As a guy who loves lists - and what guy doesn't? - I take the plea by Hamlet's father's ghost to "List, list, O, list!" as direct instruction from the Greatest Writer Who Ever Lived (see below). And guys love lists because, well, because they're competitive: I've seen more of those Japanese films than you; I own more recordings by bands whose names begin with "The" than you; and on it goes.
There's nothing listier (if that's the word I want) than books: the 100 Greatest novels of the 1890s; 20 poets who topped themselves; the 50 most valuable Canadian paperbacks.
Now, on a website called thisrecording.com, Will Hubbard and Alex Carnevale (guys, you'll note) have come up with a slick entry called The 100 Greatest Writers of All Time. Except that they aren't. Can't be. The list, a smart-enough paragraph accompanied by a portrait of the artist in question, is, I hope, meant simply to be a source of enjoyable discussion, a bar-room brawl or two and perhaps an occasional divorce.
First, 38 of their 100 greatest writers are American; that's pretty spectacular production in 250 years. England, which for my money is the greatest literary country, gets 25 1/2 (#100, Joseph Conrad, is split with Poland) while the cheese-eating surrender monkeys get a mere half dozen. No Canadians, though some people claim Malcolm Lowry (#64) who wrote much of his classic Under the Volcano here.
If you're counting (I was), there are two blacks, six Jews and 12 women. And here is sin #1: Their top-rated woman writer - ever! - at #5 is Gertrude Stein, she of "a rose is a rose is a rose." And sometimes, a pose is a pose is a pose. Better, then, than Virginia Woolf (#14), Emily Dickinson (#36) and, enormity of enormities, Jane Austen (unlisted!!!). For me she's no worse than top 20, more likely top 10. But for Hubbard and Carnevale, she doesn't rate with the likes of Lorine Niedecker (#90) or Maryse Conde (#85). And no, I've never heard of them either. And is Iris Murdoch (#40) really so much better than the absent Muriel Spark and Penelope Fitzgerald?
Lots of poets (32 of them plus three other cross-genre lads). Highest rated is Milton at #6, unless you count Shakespeare. The absence of John Donne, for one, is outrageous
Shakespeare, by the way is not #1, where he belongs. He's #3, behind Kafka at #2 (also, thus, top Czech and top Jew). But I don't think I'll tell you who tops the list, other than that he's an American, and good, but nowhere near THAT good. Suffice to say, in the long tradition of Globe and Mail correspondents, I am shocked and appalled. But, clearly, engaged.