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Q&A With Lev Grossman From Time: Part 2

Today’s post is the second part of my Q&A with Lev Grossman, senior writer and book critic at Time Magazine. Lev was one of two critics who selected the Time 100 list. For a recap, check out part one.

On with the questions.

101 Books: Any books you discovered for the first time during the selection process?

Lev: There’s nothing on there that I’d never actually heard of. But it was the first time I’d had an actual occasion to read, for example, The Painted Bird. For some books it’s never the right time, until it is.

101 Books: Over the last few years, I’m sure you’ve received a lot of feedback on the list. What are some books you hear the most about—included or excluded?

Lev: J.K. Rowling. Amy Tan. Paul Auster. Frank Herbert. Actually I feel pretty bad about Dune. Maybe that’s my 101st book.

101 Books: Having written several novels yourself, with The Magician King released last week, which writers and/or books on the list have inspired your writing?

Lev: Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep is a master-class in voice and plotting. Mrs. Dalloway is a benchmark to shoot for and never reach, in every respect. The clarity of Orwell’s prose is beyond inspiring. The rich, contemporary psychological reality of The Corrections is a constant reminder of what is possible.

101 Books: I’ve read 23 of the 100 since I started this project. Any advice for me as I attempt to complete the entire list?

Lev: I am a great non-finisher of novels. I’m not a completist — it’s just a fact of the medium that not all novels are for all people. If I’m not understanding what’s great, or at least pleasurable or exciting, about a novel by halfway through, I say a silent prayer for forgiveness and put it down forever.

101 Books: Any other interesting facts about the selection process or the list in general?

Lev: I wanted the list to run from 1900 to 2000. I thought the 1923 start date was just silly — for one thing it makes it hard to compare our list to other comparable best-of-the-century lists. And the loss of Ulysses (1922) alone is just annoying. But I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how much attention and debate have come out of the list. There’s a sticker on the cover of Watchmen now. There’s glory for you. That makes the whole thing worthwhile.

My Thoughts

  • I’ve got to admit, Lev’s comment about Mrs. Dalloway made me want to go crawl in a hole. I’m not a fan of the book, but maybe I just missed the boat on Virginia Woolfe. I totally agree with him about Orwell and The Corrections.
  • I wish I could just “put a book down” if I’m not enjoying it. But, for me, to complete the entire list and feel that sense of accomplishment, I have to read every book, start to finish.
  • I totally agree with him about the 1923 start date, which was selected because that’s the year Time Magazine started.  It is silly. I think 1900-2000 would have made much more sense.

Thanks again to Lev Grossman for taking the time to answer these questions. Also, Check out Lev’s site and find out a little more about his brand-new novel, The Magician King, which is currently a top 100 book on Amazon.

To wrap this up, here’s a question: Lev says he feels bad about leaving Dune off the list. What are some books that you believe should’ve been on the Time list?

19 Comments Post a comment
  1. Teresa #

    That’s easy. Either “Art & Lies” or “Sexing the Cherry” by Jeannette Winterston. Her sensuous, rich prose in “Art & Lies” is beyond belief. I savored that short book for about a month. “Sexing the Cherry” kind-of falls into fantasy genre – in that it is inventive and fantastic. Both are very inventive.


    August 16, 2011
  2. Teresa #

    I love what Lev says about not completing a book. I understand why Gone With the Wind is great – but I just can’t bring myself to read the second half. Also, I’ve been missing the boat on “The Corrections”. It’s pretty difficult entering the sordid psyches of those characters – and I’ve found it depressing. But I think I’ll give it another try. As for Mrs. Dalloway, a-a-ah, he is totally right! 😉


    August 16, 2011
  3. Although I haven’t read Dune yet (it’s on my stack of books to read) everything I’ve heard about it says that it very well could be on this list. I’d like to see Ender’s Game on this list, which myself and many other consider one of the greatest books ever written. Going away from my SciFi/Fantasy bias I’d also suggest A Separate Peace by John Knowles. We read that book in my junior year of high school in English class and it’s one of the few books from school that I have reread after school was over, a wonderful book.


