Friday, December 27, 2013

GREATEST AMERICAN NOVELS

Here we go with our list of the greatest American Novels. This is a herculean task,  and when you do a top ten list in this category, it's almost impossible to not leave off a worthy tome. 

8. The Sound and the Fury, William Faulkner. Faulkner, the anti-Hemingway for his stream of consciousness writing style, is arguably the South's greatest writer. As a Nobel Laureate, Faulkner's greatness was recognized in 1952. The thirty year destruction and decompensation of the Compson Family of Jefferson, Mississippi, told in four distinct sections from four perspectives- all brothers in the family- including from a  brother (Benjy) who is mentally handicapped, is astounding in the breadth and scope of the writing and styles. Whereas James Joyce failed (gasp!) in our opinion of this type of loose writing style in Ulysses,  Faulkner triumphs. Family, the south, tragic lives, and history, all unfold in one of the very best southern novels ever written. (Not so) Honourable mention: Ulysses, James Joyce. Google any top novel list and Joyce's Ulysses is almost always at the top spot. Which is wonderful, except that Joyce is unreadable. Like the parable of the Emperor with no clothes, everyone raves about Ulysses and Joyce, but no one has actually read the damn novel and finished it and understood it. We call it as we read it. Faulkner makes out top ten; Joyce most certainly does not. 

9. The Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison. The social protest novel? NO. An intellectual exploration of, not the plight of African Americans in the Southern  United States (which is a given in the Novel), but the plight of the human race.  The intellectual and philosophical choices an unnamed African American man is faced with as he matures are the vehicle for the book(the novel is told in the first person, with an unnamed narrator looking back on his life. The influence of Dostovesky's  Notes From Underground, in both the use of the unnamed narrator, and the narrator's style, is unmistakeable).  Ellison's disappointment in Marxism as a political avenue for freedom for African Americans is a theme which unmasked, reveals the shortcomings of Marxism as a political system in toto. And that is the genius of the book: the obvious plight of blacks in America is merely the anvil upon which Ellison hammers out his exploration of philosophy and the human condition. That is why this novel, and not Ayn Rand's two works, makes the list. A life changing scene?  If the famous "Battle Royal" scene doesn't affect your view of human nature, nothing will. This is a masterpiece of a novel and it is a novel that exemplifies why writers can change the world. Honourable mention: George Orwell's 1984: Another English writer excluded because of our American-centric rules. Thank goodness, because how do you choose between 1984 and The Invisible Man

10. The Old Man and the Sea. Hemingway.  
A top ten list without Hemingway? Well, actually, conceivably yes. This is his only story we have been able to make it through. Personally, while we admire Hemingway, we just don't like his writing style. But this novel, especially for our locale, resonates. It's a complete little story. Extremely well done. By a great American Novelist. Honourable mention: John Updike and John Irving. Great American novelists. They have novels that easily make the top twenty five. But they can't squeak into the top ten. Also honourable mention: Remains of the Day and 100 Years Of solitude. Two of our our all time favourite novels. Kazuo Ishiguro and Gabriel Garcia Marquez are incomparably great writers. They are giants in the field of fiction. As are Vladimir Nabakov (Lolita) and E.M Forester (A Passage to India, Howard's End). Powerful novels. Spectacular. Life changing. But this is a list of Great American Novels by American authors, so thankfully they don't have to fight to make the list. 

Sneak Preview: Ulysses, James Joyce. The greatest novel of all time, or un-readable babble? 

26 comments:

REAL FORMER JUDGE said...

Are you kidding?

How could you not list ATLAS SHRUGGED
by Ayn Rand in the top 10?

Anonymous said...

Grapes of Wrath must be in the list.

Anonymous said...

nice idea, Horace. next, you should do a top-10 books that should be on every criminal defense lawyer's shelf.

Rumpole said...

First of all, real former judge, you wrote the comment last night, when I had revealed only number 10. So how could you know what would be on the list? But now that I have revealed #9, and have told you Atlas Shrugged will not be on the list, what say you? AS makes the top 25, but it does not beat out Ellison's the invisible man for the top ten greatest American Novels simply because Ellison uses the American Condition and the plight of African Americans in the south in the 20th century to explore philosophy. Put another way, it is an AMERICAN novel, where Atlas Shrugged, with its admittedly astounding sweeping philosophical themes, is a novel that was fueled by Rand's experience in Soviet Russia and is implicitly a criticism of totalitarianism and Rand's warning that in her opinion certain philosophical precepts (Altruism and Collectivism) would doom America to a Soviet style failure. In that regard Rand's sweeping brush was too broad, and she was, (gasp) wrong.

Rumpole said...

December 28- will do. The Defense Never Rests, To Kill a Mockingbird, come immediately to mind.

FIU LAW said...

What a great way to finish the year Rumpole. Did I ever mention I find smart men sexy?

REAL FORMER JUDGE said...

