Thursday 31 May 2012

Smiley, Jane "13 Ways of Looking at the Novel"

Smiley, Jane "13 Ways of Looking at the Novel" – 2005

After reading "A Thousand Acres" and "The All-true Travels and Adventures of Lidie Newton", I knew I really loved Jane Smiley's novels.

Therefore, when I saw her non-fiction work about books, I was more than interested. I didn't read this in a couple of days or even a couple of weeks, I read it in bits and pieces. I learned a lot about novels, reading novels and writing novels, the history of a novel, all sorts of interesting facts, quite fantastic. To show you how much she goes into the different aspects of a novel, here is her list of contents:

1.    Introduction
2.    What Is a Novel?
3.    Who Is a Novelist?
4.    The Origins of the Novel
5.    The Psychology of the Novel
6.    Morality and the Novel
7.    The Art of the Novel
8.    The Novel and History
9.    The Circle of the Novel
10.    A Novel of Your Own (I)
11.    A Novel of Your Own (II)
12.    Good Faith: A Case History
13.    Reading a Hundred Novels

In addition to her clarification about the different elements of the novel, she gives a very good introduction for people who would like to write one, two chapters that are also highly interesting for readers.

On page 280 of the 570 pages (of my edition), she starts describing 100 novels she read for this books, beginning with the oldest novel of them all, "The Tale of Genji" by Shikibu Murasaki, written in the early 11th century.

I don't think I infringe on her copyright, when I list the books she describes, you can find that list and a lot more about this highly interesting piece of work on this link at Randomhouse.

If you are even remotely interested in a little bit more than just reading a good novel, if you want to know about what's behind it all, this is the book for you.

So, here is the list of books that I will draw from for the next decade or so ... all of them described very well by an author who knows what she is talking about, all of them seem so interesting and worth reading, I don't think I would need another list of good books for a while (not that it will keep me from looking at any of them). As you can see, I have read a small part of the books on the list already (42 so far), will add links as I'll go through it trying to read more of them:

