The 100 All-Time Greatest Books

"A classic is a book which people praise and don't read." Mark Twain (#62)

One of the things I love most about Doux Reviews is that, in spite of the fact that we primarily review TV and movies, many of us are also avid readers and talk about books a lot. In our continuing series of reviews of Entertainment Weekly's 100 All-Time Greatest Everything, today I move on to Books. Even more than watching a movie, reading a book is a subjective experience. I have found that people speak as passionately about the books they love or they hate as they do on just about any other subject. This list will, I certainly hope, spark some debate.

What struck me about this list, the best books ever, is that it only includes fiction. While that is fine, I would argue that some wonderful nonfiction has been written as well. By no means have I read all 100 books and, frankly, am unlikely to. The comments I have made are my thoughts as I wrote out this list. So, without further ado:

100: The Joy Luck Club, Amy Tan (1989)
99: The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams (1979)
98: Are You There, God? It's Me Margaret, Judy Blume (1970)
-- As a child, this book was a guilty secret. Blume, however, seems to be garnering much more respect as time goes on. This book was discussed and Blume was interviewed in the PBS special Makers: Women Who Make America that I still hope everyone will watch.
97: The Big Sleep, Raymond Chandler (1939)
96: If On a Winter's Night a Traveler, Italo Calvino (1979)
95: The Poisonwood Bible, Barbara Kingsolver (1998)
94: The Moonstone, Wilkie Collins (1868)
93: Bastard Out of Carolina, Dorothy Allison (1992)
92: The Glass Bead Game, Hermann Hesse (1943)
91: The Leopard, Giuseppe Tornasi di Lampedusa (1958)

90: The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, Carson McCullers (1940)
89: Tristam Shandy, Laurence Sterne (1895)
88: The Bonfire of the Vanities, Tom Wolfe (1987)
-- I read this because I was living in New York when it came out and everyone said it was the quintessential book on that city. I certainly hope not. The cynicism was too much for me.
87: White Teeth, Zadie Smith (2000)
86: A Home at the End of the World, Michael Cunningham (1990)
85: Catch-22, Joseph Heller (1961)
-- One of the few books that still makes me laugh out loud no matter how many times I read it. Hilarious and bleak at the same time, I believe this book deserves to be much higher up the list than it is. Plus, how many books have contributed such a universally known term to the language.
84: Clockers, Richard Price (1992)
83: The Stone Diaries, Carol Shields (1993)
82: The Disgrace, J.M. Coetzee (1999)
81: Frankenstein, Mary Shelley (1818)
-- One of the most frightening and heartbreaking books I have ever read. Unlike the film versions, Shelley's monster is a metaphor for all who are dispossessed. Brilliant, considering Shelley was a woman writer in the early 19th century.

80: Swann's Way, Marcel Proust (1913)
-- This is the first volume of Remembrance of Things Past. Highly overrated.
79: Bring Up the Bodies, Hilary Mantel (2012)
78: A House for Mr. Biswas, V.S. Naipaul (1961)
77: Tom Jones, Henry Fielding (1749)
-- This book may be 264 years old, but it is still a bawdy and fun read.
76: The Golden Notebook, Doris Lessing (1962)
75: Madame Bovary, Gustave Flaubert (1857)
-- Emma Bovary was a woman ahead of her time, but Flaubert wouldn't let her get away with it. A tough read, but worth it.
74: Cold Mountain, Charles Frazier (1997)
73: The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, John le Carré (1963)
-- If you like a good spy novel, or even a good novel, this is one to read. It's often cited as the best spy novel ever written. For good reason; it's brilliant.
72: The Remains of the Day, Kazuo Ishiguro (1989)
-- If you saw the movie, put that out of your mind and read this book. It moved me to tears.
71: The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien (1937)
-- I am not a fan of Tolkien's (I have picked up this book four times and never gotten further than page 50), but from what I understand, I should be surprised that this one made the list and not Lord of the Rings.

70: Neuromancer, William Gibson (1984)
69: Money, Martin Amis (1985)
68: Middlemarch, George Eliot (1874)
-- While this is often cited as Eliot's masterpiece, I like her The Mill on the Floss much better.
67: The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, Michael Chabon (2000)
66: Howard's End, E.M. Forster (1910)
-- A lovely book, but I prefer his A Room With a View.
65: Herzog, Saul Bellow (1964)
64: Infinite Jest, David Foster Wallace (1996)
63: Portnoy's Complaint, Philip Roth (1969)
-- Laugh out loud funny. An obviously autobiographical novel, this one rings with an authenticity that is impossible to ignore.
62: Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain (1884)
-- Rant time. Why this book is not in the top 10, I will never understand. Yes, I will. It is now not PC to admit to liking this book because of the language used. Those who decry the use of the racial slur miss the point. Yes, Huck uses the n-word when he refers to Jim, but as the novel progresses, Huck comes to understand, appreciate and respect Jim in spite of all he had been taught in the past. In terms of race relations, this novel was ahead of its time. When I was eight, I asked my father (who had read every novel written, I am sure) what his favorite book was. He handed me this and I have never looked back. This is one I read every year or so.
61: Love in the Time of Cholera, Gabriel Garcia Márquez (1988)

60: Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston (1937)
59: Dracula, Bram Stoker (1897)
-- If you're on this site, chances are you like vampires. This is where it all began.
58: Midnight's Children, Salman Rushdie (1981)
57: The Children of Men, P.D. James (1992)
-- Her Adam Dalgliesh series is great, but this is her best book. If you like autobiography, hers (A Time to Be Earnest) is simply wonderful.
56: Sophie's Choice, William Styron (1979)
-- Another book my father handed me shortly after it came out. I spent three days of my life doing nothing but devouring it. Again, ignore the movie and read the book.
55: A Fine Balance, Rohinton Mistry (1995)
54: Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk, Ben Fountain (2012)
53: Gone With the Wind, Margaret Mitchell (1936)
-- A good book, but too long. One instance in which the movie is better.
52: Song of Solomon, Toni Morrison (1977)
-- While this is a fantastic book, even better is Paradise. The best opening line of a novel I have ever read.
51: The Corrections, Jonathan Franzen (2001)

50: Snow, Orhan Pamuk (2002)
49: Ender's Game, Orson Scott Card (1985)
48: The Talented Mr. Ripley, Patricia Highsmith (1955)
47: The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, Haruki Murakami (1994)
46: The Age of Innocence, Edith Wharton (1920)
-- I so loved this novel, I wrote my senior thesis on Wharton. Pick up any of her books. They are genius.
45: The Color Purple, Alice Walker (1982)
44: His Dark Materials, Philip Pullman (1995 - 2000)
-- Another one I have tried, and failed more than once, to read.
43: A Confederacy of Dunces, John Kennedy Toole (1980)
42: The Stand, Stephen King (1978)
-- For all the King fans out there, is this the best?
41: Go Tell It on the Mountain, James Baldwin (1953)

40: A Suitable Boy, Vikram Seth (1993)
39: Middlesex, Jeffrey Eugenides (2002)
38: The Regeneration Trilogy, Pat Barker (1991 - 1995)
37: The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway (1926)
-- I think that this man could craft a sentence like no one else. This is my favorite of all his novels.
36: Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand (1957)
35: A Personal Matter, Kenzaburo Oe (1964)
34: The World According to Garp, John Irving (1978)
33. Maus, Art Spiegelman (1986)
32: The Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger (1951)
-- Holden Caulfield is one of the, if not the, best characters ever written. If you've never read this book, do so now.
31: Blindness, José Sarmago (1995)

30: Native Son, Richard Wright (1940)
29: The Handmaid's Tale, Margaret Atwood (1986)
-- A simply stunning novel that stayed with me long after I read it. I find myself thinking about it a lot, often when something offends my feminist sensibilities.
28: War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy (1869)
-- Someday, I will read this book. No really, someday I will. OK, maybe not.
27: A Wrinkle in Time, Madeleine L'Engle (1962)
-- One of my favorites.
26: Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison (1952)
25: Bleak House, Charles Dickens (1853)
-- See below.
24: A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, James Joyce (1916)
-- I give credit to EW for naming this and not Ulysses. Josie Kafka is the only person I know who has gotten through the latter, not once but twice.
23: The Brothers Karamazov, Fyodor Dostoevsky (1880)
22: Wuthering Heights, Emily Brontë (1847)
-- One of my favorites since I was a child. Another one I read every year or so.
21: An American Tragedy, Theodore Dreiser (1925)

20: Lonesome Dove, Larry McMurty (1985)
19: Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov (1955)
-- Truly disturbing, but a great read.
18: Moby Dick, Herman Melville (1851)
-- See the Mark Twain quote at the beginning of this piece. I've never been able to get through this.
17: The Road, Cormac McCarthy (2006)
16: Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë (1847)
-- Unlike her sister's novel, this one is a love story with a happily ever after ending. I have read this countless times.
15: Ragtime, E.L. Doctorow (1975)
14: Crime and Punishment, Fyodor Dostoevsky (1867)
13: To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee (1960)
-- Another one I cannot believe is not in the top ten. Atticus Finch, Scout and Boo are all wonderfully drawn characters about whom it is impossible not to care and root for.
12: The Sound and the Fury, William Faulkner (1929)
-- His best, hands down.
11: Mrs. Dalloway, Virginia Woolf (1925)
-- Her best, hands down.

10: Charlotte's Web, E.B. White (1952)
-- This was the first book I read that didn't have a happy ending. I remember sobbing in my father's arms and demanding that he (!!!) re-write the ending for me. Dad explained to me that sometimes the best books make us cry. He was right and this book still makes me cry every time I read it.
9: Beloved, Toni Morrison (1987)
-- This is a good book and I loved it, but I'm not sure it belongs in the top ten.
8: The Rabbit Quartet, John Updike (1960 - 1990)
-- I managed to force myself to read the first. That was enough for me.
7: The Harry Potter Series, J.K. Rowling (1997 - 2007)
-- My niece is making her way through this series as I write this. She is completely enthralled with it and can't put the books down. I had no trouble doing so. A wonderful example of how books speak differently to different people.
6: My Ántonia, Willa Cather (1918)
-- This book is as bleak as the landscape it depicts. It is, however, one of those books that lingers with you long after you have put it down.
5: One Hundred Years of Solitude, Gabriel Garcia Márquez (1967)
-- Another book I know I should eventually get through, but I have tried several times and never been all that enthralled with it.
4: Great Expectations, Charles Dickens (1861)
-- It is not surprising that Dickens is on this list twice. The man could tell one hell of a story, but he could also ramble on and on and on, which makes reading him tough. He was, after all, paid by the word. This is my favorite of his novels. Bleak House (#25 above) is not. I would have put Oliver Twist before it.
3: Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen (1813)
-- A novel with a story so good, its plot has been "borrowed" countless times in the past 200 years. We have spent a fair amount of time on this story this year; the novel (which I will review soon, I promise) is better than anything we have talked about to date.
2: The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald (1925)
-- The Great American Novel, bar none. I re-read it a couple of weeks ago when the movie came out. It is a brilliant story, brilliantly written. If you have never read this, or only read it when you were forced to in school, give it a chance.
1: Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy (1878)
-- "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." From one of the greatest opening lines of all time, this novel just evolves. It is long and rambling, but I got lost in it. Writers much more eloquent than I have loved it as well. It is thick, but it is worth it. Is it the best novel of all time? Maybe, maybe not.

So, here we have them. There have been so many books written over the years, that I am sure many of your favorites have been left off. My favorite book of all time is Little Women. I, frankly, expected it to be on this list as it is one of those books that most young girls read and relate to.

What did you think of the list? Rant or rave in the comments.

The Top 100 All-Time Greatest Lists:

42 comments:

Jess Lynde said...

Another interesting mix. I'm surprised to see The Road so high on the list. I read it very recently and was absolutely gutted by it. It was so visceral and raw and emotionally affecting that I couldn't read it before bed or when my kids were around. But I'm rather surprised it would be so highly regarded in this mix.

I'm very pleased to see Charlotte's Web so high on the list. It was the very first long-form story that I read with my older daughter, and she fell absolutely in love with it. I actually took the ending much harder than she did. I knew it was coming and started breaking down well before we got there. So much so that she kept putting her arms around me and saying, "It's okay, Mommy. It's okay." I just think it hits you even harder when you've gotten to that point in your life where you've lost people you loved dearly. But the whole experience of sharing the story and my grief with her is a memory I'll always treasure.

I agree that Catch-22 was a tremendously fun read, and Sophie's Choice is a personal favorite. There's a line near the end about "the most profound statement yet made about Auschwitz" that absolute wrecked me, and the book has stayed with me for many years. Re: The Stand, I'm not generally a King fan, but I really like this book.

Corrections: #70 should be Neuromancer (which I started reading recently, but didn't really get into), and #44 should be His Dark Materials (which I also read recently and found completely engaging).

I'm surprised no Farenheit 451 or Slaughterhouse-Five.

Anonymous said...

No Orwell or Vonnegut?

I agree Catch 22 should be much higher. Probably the most hilarious book ever written. Confederacy of Dunces is also funny as hell, glad to see it on here.

Charlotte's Web and Harry Potter are fantastic and favorites of mine, but I find it hard to believe they would be considered top 10 of all time.

CrazyCris said...

Ok, like the movies list the other day this is waaaaay too long for me to comment on in detail (bravo you for doing it!). I think I've read about 1/5 of the titles, several of them have been on my "to read" list since forever! :p (love that definition of a "classic", lol!)

Just wanted to say how very Anglo-Saxon a list this is! I'm sure if a continental European were to put together such a list it would be very different! I only see a few token non-anglo books in there, those which are so universally considered masterpieces they couldn't be left out!

But from the Anglo-Saxon world: no Shakespeare?! And yeah, what's up with no Little Women?! Or A Secret Garden? or Dune?

Ok, a few comments:
DELIGHTED to see Maus on there!!!
Also LOVED A Wrinkle in Time, Mrs Dalloway, Harry Potter, The Hobbit (I guess it gets in instead of TLOFTR because it came before?) and The Children of Men (and yes her autobiography is fabulous!!! So are Agatha Christie's two by the way!)

I HATED Madame Boooooooovary when I read it! A student in a French Lycée this was obligatory reading... and nowhere near as interesting as the Molière plays we studied each year! I couldn't stand the main character! Her name is a word-play on cows by the way (bovary -> bovin = cattle)
There are much better (and more interesting) French novels to take this one's place. (Germinal springs to mind. As does Les Misérables
Or Candide. I could go on and on... I did say I studied in a French Lycée, right? Even as a science major I got LOTS of literature in high school! lol!)

And as a Spaniard I'll definitely defend Don Quixote to the end! Even though I have yet to read it... :p

sunbunny said...

Like the movie list, this one seems to put a lot of value on fame and innovation. Still, I liked this one better than the movie list. Maybe because I've read more of these...

Harry Potter is just magic to me. They're probably the books that have touched me most profoundly.

"I think that this man could craft a sentence like no one else. This is my favorite of all his novels." - true that!

"Her best, hands down." - Definitely.

Don't hate me, but I'm not a fan of Edith Wharton. Or the Brontës.

Missing The Bell Jar.

Paul Kelly said...

No John Steinbeck or Alexandre Dumas? I know greatest-of-all-time lists are notoriously subjective, but I died a little inside when I saw 'East of Eden' and 'The Count of Monte Cristo' weren't included :(

Josie Kafka said...

This is an angry post filled with numbers. You may not want to read it.

Out of 100 listed books: (apologies if I've missed something)

2 are in Italian (Calvino, di Lampedusa)

1 is in German (Hesse)

2 are in French (Flaubert, Proust)

2 are in Spanish, both by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

1 is in Turkish (Pamuk)

2 are in Japanese (Murakami, Oe)

1 is in Portuguese (Saramago)

4 are in Russian (Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, both twice).

85 are in English.

Total non-Anglophone books: 15
Total non-Anglophone authors: 12


Of all 100 books:

Written in the 21st century: 7
Written in the 20th century: 76
Written in the 19th century: 16
Written in the 18th century: 1

Or, to highlight: 16 books from the 19th century--and 7 from the 21st. Remarkable, considering the 19th century had 100 years, and we've only got 12.5 years into this century.

And while I'm stoking my rage: what on earth kind of category is "book"? Clearly, they don't mean plays, chapbooks, nonfiction, anthologies, essays, recipe books, epics, myths, graphic novels. They mean novels. Or series of novels: all of Harry Potter made it on there, but only Swann's Way from Proust's In Search of Lost Time.


Lists like this usually don't make me angry, but this is truly insane. This isn't a definitive list of quality books. This is a list of books that will make you fluent in the cultural lingo of 21st-century educated America.

Josie Kafka said...

This post is not angry, and is safe to read:

Jess, I thought your take on The Road was very interesting. I can't stand McCarthy's prose style, and I've started to think that he's one of the most divisive authors out there. Love him or hate him--no in-between.

Here's an old but fascinating critique of McCarthy's stylistic quirks (scroll down to "Muscular Prose" if you don't want to read the whole thing): http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2001/07/a-readers-manifesto/302270/

ChrisB, thanks for the Ulysses shout-out!

You asked: "For all the King fans out there, is [The Stand] the best?"

As with most things, King himself has the answer to that question: "Although it has never been my favorite novel," he says, "it is the one people who like my books seem to like the most" (in the Preface, Part 2, to the revised edition).

It is not my favorite King novel, and it is not the one I would recommend for a King newbie. I'd recommend 'Salem's Lot or The Shining. Both are tighter and more focused than King's later work.

And then, once I've roped you in, I'll start subtly recommending The Dark Tower series. It's only, like 6000 pages altogether. (Not counting the concordance.)

Jess Lynde said...

It's probably worth remembering that Entertainment Weekly is an American popular entertainment magazine, for a primarily American audience. Obviously, they are begging for outrage and umbrage when they use a term like "greatest" atop their list, but I suspect that they were trying to reflect the tastes of (or that their editors tastes just naturally reflect those of) their primary target audience.

It wasn't the prose style that I found compelling in The Road. I actually found that a bit challenging at first. But I suspect the style pulled me a bit more into the immediate experience (or inside the headspace of The Man) than a different style might have, and that's why I had such a visceral reaction to it.

Josie Kafka said...

Jess, I definitely agree that I should bear in mind the source. But that's part of why these lists are such an odd genre of the present media landscape: they generate comments and links and clicks--so they generate money. And the more controversial they are, the more money the generate.

But they generate such banal controversy: this list doesn't challenge anyone to rethink their literary biases. It doesn't introduce us to anything new.

And, sure, we could say that we're doing the same thing at Doux Reviews by posting the list and commenting on it. Except that I trust our readers to do what the list doesn't: to provide an interesting opinion on the current (and past) literary landscape, fun recommendations I might not have considered, and great personal stories about our connections with certain books and distaste for others.

I'm tempted to say we should create our own counter-lists. For instance:

1. Books That Were So Intense I Couldn't Finish Them

2. Books That Made Me Cry

3. Books That Change Radically, Depending on How Old You Are When You (Re)read Them

4. Top Ten Revenge Tales

5. Books With Heroes I Want to Be Like

6. Novels that Would Make Terrible Films

7. Novels I Ought To Read But Don't Want To

8. Novels I Am Ashamed of Loving

9. Books I Wish I Had Written If That Jerk Hadn't Gotten There First And Done It Better Than I Could Ever Do. Jerk.

10. Books About Cities, or The Country, or Forests

sunbunny said...

Jess - If EW wanted to appeal to its typical audience, they probably shouldn't have begun discussing books.

I really enjoyed saying that. hehe

Billie Doux said...

Good one, Sunbunny. :)

Jess Lynde said...

If memory serves, they have always covered books. Fiction, as well as non-fiction. But they primarily cover the hot new reads that are coming out. NY Times Best Seller type stuff. Not typically classic or foreign literature.

All the covered categories for their "100 best" are the primary sections they cover in each issue. Or used to. I haven't been a subscriber for years. I don't know what the magazine is like these days, but it used to be a great resource for popular culture coverage that wasn't the kind celebrity-tabloid type material you find in People or Us Weekly.

I like Josie's suggestion that we use these lists as a springboard to do a more in depth subset of lists. Could be fun.

Billie Doux said...

I'm not sure I'm qualified to list the ten *best* books ever, since my tastes are unconventional. But what if we added our own lists of the ten books that mattered most to each of us, the books we reread the most?

Josie Kafka said...

I'm not sure I could even list the ten books that mattered most to me.

I'm a moody reader, given to binges of a certain genre that I then put aside completely, or rereads of a book for the comforting familiarity rather than the meaningfulness. Some books that hit me like a ton of bricks only did so because of when I read them--if I were to reread them, I'd probably not care as much.

Would it work if we each created our own category to fill out our Top 10 (or 5, or 7)? That might allow some wiggle room, too: "Stories About Fabulous Worlds" might include TV and film worlds as well as those created in books. It would allow some people to do "Top Ten Books Ever," some to do "My Top Ten" and others to choose their own poison.

Jess Lynde said...

Are we doing this as a separate blog post, or shall we just post overlong comments? :)

Billie Doux said...

Overlong comments are always good.

Colin Peabody-Verteuil said...

Oh, how I hated The Catcher in the Rye! It's on my bookshelf, gathering dust, for ever and ever.
However, I will have to defend Proust with my life, also for ever and ever. I tend to prefer the sixth book of Lost Time (being French, I have no idea what the english titles are), but Swann's relationship with Odette, the jealousy and, finally, indifference were the most fascinating things I ever read.

Billie Doux said...

Colin, I know he's brilliant and I even know why, but I couldn't stand Proust. :)

Here's my overlong comment. My list turned out to be the sci-fi/fantasy novels that had a strong effect on me.

A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs. I was 11 and my parents had just broken up in a spectacularly bad way. It's the only book I ever finished practically in one sitting, and then I immediately went back to the first page and read it again.

Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein. I think I was 12 or 13 when I first read it, and it was a wow. I couldn't stop thinking about it.

I am Legend by Richard Matheson. Again, I was 12 or 13. RIP, Mr. Matheson. It has never been satisfactorily translated to the screen.

Millennium by John Varley. I picked this one up because the blurb sounded cool, and then realized that the plot was one I had thought up myself as a kid -- a time travel story with people from the future saving plane crash victims before the crash. Except Varley did it so much better than I ever could have imagined.

Slaughter-House Five, by Kurt Vonnegut. One of the truly great anti-war books.

Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card. This one made me gasp out loud.

Lightning by Dean Koontz. I know, I know, Koontz got commercial and repetitive, but Lightning is a fascinating time travel love story with Nazis. Can't beat that. My favorite of his, with Watchers, his book about the intelligent dog, a close second.

The Shining and The Stand by Stephen King. I can't pick one over the other. The Shining was, as Josie said somewhere, an incredibly tight, well-written story, probably his best. The Stand is an immense, brilliant end of the world novel.

Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice. She knew her stuff. The mood in this book, the characters, the prose, it's just exceptional.

Time and Again by Jack Finney. He's best known for Invasion of the Body Snatchers, but Time and Again is just a lovely, incredibly detailed time travel story. And it's beautifully illustrated with old photographs.

I just looked through this list again and was surprised at how many were time travel or end of the world stories.

sunbunny said...

Books I’m Afraid to Reread:

The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley Because it’s so damn depressing. It's an excellent retelling of the Arthurian legend from Morgana's pov, but damn it's dark.

A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. "I kill people" Martin Because, by comparison, it makes Mists of Avalon look about as dark Clifford the Big Red Dog. I've forgotten a lot of details, so I do want to reread, but I don't want anything bad to happen this time...

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath It spoke to me so strongly the first time I read it and I’m afraid it won’t have as much impact the second time around.

Books I Reread at least once a year

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Harry Potter by JK Rowling Yes, the entire series. Sometimes I listen to it instead. Jim Dale's audio version of it is fabulous. Haven't heard the Stephen Fry version.

Books I Just Love

I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith It's one of JK Rowling's favorite books AND Henry Cavill was in the movie of it. :)

Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri From my "I'm going to read a bunch of books that won the Pulitzer phase" (it didn't last). A collection of short stories, finely crafted and emotionally sophisticated.

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald There's no one quite so Fitzgeraldy as Fitzgerald, you know?

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood If you haven't read this book, you need to. I'm not a big sci-fi/futuristic/dystopia fan, but this book is excellent.

Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf I hated this book when I read it for school, but lsat year I sat down with it and gave it a chance. It's highly affecting, disturbingly relevant, and Woolf's prose just melts in your mouth. "The leaden circles dissolved in the air."

There's about a million more, but my brain isn't working quite right today. It's so dang hot.

Josie Kafka said...

Sunbunny, I love Interpreter of Maladies. I really liked her second book of stories (Unaccustomed Earth), but I just re-read parts of it last week and didn't love it as much as before. And The Namesake was odd; it felt like 5 short stories crammed together, all with one main character.

Speaking of heat, it could be worse. We could be baking cookies in our cars: http://www.latimes.com/news/nation/nationnow/la-na-nn-phoenix-forecasters-bake-cookies-in-van-20130629,0,786916.story

It's so much pressure, to come up with a list. I know I'll forget something.

sunbunny said...

Yeah, The Namesake lacked any sort of flow. I was very excited about it and then reading it was like...what? I haven't gotten around to Unaccustomed Earth yet. It's been in my Amazon cart for ages.

The a/c in my house is, for some reason, choosing to largely ignore my bedroom. It got up to 87 in there last week. Good times.

Anonymous said...

I too am sad not to see Orwell represented on this list, seeing as we have, in my opinion, shed spotlight on its feminist counterpart: The Handmaid's Tale. I've read this about fifteen times, half of those in high school some fifteen years ago. I often describe it as "1984 for women."

I do agree with The Great Gatsby being #2. It's one of those books that sticks with you long, long after you're done reading it. (At this writing it's been about fifteen years, and I still remember it."

I can't get through Melville either. Nor Hawthorne, so I'm glad none of his works showed up.

I've not read Middlemarch, but I am in love with Silas Marner. Pity it wasn't here.

I'd also be interested to see what the reviewers here at Doux Reviews would consider "worthy" of a listing. Perhaps we can be turned onto some little-known gem...

ChrisB said...

I was hoping this list would create some controversy; it certainly did. Success!

I agree with what several of you have said about the quality of the list. As I was typing it out, I was struck by the number of books I had (1) already read and, if I hadn't read it, (2) knew of and, more often than not, knew the plot of. This list is not, by any standard, original.

I subscribe to EW because it is a wonderful source for the new TV shows. It is not a magazine I read cover to cover every week, but it is a good snapshot of the movies, books, and TV shows that are happening during that week. More often than not, I disagree with their critics, but I do enjoy some of their articles. Jess is right -- the categories they cover with these lists (other than theater) are the ones they cover every week.

It would be impossible for me to list the books that matter the most to me because the ones I list today will change by tomorrow. I will, however, share with you one book memory that I hope will lead you all to an undiscovered gem.

When I was nine, my father was on sabbatical. My family traveled through Europe, ending up in the south of Spain for six months. When we arrived at the house we rented, we discovered a cache of books in English, much to our joy as we had all read everything we had with us over and over again.

One of the books was My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell. I have the most vivid memory of my father, sitting in a chair on the balcony, reading this book and roaring with laughter. As soon as he finished it, my mother did exactly the same thing.

Not to be left out, I picked it up and immediately fell in love with this book. It is an autobiographical tale of the years that the Durrell family (Gerald was still a young boy) lived in Corfu. It is affectionate about the people on the island and it is a wonderful account of a group of brilliant, yet eccentric, older siblings seen through the eyes of that young boy. I have read it at least a dozen times and I laugh out loud every time I do.

Jess Lynde said...

I decided to abandon the attempted list, too. Lists are hard! But here are a few recommendations.

One of my very favorite books is War and Remembrance by Herman Wouk. (The Winds of War is good, too, but I like the second book better.) The two books are wonderful pieces of historical fiction that provide tremendous insight into the causes and effects of WWII (primarily from an American and British perspective, although Wouk uses some interesting approaches to provide some German and Russian perspectives, as well). "The beginning of the end of War lies in Remembrance."

And Wouk's The Caine Mutiny is another great read, featuring the iconic Captain Queeg.

PlatinumRosebud said...

Shibumi, my favorite book is not here... :(

Ben P. Duck said...

I just re-read Moby Dick last year, and have concluded that is the American Ulysses. Greatly admired but just not something that everyone (even intelligent, well-read, well-educated everyones) are going to read. But it is a supreme meditation on extremity and the human spirit, which is the central theme of a whole genre, Sea Stories, which have disappeared as the frontier moved into space. The adventure translated but the best elements never made it into sci fi.

I agree completely with Chris, it is a travesty that Huck Finn is not in the top ten.

And speaking of travesties, The Grapes of Wrath is the truly great American novel. Gatsby may be the a great novel with tremendous resonance in our materialistic times but I have honestly never understood the fascination. On the other hand, Steinbeck's work just gets better with every reading and should be the novel with real resonance in these times of economic insecurity and plutocrats growing richer.

"In the souls of the people the grapes of wrath are filling and growing heavy, growing heavy for the vintage."

Steve S. said...

Okay, I'll throw in a comment. Hard to believe the Odyssey isn't on any list anywhere. The story (really a collection of stories and adventures) is clever, interesting, and keeps popping up in books, TV and movies. I took an online discussion course on it about eight years ago and enjoyed the Odyssey all over again. You do need a good translation, and it helps to have a knowledgeable discussion leader.

I'm not just being a Classics snoothead -- popular books such as The Shining are stunning, Babylon 5 is the best story arc on television, and I read every GRRM book when it is published -- but I never hold my breath since I switch jobs more often than he ships novels. Personally, I think the 3000 pages of writing JMS did for the superb third season of B5 is even more impressive than many top books.

But shoot, the Odyssey is compelling, and still relevant. I also agree with other comments that Shakespeare needs to be on this list. How can Macbeth not be here? (uh oh, that's second comment. Will it be fed to your cats?)

Okay, now that the cats are in play a couple more random comments.

Atlas Shrugged was okay until the last 200 pages or sermonizing, which I fought through as if it were one sour grape after another. With no sweet grape chaser at the end.


I agree on Charlotte's Web, though I was more affected by As the Red Fern grows. And if you haven't read Dr. Zhivago, wow, that's an epic story. It took me many months to stop thinking about it. Well, actually, I still think about it. I never felt so cold as I did reading that book -- I had to read it under my covers one Summer. The movie is not bad, and while entertaining, doesn't quite capture the raw emotion, sweeping grandeur and heartbreak.

Suzanne said...

There are so many comments I would like to reply to here that I don't even know where to begin.

First of all, it was so funny and a little disappointing to read the comments about Namesake since it is the book I just started. I was thinking about using it in my Honors English Composition class,in which I am planning to use an immigration theme. I love Interpreter of Maladies, too, so I thought this one would be good. Do you all recommend that I use Interpreter of Maladies instead?

Secondly, I am usually not a fantasy or sci/fi reader even though most of my favorite t.v. shows are obviously in those genres. However, Harry Potter and The Stand were two of my favorites. I haven't read any other King, though; I have been too scared of how it might keep me up at night. ;)

Toni Morrison is my all-time favorite author and Beloved is my favorite. I defend its position on the list since it is the most important fictional account of American slavery that I know of. Of course, the slave narratives of Frederick Douglass and Harriet Jacobs are key non-fictional works, but Morrison really drew upon these and created something special and unique with Beloved. It isn't for everyone, though. 
I recommend Sula, Song of Solomon, Tar Baby, and A Mercy by Morrison, too. Paradise has been on my too read list for awhile, so maybe now is the time.

I agree about Huck Finn. What a great novel, which has been so unfairly derided and misunderstood in these p.c. times.

Bleak House was my all-time favorite novel in college (before I discovered Morrison), but I think a lot of my love for it related to the great professor who introduced me to it. I recently tried to retread it, and found it hard to get into again. Maybe not having hours to spend reading as I did college had something to do with it.

I had similar experiences with Charlotte's Web as the rest of you. Introducing my children to it was one of my greatest joys as a parent. I could never get into The Hobbit as a kid, but when I read it to my son when he was young, we both adored it. We then tried Lord of the Rings and despite our love of the movies, we couldn't get past the long-winded descriptions.

I, too, and very surprised not to see Slaughter House Five or 1984 here. Brave New World is another surprising absentee.

Jess, I have been meaning to read Winds of War and War and Remembrance forever. My Uncle has raved about these books to me for nearly 30 years. 

It looks like you have company, Josie, I have "read" Uylsses, but only once in college with a lot of help from a professor and the Bloomsday guide he had us buy. I agree that Portrait of an Artist is much better if not as innovative. I like The Dubliners even better.

I am in the group who has struggled to get through Moby Dick without success and who has always wanted to read War and Peace but probably never will.

I am also in the Edith Wharton "fan club." Age of Innocence is my favorite, but I adore House of Mirth almost as much. Ethan Frome was also very good but different from the others.

Other books from the list that made a great impression on me are The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, The Poisonwood Bible, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Joy Luck Club, Frankenstein, Middlesex, The Remains of the Day, Their Eyes Were Watching God (amazing and one I teach often), The Color Purple, Invisible Man, World According to Garp (what about A Prayer for Owen Meany), Maus, The Sun Also Rises, Lolita, The Sound and the Fury, and Mrs. Dalloway.

I wish Richard Russo had been listed (Empire Falls or Nobody's Fool). I also like Anne Tyler's Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant and Joyce Carol Oates' We Were the Mulvanny's. 

I struggled with 100 Years of Solitude, too, but I really liked Love in the Time of Cholera. Last recommendation -- Julia Alvarez's In the Time of the Butterflies.

O.k., I better start reading and stop spending so much time on this awesome blog!

Suzanne said...

I forgot about Steinbeck! I adored East of Eden and have yet to read Grapes of Wrath, but keep planning to do so.

Billie Doux said...

The Grapes of Wrath tore my heart out. I still remember it vividly.

Josie Kafka said...

Suzanne, I definitely recommend Interpreter of Maladies instead of The Namesake. The last story of Interpreter... has a truly beautiful last paragraph.

In fact, it is so beautiful that I will copy it out here (the first-person narrator is a middle-aged Bengali immigrant who came to the US via Britain):

"In my son's eyes I see the ambition that had first hurled me across the world. In a few years he will graduate and pave his way, unprotected. But I remind myself that he has a father who is still living, a mother who is happy and strong. Whenever he is discouraged, I tell him that if I can survive on three continents, then there is no obstacle he cannot conquer. While the astronauts, heroes forever, spent mere hours on the moon, I have remained in this new world more than thirty years. I know that my achievement is quite ordinary. I am not the only man to seek his fortune far from home, and certainly I am not the first. