All TIME 100 Best Novels
#18 Call It Sleep by Henry Roth
Call It Sleep was published in 1934 and was met with critical acclaim. That it was a great literary work was accepted and he has often been compared to James Joyce. The problem seemed to be that the public didn’t take to it. The poor sales of Roth’s only book are largely attributed to the fact that it was published in the lowest of times of the great depression. In Richard Severo’s article he says:
“When “Call It Sleep” was first published, Lewis Gannett, writing in The New York Herald Tribune, predicted that because of the stark way the book described life on the Lower East Side, it would not be very popular. But he thought that anyone who read it would “remember it and talk about it and watch excitedly” for the author’s next book. In fact, the book was much discussed and readers did indeed wonder what Mr. Roth would do next. But for 60 years, he wrote nothing major.”
It wasn’t until 30 years later when Call It Sleep was republished that it sold over a million copies and finally gained the attention it had always deserved. Severo continues:
“Over the years, the critical acclaim for the book grew. Irving Howe, who reviewed the 1964 edition for The New York Times Book Review, said, “At the end of a novel like ‘Call It Sleep,’ one has lived through a completeness of rendered life, and all one need do is silently acknowledge its truth.”
There seems to be consensus that Roth’s novel was a great one. And while he gained his glory much later it seems that people have over time really wondered about what Roth got up to in life post Call It Sleep. Here is a description of the novel by Grossman from TIME:
New York City, 1911. A young, painfully sensitive boy named David is growing up in the grimy Jewish slums of the Lower East Side, with his unemployable, rageoholic father and his angelic, nurturing mother. Call It Sleep has the setting of a gritty, naturalistic political novel—and it works perfectly well as such—but it is at heart a profoundly interior book. Roth tirelessly and unflinchingly records the daily damage that the harshness of slum life inflicts on David’s quiveringly receptive, emotionally defenseless consciousness; as a precise chronicler of minute impressions, and of the growth of an intellectually precocious mind, Roth’s only equal is James Joyce.
Has anyone read this book that would like to share their thoughts?
This week there are 3 new entries on the list. Here are the Wed RecoReads from the NYT Best Sellers List 13 April 2014:
In the top spot is the 2nd NYPD Red novel, NYPD Red 2 by James Patterson & Marshall Karp
When NYPD Red arrives at a crime scene, everyone takes notice. Known as the protectors of the rich, famous, and connected, NYPD Red is the elite task force called in only for New York City’s most high-profile crimes. And Detective Zach Jordan is the best of the best, a brilliant and relentless pursuer of justice. He puts professionalism above all, ignoring his feelings for his partner, Detective Kylie MacDonald, the woman who broke his heart when they first met in the academy. But even with their top-notch training, Zach and Kylie aren’t prepared for what they see when they’re called to a crime scene in the heart of Central Park. They arrive to find a carousel spinning round and round, its painted horses grinning eerily in the early morning dark. There is only one rider: a brutally slaughtered woman, her body tied up and dressed in a Hazmat suit, on display for the world to see. The victim, a woman of vast wealth and even greater connections, is the fourth in a string of shocking murders that have hit the city. As the public pressure mounts, and political and personal secrets of the highest order hang in the balance, Zach and Kylie must find out what’s really behind the murderer’s rampage. But Kylie has been acting strange recently–and Zach knows whatever she’s hiding could threaten the biggest case of their careers. (read more on GoodReads)
In #4 is the 10th Blossom Street novel, Blossom Street Brides by Debbie Macomber
Lauren Elliott has waited years for her long-term boyfriend, Todd, to propose, yet he seems more focused on his career than their relationship. When Lauren learns that her younger sister is pregnant before she herself even has an engagement ring, she feels overjoyed yet disheartened. Knowing she can’t put her future on hold, Lauren prepares to make a bold choice—one that leads her to a man she never dreamed she’d meet. Newly married to her second husband, Max, Bethanne Scranton is blissfully in love. But with Max’s job in California and Bethanne’s in Seattle, their long-distance marriage is becoming difficult to maintain. To complicate matters, Bethanne’s cunning ex will do anything to win her back. Lydia Goetz, too, is wonderfully happy with her husband, Brad, though lately she worries about the future of A Good Yarn. As she considers how to bring in business, she discovers that someone has beaten her to the punch. Baskets of yarn are mysteriously popping up all over town, with instructions to knit a scarf for charity and bring it into Lydia’s store. Never before has her shop received so much attention, but who hatched this brilliant plan? As three women’s lives intersect in unexpected ways, Lydia, Lauren, and Bethanne realize that love heals every heart, and the best surprises still lay ahead. (read More on GoodReads)
