If a man does not master his circumstances then he is bound to be mastered by them. — ‘A Gentleman in Moscow,’ Amor Towles
Last week, on October 25th, 2020 my dear father, Dean Rhodes, passed away peacefully at home with his loved ones by his side. When I’ve told friends, “I can’t imagine a world without him,” they’ve comforted me with, “you don’t have to…he’s always with you.” And I can feel that’s true. I realize now that parents teach their children much more based on how they lived, rather than how they tell us to live. And my Dad’s legacy is how he lived and thrived while battling Multiple Sclerosis, and how he chose humor over misery, imagination over isolation, and love over all.
After his diagnosis, he was forced to change professions, so he shifted from clarinetist to CPA, working his way to the top of his firm at Ernst & Young. When he retired, after he was confined to a wheelchair, and his MS got so bad he could only move one pinky, he took it upon himself to read all of the greatest classic literature, completing 168 novels, and writing a funny one-line synopsis of each, then did the same for all of the Shakespeare plays. He used a Kindle and sometimes had to ask my mom, his devoted wife of 43 years, to turn a page for him. But he kept reading. He refused to be a prisoner of his disease and he never turned bitter or angry. He said he had one rule, “Never talk about the illness.” Instead he talked about life, about his family, nature, and great art. He was always funny, always kind. He always put his family above himself. Even when he started hospice, they asked what his concerns were, and he said, “I want to make sure my wife has the support she needs.” And as my mom says, “A man is remembered for what he loves.” He loved reading. And he loved us. I will miss him every day.
But he has left us this list of all the great novels he read and all the funny thoughts he had. I hope you can learn a little something from this brave man I was lucky enough to call Dad, who never ever let the weight of the world make him weak. He’s my champion and hero (he also loved We are the Champions by Queen).
It’s an honor to share Dean’s List with you, which isn’t just a list, but proof that no matter what life throws your way, you can always rise above it and choose to grow. (These were read between the years 2012–2020. He especially loved the works of Dickens, Balzac, and Melville — mentioning Billy Budd several times before he died.)
*My personal favorite one-liner from his list is: “Hamlet: Spoiler alert — We never learn whether to be or not to be.”
1. Moby Dick — Melville: All things whale.
2. Old Man and the Sea — Hemingway: Not an intergenerational catch and release story.
3. Dead Souls — Gogol: Serf-scamming in Russia.
4. David Copperfield — Dickens: It’s all about David.
5. Return of the Native — Hardy: Soap opera on the heath.
6. Great Gatsby — Fitzgerald: Money doesn’t buy happiness.
7. Crime and Punishment — Dostoevsky: Russian decay among peasants, rags, alcohol, and ax murdering.
8. Middlemarch — George Eliot: Trembling lips, quivering chins, agonized sobbing.
9. Father Goriot — Balzac: Sordid tale of lodging decay, spoiled daughters, a crime boss, the seeking of wealth and romance, and a father (Goriot) in Paris.
10. The Bostonians — Henry James: Ambivalent sexuality in a sea of commas and semicolons.
11. A Portrait of The Artist as a Young Man — James Joyce: A young writer grapples with definitions of Hell.
12. Anna Karenina — Tolstoy: Be careful what you wish-iberatskya for-ilovitch.
13. Babbit — Sinclair Lewis: Blustering banality and Boosterism lead to moral corruption.
14. Of Human Bondage — Maugham: Human potential diverted by girls, the stock market, girls, poor career-planning, girls, and a club foot.
15. Don Quixote — Cervantes: Employer-employee relationship tested by adventures.
16. Madame Bovary — Flaubert: Wimpy doctor husband and botched club-foot operation lead to adultery.
17. Age of Innocence — Wharton: Upper-crust New York soap opera and then back to the future.
18. Wuthering Heights — Emily Bronte: Love thy Neighbor not taught at church; just hate or marry thy neighbor.
19. The Red and the Black — Stendhal: Teaching Latin leads to wealth, romance, and headlessness.
20. House of Seven Gables — Hawthorne: Should be refurbished as funeral home to conveniently handle gabled house demises.
21. Tristram Shandy — Sterne: Noses, breeches, fortificiations, digressions, and philosophick opinions.
22. Vanity Fair — Thackeray: Deadbeat grifters, love-sick galoot, vapid love interest, overweight prig.
23. The Path to Rome — Hilaire Belloc: The author walks to Rome while describing every rock, river, and tree on the trip.
