Sunday, January 1, 2012

Top Ten 2011

2011 is over; 2012 is here! This year promises to be even more difficult than the last, since the Mayan spaceships are supposed to arrive in late December, meaning we'll have one fewer weak to get to 50. But don't let that stop you--we would love to add contributors to our blog! You don't have to reach 50, you just have to love books and enjoy writing about them. If you're interested, e-mail me at misterchilton at

Here are the top ten books I read this year. This is a fairly skewed list, since I'm not counting either re-reads (like Brideshead Revisited) or stuff like Shakespeare, which is great, but not very interesting to put on a list because everyone already knows it's awesome.

10.) Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis -- I think of this dark satire of academia every time I work on my graduate school applications. Bonus fact: It was a favorite novel of the late great Christopher Hitchens.

9.) Sons and Lovers by D. H. Lawrence -- I liked this much more than Lady Chatterley's Lover. Both are gorgeously written, but my memory of Chatterley was that its vision of love seems remarkably shallow. Sons and Lovers, on the other hand, matches Lawrence's prose to an appropriately metaphysical vision.

8.) Moby Dick by Herman Melville -- What can be said about Moby Dick? Its size, its universality, its grandeur all serve to obviate commentary. They also obviate a lot of the good will and humor that are built up in the opening chapters, creating an object of awe, rather than an object of love.

7.) The Red and the Black by Stendhal -- "More like the red and the bleak." -- Stephen Brent Waggoner

6.) The Adventures of Augie March by Saul Bellow -- As close as I think I've seen to "The Great American Novel," thanks to its illimitable energy, adventure, and melting-pot approach to prose. It makes me want to be a better "Columbus of the near-at-hand."

5.) The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton -- My students have been complaining that all of Shakespeare's plays end tragically. (Coincidentally, they read nothing but tragedies.) I would like to spend a semester and just teach this, Ethan Frome, and The Age of Innocence and then see how they feel.

4.) Far from the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy -- Now that I think back on what I've read this year, I think that Far from the Madding Crowd reminds me most of Moby Dick, purely in the sense that it reading it is to be overwhelmed by the knowledge Hardy summons to his fingertips. That, along with sympathetic characters and a believable plot, were what I thought were most missing from The Mayor of Casterbridge.

3.) A Passage to India by E. M. Forster -- Don't be fooled--this isn't really a novel about Anglo-Indian relations in the early 20th century. What it is, however, I find much more difficult to say.
2.) Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte -- I only pretended to read this in high school, and now I regret it. Very few characters are as intense as Heathcliff, and very few books are as intense as Wuthering Heights, which at times wavers between a Gus Van Sant movie and a snuff film.

1.) Parade's End (1 2 3 4) by Ford Madox Ford -- Maybe it's cheating to include the whole tetralogy here, but I wanted to save room for a few other books on my list. Parade's End is the best example I have ever seen of what Ford called literary impressionism, the reproduction of life as it is lived--in A Man Could Stand Up--, he spends twenty pages describing a spot on a wall!--and ever since then even great works of literature that attempt similar things have seemed to me disingenuous. I am skeptical, but optimistic, that the upcoming HBO adaptation will be successful. BUT in case you're wondering, Some Do Not... (1) > A Man Could Stand Up-- (3) > No More Parades (2) > The Last Post (4).

Happy New Year!


Brent Waggoner said...

#5 would probably send your students sled shopping.

Nathan said...

Favorite word of 2011: tetralogy