Reviewing the 100 Best Novels of the 20th Century
A New Column by Annette Ferran
Launching July 8, 2013
A few years ago, Annette Ferran came across the Modern Library's list of the 100 best novels of the 20th century printed on the back cover of the book she was reading: The Magnificent Ambersons, which came in at 100. Faced with a new one-hour train commute to work, following her move to a western suburb of Philadelphia, Annette decided to read her way through the list. The prospect of sitting on a train for two hours a day doing nothing useful was not something Annette could tolerate. Up to that point, she had lived in Philadelphia and either walked or biked to work. Reading through the 100 best novels of the 20th century not only provided a diversion on her daily commute, it turned out to be a tremendous education in American and English literature.
Annette admits she started with an advantage. She had already read about 25 of the novels, either in school or during her “own meandering reading life” up to that point. Many of the novels were of the “classic” ilk, the books you think you ought to read or have always wanted to read, but perhaps were intimidated by their stature, or just never got around to it. Many of them she had never heard of. But that didn’t stop her. Over the next few years, she read nearly every book on the list during her commute. The experience was an adventure in reading across a century of English-language literature, an education that she had not received formally (she studied languages primarily in school), and one that changed her reading habits, at least for a time, from random to intentional.
In Annette’s new column, Modern Masterpieces: Reviewing the 100 Best Novels of the 20th Century, she will share her thoughts on one of these novels each month, in no particular order. While she was reading, it got her mind working actively, assessing each novel, asking questions like, Why was this book chosen? How does it compare to this other one? What happened to the art of novel writing from decade to decade?
A few things she wants you to know, a disclaimer of sorts: 1) Modern Library’s 100 Best Novels has some distinct biases: Male writers of Anglo-European heritage are overrepresented; 2) The list seems to have been compiled before the 20th century ended, as there is a lack of representation after the mid-1980s, and; 3) She has no intention of ever talking publicly or writing about two avowed masterpieces by James Joyce, which are listed as #77 (Finnegan’s Wake) and #1 (Ulysses). These she’ll respectfully leave to the Ph.D. students.
She hopes to inspire other readers to visit the classics of our literary cannon, as judged by the great publisher, Modern Library, and find their critical reading mind enlivened, as hers has been.
Annette Ferran lives in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, and works in Philadelphia as an editor for a medical publisher. She is also an editorial assistant for 10,000 Tons of Black Ink, a Literary Writers Network publication. She has a degree of dubious practical use, in German, and is a lifelong avid reader of fiction and lover of lists. She has had a few short stories published, most recently in RE:AL.