24. The Decameron — Boccaccio: Squatters tell sex stories in abandoned palaces during plague.
25. Uncle Tom’s Cabin — Stowe: The power of the pen leads to abolition and a Civil War.
26. Woman in White — Wilkie Collins: No answer to over-long mystery of which detergent is used to keep woman’s clothes white.
27. Germinal — Zola: 19th Century French coal mining misery and Marxism.
28. The Betrothed — Manzoni: Hoped- for heavenly marital bliss preceded by betrothal from Hell.
29. O Pioneers — Cather: O plowing and O planting on the O prairie.
30. The Good Soldier — Ford: The good soldier didn’t do much soldiering and wasn’t very good.
31. Candide — Voltaire: Appears to be modeled on Don Quixote with more focus on buttocks.
32. Metamorphosis — Kafka: Parents finally get to move grown son out of house and into roach motel.
** The Deerslayer — James Fenimore Cooper: Stopped at 35% — cartoon dialogue, implausible action, juvenile; good tree and rock description.
33. The Prime Minister — Trollope: Girl grieves for no-good dead husband, grieves over grief she caused her family by marrying no-good guy, and grieves over grief she’s causing by her never-ending grieving.
34. Count of Monte Cristo — Dumas: Count’s accounting for revenge aCounts for Countless Countenances.
35. Magnificent Ambersons — Tarkington: Money doesn’t buy happiness, especially if you lose it all.
36. War of the Worlds — H.G. Wells: After interstellar strategic planning, Mars tries to conquer world by invading the island of England.
37. Moll Flanders — Daniel Defoe: Years of thievery and whoredom and almost executed… but, at heart, a good girl.
38. Hunchback of Notre Dame — Hugo: Don’t bring enchanted goats that can count to 15th century Paris.
39. The Financier — Dreiser: Stylistically drab writing seemingly written by, well, a financier.
40. Pride and Prejudice — Austen: Too bad no glass ceilings for Elizabeth to break.
41. Bel Ami — de Maupassant: Marrying mistresses and their daughters leads to wealth and power.
42. Two Years Before the Mast — R.H. Dana: Plenty of jibs, halyards and sail furling, no plank walking or timber shivering, and a little flogging.
43. Ivanhoe — Sir Walter Scott: Knights save distressed damsel before stake burning.
44. Cousin Betty — Balzac: Betty is bad news.
45. Martin Eden — London: Roustabout learns everything, writes bestsellers, debates, attains wealth, hates everybody.
46. Treasure Island — Stevenson: Beware of peg-legged parrot-petting pirates.
47. The Fat and the Thin — Zola: Some people interaction, with plenty of newly slaughtered meat, fish, fowl, cabbages and turnips.
48. Red Badge of Courage — Crane: Coming of age among muskets, and the fog of war.
49. Room with a View — Forster: Hotel-complaining leads to marriage.
50. Sons and Lovers — D.H. Lawrence: Sons, lovers and lousy literature.
51. History of Tom Jones — Fielding: Virtuous mono-syllabic Tom beset by problems instigated by multisyllabic Thwackum, Fitzpatrick, Partridge, Blifil, Western.
52. Bouvard and Pecuchet — Flaubert: Odd couple fail at frock-coated farming and philosophizing.
53. Huckleberry Finn — Twain: River rafting, visiting with pseudo-royalty, boys will be boys.
54. Lord Jim — Conrad: Lord, Jim isn’t helping me understand this book- is it groundbreaking, overly inventive, or just poorly written?
55. Three Musketeers — Dumas- Musketeer crew comprises boozer, gold-digging womanizer, religion-seeking swordster, lovesick hothead.
56. Washington Square — James: Dad loves ugly dumb daughter, but gold-digging fiancé bolts after father threatens disinheritance.
57. Gulliver’s Travels — Swift: Despite persistent shipwrecks, Gulliver still goes sailing but passengers quickly disembark.
58. The Pickwick Papers — Dickens: While banal and bespectacled, Pickwick’s principles earn Pickwickian plaudits.
59. The Picture of Dorian Gray — Wilde: A picture is worth 1000, er, 1500, um 3000 words.
60. The Brothers Karamazov — Dostoevsky: Drunks, death, and decay — typical Russian novel fare.
61. House of Mirth — Wharton: There’s absolutely no mirth in this house.
62. Tess of the d’Urbervilles — Hardy: Tess never learned the two B’s: Boys are Bad.
63. Charterhouse of Parma — Stendhal: Parma might be worth visiting; this book is not.
64. Portrait of a Lady — James: Unaccomplished wealthy villa-hopping travelers endlessly speak and think about themselves.
65. Silas Marner — George Eliot: Weaver is double-crossed, robbed, adopts toddler, waits, recovers money and robber skeleton.
