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Nada Co-founder Gabe Baker on Reading Books, Making Spreadsheets

Posted by October 25th, 2009 No Comments »

Fun With Books, Spreadsheets
By Gabe Baker 

In 1998 Modern Library, the “classy” imprint of the publisher Random House, released its list of 100 Best Novels. You can review the list here.

The Modern Library list was created by the Modern Library board of directors. Based on the selections, the Modern Library board meetings must be total snoozefests.  Many an unwary reader attempted to broaden his or her literary horizons by reading through the Modern Library list. Most gave up and turned on the telly somewhere between Saul Bellow and Theodore Dreiser 

In a misguided attempt to lighten the mood, the Modern Library published a companion list based on internet voting. The predictably hilarious “Reader’s List” featured four Ayn Rands and three L. Ron Hubbards in its Top 10. Of course, no one can resist a good list, and the internet is now full of lists of novels from the ridiculous – 110 best books – The perfect library – to the ridiculouser – 100 Must-Read Books: The Essential Man’s Library 

When faced with a myriad of book lists, each with its own strengths and weaknesses, what’s clearly indicated is a meta-list. And what better way to generate a meta-list than using a handy spreadsheet application. First, you select the lists you want to use. In addition to the Modern Library list and the Reader’s List, I chose the following:  

Next, you cut and paste this lists of your choice into separate worksheets of my spreadsheet. Then, after two hours of fussing with the formatting, you make a master list of all the selections and sorted it by title. From the master list, you select all novels that were included on at least three (or four or whatever) of the lists. In my case, the result was the following meta-list of 160 super great novels:

