Sunday, July 7, 2013

The 100 All-Time Greatest Novels (Maybe)

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In addition to foodie-ism, love of books, and an alma mater, another commonality of us two bloggesses’ friendship is an appreciation of the magazine Entertainment Weekly. We may have once been ignorant and assumed it was just another celebrity gossip tabloid, but oh, how wrong we were! Because nay, it does not focus on the intimate details of famous people’s lives, but rather something much more dear to our thumping little millennial hearts—pop culture. Books, movies, music, television…all this and more, served with a helping of humor and a garnish of snark. It’s like they made the magazine just for us! In fact, we would often read aloud amusing features such as The Hit List, The Shaw Report, and Bullseye at our apartment dinner table during college, much to the chagrin of our other flatmates.

So when the July 5-12 double issue of E-Dubs arrived in the mailbox last week featuring a list of the 100 greatest novels of all time, we knew there was a blog post lurking somewhere in there. You can check out the top 10 novels here, but if you are interested in the full list of 100, you’ll need to pick up a copy of the issue (on sale now!). (Unfortunately, EW is in no way associated with this blog and does not pay us on commission.)

Alyssa is not the most well-versed classics reader, clocking in at 13% of the list read, 16% if you count ones started but not finished. She makes up for it with having read about 40% of the sidebar of the top 10 greatest graphic novels, and feels she would also have a higher percentage if it were a list of the 100 greatest sci-fi and fantasy novels, or the 100 greatest French-language novels, or 100 greatest Japanese works of literature, or something like that. Susan, however, has covered a lot more of the landscape of English-language literature, with a respectable 25% of the list read, 34% including ones started and not finished. (It’s great that it’s a top 100 list—makes percentage math so easy!)

But what to do with all this information? Of course we would not be happy simply listing out the books we’ve read/plan to read/would not touch with a 10-foot pole, so we invented a game. It’s called Buy-Try-Dump (you might recognize the inspiration taken from another game in which one is given three famous people and then has to decide which ones they would marry, have sex with, or kill). We whittled our respective read-it lists down to 12, and then had to decide (and keep it SEKRIT) which ones we would buy (meaning it was good enough that it deserves a permanent place on our shelves), try (was okay, but not horrible OR willing to give it another go), or dump (gone gone gone, baby). The rules state that you must dole out 4 of each category, so you HAVE to dump 4 of your 12 books, have to choose 4 you would buy, 4 that only get “try”…you get the picture. This of course means that we’re looking at our 12 books completely in relation to each other, rather than the body of literature as a whole, and might end up having to dump books we don’t actually have strong feelings against, or, conversely, buy books we don’t actually love (for those of you planning to play, the more books from the list you've read, the easier it becomes to find books you have strong feelings about). For the next phase of the game, after much hemming and hawing over the categorization of our lists, we then provided the 12 titles to the other person and had her try to guess which ones were placed in which categories.

Yes, it is a very nerdy game. But it was also fun and challenging, believe it or not! It’s much harder than you’d think to predict a friend’s reactions to various literary works of cultural significance. First we started off with a little confusion and a different, also fun game (Alyssa = red, Susan = green):

So, shall we start with our crossovers first? Or just go all yours then all mine, or vice versa? All yours. I just decided.
lol. good. because I was going to decide to do all one or the other and play you rock paper scissors for it. Except that would have been hard in a googledoc.
Oh yes, rock paper scissors!!!
Did you go? (I had scissors.)
I had paper. You win!!!
Wait, so what does it mean if I win? You guess mine first?
Winner chooses.
Nooooooo not decisions!!! Okay, I’ll guess yours first.
Having straightened that out, here, in a fun table format, are our respective Buy-Try-Dump categorizations and predictions.

Susan's Twelve

Book Alyssa Guessed Susan Said
The Great Gatsby BUY BUY
Pride and Prejudice BUY BUY
The Sound and the Fury DUMP DUMP
The Talented Mr. Ripley TRY TRY
A Confederacy of Dunces DUMP DUMP
The Catcher in the Rye DUMP BUY
A Wrinkle in Time BUY BUY
The Remains of the Day TRY TRY
Cold Mountain DUMP DUMP
The Moonstone BUY DUMP
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy TRY TRY
The Joy Luck Club TRY TRY

Alyssa's Twelve:

Book Susan Guessed Alyssa Said
The Great Gatsby TRY BUY
Pride and Prejudice DUMP DUMP
To Kill a Mockingbird TRY BUY
Invisible Man DUMP DUMP
A Wrinkle in Time TRY BUY
His Dark Materials TRY TRY
Ender's Game BUY TRY
Gone with the Wind DUMP DUMP
Their Eyes Were Watching God BUY TRY
Frankenstein DUMP DUMP
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy BUY BUY

We hashed this all out in a fun GoogleDoc chat full of thrills and chills, surprising upsets and spot on predictions! Here are some of the highlights:

Alyssa decided to start things off with a crowd-pleaser she felt relatively confident about.

Okay, for Gatsby: I say...........BUY.
:-D Indeed. Gatsby is too well written to just pick up at the library. PLUS, it has a great cover! Who wouldn’t want a copy on her shelf?
Okay, good! I was second guessing myself. I didn’t know if you liked it enough to say buy, or if it was just a so-so sort of like that would garner a “try.” (Is it ridiculous that I’m actually getting nervous/excited? Like it’s a game show or something?)
(No, because I’m nervous/excited too. This totally should be a game show.)