    August 16, 2011
  4. Dominick Sabalos #

    I would have liked to see Ender’s Game on the list. It’s one of those books that if you read it when you’re still (mentally) young/open, leaves a huge impression – not that there aren’t plenty of those on there already, but I have a soft spot for Ender’s Game. It would also be a better sci fi representative than Dune – Dune is a great book, very imaginative and thought-through, but the writing style is very.. dry, and prosaic. Plus the sequels get silly quickly.

    While I’m on a sci fi bent, The Stars My Destination by Alfie Bester belongs next to books like Ender’s Game and Snow Crash in discussions like that, for what it’s worth.

    On a different note, I quite enjoy the limitation from 1923 – it’s different, and somewhat interesting, and underlines the fact that the list isn’t an all time/best of list, but a list specific to Time, making the point that the list’s as much about the magazine and its contributors as it is about the books. And Ulysses is such a behemoth of a book that its ‘loss’ just means there was one less really obvious pick. On the other hand, a cut-off at 2000 would have spared us having Atonement on there. Plus, when I first saw the list a few years ago, the one book I was really sad not to see on there was G K Chesterton’s brilliant half-mystery novel, half-comedy, half-Christian allegory The Man Who Was Thursday, until I realised it was published fifteen years of so before the cut-off date 🙂

    Again, thanks for the interview.


    August 16, 2011
    • B Day #

      I agree – it would have been nice to have The Man Who was Thursday. Hilarious and brilliant!


      August 16, 2011
  5. Wathership Down by Richard Adams
    Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Pattison
    Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White
    Sophie’s World by Jostein Gaarder
    Sarum by Edward Rutherford*
    The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
    Very few people are aware of this book, but I consider it a masterwork in the historical fiction genre.


    August 16, 2011
  6. I loved this interview.
    I laughed at the Dalloway commentary. I read that book in a literature/psych class and it was definitely interesting because we peeled back the layers– and boy are there layers.
    I’ve never read Dune. That feels weird to admit.
    I like the 1923 date. It sets them apart.
    I’m not really sure about adding anything other than Rowling.


    August 16, 2011
  7. Definitely agree with adding Dune but not the sequels. Would also add Walter M. Miller, Jr.’s, A Canticle for Leibowitz for post-apocalyptic SF. (More on that later when I’m done with Neuromancer.)


    August 16, 2011
  8. B Day #

    I would suggest adding one of Jasper Fforde’s Thursday novels…perhaps The Well of Lost Plots. They are the most brilliantly creative thing I have ever read.


    August 16, 2011
  9. “I wish I could just “put a book down” if I’m not enjoying it. But, for me, to complete the entire list and feel that sense of accomplishment, I have to read every book, start to finish.”

    I agree – I think there are only three books I have never finished, and I will go back and read them one day: Robert Penn Warren’s All The Kings Men, Ralph Ellison’s The Invisible Man and John Steinbeck’s East of Eden. I think I was to young to appreciate/understand them.


    August 16, 2011
  10. @Teresa: I hated the first 100 pages of Gone with the Wind but loved the balance of the book.

    @Adam: Thank you for reminding me of A Separate Peace! I loved that book when I read it (probably at the same age). For some reason, that story has stuck with me.

    I would agree that Dune should be on the list: it’s a great book. I’d also like to suggest another Canadian book (which I read around the same time as A Separate Peace), called Lost in the Barrens by Farley Mowat. Is it different from previous books? Likely not (I haven’t read Jack London, but I suspect it may have similar content), but I’m biased toward more Canadian content! For content that is new (and Canadian) how about Douglas Coupland’s Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture. Terms we use a lot now came from that book–Gen X, McJob.

    As for the number of women, I would definitely love to see/read more. Why is it when women weren’t supposed to write, they wrote like crazy! The 18th and 19th century rocked women writers–what happened to the 20th century?


    August 16, 2011
  11. I agree with Mr Grossmann on giving up on books halfway through if they just don’t capture your attention or evoke any joy. I just gave up on Joseph Conrad’s “The Secret Agent” halfway through.
    With your 101 books project, that’s not an option of course 😛


    August 19, 2011
  12. Keep up the great work Robert. You are very good at this. I enjoy reading your funny thoughts.


    December 4, 2012

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