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Montana State University Communications Services

Shakespeare, Bible top MSU's 100 Best Books List

by Carol Schmidt

04/18/00 BOZEMAN - -Shakespeare made MSU’s cut. So did Aeschylus, Proust, Salinger and Grimm. In fact, Montana State University’s list of the 100 best books ever written is an ambitious compendium of volumes -- some familiar, some obscure to the American mainstream -- that is sure to spark controversy and a good deal of late night reading.

Michael Sexson, the MSU English professor who commissioned his English 300 class to develop the MSU Top 100, would have it no other way.

"I’m quite sure the list will be debated," he said. "And that is fruitful because it opens up discussions on such things as quality and canon."

The MSU 100 was inspired by the Modern Library’s listing of the 100 best American novels of the century, Sexson said. That list, criticized because it reflected a bias of the older white males that were polled to compile it, has spawned several other "Best Lists." However, few tackled world literature, and Sexson thought it would be interesting to assemble a list unrestricted by time or cultural boundary. His charge to his fall semester English 300 class, composed mostly of upper level English majors, was to draw up a list of the books that intelligent and curious people should read. It was a difficult task, particularly because the students chose from 3,000 years of literature. But the students finished the course having contributred to something lasting.

Gwen Squyres, a senior majoring in English from Lancaster, Calif. who aspires to become an English professor, said researching the list was a great education. The class of 45 students broke up into five groups. Each group researched, presented and defended their choices first to their group and then to the class. The surviving choices were tabulated and combined. Squyres, who argued for Dostoevsky’s "Brother Karamazov," number nine, said students came to believe passionately about the books they nominated.

"The process gave voice to even the quiet people in the class, the ones who rarely said anything," Squyres said. "You’d see them arguing vocally for books they believed in."

It is, as Squyres and Sexson point out, a riotous salad of selections. Familiar books such as Shakespeare and The Bible top the list but also included are books that may be new to Montanans, such as "Kathasaritsagara" by Somadeva (Indian), the Polish author Jan Potaki’s "Manuscript found at Saragossa," and Claude Levi Straus’ "Tristes Tropiques." There’s poetry and allegory, fairy tables, philosophy as well as traditional novels.

Does the list reflect Sexson’s influence and literary taste?

"Of course," Sexson says with a Puckish smile. "Clearly, these are my students and I’m bound to have an influence. Although it is not the list I would make all by myself."

And if the list sparks controversy, even heated debate, so much the better, he said. It will inspire strengthening of the list.

So far, the list has done nothing but enhance the sales of literature at the MSU Bookstore, which has a display of books on the MSU 100.

Scott McLeod, trade book manager at the MSU Bookstore, says that several books that had been collecting dust in other corners of the bookstore have sold out and restocked -- some several times -- since regrouped with the "MSU’s 100" display.

"We’ve been going through these books like wildfire," McLeod said. And the only criticism he has heard has been his own.

"I’ve told Mike you gotta’ put ‘The Count of Monte Cristo" on there," he says.

To which Sexson smiles. "I’ll give that feedback to the class next fall. I expect to do it again..."

MSU’s Top 100 Books List follows. It is also posted at:



MSU’s Top 100 Books

1. The Collected Works of Shakespeare

2. The Bible

3. Don Quixote-Cervantes

4. Homer's Iliad/Odyssey

5. Ovid's Metamorphoses

6. Finnegans Wake-James Joyce

7. Oresteia of Aeschylus

8. Tao Te Ching-Lao Tzu

9. The Brothers Karamazov--Dostoevsky

10. Alice in Wonderland-Lewis Carroll

11. To the Lighthouse-Virginia Woolf

12. 100 Years of Solitude----Garcia Marquez

13. Pale Fire--Nabokov

14. Divine Comedy--Dante

15. Poems of Wallace Stevens

16. Arabian Nights

17. War and Peace--Tolstoy

18. Beloved-Toni Morrison

19. Collected Fictions of Jorge Luis Borges

20 Heart of Darkness--Conrad

21. Anecdotes of Destiny-Isak Dinesen

22. Oedipus Trilogy--Sophocles

23. Marriage of Cadmus & Harmony-Roberto Calasso

24. Katasaratsagura (Oceans of Story) Somadeva

25. Chekhov's Short Stories

26. Bhagavad Gita

27. Ulysses James Joyce

28. Grimm's Fairy Tales

29. Invisible Man Ralph Ellison

30. Absalom Absalom Wm Faulkner

31 Women in Love DH Lawrence

32. Lolita Vladimir Nabokov

33. Plato: Dialogues

34. Remembrance of Things Past Marcel Proust

35. The Tin Drum- Gunter Grass

36. Flannery O'Connor: Short Stories

37. Great Expectations-Charles Dickens

38. Molloy, Malone Dies, The Unnamable Samuel Beckett

39. Interpretation of Dreams- Freud

40. Canterbury Tales-Chaucer

41. Four Quartets-TS Eliot

42. Madame Bovary Gustave Flaubert

43. Midnight's Children Salman Rushdie

44. Tristram Shandy Lawrence Sterne

45. Yeats: Collected Poems

46. Golden Bough James Frazer

47. Wind in the Willows Kenneth Grahame

48. Pride and Prejudice Jane Austen

49. The Black Prince Iris Murdoch

50. Manuscript found at Saragossa Jan Potaki

51. Bacchae Euripides

52. Vanity Fair Wm Thackery

53. Metamorphosis: Kafka

54. Aeneid-Virgil

55. Tristan & Iseult

56. Collected Poems of William Blake

57. Golden Ass of Apuleius

58. Waiting for Godot/Endgame Samuel Beckett

59. Collected Poems of Emily Dickenson

60. Moby Dick Herman Melville

61. Speak, Memory Vladimir Nabokov

62. Phaedre- Jean Racine

63. Poetics of Aristotle

64. Fathers and Sons Ivan Turgenev

65. Lysistrata (Aristophanes)

66. A Doll's House Henrik Ibsen

67. Importance of Being Earnest- Oscar Wilde

68. Farewell to Arms-Ernest Hemingway

69. Charlotte's Web EB White

70. Huckleberry Finn Mark Twain

71. Leaves of Grass Walt Whitman

72. If On a Winter's Night Italo Calvino

73. Jane Eyre Charlotte Bronte

74. Storyteller Maria Vargos Llosa

75. Heraclitus-Fragments

76. Wuthering Heights (Emily Bronte)

77. Epic of Gilgamesh

78. The Idiot of Dostoevsky

79. Tess of the Durbervilles Thomas Hardy

80. Tale of Genji--Lady Murisaki

81. Montaigne's Essays

82. Walden Henry David Thoreau

83. Native Son- Richard Wright

84. On Nature-Emerson

85. Dr. Faustus Christopher Marlowe

86. To Kill a Mockingbird Harper Lee

87. Gargantua and Pantagruel Rabelais

88. Paradise Lost John Milton

89. Tom Jones Henry Fielding

90. Native Son, Richard Wright

91. The Art of Memory-Frances Yates

92. Middlemarch-George Eliot

93. At Play in the Fields of the Lord- Peter Matthiessen

94. All the Pretty Horses Cormac McCarthy

95. Candide-Voltaire

96. Genealogy of Morals- Fredrich Nietzsche

97. Passage to India-EM Forster

98. The Sea the Sea-iris Murdoch

99. Tristes Tropiques-Claude Levi-Strauss

100. Their Eyes were Watching God---Zora Neale Hurston

Send questions or comments to Carol Schmidt: Or you can send letters to Carol Schmidt, MSU Communications Services, 416 Culbertson Hall, Bozeman, MT 59717.

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