She also had the benefit of having heard some of Susan's bad-book rants while discussing the article, and was able to hold her own with some of the DUMP predictions.

Okay, Sound and the Fury--I would say DUMP.
Hells yeah. Can’t get rid of it fast enough. (DO NOT TRY TO IMPRESS ME WITH THIS ONE, BOYS OF THE WORLD)
LOL. I would’ve had no idea if not for the earlier conversation regarding book club boys with poor taste.
And poor memories. Did he not attend any of his classes? Pshaw.

But the Catcher in the Rye spoiled her streak:

Okay, here was my first going-out-on-a-limb one, wherein I recalled no prior discussion whatsoever: Catcher in the Rye. And I say............ DUMP.
Actually, this one wasn’t a Dump.
NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!! I was doing so well!!! That means there’s at least one other wrong, then.... :( What was it?
It was.....a BUY. Since reading Catcher last year, I’ve grown more into the idea of it, and it keeps coming back. I think if I reread it, I’ll like it a lot more.
I would’ve suspected you of being a Holden Caulfield hater.
I WAS. And then it sat in my memories for a year, and now Holden is vaguely noble. Go figure. Worth having a copy around.

Eventually we moved on to Susan's predictions, and she also had prior-rant-based success with some DUMPS.

The only one I felt confident about on your list was Gone with the Wind, which I gave a DUMP.
Oh crap, we’re going out of order, hold on while I scroll.
THIS HAD BETTER BE A DUMP. NO SCROLLING NECESSARY! (I am getting a caps lock disease from Maureen Johnson’s tweets.)
Haha, yes, no worries, it is indeed a DUMP. Lingering feelings of bitterness at being expected to read THOUSANDS OF PAGES for a school presentation when others only had to read THREE POEMS. >:( That being said, I would like to actually finish it someday, when I’m not on a time-crunch-make-a-presentation schedule.
Poor stressed school-age Alyssa. :-(

Her streak continued:

Continuing with the DUMP...I put you down for disliking Pride and Prejudice more than wanting to try or buy it.
That would be correct! Again, didn’t actually dislike the book. Just didn’t like it as much as everyone else did/as much as I expected to/as much as I wanted to. And I liked Sense & Sensibility even more (which I read for a college class), and then liked Persuasion even more than that (which I read on my own).
I still wasn’t sure though--I thought it might have crept onto a TRY list even after your disappointment in high school. I was worried that your liking Persuasion could have helped the P&P rating. I’ve never been so glad to see someone dislike this book before! ;-)
But I don't dislike it!  I just had such high expectations going, unsurmountable for any book expectations. Which I try not to do anymore. And it was almost on my TRY list (to see if this was again a casualty of my senior year of high school, which was so tough on books), but then there was really nothing else to dump.
I am still amused that your DUMP books are all ones that you’re not willing to admit to disliking / just didn’t try long enough. Whereas my list was all I HATE THEM!! GRRR!!!!

And then hit a sci-fi-shaped bump in the road:

Now a murkier guess...Ender’s Game is a BUY?
HAH! My love of genre fiction deceives you! It was a TRY. I remember reading it for school in 7th or 8th grade and I liked it a lot, we all did, but whereas all the other kids in class then went out and gobbled down the rest in the series, I was content to just leave it at that. I would like to read it again and see what new perspective I have reading it as an adult rather than an adolescent, and thus it goes to TRY rather than straight to BUY.

All in all, it was a fun game, and we would recommend it highly if you are of the geeky, booky sector of the population. Check out the EW issue and let us know what you think! Agree/disagree with any of our assessments? What are some of your top# books of all time?

EDIT: As as addendum, here is an article published on EW’s website about how they chose the books for their top 100. Top#lists are subjective by nature, and we had suspected they might be getting some strongly-worded messages from opinionated readers. It’s both interesting and insightful to see the criteria that went into the creation of their list, and to remember that literature, like all art, completely depends on the person who is experiencing it. We might not agree with all of the books on their list—in fact, if we each made our own top 100 lists, they would most certainly differ from each other as well as from that master list. At any rate, for anyone interested in reading and literature, the list is a great jumping off point full of suggestions you’ve heard of, and some you may not have, for padding your TBR list. Have fun with it—that’s the point!


Cristi Pontius said...

This was fantastic!!! What an enjoyable read.

Alyssa L. said...

Yay, thank you for the comment!!! When I was writing the part about P&P, it made me think about how you just opted out of that one for class. XD

Cristi Pontius said...

I also thought about that as well. I have now elected to not read two required readings and still pass a class.

Ashley Greenidge said...

Love this! Was so entertained :) Definitely a fun version of Dump, Marry, Kill--have to play sometime!

Alyssa L. said...

Yay! I love how there are so many versions (with varying degrees of profanity) of the game. I was googling it last night and came across some really funny ones on They had one of the dudes of Game of Thrones featuring Tyrion/Jon Snow/Robb Stark, but the one that made me lol the most was Rick Santorum/Chris Brown/Tucker Max. XD It was rather inspiring--maybe this will become a recurring theme post, involving characters from books we read or something...

Alyssa L. said...

Yay! I love how there are so many versions (with varying degrees of
profanity) of the game. I was googling it last night and came across
some really funny ones on They had one of the dudes of
Game of Thrones featuring Tyrion/Jon Snow/Robb Stark, but the one that
made me lol the most was Rick Santorum/Chris Brown/Tucker Max. XD It
was rather inspiring--maybe this will become a recurring theme post,
involving characters from books we read or something...

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