Tony Grist (poliphilo) wrote,
Tony Grist

Of The Reading Of Books There Is No End

Alan Bennett (80 this weekend) says he prefers contemporary American novels to British ones. This has caused a highly enjoyable fuss. When pressed to be more specific, Bennett hinted he may once have read a book by Philip Roth.

And here's the thing. In order to have a really informed opinion on the modern novel one would have had to have read several thousand books. It's just not doable. I happen to swing the other way from Bennett but what exactly have I read? On the British side: much of Tremain, Atkinson, Waters, Hollinghurst  but nothing by Amis or McEwen. On the American side: one book by Michael Chabon, one by Jane Smiley, one by Donna Tartt, one by deLillo, two or three by Anne Tyler and nothing by Roth. Really I'm expressing a prejudice, nothing more.

Same goes- in spades- for those lists of 1000 books to read before you die or the 100 greatest novels of all time. Has the complier- or team of compilers- really read everything that might stake a claim? Of course not. It's impossible. There's a chap in the Guardian who's working his way through the 100 greatest English novels of all time. And there are hideous, yawning gaps. Of course there are. There's no Kipling. No Barrie. Gissing makes the list but Wells- a much bigger writer- doesn't. Could you possibly exclude Tonobungay if you'd actually read it? I don't think so.

PS. The day after I wrote this The Guardian's Robert McCrum featured Kim in his series on the 100 best English novels.
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