by Carol Schmidt
04/18/00 BOZEMAN - -Shakespeare made MSUs cut. So did Aeschylus, Proust, Salinger and Grimm. In fact, Montana State Universitys 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.
"Im 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 Librarys 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 Dostoevskys "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. "Youd 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 Potakis "Manuscript found at Saragossa," and Claude Levi Straus "Tristes Tropiques." Theres poetry and allegory, fairy tables, philosophy as well as traditional novels.
Does the list reflect Sexsons influence and literary taste?
"Of course," Sexson says with a Puckish smile. "Clearly, these are my students and Im 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 "MSUs 100" display.
"Weve been going through these books like wildfire," McLeod said. And the only criticism he has heard has been his own.
"Ive told Mike you gotta put The Count of Monte Cristo" on there," he says.
To which Sexson smiles. "Ill give that feedback to the class next fall. I expect to do it again..."
MSUs Top 100 Books List follows. It is also posted at: http:www.msu.edu/wwwpb/univ/msu100.html.
MSUs 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
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
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
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: firstname.lastname@example.org. Or you can send letters to Carol Schmidt, MSU Communications Services, 416 Culbertson Hall, Bozeman, MT 59717.
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