Friday, March 11, 2011

Survey: What is the Greatest Novel of All Time?


Though this blog is entitled Letters and Surveys, I must admit, that it has been, mostly, letters. However, occasionally I run a survey. I was hoping that this could be a venue for collecting information, but not too many people add comments.

In lieu of electronic participation, I use a more traditional form of polling. I ask people what they think. This is somewhat time consuming, because when I ask someone, "What is the greatest novel of all time?", the answer is usually only the beginning of a longer discussion of:
  • why this book is one that they love or were touched by

  • what characteristics make this book great

  • what other books might vie for the title of Greatest Novel

  • what are the worst books

  • who is the greatest novelist

  • why I am asking this question

  • and so forth

(I do like these discussions.) Here is the list I've collected so far. I will list them in the comments section. Readers, please add your votes.

My personal answer is: Les Miserables by Victor Hugo


P.S. Even if your favorite is already listed, please feel free to list it again. In addition, your comments related to whys and wherefores are very welcome.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

A People's History of Christianity: The Other Side of the Story

Dear Diana Butler Bass,

I heard you speak the other Sunday, but I feel like I've spent the week with you as I've read The People's History of Christianity.

So often, I've looked over my shoulder at the history of Christianity and I snap my gaze around again, quickly, to the future, not because I have great hopes, but because history, as typical history, is such a shame. The chapter titles are so grim and disgraceful. It is not disheartening that Christians were martyred at the point of swords, but that, so often, they held the swords and ran through the hearts of believers and disbelievers alike. It is not that they were thrown ignominiously to the teeth of lions, but that they were lion hearted. It is not that they were raped and plundered, but that they, with the shield of Christendom emblazoned, deflowered women, children, men, and regions in the name of salvation.

So, your book turns me round and lets me look with teeth unclenched and reminds me that, throughout the ages, there was another, truer history of faith that played out alongside the narratives of power and prestige recalled by biographers and annalists with credentials impressed upon an authorized version.


Click on the Dore image - Richard the Lion Heart in Reprisal Massacres Captives - to see this image in sharper detail at Click on the tapestry to see similar works at