Notes Upon Completion

Well, it took me just shy of 15 years to read the Modern Library's 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century. I was shooting for 10 years, thinking 10 books per year was about my reading pace (i.e., not fast). But the Modern Library snuck in, on more than one occasion, books that...although they only occupied a single spot on the list...were actually series of multiple books. So that's one excuse. That and: Boring, difficult books might take the better part of a year to read, with no motivation to keep reading other than to get through them (lookin' at you Henry James, James Joyce, & Malcolm Lowry).

Clive & Marianne Cushing

I have all 100 books in order...MY order... on my bookshelf at home, such that my favorites occupy the top shelves, at eye level, and my least favorites you'd have to bend really far down, squat uncomfortably, or sit on the floor to even see the spines of. It's a nice way to do it because if I have houseguests looking for something to read, anything on the top two shelves I can recommend to almost anyone. A Passage to India is currently the only one missing, having been loaned out to Amanda a few years ago. I've asked for it back but like to think she still has it (and my Sequence boardgame) because it's so good. I suspect the next exact copy I see in a used bookstore I'll pick up to replace it. The shelving is topped by a framed photo of my maternal grandparents on their first date (he took her up in a biplane at Moffett Field; would've been the late 1930s), their Seth Thomas clock (given to them on their wedding day by his parents), some wooden headdress statuettes my dad got in the Navy in Lagos Nigeria in the 1960s, and a small decorative oxidized-metal snake that belonged to my mother. It's always been funny to me that despite being hyperfeminine, she loved snakes. I started said reading project just as she had died, 15 years ago. On the first shelf, in addition to books, I've got a vintage coin-operated fortune-telling napkin holder (my uncle gave me when I graduated from high school); no one visiting my home who catches sight of it can resist dropping a penny in. A low-light plant occupies the second shelf and acts as sort of a bookend for that row, which is also where I secrete the key to wind the clock.


The bookshelf, and I, reside today in an energy-efficient modular home I erected a year and a half ago in Barre Vermont. It was a long process that started before that with buying land (itself a long process of looking). The home effectively heats & cools itself through a combination of an air exchanger & a heat pump. The whole house is electric and is powered by solar panels. The building envelope is sealed and the walls are thick; it stays warm in winter & cool in summer with minimal effort. I produce more electricity than I use, so my average monthly bill (you have to pay taxes & fees just by virtue of being tied into the grid, even if your consumption is 0) is about $15. I love our old housing stock here in Vermont. My understanding is that we have the second oldest in the nation! But if you are building a NEW home in the Northeast, it's incumbent on ALL of us to build to a modern standard. I also added a stick-built garage on the land just last summer; two-car, tandem, nose-to-tail. The house—only about 1000sf—is long and skinny, and so is the garage (because the parcel of land is long & skinny). The whole thing has a modern look to it, and I like it.

I stopped adding updates about my life on this website a couple or few years ago because I was going through a hard time & stopped feeling like sharing. I always think of my friend Frenchie who bridles at the diagnosis of "depression," because she feels that she is sad/upset/dysfunctional FOR A REASON, she always says. The diagnosis of "depression," she maintains, should be reserved for people for whom everything has gone & is going RIGHT in their lives, and despite that they feel low. During a phone conversation, she once mused aloud, "Is there such a thing as situational depression?" So I re-posed that question to my therapist friend Barbara. And the answer? Yes, it's called grief.

While I grieved (in some ways I still do; in every way I'm still influenced by it), of course a lot has happened to/for/around me. The land, move, house, & garage for one thing. My brother & I found out we have a long-lost sibling we never knew. I stopped going by my first name and started using my middle name (so I started this project as "Jen," but write to you now as "Lovejoy"). I got a good job that I still have today, with my coworkers being amongst my best friends (which makes the workdays fun), and I split my time between that job & continuing to produce local entertainment, which is ever evolving, as it should be. I also narrate a podcast now as well! I got a piano, drive a different car now, and finally caved & got a smartphone (actually, my dad made me). Two friends of mine I really enjoyed at a heart level died, and I miss them. My brother & his wife went through a rough patch (but are still together). And in two months time, I will travel to Palm Springs California to celebrate my dad's EIGHTIETH birthday!? I gained a couple of lovers, lost a couple of lovers, gained a few friends, lost a few friends. I have a nice boyfriend now. Our coming together & staying together was easy. I have two things to say about that: 1) The times it's effortless & natural shine a harsh light on the preponderance of times it must be forced (at least in the beginning), & 2) I ascribe its effortlessness & ease to TEMPERAMENT COMPATIBILITY (in case y'all want to know Classic Bitch's secret, right?). All that being said, we almost broke up ON our one year anniversary a couple weeks ago. OK. I'm laughing now.

As for the books...why we're here, right?...I can essentially recommend any of the first 61 books on MY rank ordered list. After that it gets hit & miss and will depend on the reader. And then the last nine I would vehemently steer people away from reading. In taking stock of those numbers, I guess it's not bad! It basically indicates that fully two thirds of the last 15 years of my life have not been wasted. How about that? There are also probably other stats to have been kept. Like which books engendered comments & conversation from passersby when they saw me reading in public & recognized a book's cover (The Magus, A Clockwork Orange, The Age of Innocence, Light in August). Unusual synchronicities: like books on the list that mention other books on the list (more than you might guess), books on the list that had scenes set in the places in which I was reading them at the time, and things even more head scratching than that! Once when I was cleaning out some old things of my mother's, I began reading letters her brother had written to her, in the mid 1960s, when he was in prison at Riker's Island. In one he rhapsodized to her about the book he was reading then, imploring her to read it too: The Alexandria Quartet, the very book I was reading when I read his letter. Which books others were inspired to read once I was done with them, and some even read my copy? Too many to name. Which books, regardless of where I ultimately ranked them, had staying power? The first 8 titles on MY ranked list, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, Under the Net, Lord Jim, The Death of the Heart, Angle of Repose, A Dance to the Music of Time, The Good Soldier, A Passage to India, The Heart of the Matter, Sons and Lovers, The Alexandria Quartet, A High Wind in Jamaica, Sister Carrie, The House of Mirth, A Bend in the River, A House for Mr. Biswas... Ah, hell, what am I saying; they all have staying power...

People asked me all along what I planned to read when I was done with the 100. A few even pressed books into my hands, imploring me to read their suggestions during the project. I think I only obliged three times; everyone else got fed up at my obduring. So I have a couple books kicking around that people bought me copies of; I'll have to get to those. And then I'd also like to read some nonfiction for a change; I could use a self-help book about attachment disorder, I suspect. I'd like to read more books by authors I really enjoyed from the list; for instance, I feel I'd pick up almost anything by Arnold Bennett or John Fowles now. For a while I toyed with starting an all new webpage, when this one's done, that would be comprised of book picks resulting from asking people I know personally what the best 21st-century books are that they have read. That approach would turn this project on its ear in two ways: the choices of just plain folks instead of an erudite panel AND books from the years I've missed out reading because I was stuck in the 20th century. I even started asking & collecting picks as early as a couple years there are maybe some of those to work through. It will be nice to read less critically & not have to take notes.

Some people have even suggested I move on to some other "list." But when I finished the 933rd & final page of Ulysses in bed this morning—which is the sixtieth unpunctuated page of Molly Bloom's soliloquy—I exclaimed aloud, "Alright! I get my life back!" And then I realized, of course, that this has been life all along. It's all life.

I was going to write that if anybody wanted to buy my entire lot of 100 paperbacks they should contact me...but, I think... It is not for sale.

—Lovejoy, January 2019

Lovejoy's bookshelf