Sunday, March 7, 2010

A Mini-Smackdown: Modern Library v. Radcliffe

Finishing the books on the Modern Library's list of Top 100 Novels of the 20th Century inspired me, in a round about way, to start Rose City Reader.  I was so jazzed by finishing the list that I started adopting other Must Read lists.  The Radcliffe Publishing Course's list of Top 100 Novels of the 20th Century immediately caught my eye because it is the declared rival of the Modern Library list.

The Radcliffe list is nagging at me right now. I have only 14 or so books to finish before I have completed the list -- a tantalizingly achievable goal. Having recently finished Where Angels Fear to Tread (reviewed here), I am one step closer.

There is a tremendous amount of overlap between the two lists. If I had to chose which list really represented the "best" 100 novels of the 2th Century, I would pick the Modern Library list for a couple of reasons. First, I think the Radcliffe list leans in general to books that are more popular (Gone with the Wind, for example, which also won the Pulitzer, so I'm not knocking it, but still), while the Modern Library list includes books that are more literary. For example, the Modern Library list includes An American Tragedy, which I thought was heavy going, but it was a groundbreaking work so I agree that it should be on the list.

Second, but along the same lines, the Radcliffe list includes a number of children's books. They are good children's books, but I would have chosen only from books for adults.

Finally, while I understand that the Modern Library list is often criticized for not having "enough" books by women, I think the Radcliffe list overcompensates. I really don't think the list needs three books by Tony Morrison or even three by Virginia Wolf, especially at the expense of some of my favorites from the Modern Library list like A Dance to the Music of Time and The Alexandria Quartet.

I'm open to persuasion. Other thoughts?

If anyone is working on wither list, please let me know. I love to read blogs about these lists. And if you would like to be listed on either of my list posts, please leave a comment here or on my list posts with appropriate links and I will add them.


  1. I am working on the Modern Library list and blogging about it. I've just started, though, so I don't have much up right now. Doing Ulysses at the moment...

  2. You know, it's because of all the Toni Morrison on the Radcliffe list and all the Ayn Rand on the ML Reader's list that I chose the Board's list. To me, if you've read one book by either of those two, you've sort of read them all. I am sure I'll be saying the same thing after I've read my third DH Lawrence and Henry James books on the Board's list. :)

    It sort of bothers me that multiple books by one author made the list. It's almost like they ran out of decent books so they just threw in one author's entire body of work so they could get 100 books. I feel they should have picked one main representative work by each author and then allowed someone else on the list.

  3. Jaunita -- Good luck with the ML list! I'd be happy to add link to your progress reports of reviews. Just leave a comment on my main ML post with your link and I will add it.

    SocrMom -- The ML's "Readers'" list is pretty goofy. I didn't even consider adopting it. Ann Ryand is one thing, but I draw the line at L. Ron Hubbard!

    When I liked an author (Lawrence) I was glad there was more than one book on the list. But when I didn't enjoy an author (James), I got pretty cranky.

  4. I agree! There is no way L. Ron Hubbard rates as one of the best. And certainly, one representative work by each author would be my way of going about creating a list, but I suppose no one asked my opinion. Besides, there are plenty of important novels that didn't make the Modern Library's cut.

  5. Juanita -- You are right! They only picked from a list of 300-something books that had been published by the Modern Library. Fair enough -- it is their list -- but they were not picking from the universe of 20th Century novels.

  6. I agree with you that the Radcliff list overcompensates, or perhaps it just lacks a sufficiently long-term perspective.

    Be that as it may, I admire their "sauce" in taking on the ML list (to borrow a phrase from one of Tolkien's characters). Good for them!


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