Murasaki, Lady Shikibu "The Tale of Genji" (Japanese: 源氏物語 Genji Monogatari)- early 11th century
Author unknown, "The Saga of the People of Laxardal" (Icelandic: Laxdæla saga) - 13th century
Sturluson, Snorri "Egil's Saga" (Icelandic) - 1240
Boccaccio, Giovanni "The Decameron" (Italian: Il Decameron, cognominato Prencipe Galeotto) - 1350
Navarre, Marguerite de "The Heptameron" (French: Heptaméron) - 1578
Anonymous "Lazarillo de Tormes" (Spanish: La vida de Lazarillo de Tormes y de sus fortunas y adversidades) - 1554
Cervantes, Miguel de "Don Quixote, vols. 1 and 2" (Spanish: El ingenioso hidalgo don Quijote de la Mancha) - 1605/1615
Lafayette, Madame de "The Princess of Cleves" (French: La Princesse de Clèves) - 1678
Behn, Aphra "Oroonoko" - 1688
Defoe, Daniel "Robinson Crusoe" - 1719, "Roxana: The Fortunate Mistress" - 1724
Richardson, Samuel "Pamela; or, Virtue Rewarded" - 1740
Fielding, Henry "The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling" - 1749
Lennox, Charlotte "The Female Quixote" - 1752
Sterne, Laurence "The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman" - 1759-67
Voltaire "Candide, or Optimism" (French: Candide, ou l'Optimisme) - 1759
Smollett, Tobias "The Expedition of Humphry Clinker" - 1771
Choderlos de Laclos, Pierre "Dangerous Liaisons" (French: Les Liaisons Dangereuses) - 1782
Marquis de Sade, Donatien Alphonse François "Justine" (French: Les Infortunes de la Vertu) - 1791
Scott, Sir Walter "Tales of My Landlord: Old Mortality and The Black Dwarf" - 1816, "The Bride of the Lammermoor" - 1819
Shelley, Mary "Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus" - 1818
Austen, Jane "Persuasion" - 1817
Hogg, James "The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner" - 1824
Stendhal "The Red and the Black" (French: Le Rouge et le Noir) - 1830
Gogol, Nikolai "Taras Bulba" (Ukrainian: Тара́с Бу́льба) - 1835
Lermontov, Mikhail "A Hero of Our Time" (Russian: Герой нашего времени, Geroy nashevo vremeni) - 1840
Balzac, Honoré de "Cousin Pons and Cousin Bette" (French: Le Cousin Pons) - 1847
Brontë, Charlotte "Jane Eyre" - 1847
Brontë, Emily "Wuthering Heights" - 1847
Makepeace Thackeray, William "Vanity Fair. A Novel Without a Hero" - 1848
Beecher Stowe, Harriet "Uncle Tom's Cabin" - 1852
Melville, Hermann "Moby-Dick, or the Whale" - 1851
Hawthorne, Nathaniel "The House of the Seven Gables" - 1841
Flaubert, Gustave "Madame Bovary" (French: Madame Bovary) - 1857
Dickens, Charles "A Tale of Two Cities" - 1859
Collins, Wilkie "The Woman in White" - 1559, "The Moonstone" - 1868
Turgenev, Ivan "Fathers and Sons" (Russian: Отцы и дети, Otcy i Deti)
Zola, Emilie "Thérèse Raquin"  (French: Thérèse Raquin) - 1867
Trollope, Anthony "The Last Chronicle of Barset" - 1867, "The Eustace Diamonds" - 1871
Dostoevsky, Fyodor "The Idiot" (Russian: Идиот, Idiot) - 1869
Alcott, Louisa May "Little Women" - 1868
Eliot, George "Middlemarch" - 1871-72
Tolstoy, Leo "Anna Karenina" (Russian: Анна Каренина/Anna Karenina) – 1877
James, Henry "The Portrait of a Lady" - 1880-81, "The Awkward Age" - 1899
Wilde, Oscar "The Picture of Dorian Gray" - 1890
Stoker, Bram "Dracula" - 1897
Chopin, Kate "The Awakening" - 1899
Conan Doyle, Sir Arthur "The Hound of the Baskervilles" - 1901-02
Conrad, Joseph "Heart of Darkness" - 1902
Wharton, Edith "The House of Mirth" - 1905
Beerbohm, Max "The Illustrated Zuleika Dobson, or an Oxford Love Story" - 1911
Madox Ford, Ford "The Good Soldier" - 1915
Lewis, Sinclair "Main Street: The Story of Carol Kennicott" - 1920 Nobel Prize
Undset, Sigrid "Kristin Lavransdatter" (Norwegian: Kristin Lavransdatter) - 1920 Nobel Prize
Joyce, James "Ulysses" - 1922
Svevo, Italo" Zeno's Conscience" (Italian: La Coscienza di Zeno) - 1923
Forster, E.M. "A Passage to India" - 1924
Scott Fitzgerald, F. "The Great Gatsby" - 1925
Kafka, Franz "The Trial" (German: Der Prozeß) - 1914-15 (written)
Broch, Hermann "The Sleepwalkers" (German: Die Schlafwandler) - 1930-32
Proust, Marcel "In Search of Lost Time" (French: À la recherche du temps perdu) - 1913-27
Lawrence, D.H. " Lady Chatterley's Lover" - 1928
Woolf, Virginia "Orlando" - 1928
Faulkner, William "As I Lay Dying" - 1930 Nobel Prize
Musil, Robert "The Man without Qualities, volume 1" (German: Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften) - 1930
Sholokhov, Mikahil "And Quiet flows the Don" (Russian: Тихий Дон, Tikhiy Don) - 1934 Nobel Prize
Neale Hurston, Zora "Their Eyes Were Watching God" - 1937
Bowen, Elizabeth "The Death of the Heart" - 1938
Wodehouse, P. G. "Ring for Jeeves" (US Title: The Return of Jeeves) - 1953,"Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit" (US Title: Bertie Wooster Sees it Through) - 1954, "Spring Fever" - 1948, "Something Fishy" (US Title: The Butler Did It) - 1957
White, T.H. "The Once and Future King" - 1958
Stead, Christina "The Man Who Loved Children" - 1940
Tanizaki, Jun'ichiro "The Makioka Sisters" (Japanese: 細雪, Sasameyuki) - 1943-48
Nabokov, Vladimir "Lolita" - 1955
West, Rebecca "The Fountain Overflows" - 1957
Mitford, Nancy "The Pursuit of Love and Love in a Cold Climate and Don't Tell Alfred" - 1945
Lee, Harper "To Kill a Mockingbird" - 1960
Carleton, Jetta "The Moonflower Vine" - 1962
Mishima, Yukio "The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea" (Japanese: 午後の曳航, Gogo no Eikō) - 1963
Rhys, Jean "Wide Sargasso Sea" - 1966
Gardner, John "Grendel" - 1971
Munro, Alice "Lives of Girls and Women" - 1971
Mahfouz, Naguib "The Harafish" (Arabic: الحرافيش‎) (in orig. Arabic Malhamat al-harafish) - 1977
Murdoch, Iris "The Sea, the Sea" - 1978
Lodge, David "How Far Can You Go?" (US title: Souls and Bodies) - 1980
Spark, Muriel "Loitering With Intent" - 1981
Tyler, Anne "Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant" - 1982
Kundera, Milan "The Unbearable Lightness of Being" (Czech: Nesnesitelná lehkost bytí) - 1984
Kincaid, Jamaica "Annie John" - 1985
Coetzee, J.M. "Foe" - 1986 Nobel Prize
Morrison, Toni "Beloved" - 1987
Byatt, A.S. " Possession" - 1990
Baker, Nicholson "Vox" - 1992
Keillor, Garrison "WLT: A Radio Romance" - 1991
Atkinson, Kate "Behind the Scenes at the Museum" - 1995
Mistry, Rohinton "A Fine Balance" - 2002
Prose, Francine "Guided Tours of Hell" - 197
Lee, Chang-rae "A Gesture Life" - 1999
Lustig, Arnošt "Lovely Green Eyes" (Czech: Krásné zelené oči) - 2004
Smith, Zadie "White Teeth" - 1999
Updike, John "The Complete Henry Bech" - 2001
McEwan, Ian "Atonement" - 2001
Egan, Jennifer "Look at Me" - 2001

Jane Smiley received the Pulitzer Prize for "A Thousand Acres" in 1992.

From the back cover:

"Pulitzer Prize winner and bestselling novelist Jane Smiley celebrates the novel - and takes us on an exhilarating tour through one hundred of them - in this seductive and immensely rewarding literary tribute.

In her inimitable style - exuberant, candid, opinionated - Smiley explores the power of the novel, looking at its history and variety, its cultural impact, and just how it works its magic. She invites us behind the scenes of novel-writing, sharing her own habits and spilling the secrets of her craft. And she offers priceless advice to aspiring authors. As she works her way through one hundred novels - from classics such as the thousand-year-old
Tale of Genji to recent fiction by Zadie Smith and Alice Munro - she infects us anew with the passion for reading that is the governing spirit of this gift to book lovers everywhere."


  1. This is one of the very best books on the novel. Like you I read it slowly. I will return to her comments when I read or reread a novel she features

    1. I have done that several times, Mel, I read quite a few more books from her list in the meantime than when I came upon this first. And there are a lot more that are on my wishlist.
      Thanks for your visit. I really enjoyed your review of this book.