An Alternate Reality of Reading

This blog started as an effort to track my progress completing The 100 Greatest Books Challenge, a self-imposed reading checklist. And while, sometimes, I ramble on about book-related topics including but not limited to Fifty Shades of Grey, Iceland, book-to-movie adaptations, and book banning, the original objective remains largely intact.

The List of 100 Greatest Books of All Time that I chose for my Challenge comes from, a list generated from over a hundred “best books” lists circulating the Internet. Its wise and mysterious creator fed all of these lists into a wise and mysterious algorithm, with some carrying more weight than others.

This means, of course, that the master list changes over time as new lists are added. I took on my Challenge in September of 2011—and in the 3.5 years since then, the list has changed a LOT.

Here’s the list as it stands today:

1. In Search of Lost Time, Marcel Proust
2. Don Quixote, Miguel de Cervantes
3. Ulysses, James Joyce
4. Moby Dick, Herman Melville
5. Hamlet, William Shakespeare
6. War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy
7. The Odyssey, Homer
8. Madame Bovary, Gustave Flaubert
9. The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald
10. The Brothers Karamazov, Fyodor Dostoevsky
11. One Hundred Years of Solitude, Gabriel García Márquez
12. The Divine Comedy, Dante Alighieri
13. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain
14. The Iliad, Homer
15. Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov
16. Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy
17. Crime and Punishment, Fyodor Dostoevsky
18. Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen
19. The Sound and the Fury, William Faulkner
20. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll
21. The Catcher in the Rye, J. D. Salinger
22. Wuthering Heights, Emily Brontë
23. Absalom, Absalom!, William Faulkner
24. To the Lighthouse, Virginia Woolf
25. The Trial, Franz Kafka
26. Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad
27. Middlemarch, George Eliot
28. 1984, George Orwell
29. One Thousand and One Nights, Various
30. The Stories of Anton Chekhov, Anton Chekhov
31. The Red and the Black, Stendhal
32. Gulliver’s Travels, Jonathan Swift
33. Great Expectations, Charles Dickens
34. The Aeneid, Virgil
35. Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison
36. Catch-22, Joseph Heller
37. The Stranger, Albert Camus
38. The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck
39. Mrs. Dalloway, Virginia Woolf
40. David Copperfield, Charles Dickens
41. Collected Fiction, Jorge Luis Borges
42. Beloved, Toni Morrison
43. Leaves of Grass, Walt Whitman
44. Candide, Voltaire
45. Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë
46. The Canterbury Tales, Geoffrey Chaucer
47. As I Lay Dying, William Faulkner
48. The Complete Stories of Franz Kafka, Franz Kafka
49. The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway
50. Tristram Shandy, Laurence Sterne
51. The Portrait of a Lady, Henry James
52. Oedipus the King, Sophocles
53. Les Misérables, Victor Hugo
54. To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee
55. Paradise Lost, John Milton
56. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, James Joyce
57. The Complete Tales of Edgar Allan Poe, Edgar Allan Poe
58. The Idiot, Fyodor Dostoevsky
59. Pale Fire, Vladimir Nabokov
60. Antigone, Sophocles
61. Faust, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
62. The Magic Mountain, Thomas Mann
63. A Passage to India, E. M. Forster
64. Dead Souls, Nikolai Gogol
65. The Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel Hawthorne
66. The Metamorphosis, Franz Kafka
67. For Whom the Bell Tolls, Ernest Hemingway
68. Midnight’s Children, Salman Rushdie
69. Journey to the End of the Night, Louis-Ferdinand Céline
70. Oresteia, Aeschylus
71. The Old Man and the Sea, Ernest Hemingway
72. Emma, Jane Austen
73. The Complete Stories of Flannery O’Connor, Flannery O’Connor
74. Gargantua and Pantagruel, François Rabelais
75. Tom Jones, Henry Fielding
76. Vanity Fair, William Makepeace Thackeray
77. Fairy Tales and Stories, Hans Christian Anderson
78. Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe
79. The Flowers of Evil, Charles Baudelaire
80. The Tin Drum, Günter Grass
81. The Possessed, Fyodor Dostoevsky
82. Poems of Emily Dickinson, Emily Dickinson
83. The Castle, Franz Kafka
84. Father Goriot, Honoré de Balzac
85. A Farewell to Arms, Ernest Hemingway
86. Frankenstein, Mary Shelley
87. The Good Soldier, Ford Madox Ford
88. Collected Poems of W. B. Yeats, W. B. Yeats
89. The Charterhouse of Parma, Stendhal
90. The Tale of Genji, Murasaki Shikibu
91. Oedipus at Colonus, Sophocles
92. Stories of Ernest Hemingway, Ernest Hemingway
93. The Master and Margarita, Mikhaíl Bulgakov
94. Fathers and Sons, Ivan Turgenev
95. Metamorphoses, Ovid
96. Robinson Crusoe, Daniel Defoe
97. Decameron, Giovanni Boccaccio
98. Under the Volcano, Malcolm Lowry
99. Waiting for Godot, Samuel Beckett
100. The Waste Land, T. S. Eliot

Only 64 books out of 100 appear on both lists, and not one is in the same position. Numbers 1-28 on the list above appear on my list from 2011, though often in vastly different rankings. One Thousand and One Nights, at #29, is the first introduction of a new title.

The most notable difference is the addition of no less than ten short story and poetry collections. The 2011 list has zero. On the 2015 list, there is more Kafka, more Hemingway, more Sophocles, more Dickens, and twice as much Dostoevsky. There is also more Classical poetry. Stendhal is introduced to the list, along with T. S. Eliot, Baudelaire, and Gogol.

Interestingly, there is less Shakespeare, though Hamlet made a dramatic leap of 78 spaces from #83 to #5. Conspicuous absentees in 2011, such as Victor Hugo and John Milton, made it onto the current list. But D. H. Lawrence—who had two novels on the 2011 list—is missing.

Does this have a point? you ask. Why am I analyzing this?

It’s a great question with a not-great answer: mere curiosity. I wanted to spend a few minutes living vicariously through alternate-reality Me, with a completely different set of books on my TBR pile.

I’ve toyed with the idea of substituting one book suggested on the 2015 list for one on my own (my Challenge, my rules)—for example, tossing out one of Faulkner’s novels in favor of Jorge Luis Borges’ Collected Fiction. But I’m afraid that one and only book will haunt me until the day I die, especially if it’s As I Lay Dying.

All in all, three and a half years later, I’ve learned to love and cherish my reading checklist, much like a sister—that is, in between all the moments when I hate it, or when it does something especially nice for me.

And, frankly, I’ve invested a lot of money in my List. So I think I’ll stick with it—at least until research shows that Faulkner’s novels were actually the result of his cat jumping on his typewriter.