66. The Way of all Flesh — Butler: Drab writing marked by no descriptions of sun-dappled rocks, trees and flowers.
67. Fortune of the Rougons — Zola: Struggling family struggles during political crisis while struggling with mediocre writing.
68. Daisy Miller — James: Henry James lite.
69. Frankenstein — Shelley: Monster fails to manage decomposition odor.
70. Heart of Darkness — Conrad: Hell distress compounded by Conrad narration technique.
71. Far from the Madding Crowd — Hardy: Typical 19th century English sheep & cow literature.
72. Lost Illusions — Balzac: Dissolution of delusion leads to lost illusion.
73. The Possessed — Dostoevsky: Title indecision and incoherent storyline imply that author had vodka problem.
74. Ethan Frome — Wharton: Lucky guy spends decades with complaining sickly wife and mentally incapacitated love interest.
75. My Antonia — Cather: Oh my, Antonia, very unsettling story about wolves eating newlyweds in Russia.
76. Barry Lyndon — Thackeray: Wealth, fame, charm, and smarts lead to debtor’s prison, family hatred and gout.
77. Dracula — Bram Stoker: Vampire advantage — immortality; disadvantage — limited liquid diet.
78. Sense and Sensibility — Austen: The reader should have the sense and sensibility to avoid reading this inferior Austen work.
79. L’ Assommoir — Zola: Russian novels don’t have a monopoly on drunks.
80. Oblomov — Goncharov: After writing about sleeping away one’s life, the author, never seen again, probably became a mattress salesman.
81. Typee — Melville: Two ship deserters try to avoid meal with local cannibals.
82. Jane Eyre — C. Bronte: Two guys fall in love with principled Jane.
83. Bleak House — Dickens: Law school attendance soars after book publication.
** The Idiot — Dostoevsky: The title refers to any reader who finishes the book.
84. Winesburg, Ohio — S. Anderson: Big city life more attractive than local banker’s daughter.
85. Mill on the Floss — G. Eliot: Beware of floating flotsam in flooded Floss.
86. Oliver Twist — Dickens: Pickpocketing and purse snatching pumps up prison population.
** The Nether World- Gissing: After reading 20%, it’s obvious why no one has heard of this author.
87. Fathers and Sons — Turgenev: Unlike other Russian novels, no drunks.
** Doctor Pascal — Zola- 20% read — a book about his other books and sheep brain medical experiments.
88. Little Women — Alcott: Little Women become Little Mothers who soon will be Little Grandmothers.
89. What Maisie Knew — James: What Maisie didn’t know was when this book would ever end.
90. Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea — Verne: Genius loner misfit builds submarine to go deep sea fishing.
