Month 3 – The Modern Library 100 Reading Project

This is Part 3 of my Modern Library 100 Reading Project

Among my friends and relatives, it’s well known that I hate the heat. I used to break out in some kind of rash or welts or something until I was in my mid-20s. Thankfully, that period has passed.

This July, however, was a scorcher. All I wanted to do was hide indoors, play Willie Nelson quietly on my guitar, and drink beers at near-ice temps. I dream of moving my office into the basement. But who am I kidding? The window unit will have to do.

Because of my heat hatred, most of my summer energy goes toward gardening and withstanding the kitchen at Flora Kitchenette, where I cook a couple of days a week.

None of these things, particularly the beer consumption, contributes to prolific reading. And so I have what seems to me a rather pathetic stack of books for July that includes:

  • Animal Farm, George Orwell
  • 1984, George Orwell
  • Sons and Lovers, D.H. Lawrence*
  • Wide Sargasso Sea, Jean Rhys
  • Deliverance, James Dickey*
Yep. That’s them. In no particularly order, apparently.

Hey, five books ain’t so bad! You might think. Except that it takes maybe 2 hours to get through Animal Farm, which I find it difficult to call a novel. You wrote a fairly long allegory there, Mr. Blair.

Wide Sargasso Sea is <200 pages.

1984 is a breeze, too.

Give Yourself Some Credit!

To my credit, I have never read a D.H. Lawrence book. That seems impossible, but I’m 90% certain that it’s true.

The first 100ish pages of Sons and Lovers took me a long while to get through because I had to focus so much on deciphering the dialect. 19th-century colliers didn’t care about 21st-century readers. Bunch of bastards.

Once Walter became less central to the book, my reading picked up speed. His children and wife speak mostly like modern English speakers.

I almost read Women in Love immediately after finishing Sons and Lovers. Something made me pause.

Soon, though.

Biggest Surprise of July’s Reading: Deliverance

An exceptional cover design from a 1970 (first?) print

I’ve seen the movie Deliverance a few times, so I knew what to expect going into the book.

It’s one of those odd instances when I wouldn’t say that the novel stands far above the movie. Each has its merits. That probably has something to do with Dickey writing the screenplay.

The most shocking moment didn’t come when Bobby gets raped or Drew dies or Ed climbs an insurmountable cliff to kill what I believe is probably a random guy out on an illegal deer hunt (but who knows).

Don’t give me any business about spoilers. The books 49 years old and the movie’s not much younger.

The biggest surprise was that the “Squeal like a pig” part never happens. Ole’ Bobby gets raped, but no one tells him to “Squeal like a pig,” nor does Dickey describe his screams as squealing or piglike.

I kept expecting it, but it never came.

The book and movie are equally wonderful works. We should consider them companion pieces.

I Sleep Nightly by Finnegans Wake

To my knowledge, Finnegans Wake is the most feared and looming book on the Modern Library 100 list.

I took a class that focused on Ulysses all semester long. The professor spoke knowledgeably about the book. He had built his career on taking Western novels seriously. As his last class, though, he wanted to teach Ulysses. He had thought deeply about the book, and understood it to a degree that I’ve yet to find in a reader’s guide.

He always wanted us to find joy in the book, so he didn’t give us difficult assignments. He was very much a “yes” person, or at least he inspired us to become “yes” readers.

I wrote my final paper on having dinner with a fellow student I wanted to have sex with. I justified the attempt by imitating prose styles found throughout the book and saying, basically, “Look at all of the sexual longing involved in the events of this day!”

I received an “A.”

I wish I had a copy of that story. Did the man scoff at but enjoy my attempt? Did he scribble “A” on all of the papers without reading them (perhaps while preparing a Scotch to drink whilst reading Joyce)? Did he find my writing amusing, at least? Did he find “amusing” writing odious and insincere?

Who knows? I don’t have a copy, and the man has probably died since. 

My professor dreamed of reading Finnegans Wake during his retirement. I believe he wanted to take a serious stab at it. He wanted to know the book at least as well as we know most of the books that we read.

And he waited for retirement to take the time.

Finnegans Wake sits on my bedside table. It’s one of a dozenish books. Its thickness, name, and author give it so much mental weight.

I’ve read the first few pages and I have no idea.

I plan on waiting until the end of next year, but I’m not waiting much longer than that.

What’s Left?

A whole lot!

I haven’t counted, but I think I’m 15 in. A couple of the Modern Library’s entries are series, though, and I have no idea how long they are.

I just want the days to get shorter and cooler so I can think straight and feel energetic, again.

*Indicates first time I’ve read the book.


Month 2 – The Modern Library 100 Reading Project

During June, I finished:

  • The Catcher in the Rye, JD Salinger
  • Lord of the Flies, William Golding*
  • The Call of the Wild, Jack London
  • Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison
  • The Naked and the Dead, Norman Mailer*

Common Themes in a Diverse Selection of Books

Although I picked these books as randomly as possible, I noticed some common themes in them. The Catcher in the Rye, Lord of the Flies, Invisible Man, and The Naked and the Dead are all, to some extent, about young men confronted with a reality that they did not expect.


Holden gets abandoned by his mother and father, who ship him to boarding schools after his younger brother dies.

All of the children in Lord of the Flies face madness, responsibility, tribalism, threats of death, and actual death in a few cases.

The soldiers in The Naked and the Dead have been thrust into a war that has nothing to do with them. They spend most days sweating in intense heat. At night, the huddle against each other for warmth in chilling rain. Like Lord of the Flies, there’s also the responsibility, tribalism, madness, and just loads upon loads of death.

Invisible Man, I think, is primarily about change. The book’s beauty comes from Ellison’s uses every opportunity to add a new voice. You get the voice of a young black man in college; the voice of that same man as he struggles to make his way in Harlem; yet another voice from that man as he finds authority; and another voice from the man once he embraces his invisibility. He couldn’t have anticipated any of the events that happen to him, but he adjusts to the changing realities as they come.

Let’s Add the Dog, Too, Because He Deserves It

If you accept Buck as a young man instead of a dog, then you can find the same themes in Call of the Wild. I can’t imagine denying that Buck has the same level of consciousness as humans. London gives Buck such a wonderful capacity for thought, cunning, strength, and emotion that you could easily mistake the narrative as one from a person.

On to Month Three

I don’t plan to write much here about the books I read, but I will comment on some things that strike me. What I mean to say is that you shouldn’t expect any book reports from me. Then again, I don’t want post lists without any context or content.

Seeing as how we’re already a week into July, I’ve started month three’s books. So far, I’ve finished 1984 and piked up The Age of Innocense and Women in Love. More on that in a few weeks.

Until then, keep reading.

*Indicates the first time I’ve read the book.