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100 Greatest Novels: The Sheltering Sky, The Postman Always Rings Twice, The Ginger Man & The Magnificent Amberson

Here it is! The final 100 Greatest Novels post! Can you believe it? I can’t. These last four novels bring us to the final. I posted the blog introducing this idea almost 4 years ago. We completed the first novel, Ulysses, and posted the blog in August 2012. We finished the first 50 books with Tropic of Cancer, the blog being posted on April 2014. So that brings us to today with the last four books. Let’s get to it.

The Sheltering Sky by Paul Bowles

ShelteringSkyThis novel shows that the idea of American tourist not knowing what the hell they’re doing in foreign countries isn’t new. The story follows an American couple from New York who travel to North Africa with a friend. The story starts off delving into the marital issues of the couple. They both want to get the spark in their relationship back but both are waiting for the other to make the move. They’re both desiring more while being complacent with how things are. But as the story progresses, their story somewhat takes the back-burner to the events around them. They’re interactions with the world around them become more and more dangerous as they get farther and farther from “civilization.” Interspersed throughout the story is incredibly moving descriptions of the Sahara Desert and the villages they come across.

The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M. Cain

Cain_The_Postman_Always_Rings_TwiceIf you like quick reads and/or crime novels, this is the book for you. Around 100 pages, you can knock this one out in an afternoon. I never figured out what the longish title meant but I did really enjoy this short book. The story follows Frank Chambers, a man who roams around California. He stops at a diner and ends up working for the Greek man that owns it. Soon Chambers strikes up a relationship with the owner’s wife. It’s a tumultuous, passionate affair. Soon they come up with an idea to get rid of the husband and have a life together. When that fails, they try another plan. And then things start getting unnecessarily complex. Let’s just say the story ends with one of them on death row…

The Ginger Man by J. P. Donleavy

220px-GingerManThis fun novel was one of those stories where you almost hate the main character the whole time but love reading about him. Sebastian Dangerfield is an American student of law at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland. He’s lazy, usually drunk and is horrible to his English wife and child. He spends all their rent money, he tries (and sometimes succeeds) to sleep with every woman that catches his eye. Him and all his friends are struggling to make their way in life, running out of money and wanting wives and wealth to just fall in their lap. The story was a crazy ride through pubs and cities and bedrooms and fights and screaming landlords. I heard a rumor that they’re making this into a movie starring Johnny Depp. I could get into that. It would be a lot of fun too watch. The only problem, he’s not ginger.

The Magnificent Ambersons by Booth Tarkington

TheMagnificentAmbersonsThis was a great book to end the list on. Not life changing, but a really solid read. The story follows the Amberson family through their rise and fall leading into the Industrial age of the American midwest. Focusing on the grandson of the patriarch, George Amberson Minafar, we see what happens when somebody grows up with wealth and position and no understanding of why. George’s arrogance and position blinds him to what’s going on around him. And through him falling in love with a young lady, and his mother falling in love with her father, we see the Amberson fortune be swept away by the rising tide of industrialism. The book does a great job of portraying this idea in so many ways. They actual health and wellbeing of the family, the quality of the houses they live in, the importance of the neighborhood they reside in and the modes of transportation they choose to use. All these aspects of the Ambersons show how they miss the oncoming transformation of the world and what happens because of this. And it’s all masterly done by Booth Tarkington.

I finished this book on the train to work last Friday morning. Tears came to my eyes when I read the last words. I’m not sure if it was because of the beautiful ending to the book or because of me finishing the last novel in this large task of reading the 100 greatest novels.

Either way, I did it. We did it. Thanks for being with me these past four years. Onto the next project…



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100 Greatest Novels: Ulysses

I finished reading Ulysses over the weekend. And I fell in love with the novel. Everybody might not be familiar with Ulysses so let me first tell you what the novel is and what reading it entails and then I’ll explain why I loved it and why you should read it too.

Ulysses is a novel by the Irish author James Joyce. It was published in its entirety in 1922. The novel follows Leopold Bloom, Stephen Dedalus, and lesser named and unnamed characters around Dublin in a 24 hour period. But that’s not what’s important. What makes this book special is Joyce’s complete mastery, complete mockery, and complete disregard of the English language. Dr. Joseph Collins explains that the novel is written “not in straightforward, narrative fashion…but in parodies of classic prose and current slang, in perversions of sacred literature, in carefully metered prose with studied incoherence, in symbols so occult and mystic that only the initiated and profoundly versed can understand — in short, by means of every trick and illusion that a master artificer, or even magician, can play with the English language.”

There are many reasons why I fell in love with Ulysses. First, it was just so much fun to read. I never knew what every chapter (and even page turn) would have in store for me. At any time, the book could change writing styles (stream of conscious to play script to romance novel…), points of view between characters, and locations. Another reason is Joyce’s honest and unfiltered depiction of what goes through a person’s head in a normal day. Every vulgar idea, every mundane action, and every reminiscent of the past (whether the readers understands or not) is portrayed incredibly accurately. Song lyrics, quotes from past reads and past conversations, and memories from childhood pop up as unexpectedly as they do for you and me. It’s revolting. It’s damned confusing. And it’s beautiful.

Interested in reading Ulysses? Here’s some tips:
-Don’t read any articles or any books to prepare yourself. I made this mistake the first time I attempted reading the novel and it freaked me out. I was overwhelmed with looking for certain allusions and trying to make connections to Homer’s Odyssey.
-If you’re not enjoying a passage, a writing style, or a chapter…SKIP IT! There’s no part that’s so important to the narration that you cannot skip. Here’s the story line if you don’t want to get lost: Stephen Dedalus and Leopold Bloom roam around Dublin separately, they meet, roam around together, end up at Bloom’s house, Stephen leaves, and Bloom goes to bed.
-Don’t expect to understand every line or even every paragraph. There’s one episode that has Bloom near music and the first half of the chapter is more about how musical the phrases sound than any understandable storyline.
-If you feel like you must have some guideline while reading, Wikipedia’s synopsis of each episode is helpful without giving too much away.
-Enjoy reading it. This is a surprising book and at times a hilarious book. Have fun with it.

This is the first post in my series of blogs about reading through the Modern Library’s 100 Greatest Novels


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I think I can, I think I can…

I recently decided on a huge (and incredibly nerdy) undertaking:

I am going to read through the Modern Library’s list of  the 100 greatest novels.  This will take an incredibly long time. And I don’t plan on starting it right away (I have a few reads I need to finish).

I’ll update everybody every 5 or so books to let you know how it’s going, what I think about the books, etc. It’ll be awhile before I finish the first novel (Ulysses by James Joyce) because it’s huge. I’ve started reading it before but I’m going to start from the beginning again and make it all the way through. I love Joyce’s stuff but Ulysses is a pretty difficult read.

How many of them have you read?


Posted by on July 6, 2012 in Lists, Literature


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