The 61 Postmodern Reading Project

Some books in the PoMoProj

A handful of my friends will attempt to read the books included in the 61 essential postmodern reads compiled by LA Times. I jumped in despite my reading and blogging rut because it looks fun. Besides, these are exquisite books.

This reading project is spearheaded by Aldrin. He dragged three of us into this: Bennard, Mae, and I. Did I miss anyone? Is there anyone out there who’s interested? I don’t know how one is inducted to this project; perhaps one must have a keen liking for postmodern books. So what then is postmodernism?

It’s very hard to put down the set of criteria that makes a book postmodern but I find the play with form and language as key indicators. There’s also the plot, but there are so many postmodern stuff going on out there that I find it hard to distinguish what’s postmodern and what’s not. I must say that this discerning is also part of the fun.

This po-mo project is still sketchy. I suggested setting up a separate group blog but we have a couple of issues with it. We still haven’t agreed where to put it up. I want it on WordPress. I suppose Bennard does, too. Aldrin wants it on Tumblr. Mae, well, she doesn’t blog. Or maybe she blogs secretly. But if the group blog wouldn’t push through, well, I’ll just add another category here. And another list on my already list-infested blog.

There’s also the availability of books. I’m pretty sure that these are hard to find. I heard at least half of the titles for the first time on this list. This is going to be a real challenge. I think it’s even more challenging than Time Magazine’s 100 novels. But yes, this should be fun.

We have no timeline, we have no rules. All we have is a list. So here it is.

Read:

  • 2666 by Roberto Bolano (4-stars)
  • Absalom, Absalom! by William Faulkner (4-stars)
  • Motherless Brooklyn by Jonathan Lethem (5-stars)
  • Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut (4-stars)

Owned and unread and to read (maybe soon):

  • The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood
  • G by John Berger
  • House of Leaves by Mark Danielewski
  • The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana by Umberto Eco
  • JR by William Gaddis
  • The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
  • The Book of Laughter and Forgetting by Milan Kundera
  • Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov
  • The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien
  • The Counterlife by Philip Roth
  • The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy by Laurence Stern

Hunting (these books are on my own reading lists):

  • Naked Lunch by William S. Burroughs
  • At Swim-Two-Birds by Flann O’Brien
  • Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon
  • Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace

To borrow (I figured my sanity would remain intact if I just settle on borrowing these):

  • In Memorium to Identity by Kathy Acker
  • The Hundred Brothers by Donald Antrim
  • New York Trilogy by Paul Auster
  • The Mezzanine by Nicholson Baker
  • The Atrocity Exhibition by J. G. Ballard
  • Giles Goat-Boy by John Barth
  • 60 Stories by Donald Barthelme
  • The Loser by Thomas Bernhard
  • Labyrinths by Jorge Luis Borges
  • Anatomy of Melancholy by Robert Burton
  • If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler by Italo Calvino
  • Hopscotch by Julio Cortazar
  • The Universal Baseball Association, Henry J. Waugh, Proprietor by Robert Coover
  • Log of the S.S. Mrs. Unguentine by Stanley Crawford
  • Great Jones Street by Don Delillo
  • The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick
  • City of God by E.L. Doctorow
  • Out of Sheer Rage: Wrestling With D. H. Lawrence by Geoff Dyer
  • A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers
  • Tours of the Black Clock by Steve Erickson
  • I Am Not Sidney Poitier by Percival Everett
  • Everything Is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer
  • The Tunnel by William Gass
  • The Lime Twig by John Hawkes
  • The Lazarus Project by Aleksandar Hemon
  • Dispatches by Michael Herr
  • Skin by Shelley Jackson
  • Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka
  • Notable American Women by Ben Marcus
  • Wittgenstein’s Mistress by David Markson
  • Remainder by Tom McCarthy
  • Women and Men by Joseph McElroy
  • Edwin Mullhouse by Steven Millhauser
  • The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami
  • American Splendor by Harvey Pekar
  • The Rings of Saturn by W. G. Sebald
  • Hamlet by William Shakespeare
  • Mulligan Stew by Gilbert Sorrentino
  • Trance by Christopher Sorrentino
  • Maus I & II by Art Spiegelman
  • PopCo by Scarlett Thomas
  • John Henry Days by Colson Whitehead

By the way, why isn’t Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell included? Perhaps we should also add our favorite postmodern reads as extensions. What do you think?

30 thoughts on “The 61 Postmodern Reading Project

  1. Oh, wow – great list! I’ve read several, and a few more are on my ever-growing TBR list. I loved Maus I & II. I first got them from the library but then decided to buy them to have in my collection. I just can’t help myself sometimes…

    You’re sure to have fun with this project. Good luck and happy reading!

