An irregular, irreverent, post-modern account of the surreal, the ordinary, and the bizarre happenings on and around the Felia lavender farm in Crete

Saturday, November 12, 2005


Our literary attentions have been turned this week to the existence of lists of novels. They are strange beasts these lists but people seem fascinated and horrified by them in equal measure. Perhaps I should step aside here and give you a couple of links to the sort of thing that we've been discussing.

The Time list - from 1923 onward - novels written in English

The Observer's 100 greatest novels of all time list

As I said, people love and hate these lists in equal measure and everybody who reads such a list will readily identify books that they would have put on such a list that have been omitted and, if they are brave, and the list is ranked, then they will sometimes suggest re-ordering the list - "The Great Gatsby (ranked 38) is a much better novel than Gulliver's Travels (ranked 5)". Very few of these brave and opinionated souls would, of course, care to put in the effort to compile such a list nor submit it to widespread public ridicule, but that is by the by.

Here on the farm we enjoy such lists immensely. Trying to imagine the why's and wherefores of the selctor's criteria is a source of great fun. "Q: Why 1923 as the start date? A: That's whenTime started publication". Commentary on them is fun also - "Is The Great Gatsby a novel or a long novella?" or "Is Fear and Loathing... omitted because it's journalism rather than a novel? If it weren't would it justify a place on he list? " The educational, argumentative, and frankly flippant opportunities such lists and their bastard offspirng give us reason to thank their intrepid producers. Just take alook through this little bunch of comments on the Observer's list if you need convincing that there is sport to be had here.

Because we are all incredibly opinionated when it comes to literature - if you've been reaading this blog for any length of time this will come as no surprise - we've been trying to come up with a way whereby we could produce our own list. And, because we are not cowards but full of our own importance we want to publish it to public ridicule when it is complete. We wouldn't want to spoil other peoples' fun.

In order to get the thing off the ground we have had to come up with a set of inclusion and exclusion rules that are every bit as contrived as anybody else's but which suit our purposes and this has become a major undertaking of itself - see we told you it isn't easy!

So far we have agreed that rather than a list of novels or books it will be a list of writers. It is, we always think, a shame that writers like Raymond Carver cannot make it to these lists because he had the sense to stay away from the novel and stick to his last with the short story. A list of writers then. Prose writers that is, because we, with one exception, aren't big poetry buffs here in Felia. Making it a list of writers rather than particular works allows us to include great writers who have never managed, or have not yet managed, to produce a really great novel. It also obviate the head banging that would go on here about which of a writer's works was his or her best. Choosing Ulysses over Finnegans Wake would not be possible and neither would the obverse decision. So we'll go with the kind of categorisation that the Nobel uses - no one work singled out.

We're sticking with the magic 100 number though. Variously, we have decided that there are 200 great novels or that there are no more than 30 but ... If we go with "A List of 100 Great Writers" we can manage. Please note the use of the indefinite article. As for timescale: well we have finally agreed to go for ALL TIME simply because it has immediate appeal to the avid consumers of such lists. Although, I do have to tell you there is a late vote for "until 2004" as a closing date on the list to ensure that the list is forever in its context. This late vote comes from me and so is very likely to be accepted!

"What about language?", I hear you ask. If it's been translated then it has a chance no matter what language it was written in. Now, that may disadvantage certain tongues, but that's life I'm afraid. If we can have read a book written in Basque it's not a condition that necessarilys exclude stoo many great writers.

So there you have it. We are all butting heads, shouting at the tops of our voices, and dragging volumes from the library to convince other memebrs of the panel (the idea of us as a panel is more than faintly ridiculous). We'll let you know when we finish "A list of 100 great writers who have appeared in the English language up until 2004" (working title).

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