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Greatest British Novels I’ve Read

British Flag

When BBC Culture asked book critics to name the top 100 British novels and then published the results earlier this month, I couldn’t resist going through the list to see how many I’d read. As it turns out, I’ve only read 15 of them:

  • The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman (Laurence Sterne)
  • Heart of Darkness (Joseph Conrad)
  • Gulliver’s Travels (Jonathan Swift)
  • The Lord of the Rings (J.R.R. Tolkien)
  • Jude the Obscure (Thomas Hardy)
  • Frankenstein (Mary Shelley)
  • Nineteen Eighty-Four (George Orwell)
  • A Clockwork Orange (Anthony Burgess)
  • David Copperfield (Charles Dickens)
  • Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (Lewis Carroll)
  • The Forsyte Saga (John Galsworthy)
  • Animal Farm (George Orwell)
  • A Room with a View (E.M. Forster)
  • Remains of the Day (Kazuo Ishiguro)
  • Sons and Lovers (D.H. Lawrence)

I do have Mrs. Dalloway (Virginia Woolf) on my Kindle, so sometime next year I’ll make it 16. Until then, however, I’ve got some nonfiction to catch up on.

For more from the BBC, see “What makes a ‘Great British Novel’?”

5 Hits That Ripped Off Classical Pieces

Beethoven

Here’s a list of five modern songs that were more than a little influenced by music written centuries earlier:

  • “Can’t Help Falling in Love,” Elvis Presley, 1961
    Plasir d’Amour, Jean-Paul-Egide Martini, 1784
  • “A Groovy Kind of Love,” The Mindbenders, 1965
    Op. 36, 6 Sonatinas for Piano, Muzio Clementi, 1797
  • “Because,” The Beatles, 1969
    Moonlight Sonata, Ludwig van Beethoven, 1801
  • “Don’t Look Back in Anger,” Oasis, 1996
    Canon in D Major, Johann Pachelbel, 1694
  • “A Whiter Shade of Pale,” Procul Harum, 1967
    Orchestral Suite No. 3 (Air), Johann Sebastian Bach, 1730

From Betts G: Infographic Guide To Music; Cassell; 2014 via Guitar Player.

Literary Lapses

William Shakespeare

Sometimes even the best writers make mistakes. Here are a few.

Daniel Defoe
Robinson Crusoe comes out of the water naked to board a ship, then fills his pockets with biscuits.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
According to the author, Dr. Watson suffered a war injury. In A Study in Scarlet the injury was to Watson’s shoulder, but in The Sign of Four, it has moved to his leg.

Carl Sandburg
In Abraham Lincoln–The Prairie Years, Sandburg has Lincoln’s mother singing a song that was not written until twenty-two years after her son’s death.

William Shakespeare
The bard wrote of a cannon in the reign of King John (cannons were unknown until about 150 years later); of clocks striking the hour in the days of Julius Caesar; and of printing in the days of King Henry II.

From Strouf, Judie LH: Literature Lover’s Book of Lists: Serious Trivia for the Bibliophile; Prentice Hall; 1998.

My Top 10 Favorite Last Lines from Novels

Books

When Stephen Covey penned “Begin with the end in mind” as the second habit in his book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, he wasn’t referring to novel writing, but it’s great advice nevertheless for anyone wishing to write a novel. Just as novelists must work and rework the first lines of their creations to engage readers from the start, so must novelists regard last lines in terms of importance—it’s been said that the opening lines sell the book, while the last line sells the next book. I’m nowhere near finishing my second novel, but I’ve had the end in mind for some time now, and I’ve been thinking a lot about last lines. In no particular order, here are my top 10 favorite last lines from novels:

“…you must go on, I can’t go on, I’ll go on.”
Samuel Beckett, The Unnamable

“All that is very well,” answered Candide, “but let us cultivate our garden.”
Voltaire, Candide

“His father and grandfather could probably no more understand his state of mind than they could understand Chinese, but those who know him intimately do not know they they wish him greatly different from what he actually is.”
Samuel Butler, The Way of All Flesh

“yes I said yes I will Yes.”
James Joyce, Ulysses

“L—d! said my mother, what is all this story about?— A COCK and a BULL, said Yorick—And one of the best of its kind I ever heard.”
Laurence Sterne, The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy

“So in America when the sun goes down and I sit on the old broken-down river pier watching the long, long skies over New Jersey and sense all that raw land that rolls in one unbelievable huge bulge over to the West Coast, and all that road going, all the people dreaming in the immensity of it, and in Iowa I know by now the children must be crying in the land where they let the children cry, and tonight the stars’ll be out, and don’t you know that God is Pooh Bear? the evening star must be drooping and shedding her sparkler dims on the prairie, which is just before the coming of complete night that blesses the earth, darkens all rivers, cups the peaks and folds the final shore in, and nobody, nobody knows what’s going to happen to anybody besides the forlorn rags of growing old, I think of Dean Moriarty, I even think of Old Dean Moriarty the father we never found, I think of Dean Moriarty.”
Jack Kerouac, On the Road

