You will recall that back near the middle of last month, I had a post referring to Robert McCrum’s personal list of the 100 best novels of all time in English. I took issue with some of McCrumb’s choices and, apparently, so did some of The Guardian‘s readers (which is probably what the newspaper had in mind all along). The paper asked readers to come up with their own choices, and this alternative list is the result. Although Book Riot‘s Kelly Jensen goes over the top in characterizing the alternative list as “worlds better” than the original (it isn’t), it does deepen and extend McCrumb’s list, offering more equitable representation to authors and works of modern times, and painting a much more accurate picture of the literary work that has shaped the English-speaking consciousness for the last 300 years.
McCrumb’s original list presents the love and strife of life within a world that, despite its conflicts, is essentially whole. The works on the alternative list, from Achebe to Piercy, show us a world fundamentally fractured, with women and men bravely, sometimes desperately, trying to keep it together.
This, then, is my question: is the world in which we live a “whole” place, though riven here and there with conflicts, like fault lines on a geologic map? Or is the world, as Achebe and McCarthy and Atwood and Wallace would have us believe, cracked at its core and impossible to preserve because the principles by which we live are not sound enough for our survival?