In #8 is Tempting Fate by Jane Green
When Gabby first met Elliott she knew he was the man for her. In twenty years of marriage she has never doubted her love for him – even when he refused to give her the one thing she still wants most of all. But now their two daughters are growing up Gabby feels that time and her youth are slipping away. For the first time in her life she is restless. And then she meets Matt . . . Intoxicated by the way this young, handsome and successful man makes her feel, Gabby is momentarily blind to what she stands to lose on this dangerous path. And in one reckless moment she destroys all that she holds dear. Consumed by regret, Gabby does everything she can to repair the home she has broken. But are some betrayals too great to forgive? (read more on GoodReads)
All TIME 100 Best Novels
#17 The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder
The Bridge of San Luis Rey was published in 1927 and Wilder’s 2nd novel. It won him the 1928 Pulitzer Prize and is highly acclaimed the world over. Here is the blurb from GoodReads:
“On Friday noon, July the twentieth, 1714, the finest bridge in all Peru broke and precipitated five travelers into the gulf below.” With this celebrated sentence Thornton Wilder begins The Bridge of San Luis Rey, one of the towering achievements in American fiction and a novel read throughout the world. By chance, a monk witnesses the tragedy. Brother Juniper then embarks on a quest to prove that it was divine intervention rather than chance that led to the deaths of those who perished in the tragedy. His search leads to his own death — and to the author’s timeless investigation into the nature of love and the meaning of the human condition.”
According to Wikipedia on writing this novel Thornton Wilder said that he was posing a question: “Is there a direction and meaning in lives beyond the individual’s own will?” In the same article there’s an impressive list of novels that themselves were influenced by or make reference to this novel:
- This book was cited by John Hersey as a direct inspiration for his nonfiction work Hiroshima (1946).
- Qui non riposano, a 1945 novel by Indro Montanelli takes inspiration from the novel.
- David Mitchell’s novel, Cloud Atlas, echoes the story in many ways, most explicitly through the character Luisa Rey.
- Ayn Rand references the theme in Atlas Shrugged, her epic of a fictional USA’s decline into an impoverished kleptocracy. In the aftermath of a disastrous collision in a railroad tunnel, she highlights train passengers who, in one way or another, promoted the moral climate that made the accident likely.
- The book is mentioned in passing by a character in The Dark Tower III: The Waste Lands, the third book in Stephen King’s Dark Tower series.
Interesting, right? I’m very intrigued by this book! The bridge itself is based on the great Inca road suspension bridge across the Apurímac River, erected around 1350, still in use in 1864, and dilapidated but still hanging in 1890.
Anyone read this book? Thoughts?
This week there are 5 new entries on the list. Here are the Wed RecoReads from the NYT Best Sellers List 6 April 2014:
In the top spot is Missing You by Harlan Coben
It’s a profile, like all the others on the online dating site. But as NYPD Detective Kat Donovan focuses on the accompanying picture, she feels her whole world explode, as emotions she’s ignored for decades come crashing down on her. Staring back at her is her ex-fiancé Jeff, the man who shattered her heart—and who she hasn’t seen in 18 years. Kat feels a spark, wondering if this might be the moment when past tragedies recede and a new world opens up to her. But when she reaches out to the man in the profile, her reawakened hope quickly darkens into suspicion and then terror as an unspeakable conspiracy comes to light, in which monsters prey upon the most vulnerable. As the body count mounts and Kat’s hope for a second chance with Jeff grows more and more elusive, she is consumed by an investigation that challenges her feelings about everyone she ever loved—her former fiancé, her mother, and even her father, whose cruel murder so long ago has never been fully explained. With lives on the line, including her own, Kat must venture deeper into the darkness than she ever has before, and discover if she has the strength to survive what she finds there. (read more on GoodReads)
In #2 is the 40th Discworld novel, Raising Steam by Terry Pratchett