91. Great Expectations — Dickens: Certainly, great expectations aren’t expected for people with a name like Pip.
92. The Gambler — Dostoevsky: You can lose just as much, gambling dollars, francs or rubles.
93. The Scarlet Letter — Hawthorne: Author rejected polka-dotted, turquoise letter color.
94. Mansfield Park — Austen: Well-off do nothings discuss wealth, clothes, and matrimonial prospects.
** War and Peace — Tolstoy: War, peace, and 1,000 pages.
95. Main Street — Lewis: Side streets might be worth visiting.
96. Tom Sawyer — Twain: Fence white-washing employment prospects explode.
97. Martin Chuzzlewit — Dickens: Don’t nuzzle a Chuzzlewit.
98. Song of the Lark — Cather: Too bad the lark didn’t fly away before it sang this mediocre song.
99. Under Western Eyes — Conrad- Some critics think the book should be underneath Eastern, Southern, and Northern eyes.
100. The Mayor of Casterbridge — Hardy: Mayor didn’t do a single day of work for the city.
101. The Old Curiosity Shop- Dickens: Though curious, I never learned what was in the shop.
102. Dodsworth — Lewis: Cars and cuckoldry.
103. Daniel Deronda — Eliot: By George, I’m done reading Eliot books.
104. Pendennis — Thackeray: Title character marries sister (or cousin).
105. Nicholas Nickleby — Dickens: Nicholas wasn’t Santa, but he truly was a Saint.
106. The Woodlanders — Hardy: An apple a day doesn’t keep the doctor away.
** Swann’s Way — Proust: So many words, so little to say.
107. Princess Casamassima — James: Bookbinder leads slum tours for princess — yeah, right.
108. Howard’s End — Forster: The book is about neither a Howard nor his anatomy.
109. Mrs. Dalloway — Woolf: Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa and there are books that make sense.
110. Little Dorrit — Dickens: Friendly-children policy at debtors’ prison doesn’t lead to student debt forgiveness.
111. Death in Venice — Mann: Writer ruminates about art, beauty, young boys and gondolas.
112. Scenes from a Courtesan’s Life — Balzac: Money, mistresses and mobsters in nineteenth-century Paris.
113. Roughing It — Twain: Spoiler alert: The story about the tree-climbing buffalo isn’t true.
114. Robinson Crusoe — Daniel Defoe: Don’t travel with this guy. Or with Gulliver.
115. The Scarlet Pimpernel — Emma Orczy: Pimpernel keeps his head to save French heads.
116. A Tale of Two Cities — Dickens: Hero heads off to date with Madame Guillotine.
117. The Sorrows of Young Werther — Goethe: Whiner shares sorrows with readers.
** Wings of the Dove — James: Even doves don’t finish this book
**Romola — Eliot: George should stay in England.
118. The Way We Live Now — Trollope: The way we try to read books that never end…now.
119. Death Comes for the Archbishop — Cather: Pueblos, mesas, and priests.
120. Taras Bulba — Gogol: Cossack lifestyle: old pal’s head is salted, put in cask and sent to Constantinople.
121. The Duel — Chekhov: If duel happened at beginning, readers would be saved a lot of time.
122. Jude the Obscure — Hardy: Readers would benefit if this novel were more obscure.
123. Billy Budd — Melville: Billy, we hardly knew ye.
124. Persuasion — Austen: I’m persuaded that Austen has written better books.
125. Innocents Abroad — Twain- Innocents got on board, innocents went abroad, and occasionally, innocents were bored.
126. Les Miserables — Hugo: Every character is cold, hungry and, well, miserable.
127. Benito Cereno — Melville: Don’t read this book on a ship.
128. Bartleby the Scrivener — Melville: This is what happens when they “scriven” too much.
129. The Confidence Man — Melville: Reading this caused me to lose a bit of confidence in Herman.
130. Short Stories — Gogol: Stories about witches, devils, melons, and a nose.
131. Virgin Soil — Turgenev: Typical love story: Boy meets girls, they fall in love, they become revolutionaries.
132. One of Ours — Cather: Farmer deals with failed marriage and WWII and also manages cow and pig problems.
133. A Passage to India — E.M. Forster: India was so hot that even the Kindle was sweating.
** Mysteries of Paris — Sue: Could be another chapter of Les Miserables.
134. Kim — Kipling: Street-savvy Irish-Indian kid seeks river with old man.
135. The Master and Margarita- Bulgakov: There’s a reason no one’s heard of this author.
136. Tender is the Night — Fitzgerald: Ethically challenged psychiatrist has affair with actress star of “Daddy’s Girl”/ marries mental patient who had incestuous relationship as Daddy’s girl.
137. Our Mutual Friend — Dickens: Finding dead bodies in the river, with cash in their pockets, is a good job if you can get it.
138. The House of Gentlefolk — Turgenev: They had gentle extramarital affairs.
139. Kidnapped — Stevenson: Don’t trust anyone named Ebenezer.
140. On the Eve — Turgenev- If writing a book, to ensure its success, add a mysterious Bulgarian character.
141. Agnes Grey — Anne Bronte: Governess educates worst of brats — in Germany these kids are known as “bratwurst.”
** A Sentimental Education — Flaubert: Another painter falls in love… ZZZZZ.
** Siddhartha — Hesse: Book for college freshmen seeking spiritual guidance.
142. A Connecticut Yankee — Twain: For a comedy, there sure are a lot of corpses.
143. Erewhon — Samuel Butler: It’s either a utopian dystopia or a dystopian utopia.
144. Sister Carrie — Dreiser: Sister Carrie was no nun.
145. Note from the Underground — Dostoevsky: The author of this book drank too much vodka.
146. Pudd’n head Wilson — Twain: The proof was in the pudding.
147. The Time Machine — Wells: The author doesn’t tell us how the machine works, but we know it contains nickel, bronze, and crystal.
148. House of the Dead — Dostoevsky: Free flogging amenities don’t attract customers.
149. The Gilded Age — Twain: This book suffers from “neverendingitis.”
** Emma- Austen: Sorry, Jane, but Emma, her friends and the dialogue are an absolute bore.
150. The Prince and the Pauper — Twain: While writing the book, Twain collaborated with Dickens and Shakespeare.
151. Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde — Stevenson: Apparently, a split personality requires separate wardrobes.
152. Short Stories and Novellas — Dostoevsky: Be sure not to miss the alligator exhibit.
153. The Works of Edgar Allan Poe Vol. II — Poe: Every time the narrator buries a victim behind the wall or under the floor of his house, he gets caught.