WOW Rumpole .... I am an avid reader too, as are you. If you think that Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand, one of the best written books that I have ever read, is not in the top 10 ... than you must consider these two as top 10's:

1. The World According to Garp by John Irving
2. The Color Purple by Alice Walker

Both contain what I believe are incredible, genius level thinking and should be #4 and #7.

Anonymous said...

Do you really believe that some of these knuckleheads who write "Bring me the Q" and "It is Shumie time" actually read books??? Maybe you should do the top ten comic books of all time or top ten online porn sites of all time.

Anonymous said...

Rumpole-

What is ur favorite publicly trade company. In other words if u had to put all ur money in one stock what would it be.

Secret Judge said...

J.D.Salinger's "Catcher..." because it spawned an entire generation of young folks who went on to challenge authority leading directly to the events of the sixties can be arguably considered as the greatest and most influential American novel of all time. Certainly among the top 3. The mercurial Salinger was a fascinating study of how some people react to fame. Also worthy of top 10 inclusion is Terry Southern's "Candy", the heartwarming story of a teenage sweetie finding love with a brain-challenged aging hunchback. Who can forget the hunch's sweet rendering of affection in those immortal words, "Me want fuck suck you". Who amongst its millions of readers was not moved to tears by this expression of overt tenderness.

Rumpole said...

No and NO secret judge. Great Novels, yes. Top ten....nope. Too many better ones.

Rumpole said...

What do you all make of the fact that while they were great writers, Salinger and Lee (Catcher and Mockingbird) were essentially one-hit-wonders?

Anonymous said...

What a superb choice for #9 Rumpole. Great choice, and your analysis is not only spot on, but more insightful and professional than any editor/reviewer I have ever read.

You are amazing.

Anonymous said...

How does Horace find a way to get his head through doorways?

Literati said...

What's your definition of "American Novel"? Novel by an American? (Old Man and the Sea does not take place in America and does not concern American themes.)

Calling Salinger a one-hit wonder, by the way, is laughable. He might have one truly well-known novel, but he was one of the most popular and well-respected short-story writers of his generation. A Perfect Day for Bananafish may be the most famous short story published in the New Yorker. And his novellas Franny and Zoey and Raise High the Roof Beam are both fantastic.

As to Lee, she might have been a one-hit wonder, but what a hit. If you're focusing on the novel, instead of the writer, I'm not sure her failure to provide a canon can be taken as a fault.

Rumpole said...

I've read everything Salinger has written, and most of what is attributed to him with some questions. But I dare say that of my fellow citizens and blog readers, not one of ten thousand could name anything else he wrote.

As to "American" novel, it is written by an American about an American type of experience. As to Old Man in the Sea, fishing is an American Experience, as opposed to say making sushi or building a pyramid.

Old Man and the Sea takes place off of Cuba, bordering on the straights of Florida. It's close enough in my book. If it was about harvesting sardines off of Italy, I would not have included it.

Anonymous said...

Hey Rumpole, what happened with your series of trial tips... You only gave us a couple of the promised ten...

Anonymous said...

I am a good defense laywer, well- read on periodicals, up to date on my caselaw yet I have never been an avid reader of novels.

Therefore, for ignorant me, this is an excellent and educational post

Anonymous said...

Faulkner may have been the best "southern" author for his body of work, but the best American novels by southern writers are To Kill a Mockingbird and All the King's Men.

Anonymous said...

James Joyce's Ulysses is an Irish novel.

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Anonymous said...

Admittedly off-topic, here's an excellent chart by Chris Hayes on racism in criminal justice system. There is a link to an excellent ACLU report on the subject:http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2013/12/28/chris-hayess-graph-of-the-year-our-racist-criminal-justice-system-in-one-chart/?tid=pm_pop

Literati said...

Not sure why Ulysses gets an honorable mention. It's a novel taking place in Ireland, written by an Irish novelist, explaining the change in writing throughout European history. That said, I wholly agree with you that S&F is much better (as a whole) than Ulysses.

I hope you put Saul Bellow on here.

Rumpole said...

It gets honourable mention because it is popularly considered the greatest novel of all time, and I personally believe it is overrated and the Sound and the Fury is a much better representation of that style of writing. Other books that wouldn't qualify have also received honorable mention.

Anonymous said...

Although I am the commenter who asked you to include women in your top ten, I also suggest you consider Philip Roth (I know, I know). His American Pastoral, Counterfeit Life, Human Stain have the most masterful (see what I did there) prose I've ever read. In general, his later works (like the late works of any great artist who doesn't drink too much) are sublime.

Anonymous said...

Very good choices, although 100 Years of Solitude would have been my #1. Gravity's Rainbow by Pynchon should be on there somewhere, too. I have read Ulysses. I finished Ulysses, but I cannot recommend anyone else do the same. Although Joyce's Dubliners and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man are excellent, Ulysses is , as you said, unreadable.