locations that we haven’t really dealt with in the list. We have interesting stories, new locations, and authors that I’m not too familiar with. Exciting! Alright, let’s go ahead and get into it.

HighWindInJamaicaA High Wind in Jamaica by Richard Hughes

This first novel is an incredibly odd and almost fanciful story. Following some British children who live in Jamaica in the mid-1800s, the story begins with their house being destroyed by a hurricane. This prompts the parents to send the children back to England. While on the journey, their ship is commandeered by pirates. Ultimately the children end up on the pirate ship and the rest of the story is the events the children deal with as they travel on a pirate ship. I won’t spoil the rest of the story but what was so enjoyable was that the plot was near enough to being unbelievable that I never knew what was going to happen next. And written from the childrens’ point of view, all the horrific events have somewhat of a dream-like quality to it. All of this really makes for a quick, hilarious, and sometimes dark story.

HouseForMrBiswasA House for Mr. Biswas by V. S. Naipaul

Now, to continue with the Caribbean locations and the odd stories, we move to A House for Mr. Biswas. Mr. Biswas is born on the island of Trinidad to an Indian family and this story follows him from his birth to his death. He’s not really likable, his family isn’t. He marries an unlikable woman, moves in with her unlikable family. Has some unlikable children and everybody is mean to everybody else. We follow him from job to job and from living quarters to living quarters until he finally buys his own (unlikable) house. And then he dies. That’s about it for the story. Really, I guess, the story is about someone who is trying to break out of traditional family roles and become a man of the modern world. Make his own money, live his own life.

With all this said, it was an enjoyable novel. The writing is incredible. You feel what Mr. Biswas feels, you see what he sees. The story can frustrate you, enrage you, and make you laugh. And what else can we ask from a novel?

West_locustThe Day of the Locust by Nathaniel West

This next novel somewhat keeps up the tropical theme. We’re now in California, Los Angeles to be exact. We’re in the middle of the Great Depression and following numerous characters trying to make it in the movie business. Without really talking about or even barely hinting at the depression, the main character makes some impressive revelations about the people he sees around him. And knowing about the Great Depression it is easy to make the connection between what he’s experiencing and what we’ve learned about the hardships of people during this time period. Following numerous characters making poor decision, this novel is a quick and fun read. Everyone we meet is pretty odd. They interact in odd ways. And we get to enjoy. So I wanted to show you the last paragraph of the novel because it made me laugh. Near the end, the main character gets stuck in a rowdy crowd that ends up becoming a violent mob. He’s ultimately saved by some cops and we get this ending:

“He was carried through the exit to the back street and lifted into a police car. The siren began to scream and at first he thought he was making the noise himself. He felt his lips with his hands. They were clamped tight. He knew then it was the siren. For some reason this made him laugh and he began to imitate the siren as loud as he could.”


Alright, we’re one novel away from being in the last quarter of the list. It’s crazy to think about. We almost might finish this thing. Until next time…


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C. S. Lewis – Historicism

“It is not a question of failing to know everything: it is a question (at least as regards quantity) of knowing next door to nothing. Each of us finds that in his own life every moment of time is completely filled. He is bombarded every second by sensations, emotions, thoughts, which he cannot attend to for multitude, and nine-tenths of which he must simply ignore. A single second of lived time contains more that can be recorded. And every second of past time has been like that for every man that ever lived. The past…in its reality, was a roaring cataract of billions upon billions of such moments: any one of them too complex to grasp in its entirety, and the aggregate beyond all imagination. By far the greater part of this teeming reality escaped human consciousness almost as soon as it occurred. None of us could at this moment give anything like a full account of his own life for the last twenty-four hours. We have already forgotten; even if we remembered, we have not time. The new moments are upon us. At every tick of the clock, in every inhabited part of the world, an unimaginable richness and variety of ‘history’ falls off the world into total oblivion. Most of the experiences in ‘the past as it really was’ were instantly forgotten by the subject himself. Of the small percentage which he remembered (and never remembered with perfect accuracy) a smaller percentage was ever communicated even to his closest intimates; of this, a smaller percentage was still recorded; of the recorded fraction only another fraction has ever reached posterity.”

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Posted by on May 20, 2015 in History, Literature, Quotes


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100 Greatest Novels: The House of Mirth & The Alexandria Quartet

So I apologize for the length of time since the last 100 greatest novels post. I’ve only read two more from the list but the second one, The Alexandria Quartet, is actually 4 novels. There’s my excuse. Let’s get to it.

The_House_of_MirthThe House of Mirth by Edith Wharton

Similar to Wharton previous novel on this list, The Age of Innocence, this story is set around the high society of New York City in the late 1800s. Following one members rise and eventual fall through society, the story is Wharton’s critique of the very society she cannot stop talking about. While I enjoyed the scenery and the historical context leading to the turn of the century, I’m not sure how necessary or relevant the novel is today. There is no discovery of a character’s psyche, there’s no groundbreaking reveal of a world we did not previously know about. And I know these things aren’t necessary for a novel to be read but when there are so many books written by so many people (and multiple by Edith Wharton), I just have a hard time seeing the point. The main character, Lily Bart, isn’t likable or hate-able enough to be worth reading about. At least not for the story alone. So, like The Age of Innocence, if you’re looking for an older version of Gossip Girl then go ahead and read this. Otherwise, let’s move on.

TheAlexandriaQuartetThe Alexandria Quartet by Lawrence Durrell

Now, to completely change gears, I loved this quartet. And I am so glad I read all the books. They are utterly necessary to appreciate this masterpiece. So this tetralogy is set in Alexandria, Egypt, before and during World War II. The first three novels follow the same events from different perspectives and then the last novel is a few years after the aforementioned events. Let me explain a little more.

The first novel, Justine, follows the events of a love…square between the narrator, his live-in girlfriend, a woman named Justine, and Justine’s husband. The narrator and Justine are sleeping together and ultimately Justine’s husband ends up sleeping with the narrator’s girlfriend. The story is not told “in the order in which they took place — for that is history — but in the order in which they first became significant for me.” So each section and each chapter are just different scenes between these characters exploring their relationships and the search for what love really is. Through all this we meet all kinds of crazy, interesting, and hilarious characters that really give the story the color it deserves. Nobody in the love-square is interesting enough to push the story forward. At least not at first.

The second novel, Balthazar, completely upsets everything we learned in the first. The narrator, who we finally find out is named Darley, sends the manuscript of the first novel to Balthazar and Balthazar returns it with notes added all throughout the pages. Apparently Darley has everything wrong. This second book goes back through numerous events we already know about but with new information. New scenes that deepens the characters and the overall story are also added in. At this point, I’m going to be a little more vague about the details because I don’t want to ruin the books in case you’d like to read it. Anyways, this second novel is written like the first. Short scenes in no apparent order. But now with new information and proof that what Darley believed to be happening was actually a farce. Intriguing…

Now for the third novel. Mountolive. Mountolive is the name of a character that was maybe named two or three times in the second novel but whom we have never met. I don’t think he was ever mentioned in the first. This story is written in standard chronological, normal paragraph and chapter length narration. It backs up in time to when Justine’s husband (Nessim) is a young man and his mother falls in love with a British dude named Mountolive. We follow their relationship through letters as he travels the world until we get to the point where the first two novels’ stories are. Then we get the full story of Justine and Nessim’s relationship. And. let. me. just. tell. you. Nothing we knew or believed or assumed or imagined is anywhere remotely close to what’s going on. This whole story breaks the confines of exploring love and relationships and bursts into the world of geopolitics, religion, diplomacy, and the history of Egypt and the Middle East. We are bombarded with Coptic stories, Muslim stories, British stories, Bedouin stories. We have a whole new world that did not exist to us. Or Darley. And it’s incredibly rewarding to discover. I’m excited for you.

And that brings us to the fourth and final novel, Clea. Now we are a few years past all the above events, we are back with Darley as the narrator, and yet we retain the writing style of the third novel. We go back through all the previously introduced characters, dead or alive, and kind of tie up their stories while continuing the original purpose of the first novel: Darley’s exploration of love and relationships. But with a new subject, Clea. This final novel is a darker, more melancholy, and yet more beautiful. Alexandria is in the midst of the nightly bombardments of World War II while the last remaining characters deal with the deaths, revelations, and relationships of the previous novels. And everything is ended with a poetically beautiful, bittersweet finale that we didn’t know we needed all along.


Whew, that last one took a lot out of me. As we get closer, I’m getting very excited and very scared to come to another James Joyce novel. But we still have a few more before that. Onwards we go.


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Music You Need in Your Life (MYNIYL) – Stromae

First, let’s get through the mouthful of a title I have up there. I decided to make a name for when I share artists I think you should be listening to. Music I think you need in your life. Now. So from now on I’ll just title the blog “MYNIYL” and the name of the artist/band. Anyways, with that out of the way, let me introduce you to somebody.

So a few months ago NPR did a story about this Belgian pop star. I really enjoyed the story and the music but by the time I got home, I forgot his name. Then the other day I stumbled across this news article and video on my Facebook and re-found Stromae.

