May 08, 2009, 08:30AM

TIME's 100 Greatest Novels, 1923-2005

Lev Grossman and Richard Lacayo on the list's construction.

Did you consider other lists or awards, such as Pulitzer Prizes, as criteria for inclusion or even as “bonus points” for specific books?LG: We really didn’t. I’ve sat on enough awards committees to know how arbitrary they are. I don’t give them much weight.RL: Did we care whether a book had won prizes? Not at all. The Nobel didn’t get Patrick White on the list. And The Pulitzer has gone to many dreary books.*KL: Concur.One inclusion that confused me at the time that I read it was Watchmen, which is really a short story stretched to novel length by illustrations. To me, it offers none of the complexity of even a short novel like Red Harvest. Tell me about the decision to include a graphic novel in a list of prose works.LG: There are plenty of things to complain about in Watchmen, but a lack of complexity? I couldn’t disagree more! I’m a great believer in the power and importance of graphic novels — or comic books, as I prefer to call them — and I think they’re one of the most exciting things to happen to the novel in the 20th Century. To me the list would have had a hole in it without them.I’ll throw some titles at you that I thought should have made the list or at least been considered. Tell me whether they came up at all, and if so, why they didn’t make the cut.Cry the Beloved Country
Tender is the Night
A Confederacy of Dunces
Something Wicked This Way Comes
Empire FallsThe Dud AvocadoLG: Now we’re really going to expose the ugly underbelly of subjectivity in this list. A Confederacy of Dunces- I’ve always felt this book was rather heavy-handed and unfunny and hence over-rated. I know it’s beloved by many, and I’m buying myself some serious ire by saying that, but if there’s one rule I have as a critic, it’s never lie. And I couldn’t in all honesty put that book on the list, because I just don’t feel it’s great.Tender is the Night was a tougher decision, it’s a beautiful novel with reams of great writing in it, but I think ultimately it’s slightly overstuffed and ungainly and melodramatic, especially when you put it next to the jewel-like perfection that is The Great Gatsby, which I think is better suited to represent Fitzgerald on the list.I could go on slagging the classic works you’ve listed, but you get the general idea. I’ll just add that, to my shame, I had never read or heard of The Dud Avocado. There’s that ugly underbelly I was talking about.RL: I read Cry the Beloved Country long ago, but wasn’t moved to re-visit it. I like Confederacy , but wasn’t in love with it. Tender is the Night was on my short list - an adolescent favorite, adolescents love doom. But Fitzgerald’s problem is that he wrote one book so perfect it makes everything else he wrote look a bit dim, even the good things. The Dud Avocado - I’ll have to go looking for that one.



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