·       A Bend in the River – V.S. Naipaul
·       A Clockwork Orange – Anthony Burgess
·       A Dance to the Music of Time by Anthony Powell
·       A Farewell to Arms – Ernest Hemingway
·       A Handful of Dust – Evelyn Waugh
·       A House for Mr Biswas by VS Naipaul
·       A Passage to India – E.M. Forster
·       A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man – James Joyce
·       A Prayer for Owen Meany – John Irving
·       A Room With a View – E.M. Forster
·       A Suitable Boy, Vikram Seth
·       A Tale of Two Cities – Charles Dickens
·       A Town Like Alice – Nevil Shute
·       Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland – Lewis Carroll
·       American Pastoral – Philip Roth
·       An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser
·       Animal Farm – George Orwell
·       Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy
·       As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner
·       At Swim-Two-Birds – Flann O’Brien
·       Atonement – Ian McEwan
·       Beloved – Toni Morrison
·       Birdsong – Sebastian Faulks
·       Bleak House – Charles Dickens
·       Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy
·       Brave New World – Aldous Huxley
·       Brideshead Revisited – Evelyn Waugh
·       Bridget Jones’s Diary by Helen Fielding
·       Call it Sleep – Henry Roth
·       Catch-22 – Joseph Heller
·       Cloud Atlas – David Mitchell
·       Cold Comfort Farm – Stella Gibbons
·       Crime and Punishment – Fyodor Dostoevsky
·       Deliverance by James Dickey
·       Dune by Frank L Herbert
·       Emma – Jane Austen
·       Far from the Madding Crowd – Thomas Hardy
·       Finnegans Wake – James Joyce
·       Go Tell It on the Mountain – James Baldwin
·       Gone With the Wind – Margaret Mitchell
·       Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon
·       Great Expectations – Charles Dickens
·       Heart of Darkness – Joseph Conrad
·       Herzog – Saul Bellow
·       His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman
·       Howards End – E.M. Forster
·       I, CLAUDIUS by Robert Graves
·       Infinite Jest – David Foster Wallace
·       Invisible Man – Ralph Ellison
·       Jane Eyre – Charlotte Brontë
·       Justine – Lawrence Durrell
·       Kim – Rudyard Kipling
·       LIGHT IN AUGUST by William Faulkner
·       Little Women – Louisa May Alcott
·       Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov
·       Lord Jim – Joseph Conrad
·       Lord of the Flies – William Golding
·       Love in the Time of Cholera – Gabriel García Márquez
·       Loving – Henry Green
·       Lucky Jim – Kingsley Amis
·       Main Street – Sinclair Lewis
·       Middlemarch – George Eliot
·       Midnight’s Children – Salman Rushdie
·       Money by Martin Amis
·       Mrs. Dalloway – Virginia Woolf
·       Naked Lunch – William Burroughs
·       Native Son – Richard Wright
·       Neuromancer – William Gibson
·       Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell
·       Nostromo – Joseph Conrad
·       Of Human Bondage by Somerset Maugham
·       Of Mice and Men – John Steinbeck
·       On Beauty – Zadie Smith
·       On the Road – Jack Kerouac
·       One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest – Ken Kesey
·       One Hundred Years of Solitude – Gabriel García Márquez
·       Pale Fire – Vladimir Nabokov
·       Parade’s End – Ford Madox Ford
·       Perfume – Patrick Süskind
·       Persuasion – Jane Austen
·       Portnoy’s Complaint – Philip Roth
·       Possession – A.S. Byatt
·       Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen
·       Rabbit, Run – John Updike
·       Ragtime – E.L. Doctorow
·       Rebecca – Daphne du Maurier
·       Red Harvest – Dashiell Hammett
·       Sister Carrie – Theodore Dreiser
·       Slaughter-House Five by Kurt Vonnegut
·       Sons and Lovers – D.H. Lawrence
·       Stranger in a Strange Land – Robert Heinlein
·       Tender is the Night – F. Scott Fitzgerald
·       Tess of the D’Urbervilles – Thomas Hardy
·       The Adventures of Augie March – Saul Bellow
·       The Age of Innocence – Edith Wharton
·       The Ambassadors – Henry James
·       The Big Sleep – Raymond Chandler
·       The Blind Assassin – Margaret Atwood
·       The Bonfire of the Vanities – Tom Wolfe
·       The Call of the Wild by Jack London
·       The Catcher in the Rye – J.D. Salinger
·       The Corrections – Jonathan Franzen
·       The Count of Monte-Cristo – Alexandre Dumas
·       The Crying of Lot 49 – Thomas Pynchon
·       The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time – Mark Haddon
·       The Day of the Locust by Nathanael West
·       The Death of the Heart by Elizabeth Bowen
·       The French Lieutenant’s Woman – John Fowles
·       The God of Small Things – Arundhati Roy
·       The Godfather – Mario Puzo
·       The Golden Notebook – Doris Lessing
·       The Good Soldier – Ford Madox Ford
·       The Grapes of Wrath – John Steinbeck
·       The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald
·       The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood
·       The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers
·       The Heart of the Matter – Graham Greene
·       The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams
·       The Hobbit – J.R.R. Tolkien
·       The House of Mirth – Edith Wharton
·       The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, CS Lewis
·       The Lord of the Rings – J.R.R. Tolkien
·       The Magus – John Fowles
·       The Maltese Falcon – Dashiell Hammett
·       The Moviegoer by Walker Percy
·       The Old Wives’ Tale by Arnold Bennett
·       The Postman Always Rings Twice – James M. Cain
·       The Power and the Glory – Graham Greene
·       The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie – Muriel Spark
·       The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists – Robert Tressell
·       The Rainbow – D.H. Lawrence
·       The Recognitions – William Gaddis
·       The Secret Agent – Joseph Conrad
·       The Secret History – Donna Tartt
·       The Sheltering Sky by Paul Bowles
·       The Sound and the Fury – William Faulkner
·       The Spy Who Came in from the Cold – John Le Carré
·       The Sun Also Rises – Ernest Hemingway
·       The Things They Carried – Tim O’Brien
·       The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle – Haruki Murakami
·       The Wings of the Dove – Henry James
·       The Woman in White – Wilkie Collins
·       Their Eyes Were Watching God – Zora Neale Hurston
·       Things Fall Apart – Chinua Achebe
·       To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee
·       To The Lighthouse – Virginia Woolf
·       Treasure Island – Robert Louis Stevenson
·       Tropic of Cancer – Henry Miller
·       Ulysses – James Joyce
·       Under the Net – Iris Murdoch
·       Under the Volcano – Malcolm Lowry
·       Underworld – Don DeLillo
·       USA by John Dos Passos
·       V. – Thomas Pynchon
·       War and Peace – Leo Tolstoy
·       Watchmen – Alan Moore & David Gibbons
·       White Noise – Don DeLillo
·       Wide Sargasso Sea – Jean Rhys
·       Women in Love – D.H. Lawrence
·       Wuthering Heights – Emily Brontë

Perfume Novel CoverI’ve been reading books off this list, and the enjoyability rate has been pretty high. Highlights include Midnight’s Children, Perfume, Deliverance, The Spy Who Came In From The Cold, and The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, none of which I would have read without the meta-list to guide me. Even the clunkers – including The Handmaid’s Tale, At Swim Two-Birds, and The Postman Always Rings Twice – were decent reads.  

Of course, I’ve been avoiding works I’m pretty sure I will dislike, including anything by the Waughs, Austens and Brantes. The biggest flaw of this list is that it is too British due to the inclusion of the Guardian and Peter Ackroyd lists. But I’m sure you’ll rectify that when you make your own.  

To get you started, here are some more book lists to consider for your spreadsheet.

http://www.avclub.com/articles/the-best-books-we-read-in-2007,2117/ 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ninety-nine_Novels 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/100_Most_Influential_Books_Ever_Written 

http://www.lesekost.de/kanon/HHL102.htm 

http://entertainment.timesonline.co.uk/tol/arts_and_entertainment/books/article5814278.ece 

http://nymag.com/arts/books/features/2007/32390/       


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