Singing in French over infectious, piano-driven pop music, Stromae is fairly huge pop star in Europe. Relatively unknown in America, I was excited to find his music. And even without understanding any of his lyrics, I can understand most of the stories he’s telling us through the music. Emotions know no language boundaries. Well, enough words, let me allow his music to speak for itself. I want to start off with “Papaoutai,” a song that is about disconnection from a father (side-note: Stromae’s father was killed in the Rwandan genocide in 1994):

I really love his music videos. They really push the meanings behind the lyrics that I can’t understand. I also love the use of choreographed dance that is prevalent in all his videos. This next video, “Tous Les Memes,” is really incredible. From what I can tell, the song is about how the different genders react differently to situations. But what makes the video such a joy to watch is that Stromae plays both a male and female character. And he seamlessly switches back and forth between the two. The impressive choreographed dancing I mentioned earlier is also here. Just watch:

Just to show you how powerful a singer he really is, here’s a stripped down performance of “Formidable” live at a Seattle radio station:

So…go buy his most recent album:


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Posted by on April 30, 2015 in Music, Music Review, MYNIYL


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100 Greatest Novels: Of Human Bondage, Heart of Darkness, & Main Street

As we keep moving along, getting closer to the finish line, here’s three more of the 100 greatest novels. Let’s go ahead and get to it…

OfHumanBondageOf Human Bondage by W. Somerset Maugham

Have any of you seen the film Boyhood? If so, it would be easy to compare this novel to that film. But only if the film started when the main character was much younger and followed them further into his adulthood. The novel starts with a nine year old Phillip Carey dealing with his mother’s death and follows him for a number of years. Phillip goes off to school, decides to drop school to follow different careers, and has numerous philosophical and physical struggles with who he is and what he’s supposed to do with life. He has numerous frustrating relationships with women and plenty of humorous and frustrating friendships. This novel is actually a pretty lengthy novel but it reads as Boyhood is portrayed. Following the events of a mundane life through the growth of a person. In the movie and this novel, I continuously expected some kind of dramatic event to happen and usually, it didn’t. You could make the argument that this means the novel or the movie is boring or you could make the argument that this means we are so conditioned to expect drama and unbelievable events that we don’t know what to do when a book or movie does not provide us with this. Anyways, while this was a slow moving and undramatic novel, I still really enjoyed reading it and looked forward to each new decision Phillip made about his life. I know I saw a lot of myself in him, not being completely sure what he desires to do for the rest of his life and seeing the easy road and the more alluring road and trying to decide which is better.

Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conradf94142d1-ebff-41a3-ac4f-d94300d03cdbimg100

This is a short and interesting novella. The story follows Marlow, the narrator, as he transports ivory down the Congo River in Africa. At times a damning presentation of European colonization and a racist depiction of civilization around the Congo, the book can be a frustrating read. But in the end the question is if the racism is there because that was the belief and images of Africa at the time or if it represents the actual beliefs of Joseph Conrad (the story is based on his experiences and travels in Africa). If it’s the former, than this is an important novella to question the importance and effectiveness of European colonization in Africa. If it’s the latter, than it’s an unnecessary story that as long as it continues to be read, it will continue to promote incorrect images of Africa then and now. I don’t really know who’s job it would be to decide this. Maybe nobody’s, maybe everybody’s. That said, if you have any interest in this time period or love a good boating story, it’s a quick read for you.

MainStreetNovelMain Street by Sinclair Lewis

This novel is a complete criticism of small-town life. Because of being raised in a smaller town and moving to a major city as soon as possible, I connected to a lot of what this novel tries to say. The story is about Carol, a young woman from Saint Paul, Minnesota, and her marriage to a small-town doctor. He convinces her to move to Gopher Prairie and ultimately, she could not have prepared herself for how much she disliked the town. But she decides that with her education and experience, she can transform the town into a cultured and beautiful mecca in the midwest. Coming up against small town politics, cliques, conservatism, backstabbing, and hypocrisy, it’s difficult to say she was successful. Then she starts making friends outside of her social class and this will create all new kinds of trouble. Although the story gets long-winded at parts and can seem somewhat meandering, I did enjoy it as a whole. The historical context of being set around World War I and the years leading up to Prohibition and the twenties also added great social insight into America at the end of our isolationism. But the best part of the novel might have been that my edition had pictures of different Main Streets from around the world to showcase how similar they all look and, we can assume, act.


It’s feeling pretty good getting farther down the list. Next is #69, The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton. I hated her novel Ethan Frome in high school so let’s see how this goes.


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