    Like

    • Hi MJ! Thanks! I know these will be enjoyable books. I had fun with the four books that I read from this list, so I’m really looking forward to it. I’m a bit intimidated though. :D

      Like

  2. I agree with the Tristram Shandy comment, though I remember someone telling me that even Chaucer could be defined as post modern. Stories within stories, narrators to the fore messing with the narrative then arguing with each other. Sounds post modern to me.

    Like

  3. Kheenand’s comment is valid. It is preposterous to categorize Metamorphosis, Hamlet, Tristam Shandy, Scarlet Letter, Absalom, Absalom! as texts that went after modernism proper. Many elements assigned by Western intellectuals to “postmodern” proper are already inherent in high-modernist, modernist works and prior literature. So-called “postmodernism” as a category has become a catch-all phrase that might as well encompass anything. The hidden suppositions behind “postmodernism” as a system of thought (end of grand narratives, everything’s a text, end of history, etc.) serves to reinforce the present exploitative and oppressive order. Then again, there are many good texts that do not subscribe to these suppositions while utilizing what Western academics retroactively hailed as “postmodern” literary techniques.

    Like

    • I get where you’re coming from. But the list isn’t a compilation of notable works from a certain period so much as a celebration of the same as well as the works that unquestionably influenced them. Whatever “postmodern” means, I’d say the list itself is postmodern in its inexactitude and, yes, its preposterousness.

      Like

  4. Hi, Angus. I never knew that Hamlet is po-mo. Now I have to Google what exactly is po-mo and its scope.

    Anyway, I’ve read Donald Antrim’s The Hundred Brothers a few weeks ago, and I found it very interesting! Well, I’ll read anything by Donald Antrim. But The Hundred Brothers was a radical departure from his previous works in terms of narrative style. Very po-mo indeed!

    Like

    • I was surprised to see Hamlet in the list as well. And Absalom (I thought it’s a modernist work). I didn’t bother Googling what really is po-mo because surely, I’d only be opening a can of yucky worms!

      Like

  5. This sounds interesting! If I join this project, do I have to read all the books on that list, or can I just join in whenever I want to? I think postmodern books are those books that don’t fall into any standard genre / style – books that are told or written in a style that is “out of the box.” I’m surprised that Ulysses is not on that list. I’d think that’d be the epitome of postmodernism.

    Anyway, from that list, I’ve only read:
    Margaret Atwood’s “The Blind Assassin”
    Roberto Bolaño’s “2666”
    Jonathan Safran Foer’s “Everything Is Illuminated”
    William Shakespeare’s “Hamlet”
    Kurt Vonnegut’s “Slaughterhouse Five”

    I have copies of:
    William S. Burroughs’ “Naked Lunch”
    Italo Calvino’s “If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler”
    William Faulkner’s “Absalom! Absalom!”
    Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Scarlet Letter”
    Franz Kafka’s “Metamorphosis”
    Milan Kundera’s “The Book of Laughter and Forgetting”
    Thomas Pynchon’s “Gravity’s Rainbow”
    David Foster Wallace’s “Infinite Jest”

    I wonder why The Scarlet Letter is considered postmodern?

    Like

    • There are no rules yet, except you show up even once to the fellow members? Kidding! As I mentioned, it’s still sketchy.

      Personally, we want to complete the list, but since some of the books are obscure, this project would take a while. At this point, it isn’t about completing the list, so we are good with reading a (huge) chunk from the list.

      BTW, please leave your email address (so that we can all discuss this further). It will not be published. Thanks!

      Like

    • Hahaha…ok, fine :P Hmmm…well looking at the list, I can say that I probably won’t want to read everything on that list, but it would be interesting to read and discuss some (maybe most) of books on it.

      Like

  6. You mean “postmodernism” annoyedme? Not really, more of amused. I have grown too familiar with “postmodernism” (my undergraduate thesis dealt with it) and hence find many things said about it entertaining. For instance, if postmodern literature is simply defined as “those books that don’t fall into any standard genre / style” then what is “postmodern” would depend on what form is standard or dominant in a given time and space and that would pretty well encompass much of everything. ;)

    But regardless of the exactitude or lack thereof, the list does have lots of interesting titles (most of which are not postmodern in the proper sense). So far, I’ve only read the following from the 61:

    Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut
    The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood
    G by John Berger
    Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov
    New York Trilogy by Paul Auster
    Labyrinths by Jorge Luis Borges
    If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler by Italo Calvino
    Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka
    The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami
    Hamlet by William Shakespeare

    I’d like to read the following (in order of priority):

    Hopscotch by Julio Cortazar
    Anatomy of Melancholy by Robert Burton
    The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy by Laurence Stern
    The Rings of Saturn by W. G. Sebald
    2666 by Roberto Bolano
    The Book of Laughter and Forgetting by Milan Kundera
    Naked Lunch by William S. Burroughs

    Like

Thoughts? Feelings?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s