To the consternation of the patrician, Lord Vetinari, a new invention has arrived in Ankh-Morpork – a great clanging monster of a machine that harnesses the power of all the elements: earth, air, fire and water. This being Ankh-Morpork, it’s soon drawing astonished crowds, some of whom caught the zeitgeist early and arrive armed with notepads and very sensible rainwear. Moist von Lipwig is not a man who enjoys hard work – as master of the Post Office, the Mint and the Royal Bank his input is, of course, vital… but largely dependent on words, which are fortunately not very heavy and don’t always need greasing. However, he does enjoy being alive, which makes a new job offer from Vetinari hard to refuse…Steam is rising over Discworld, driven by Mister Simnel, the man wi’ t’flat cap and sliding rule who has an interesting arrangement with the sine and cosine. Moist will have to grapple with gallons of grease, goblins, a fat controller with a history of throwing employees down the stairs and some very angry dwarfs if he’s going to stop it all going off the rails. (read more on GoodReads)
In #11 is The Auschwitz Escape by Joel C Rosenberg
A terrible darkness has fallen upon Jacob Weisz’s beloved Germany. The Nazi regime, under the leadership of Adolf Hitler, has surged to power and now hold Germany by the throat. All non-Aryans–especially Jews like Jacob and his family–are treated like dogs.When tragedy strikes during one terrible night of violence, Jacob flees and joins rebel forces working to undermine the regime. But after a raid goes horribly wrong, Jacob finds himself in a living nightmare–trapped in a crowded, stinking car on the train to the Auschwitz death camp.As World War II rages and Hitler begins implementing his “final solution” to systematically and ruthlessly exterminate the Jewish people, Jacob must rely on his wits and a God he’s not sure he believes in to somehow escape from Auschwitz and alert the world to the Nazi’s atrocities before Fascism overtakes all of Europe. The fate of millions hangs in the balance. (read more on GoodReads)
In #12 is William Shakespeare’s The Empire Striketh Back by Ian Doescher
Hot on the heels of the New York Times best seller William Shakespeare’s Star Wars comes the next two installments of the original trilogy: William Shakespeare’s The Empire Striketh Back and William Shakespeare’s The Jedi Doth Return. Return to the star-crossed galaxy far, far away as the brooding young hero, a power-mad emperor, and their jesting droids match wits, struggle for power, and soliloquize in elegant and impeccable iambic pentameter. Illustrated with beautiful black-and-white Elizabethan-style artwork, these two plays offer essential reading for all ages. Something Wookiee this way comes! (read more on GoodReads)
In #13 is The Cairo Affair by Olen Steinhauer
Sophie Kohl is living her worst nightmare. Minutes after she confesses to her husband, a mid-level diplomat at the American embassy in Hungary, that she had an affair while they were in Cairo, he is shot in the head and killed. Stan Bertolli, a Cairo-based CIA agent, has fielded his share of midnight calls. But his heart skips a beat when he hears the voice of the only woman he ever truly loved, calling to ask why her husband has been assassinated. Omar Halawi has worked in Egyptian intelligence for years, and he knows how to play the game. Foreign agents pass him occasional information, he returns the favor, and everyone’s happy. But the murder of a diplomat in Hungary has ripples all the way to Cairo, and Omar must follow the fall-out wherever it leads. American analyst Jibril Aziz knows more about Stumbler, a covert operation rejected by the CIA, than anyone. So when it appears someone else has obtained a copy of the blueprints, Jibril alone knows the danger it represents. (read more on GoodReads)
All TIME 100 Best Novels
#16 Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh
Brideshead Revisited was published in 1945 and is described as Waugh’s great literary masterpiece who has himself referred to the novel in the past as his magnum opus. Here is the blurb from GoodReads:
“The most nostalgic and reflective of Evelyn Waugh’s novels, Brideshead Revisited looks back to the golden age before the Second World War. It tells the story of Charles Ryder’s infatuation with the Marchmains and the rapidly-disappearing world of privilege they inhabit. Enchanted first by Sebastian at Oxford, then by his doomed Catholic family, in particular his remote sister, Julia, Charles comes finally to recognize only his spiritual and social distance from them.”
According to Wikipedia, Waugh wrote that the novel “deals with what is theologically termed ‘the operation of Grace’, that is to say, the unmerited and unilateral act of love by which God continually calls souls to Himself.” (Memo dated 18 February 1947 from Evelyn Waugh to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer)This is achieved by an examination of the Roman Catholic, aristocratic Marchmain family, as seen by the narrator, Charles Ryder. However, in 1950 Waugh wrote to Graham Greene saying that he’d reread the novel and was appalled. In a 1959 preface to the novel the author explained the circumstances of the novel. He wrote it following a parachute accident stating that: “It was a bleak period of present privation and threatening disaster – the period of soya beans and Basic English — and in consequence the book is infused with a kind of gluttony, for food and wine, for the splendours of the recent past, and for rhetorical and ornamental language which now, with a full stomach, I find distasteful.”