“Then I went back into the house and wrote, It is midnight. The rain is beating on the windows. It was not midnight. It was not raining.”
Samuel Beckett, Molloy

“I shall feel proud and satisfied to have been the first author to enjoy the full fruit of his writings, as I desired, because my only desire has been to make men hate those false, absurd histories in books of chivalry, which thanks to the exploits of my real Don Quixote are even now tottering, and without any doubt will soon tumble to the ground. Farewell.”
Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quixote

“The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.”
George Orwell, Animal Farm

“And I go home having lost her love. And write this book.”
Jack Kerouac, The Subterraneans

My Top 10 Favorite Guitar Riffs

In no particular order, here are the songs containing my top 10 favorite guitar riffs:

  • Day Tripper (The Beatles)
  • I Feel Fine (The Beatles)
  • Can’t Explain (The Who)
  • Paperback Writer (The Beatles)
  • Rebel Rebel (David Bowie)
  • Couldn’t I Just Tell You (Todd Rundgren)
  • Purple Haze (Jimi Hendrix)
  • Ticket to Ride (The Beatles)
  • Last Train to Clarksville (The Monkees)
  • Johnny B. Goode (Chuck Berry)

Fictional Characters Bearing Their Creators’ Names

Sarah Crown posted an interesting bit in The Guardian’s books blog, “Is auto-fiction strictly a boys’ game?” The subject was the phenomenon of authors who insert a character bearing their name into their work. It turns out that a number of books—both new and not so new—have used this device, a fact that interested me greatly, as I used it in my novel, Pixels of Young Mueller. I have compiled this list of books from the article:

  • Jonathan Coe (The Terrible Privacy of Maxwell Sim)
  • Damon Galgut (In a Strange Room)
  • Geoff Dyer (Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi)
  • Will Self (Will Self Walking to Hollywood)
  • Michel Houellebecq (La Carte et le Territoire)
  • Alberto Manguel (All Men Are Liars)
  • Philip Roth (Operation Shylock)
  • Jonathan Safran Foer (Everything is Illuminated)
  • E. L. Doctorow (World’s Fair)
  • Frederick Exley (A Fan’s Notes)
  • Vladimir Nabokov (Pnin)
  • Amelie Nothomb (Une forme de vie)
  • Gertrude Stein (Autobiography of Alice B Toklas)

Readers familiar with my novel know that its main character, Klaus Mueller, creates a fictional character named Jerry Schwartz. I knew that I could not have been the first to do this, but I was not aware of any specific instances in which it had been done. Fortunately, Sarah Crown has come to the rescue, and while I don’t agree with her use of “auto-fiction” to describe the literary device itself, I applaud her efforts.

My Favorite Albums of 2008

Arena

Here are my favorite albums of 2008 in order of preference.

Arena (Todd Rundgren)
Without a doubt, my most-listened-to album of 2008. Some of my fave moments on the album remind me of P.O.V. (Utopia), and I enjoy all the rest as well.

Earth to the Dandy Warhols (The Dandy Warhols)
Great stuff, and like Arena, a pleasant mix of old sounds and new in terms of the respective artists and their output. With the exception of “Mis Amigos,” I gave these tracks lots of plays. It seems like I waited forever for this album, and the Dandys made it worth the wait.

Funplex (The B-52’s)
The B-52’s have always been a guilty pleasure of mine, and this album was no exception. I would have preferred more of the distinctive guitar sounds I have come to enjoy from this group, but that did not detract from the fun.

Brown Submarine (Boston Spaceships)
This debut CD from Robert Pollard’s new band got my vote for Surprise of the Year. I sometimes listen to a song I really like over and over, and “Two Girl Area” (track 5) was one of those in 2008.

My Favorite Plays by William Shakespeare

William Shakespeare

I’ve read all of Shakespeare’s plays at least once, and I’ve read many of them numerous times. Here are my top 10 favorites:

  • Hamlet
  • Henry IV, Part 1
  • Henry IV, Part 2
  • Henry V
  • Henry VI, Part 1
  • Henry VI, Part 2
  • Henry VI, Part 3
  • Macbeth
  • The Merchant of Venice
  • Romeo and Juliet

It wasn’t easy getting the list down to ten, but each time I tried, the Henry plays made the list. They are so underrated—I hope to read them again someday.

Books I Read in 2013

I read fewer books this year than ever—and I thought last year was bad! Despite the fact that the reasons for this are really good ones, it is with slight embarrassment that I present this meager list of books I read in 2013:

  • The Zen of Social Media Marketing (Shama Kabani)
  • Coincidences (Maria Savva)
  • Databases Demystified, 2/e (Andy Oppel)
  • Burmese Days (George Orwell)

Next year can only be better. I’m in the middle of a huge book now and have started two others (all nonfiction), so I’m off to a good start.