Favorite Novels

People are so pretentious. The lists of favorite novels on Twitter are absolutely pathetic in their naked desire to look sophisticated.

“1. War and Peace

2. Moby Dick

3. Anna Karenina

4. Brothers Karamazov

5. Infinite Jest”

writes a suburban real estate agent with zero Russian parentage. And then everybody repeats the list with slight variations.

I’m a professional literary critic, so my list updates every week. But even I wouldn’t reread any of the stuff that makes it onto people’s lists even if you paid me to do it.

16 thoughts on “Favorite Novels”

  1. The only one from this list I don’t hate is the Brothers Karamazov. I love Dostoyevsky but deeply dislike Tolstoy’s work. Infinite Jest is completely unreadable fucking torture; works excellent as a doorstop, though.

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  2. I am happy to admit that if I were to pack a trunk of books to take with me to an island it would include things like Harry Potter, Ender’s Game, and Watership Down. I do confess to being fascinated by Tolstoy as a non-fiction writer so maybe we could include some of that.

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  3. Heh. Never encountered Infinite Jest. All those others I have started, but never finished. I have bulldozed my way through a handful of novels that had Major Book Award stickers attached, but can’t recall the plots of any of them.

    I’ve read all the Jane Austen novels through about six times: more than any other novels. So they must be my favorites. Most things I read only once, even if I liked it. Either way, I read much less with age. I’d rather be in the garden.

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    1. Everybody pretends to love War and Peace. But I have a PhD in literature, so I can openly say that it’s not great. Neither is Anna Karenina. Brothers Karamazov is Dostoyevsky’s weakest novel. Ulysses by Joyce is boring. Infinite Jest us stupid. Doctor Zhivago is very bad.

      It’s good not to have to pretend.

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      1. “But I have a PhD in literature, so I can openly say that it’s not great.”

        I read War and Peace during the summer following my first year of university. Nearly every page made me realize that the world was a much, much bigger and far more complicated place than I had ever imagined. As a result, I can confidently say it had more influence on my subsequent life than any novel I subsequently read.

        “Everybody pretends to love War and Peace.”

        Not true in my experience. Most people laugh and roll their eyes as if to say “you’re so pretentious” if you dare to mention it! Very few in the Harry Potter generation claim to have even started reading it.

        The Soviets made an 6+ hour adaptation of Tolstoy’s War and Peace – written, directed, and starring Sergei Bondarchuk – that is truly a major film classic with some amazing, riveting scenes. The backstory of the making of this adaptation provides a peek behind the Potemkin village that was the Soviet Union.

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/War_and_Peace_(film_series)

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  4. This is an interesting post. My favorite novels are:

    Who Fears Death, by Nnedi Okorafor
    2. Jitterbug Perfume, by Tom Robbins
    3. Fanny, by Erica Jong
    Midnight Robber, by Nalo Hopkinson
    Skinny Legs and All, by Tom Robbins
    6. Love in the Time of Unraveling, by Franetta McMillian

    Six is a perfect number, so I will stop here.

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  5. What does “5 favorite novels” even mean?

    Most enjoyable? Biggest emotional impact? Most impressive prose? Most interesting in-novel realties?

    Those are mostly going to be non-overlapping lists for me…

    The only novel on that list I’ve read was Moby Dick which I purely loathed…. I tried starting AK a time or two and was so bored by page three or so that I stopped…

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  6. Favorite is not necessarily the same as good, and certainly my list, insofar as I have one, changes over time.

    My list would be both pretentious and vulgar, because I have read an enjoyed a bunch of classics as well as whatever happened to be lying about. The Divine Comedy and Herodotus, for not-novels examples, I’ve reread many times. Dickens I find a chore; I get why people like Pride and Prejudice, but I didn’t rush out and read everything else Austin wrote once I’d read it. At one time, Cannery Row , for example, would have been near the top, now, Steinbeck’s take on humanity starts to make me ill before I get very far- never finished any of his other novels, despite how wonderful I find his prose. YMMV. And I like SF&F a lot. Thus, with the order and list shifting with time, the amount of sleep/coffee I’ve had, etc.:

    Till We Have Faces – Lewis
    2 . Lord of the Rings
    A Canticle for Leibowitz – Miller
    Lewis’s Space Trilogy
    Lord of the World – Benson
    Moby Freakin’ Dick – so sue me.

    and – a bunch more. Lord of the World is the only entry on my list I didn’t first read decades ago – it has just haunted me, reread it several times. With few exceptions, I don’t even try to read modern novels. Life is too short for wading through haystacks looking for the very occasional needle.

    As I get old(er), my main realization is that I like reading history and philosophy more than novels, and older novels much more than newer ones. But I’m a weirdo.

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      1. (Sheepishly) no. It’s on my save for later list on Amazon. Later hasn’t gotten here yet. Sinclair’s is the translation that thumbed to the point of falling apart, mostly because I find his notes very helpful.

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  7. I mostly hate the Karamazov bros from being repeatedly subjected to the same grand insights from the same small sliver of text that is the grand inquisitor, but the book itself I enjoyed a lot. It may read worse than some of his other books – which I wonder how much is due to the writing and how much is due to patricide status moving away from being a Cosmic Crime to becoming casually necessary to act out – but, hell, below average Dostoevsky is still Dostoevsky.

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  8. I read War and Peace when I was 13. I made sure to bring it with me wherever I went so everyone could see how intelligent and sophisticated I was. Some people haven’t grown up…

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