Despite Waugh’s own later feelings there are many that don’t agree with his criticism as evidenced by these words from John K Hutchens review in the NY Times entitled Evelyn Waugh’s Finest Novel:
“Brideshead Revisited” has the depth and weight that are found in a writer working in his prime, in the full powers of an eager, good mind and a skilled hand, retaining the best of what he has already learned. It tells an absorbing story in imaginative terms. By indirection it summarizes and comments upon a time and a society. It has an almost romantic sense of wonder, together with the provocative, personal point of view of a writer who sees life realistically. It is, in short, a large, inclusive novel with which the 1946 season begins, a novel more fully realized than any of the year now ending, whatever their other virtues.”
Pretty mixed feelings but it seems everyone besides the author agrees it is an all time great novel. I’ll end with the description of the novel by Lev Grossman (co-compiler of the All Time 100 list) which is sure to twist your arm:
“Though it’s saddled with a faded doily of a title, Brideshead Revisited is actually a wildly entertaining, swooningly funny-sad story about an impressionable young man, Charles Ryder, who goes to Oxford in the 1930′s and falls in love with a family: the wealthy, eccentric, aristocratic Flytes, owners of a grand old country house called Brideshead.”
I was kindly provided a copy of Finding Soutbek from the publisher, Holland Park Press, in exchange for an honest review. Earlier this year Finding Soutbek caught my eye when it was shortlisted for the 2013 Etisalat Prize for Literature.
Here is the blurb from GoodReads:
The focal point of the novel is the small town of Soutbek. Its troubles, hardships and corruption, but also its kindness, strong community and friendships, are introduced to us in a series of stories about intriguingly interlinked relationships. Contemporary Soutbek is still a divided town – the upper town destitute, and the lower town rich, largely ignorant – and through a series of vivid scenes, the troubled relationship between Pieter Fortuin, the town’s first coloured mayor, and his wife Anna is revealed. In so many ways the past casts a long shadow over the present, not in the least through the unreliable diaries of Pieter Meerman promoted by Pieter Fortuin and Professor Pearson, a retired white historian. They give us a unique insight into the lives of the seventeenth-century Dutch explorers, and hint at a utopian society, suggesting that Soutbek is the birthplace of assimilation and integration. The blossoming friendship between Anna, Sara, a foundling, and Willem, Pieter Fortuin’s nephew, is unsettled by David, Anna’s and Pieter’s son. His father has bought David a bright future, but when he comes back from boarding school David appears alienated from his father and from his old friend, the former gardener Charles Geduld, just as Anna starts to accept him as her son. Is there hope, or are we left with Willem’s conclusion that ‘he would spend the rest of his life working off the debt of his family’s poverty’?
I quickly read Finding Soutbek as it flows easily, fluidly, interweaving the stories of the characters living in Soutbek and the journal entries of a 1600s explorer as he and his group made their way to the area. It is set on the west coast of South Africa and follows the happenings of a small fishing town after a fire destroys the poor area of town and the release of a history book written by the town’s mayor. The stories of the people are sad and even tragic but true as this is the story of many in South Africa. This novel is about what people will do to make a better life, what they will (or will not) go through to stay alive, and what they will sacrifice to get ahead. Jennings’ descriptions of the landscape and the place are vivid and the images of the river, the small poor town, the cliffs, and the Namaqualand flowers came easily to mind. This is a story about people, impoverished people and people trying to break free from the bonds of impoverishment. It is also about those people who seek out small sea towns for retirement but who turn a blind eye to those less fortunate than themselves who have and always will live there. It is a story about a forgotten people who are trying their best to live in small towns on the outskirts of urban life in contemporary South Africa but where change has not yet arrived and where poverty threatens to extinguish them before it does. The book unravels to make all kinds of revelations in both plot and character. I would say this book is mostly character driven with sprinklings of well written descriptions of the landscape. It was well written and I really enjoyed it. I recommend it to anyone who enjoys books about people and character, and anyone interested in South Africa and how some live on its coast.