** Ulysses- Joyce:
154. Cesar Birotteaux — Balzac: Yet another French novel suffering from never-endingitis.
155. The Blithedale Romance — Hawthorne: The high point of this book was having a character named Zenobia.
156. Tono Bungay — H.G. Wells: Quack medicine Tono Bungay alleviates many imaginary ailments.
157. Down and Out in Paris & London — Orwell: French cook’s spit enhances high-end restaurant soup.
158. The Marble Faun — Hawthorne: Only marble readers would enjoy this book.
159. Keep the Aspidistra Flying — Orwell: You won’t learn how or why the aspidistra flew.
** Joan of Arc — Twain
160. Animal Farm — Orwell: Eat bacon at your own risk.
161. Letters from Two Young Wives — Balzac: Should be required reading for all newlyweds.
162. Habji Mourad — Tolstoy: Romance ends after decapitation.
163. Cousin Pons — Balzac: Art collector collects scam artists.
** Clarissa — S. Richardson
164. The Clergyman’s Daughter — Orwell: George should stick to farm animal books.
165. Cannery Row — Steinbeck: Bon appetit! Sardines and whiskey on the menu.
** Nineteen Eighty-Four — Orwell
** Look Homeward, Angel — Thomas Wolf
166. Dombey and Son — Dickens: Daughter pines for loveless father while countless guys pine for daughter; reader pines for book’s end.
167. Miss Marjoribanks — Oliphant: Smart socializer has deficient husband-picking skills
168. Hard Times — Dickens: Dickens must have had a hard time writing this.
1. The Tempest: Following a government overthrow, don’t get on a boat with dukes and kings, after a wedding.
2. The Winter’s Tale: While chiseling, sculptor surprised by marble statue’s cry of pain.
3. Cymbeline: King pleased that daughter, dressed as a guy, is a girl, and that son-in-law, is actually a Brit.
4. A Midsummer Night’s Dream: Fairy mismanagement leads to complications.
5. King Richard II: Ya gotta know your Dukes.
6. Hamlet: Spoiler alert — We never learn whether to be or not to be.
7. Twelfth Night: Cross-gartered yellow stockings used to woo servant’s lady boss.
8. King Lear: Employers cancel Take Your Daughter to Work Day after a production of Lear.
9. As You Like It: Matchmaker utilizes cross-dressing to facilitate services.
10. Macbeth: Witches try to sell soup with eye of newt and toe of frog but consumers show little interest.
11. Julius Caesar: Caesar ignores Ides of March warning, because no one understands what “Ides” means.
12. Antony and Cleopatra: Beware of figs, snakes, and queens.
13. King Henry V: Great motivational speaker, but should cut down on the massacres.
14. King Henry IV pt.1: The Welsh live on the same island but seem to be from another planet.
15. King Henry IV pt.2: King happy that son’s not a bum.
16. Troilus and Cressida: Deformed foul-mouthed slave calls it like it is.
17. Coriolanus: The guy should attend a public relations seminar.
18. Othello: Since handkerchieves play such a prominent role, it’s lucky that no one had a cold.
19. The Taming of the Shrew: Gold-digger brainwashes shrieking shrew.
20. Romeo and Juliet: Don’t go out for drinks with a friar.
21. The Merchant of Venice: Restaurant patron orders pound of flesh, but hold the blood.
22. Measure for Measure: Comedy about unwed mother’s problem’s being solved by executing fathers.
23. Comedy of Errors: Twin sons + slaves = Comedy of Errors.
24. Love’s Labour’s Lost: Love’s Labours were not Really Lost.
25. Much Ado About Nothing: Actually, it was much ado about something.
26. All’s Well That Ends Well: All isn’t well, because the protagonist married a bum.
27. King Richard III: All is not well, and nothing ends well when Richard’s around.
28. King John: Everyone has mother-in-law problems.
29. Pericles: I think his clerk wrote this play.
30. Timon of Athens: Timon should consult with Polonius.
31. Titus Andronicus: Heads, arms and a tongue are lopped off but only the heads are baked in a pie.
32. Two Noble Kinsmen: Noble cousins fight over girl who picks flowers, but one cousin is crushed by a horse.
33. Two Gentlemen of Verona: One gentleman was quite ungentlemanly.
34. King Henry VIII: The king’s newborn son will be trouble in future plays.
35. King Henry VI pts 1, 2, 3: Prithee, can’t we all just getteth along?
36. Merry Wives of Windsor: The husbands weren’t that merry.