Tuesday, July 01, 2008

EW 1000: Books

So, this is a thing, I guess: Entertainment Weekly has put together what they're calling the EW 1000, which allegedly comprises the 1000 best various pop culture items and moments of the past 25 years.

First of all: I've gone over their various lists as enumerated on their website, which include such dubious categories as "25 New Classic Holiday Episodes" and "Sarah Michelle Gellar's 10 New Classic Male TV Characters She Wishes She Could Have Played" (SPOILER ALERT: #1 is Ricky Stratton from Silver Spoons, and #10 is a female character, which means Buffy didn't understand the parameters of her own list), and unless they're still planning on adding stuff, or I miscounted four times in a row (which is possible), they're 50 items short.

Wow, that was a long sentence.

Secondly, they picked a lot of shit. Like, a lot of utter shit. If you have to put Saved By the Bell on a "best of" list of any kind, even a "Best TV Shows With 'Saved,' 'By,' 'The,' And 'Bell' In The Title" list, let alone a "Best TV Shows Of The Past 25 Years" list, you suck eggs.

However, thirdly, and most importantly: I got nothing else going on. So let's look at the Books list.

These are EW's 100 "New Classics" published from 1983 to 2008. I'm gonna bold the ones I've read, italicize the ones I intend to read, and pepper a few notes here and there. I will probably come off as a sub-literate oaf when you see how many great books I've neglected; then again, I've never watched a full episode of Saved By the Bell. So I've got that going for me.