This week there are 4 new entries on the list. Here are the Wed RecoReads from the NYT Best Sellers List 30 March 2014:
In the top spot is Power Play by Danielle Steel
Fiona Carson has proven herself as CEO of a multibillion-dollar high-tech company – a successful woman in a man’s world. Devoted single mother, world-class strategist, and tough negotiator, Fiona has to keep a delicate balance every day. Meanwhile, Marshall Weston basks in the fruits of his achievements. At his side is his wife Liz who has gladly sacrificed her own career to raise their three children. Smooth, shrewd and irreproachable, Marshall’s power only enhances his charisma – but he harbors secrets that could destroy his life at any moment. Both must face their own demons, and the lives they lead come at a high price. But just how high a price are they willing to pay? (read more on GoodReads)
In #2 is the 8th Mercy Thompson, Night Broken by Patricia Briggs
An unexpected phone call heralds a new challenge for Mercy. Her mate Adam’s ex-wife is in trouble, on the run from her new boyfriend. Adam isn’t the kind of man to turn away a person in need—and Mercy knows it. But with Christy holed up in Adam’s house, Mercy can’t shake the feeling that something about the situation isn’t right. Soon, her suspicions are confirmed when she learns that Christy has the farthest thing from good intentions. She wants Adam back and she’s willing to do whatever it takes to make it happen, including turning Adam’s pack against Mercy. Mercy isn’t about to step down without a fight, but there’s a more dangerous threat circling. Christy’s ex is more than a bad man—in fact, he may not be human at all. As the bodies start piling up, Mercy must put her personal troubles aside to face a creature with the power to tear her whole world apart. (read more on GoodReads)
In #3 is the 4th Clifton Chronicles novel, Be Careful What You Wish For by Jeffrey Archer
Bestselling author Jeffrey Archer’s Be Careful What You Wish For opens with Harry Clifton and his wife Emma rushing to hospital to learn the fate of their son Sebastian, who has been involved in a fatal car accident. But who died, Sebastian or his best friend Bruno? When Ross Buchanan is forced to resign as chairman of the Barrington Shipping Company, Emma Clifton wants to replace him. But Don Pedro Martinez intends to install his puppet, the egregious Major Alex Fisher, in order to destroy the Barrington family firm just as the company plans to build its new luxury liner, the MV Buckingham. Back in London, Harry and Emma’s adopted daughter wins a scholarship to the Slade Academy of Art where she falls in love with a fellow student, Clive Bingham, who asks her to marry him. Both families are delighted until Priscilla Bingham, Jessica’s future mother-in-law, has a visit from an old friend, Lady Virginia Fenwick, who drops her particular brand of poison into the wedding chalice. Then, without warning, Cedric Hardcastle, a bluff Yorkshireman who no one has come across before, takes his place on the board of Barringtons. This causes an upheaval that none of them could have anticipated, and will change the lives of every member of the Clifton and Barrington families. Hardcastle’s first decision is who to support to become the next chairman of the board: Emma Clifton or Major Alex Fisher? And with that decision, the story takes yet another twist that will keep you on the edge of your seat. (read more on GoodReads)
In #4 is the 14th Joe Pickett novel, Stone Cold by C J Box
The electrifying new Joe Pickett novel from the New York Times bestselling author. Everything about the man is a mystery: the massive ranch in the remote Black Hills of Wyoming that nobody ever visits, the women who live with him, the secret philanthropies, the private airstrip, the sudden disappearances. And especially the persistent rumors that the man’s wealth comes from killing people. Joe Pickett, still officially a game warden but now mostly a troubleshooter for the governor, is assigned to find out what the truth is, but he discovers a lot more than he’d bargained for. There are two other men living up at that ranch. One is a stone-cold killer who takes an instant dislike to Joe. The other is new—but Joe knows him all too well. The first man doesn’t frighten Joe. The second is another story entirely. (read more on GoodReads)
In#15 is The Accident by Chris Pavone
As dawn approaches in New York, literary agent Isabel Reed is turning the final pages of a mysterious, anonymous manuscript, racing through the explosive revelations about powerful people, as well as long-hidden secrets about her own past. In Copenhagen, veteran CIA operative Hayden Gray, determined that this sweeping story be buried, is suddenly staring down the barrel of an unexpected gun. And in Zurich, the author himself is hiding in a shadowy expat life, trying to atone for a lifetime’s worth of lies and betrayals with publication of The Accident, while always looking over his shoulder. Over the course of one long, desperate, increasingly perilous day, these lives collide as the book begins its dangerous march toward publication, toward saving or ruining careers and companies, placing everything at risk—and everyone in mortal peril. The rich cast of characters—in publishing and film, politics and espionage—are all forced to confront the consequences of their ambitions, the schisms between their ideal selves and the people they actually became. (read more on GoodReads)