So, before I dive into the next batch of the 100 Greatest English Language Novels of the 20th Century according to me, I want to let anyone who reads this know that 10 July (tomorrow, as I write this) is my mother’s birthday. Since the mid-90’s, when my oldest nephew, Kevin, was born, she has been mostly known as Grandmartha (since Kevin lived with his Grandma and my maternal grandmother was already Nana), except when I refer to her, in exasperated tones as “Mother!”

She’s had a rough couple of years between us moving to the East Coast, her mother dying, the divorce and hip surgery (and upcoming hip surgery).

Anyway, her e-mail is grandmartha710@yahoo.com, so feel free to drop her a line and wish her a happy birthday or send her a virtual card. The picture on the left is her with Thomas in December of 04. The picture on the right is her with me in December of 76.

Anyway, that’s it for today’s digression. Here’s 50 through 26:

50 – The Magus (John Fowles) – ML list #93

“Long afterwards I realized why some men, racing drivers and their like, become addicted to speed. There are those of us who never see death ahead, but eternally behind: in any moment that stops and thinks.” (p 370)

49 – The Moor’s Last Sigh (Salman Rushdie)

“Bombay was central, had been so from the moment of its creation: the bastard child of a Portuguese-English wedding, and yet the most Indian of Indian cities.” (p 350)

48 – Sanctuary (William Faulkner)

“He couldn’t hear the fire, though it still swirled upward unabated, as thought it were living upon itself, and soundless: a voice of fury like in a dream, roaring silently out of a peaceful void.”

47 – The Maltese Falcon (Dashiell Hammett) – ML list #56

” ‘He adjusted himself to beams falling, and then no more of them fell, and he adjusted himself to them not falling.’ ” (p 64)

46 – Johnny Got His Gun (Dalton Trumbo)

“When he had run without legs until he was tired and when he had screamed without voice until his throat hurt he fell back into the womb back into the quietude back into the loneliness and the blackness and the terrible silence.” (p 93)

45 – Blood Meridian (Cormac McCarthy)

“As they approached the cantina one of the man from inside appeared in the doorway like a bloody apparition. He had been scalped and the blood was all run down into his eyes and he was holding shut a huge hole in his chest where a pink froth breathed in and out.” (p 180/181)

44 – The Heart of the Matter (Graham Greene) – ML list #40

” ‘It’s a wonderful excuse being a Catholic,’ she said. ‘It doesn’t stop you sleeping with me – it only stops you marrying me.’ ” (p 179)

43 – Song of Solomon (Toni Morrison) – National Book Critics Circle Award

“As fleet and bright as a lodestar he wheeled toward Guitar and it did not matter which one of them would give up his ghost in the killing arms of his brother. For now he knew what Shalimar knew: If you surrendered to the air, you could ride it.” (last lines)

42 – Disgrace (J.M. Coetzee) – Booker Prize

“For a man of his age, fifty-two, divorced, he has, to his mind, solved the problem of sex rather well.” (opening line)

41 – The Quiet American (Graham Greene)

“Everything had gone right for me since he had died, but how I wished there existed someone to whom I could say that I was sorry.” (last line)

40 – Look Homeward, Angel (Thomas Wolfe)

“Finally, only thirty or forty million years before, our earliest ancestors had crawled out of the primevil slime; and then, no doubt, finding the change unpleasant, crawled back in again.” (p 34)

39 – Darkness at Noon (Arthur Koestler) – ML list #8

“Who could call it betrayal if, instead of the dead, one held faith with the living?” (p 133)

38 – Animal Farm (George Orwell) – ML list #31

“The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.” (last line)

37 – Mrs. Dalloway (Virginia Woolf)

“Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself.” (opening line)

36 – The Things They Carried (Tim O’Brien)

“In any war story, but especially a true one, it’s difficult to separate what happened from what seemed to happen.” (p 78 )

35 – Wonder Boys (Michael Chabon)

“The young men listen dutifully, for the most part, and from time to time some of them even take the trouble to go over to the college library, and dig up one of another of his novels, and crouch there, among the stacks, flipping impatiently through the pages, looking for the parts that sound true.” (last line)

34 – Midnight’s Children (Salman Rushdie) – ML list #90 / Booker Prize / Booker of Bookers (best of the first 25 years of the Booker Prize)

“To tell the truth, I lied about Shiva’s death. My first out-and-out-lie – although my presentation of the Emergency in the guise of a six-hundred-and-thirty-five-day-long midnight was perhaps excessively romantic, and certainly contradicted by the available meteorological data.” (p 529)

33 – The Sun Also Rises (Ernest Hemingway) – ML list #45

” ‘Oh, Jake,’ Brett said, ‘we could have had such a damned good time together.’

Ahead was a mounted policeman in khaki directing traffic. He raised his baton. The car slowed suddenly pressing Brett against me.

‘Yes,’ I said. ‘Isn’t it pretty to think so.’ ” (last lines)

32 – The Crying of Lot 49 (Thomas Pynchon)

“At some indefinite passage in night’s sonorous score, it also came to her that she would be safe, that something, perhaps only her linearly fading drunkenness, would protect her.” (p 117)

31 – Howards End (E.M. Forster) – ML list #38

“They had nothing in common but the English language, and tried by its help to express what neither of them understood.” (p 301)

30 – Possession (A.S. Byatt) – Booker Prize

“In the morning, the whole world had a strange new smell. It was the smell of the aftermath, a green smell, a smell of shredded leaves and oozing resin, of crushed wood and splashed sap, a tart smell, which bore some relation to the smell of bitten apples. It was the smell of death and destruction and it smelled fresh and lively and hopeful.” (p 551 – last lines)

29 – Portnoy’s Complaint (Philip Roth) – ML list #52

“Even in the Chinese restaurant, where the Lord has lifted the ban on pork dishes for the obedient children of Israel, the eating of lobster Cantonese is considered by God (Whose mouthpiece on earth, in matters pertaining to food, is my Mom) to be totally out of the question.” (p 100)

28 – Light in August (William Faulkner) – ML list #54

“Now the final copper light of afternoon fades; now the street beyond the low maples and the low signboard is prepared and empty, framed by the study window like a stage.” (p 466)

27 – Sophie’s Choice (William Styron) – ML list #96 / National Book Award

“The query: ‘At Auschwitz, tell me, where was God?’

And the answer: ‘Where was man?’ ” (p 623)

26 – Confederacy of Dunces (John Kennedy Toole) – Pulitzer Prize

“A green hunting cap squeezed the top of the fleshy balloon of a head.” (opening line)

Postscript: Today’s list is interesting, in that it has three of the four Bookers on the list. I mostly dislike the Booker winners – it seems to me the judges of the Booker confuse difficult to read with brilliant writing. Today’s list also includes what, to me, where the two oddest omissions from the original Modern Library list. The most egregious omission was Beloved (which makes my top 10), but given that only one post 1980 novel and only 7 post 1970 novels made the list (and all except A House for Mr. Biswas were ranked 82nd or lower), it seems that the judges were looking for a bit more longevity for the list. After all, 68% of the list was published in the first half of the century. No, the two oddest omissions are both acknowledged classics, both by acknowledged writers – Look Homeward, Angel and Mrs. Dalloway. I always found it odd that neither of those two made the list.

Later this week, I will conclude the list and try to wrap up my thoughts on 20th Century lit. Sometime soon, I’ll probably throw in a 21st Century list to give an idea of the brilliant books of this first decade.

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