1. The Road, Cormac McCarthy (2006)
Here's one I actually, for really reals, no foolin', plan on reading very soon. I love Cormac McCarthy. But, despite the awesome power of Oprah and her book club, I'm a little surprised to see this at the very top of the list. (And yes, I do believe this list has been arranged from best to... least best, because it's sure not arranged any other way. And the TV list has The Simpsons, The Sopranos, and Seinfeld as #1-3, and that ain't a random grouping.) So, The Road: best book of the past 25 years, according to Entertainment Weekly. I don't know that I'm necessarily well-armed enough, reading-wise, to dispute that claim. Anyone else want to disagree with it?
2. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, J.K. Rowling (2000)
And is this genuinely supposed to be the #2 greatest book of the past quarter century? Because come on. Is anyone over the age of 12 going to back that one up? That throws this list off the rails right from the git-go. Also: why this particular book, and none of the others? As I've seen other bloggers point out before me, Philip Pullman's Dark Materials series is listed as one item, below; why not include the Harry Potter series as a whole?
3. Beloved, Toni Morrison (1987)
Read it in college, when it was practically brand new. Yes, I'm that old. This is the Oprah Book Club book I expected to see at the top of this list.
4. The Liars' Club, Mary Karr (1995)
I've never even heard of this book. But I used to watch the TV show The Liar's Club all the time when I was a kid. Yes, I'm that old.
5. American Pastoral, Philip Roth (1997)
Never read any Roth.
6. Mystic River, Dennis Lehane (2001)
Saw the movie. Does that count?
7. Maus, Art Spiegelman (1986/1991)
8. Selected Stories, Alice Munro (1996)
I probably should read something by Munro, but... eh. Can't be bothered.
9. Cold Mountain, Charles Frazier (1997)
Didn't see the movie. Does that count?
10. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, Haruki Murakami (1997)
Interesting choice. I loved this book. I think this is the last of Murakami's books I've read, though.
11. Into Thin Air, Jon Krakauer (1997)
My brother-in-law really liked this, but I don't know if I would. Let's call it a maybe.
12. Blindness, Jose Saramago (1998)
This is supposed to be amazing. I don't know if I'll ever get around to it, but I hope to give it a shot someday.
13. Watchmen, Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons (1986-87)
Nice choice. I'm pleased that at this point, it would be odder not to see it on a list of this kind.
14. Black Water, Joyce Carol Oates (1992)
Never read any Oates, probably never will. I'll just have to live with that choice.
15. A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, Dave Eggers (2000)
The only one of these authors I've met in person. Great book.
16. The Handmaid's Tale, Margaret Atwood (1986)
It was okay. Can't work up much more enthusiasm than that.
17. Love in the Time of Cholera, Gabriel Garcia Marquez (1988)
One of these days.
18. Rabbit at Rest, John Updike (1990)
I've read the first couple of Rabbit books, which were pretty fantastic. I'll get to this one eventually.
19. On Beauty, Zadie Smith (2005)
No interest.
20. Bridget Jones's Diary, Helen Fielding (1998)
21. On Writing, Stephen King (2000)
This is bizarre. King's non-fiction book about writing/memoir of his near-fatal accident is what makes the list? And not, say, It? Who the hell made this decision? Oh, wait... Stephen King writes a column for EW. Perhaps he was consulted?
22. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Junot Diaz (2007)
Never heard of it. It won the Pulitzer this year? Well... still not gonna read it.
23. The Ghost Road, Pat Barker (1996)
24. Lonesome Dove, Larry McMurtry (1985)
I should've read this by now.
25. The Joy Luck Club, Amy Tan (1989)
Tan gave the commencement speech at my college graduation, but I didn't really meet her, as I did Eggers. Just to clarify.
26. Neuromancer, William Gibson (1984)
27. Possession, A.S. Byatt (1990)
I feel I should want to read this. But I don't.
28. Naked, David Sedaris (1997)
29. Bel Canto, Anne Patchett (2001)
Never heard of it. In fact, I'm gonna skip a few here, about which I can only say, "Never heard of it."
30. Case Histories, Kate Atkinson (2004)
31. The Things They Carried, Tim O'Brien (1990)
32. Parting the Waters, Taylor Branch (1988)
33. The Year of Magical Thinking, Joan Didion (2005)
I actually have heard of this one. Sounds devastating. Won't ever read it.
34. The Lovely Bones, Alice Sebold (2002)
Maybe I'll see the movie, if Peter Jackson ever makes it.
35. The Line of Beauty, Alan Hollinghurst (2004)
36. Angela's Ashes, Frank McCourt (1996)
Here's a book a fella of Irish descent like myself really should've read by now. I may one day, but I haven't yet, and I'm about as informed about it as Jim was on The Office. (Toby: "Who's the main character?" Jim: "Angela. No... the ashes.")
37. Persepolis, Marjane Satrapi (2003)
Slight chance I'll read this, though I have to say I'm not even very interested in seeing the animated film, which I hear is as brilliant as the graphic novel is supposed to be.
38. Birds of America, Lorrie Moore (1998)
39. Interpreter of Maladies, Jhumpa Lahiri (2000)
40. His Dark Materials, Philip Pullman (1995-2000)
Boldfaced and italicized because I've read the first two, then stalled out and didn't read the third. But I will.
41. The House on Mango Street, Sandra Cisneros (1984)
42. LaBrava, Elmore Leonard (1983)
Very cool to see this on here. I've read several of Leonard's books, but not this one yet.
43. Borrowed Time, Paul Monette (1988)
44. Praying for Sheetrock, Melissa Fay Greene (1991)
45. Eva Luna, Isabel Allende (1988)
46. Sandman, Neil Gaiman (1988-1996)
This one is harder to classify as a book, singular, than Watchmen or Persepolis, purely because of its size, but I guess if the Dark Materials series can count as a single item, so can this. And it's not like I'm going to begrudge its inclusion, because it's awesome.
47. World's Fair, E.L. Doctorow (1985)
If I were going to read anything by Doctorow (and I'm not saying I will), it would definitely be Ragtime ahead of this. I'm sure this is quite good too.
48. The Poisonwood Bible, Barbara Kingsolver (1998)
49. Clockers, Richard Price (1992)
50. The Corrections, Jonathan Franzen (2001)
Started reading it. Didn't grab me. Put it down.
51. The Journalist and the Murderer, Janet Malcom (1990)
52. Waiting to Exhale, Terry McMillan (1992)
53. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, Michael Chabon (2000)
I began this once, and didn't get very far into it. I'll get back to it another time, when I can give it a large portion of my attention.
54. Jimmy Corrigan, Chris Ware (2000)
Great pick. One of the saddest books I've ever read.
55. The Glass Castle, Jeannette Walls (2006)
56. The Night Manager, John le Carre (1993)
57. The Bonfire of the Vanities, Tom Wolfe (1987)
Wolfe is one of those authors I always intend to get to, but never do. I'll read this, I'm sure.
58. Drop City, TC Boyle (2003)
Same thing as Wolfe.
59. Krik? Krak! Edwidge Danticat (1995)
Never heard of it, but I like the title.
60. Nickel & Dimed, Barbara Ehrenreich (2001)
I don't have to read it, I'm living it. Well, not really. Still, I don't have to read it, so I won't.
61. Money, Martin Amis (1985)
I read something by Amis once. Didn't really care for it.
62. Last Train To Memphis, Peter Guralnick (1994)
63. Pastoralia, George Saunders (2000)
Totally fantastic. Saunders is great. Read this, I command you!
64. Underworld, Don DeLillo (1997)
This is an odd case: I've read the beginning sequence, which is an amazingly rich and absorbing hundred pages (or so) recounting the Shot Heard 'Round the World. Absolutely loved it. And then I got to the main story, and I lost interest. I've got the book, and I always tell myself I'm going to go back and finish it one day... but I never do.
65. The Giver, Lois Lowry (1993)
66. A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again, David Foster Wallace (1997)
Wait... this makes the list, and not Infinite Jest? (Which, I have to admit, even though I own it, I also have not read... yet.) For its awesome critical reputation, I'd have thought Jest would be in the top ten. Bizarre.
67. The Kite Runner, Khaled Hosseini (2003)
68. Fun Home, Alison Bechdel (2006)
69. Secret History, Donna Tartt (1992)
70. Cloud Atlas, David Mitchell (2004)
71. The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, Ann Fadiman (1997)
72. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Mark Haddon (2003)
This was a great little book. But it reminds me, because I read it immediately afterward: where is Yann Martel's Life of Pi? Is that not a book tailor-made for a list such as this? Odd.
73. A Prayer for Owen Meany, John Irving (1989)
I'm not a big fan of Irving's, but maybe it's because I first tried reading one of his books (The World According To Garp) when I was only 12 or so (when the Robin Williams film version of it came out -- I was a Mork fan, and since I wasn't allowed to see the R-rated movie, I wanted to read the story behind it), and really couldn't grasp it very well. I should (and probably will) give this book a shot, but it's not going to be anytime soon.
74. Friday Night Lights, H.G. Bissinger (1990)
Good movie, good TV show. Don't really feel the need to read the book.
75. Cathedral, Raymond Carver (1983)
I've read a couple of his books, but not this one. I may get to it one day.
76. A Sight for Sore Eyes, Ruth Rendell (1998)
77. The Remains of the Day, Kazuo Ishiguro (1989)
Maybe the most heartbreakingly beautiful book I've ever read.
78. Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert (2006)
79. The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell (2000)
80. Bright Lights, Big City, Jay McInerney (1984)
I read a bunch of McInerney and Bret Easton Ellis in rapid succession back in the early '90s, and have had no desire to revisit either author ever since. Am I missing out on anything?
81. Backlash, Susan Faludi (1991)
82. Atonement, Ian McEwan (2002)
I haven't even seen the movie, though I hear it's excellent.
83. The Stone Diaries, Carol Shields (1994)
84. Holes, Louis Sachar (1998)
I enjoyed this a great deal.
85. Gilead, Marilynne Robinson (2004)
86. And the Band Played On, Randy Shilts (1987)
87. The Ruins, Scott Smith (2006)
Isn't this the horror book about plants that eat people, basically? It's unfair of me to judge without reading it, but I will: that's stupid.
88. High Fidelity, Nick Hornby (1995)
Wonderful book. Though I'd say About a Boy was even better.
89. Close Range, Annie Proulx (1999)
90. Comfort Me With Apples, Ruth Reichl (2001)
91. Random Family, Adrian Nicole LeBlanc (2003)
92. Presumed Innocent, Scott Turow (1987)
Really? I've never read anything by him, but... really? Isn't he, like, a Grisham clone? Oh, god, there's no Grisham on here, is there?
93. A Thousand Acres, Jane Smiley (1991)
94. Fast Food Nation, Eric Schlosser (2001)
I'm wouldn't stop eating at McDonald's if Big Macs were made out of people, so this book is wasted on me.
95. Kaaterskill Falls, Allegra Goodman (1998)
96. The Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown (2003)
Sigh. It's as useless to fight against the inclusion of this dreck on a book list as it is to fight Titanic on a film list.
97. Jesus' Son, Denis Johnson (1992)
Good movie, but bleak. Call this one a maybe.
98. The Predators' Ball, Connie Bruck (1988)
99. Practical Magic, Alice Hoffman (1995)
Oh, man. I hope the book is at least better than that shitty Sandra Bullock movie adaptation.
100. America (the Book), Jon Stewart/Daily Show (2004)
Sure, it's damn funny, and even politically and culturally insightful, but it feels frivolous to include it on a list of great books of the past 25 years. Then again, Dan Brown made the cut, so never mind.

You folks can probably think of a few more books that should be included here, but aren't. I already came up with a couple -- Life of Pi and Infinite Jest -- and I just thought of a third: The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie. Now that it's occurred to me, I'm amazed Rushdie isn't anywhere on the list. Same with Nicholson Baker, who you'd think would've made it, if only for the novelty/controversy, for Vox, or The Fermata. Also, it would've been nice to see something by Steve Erickson on here (take your pick of the many worthy candidates: Rubicon Beach, Tours of the Black Clock, Arc d'X, The Sea Came in at Midnight, Zeroville), though I'm not at all surprised by his absence.

Anything obvious I'm leaving out? Any of these books you want to strongly recommend (or warn me against)? Let it fly in the comments!

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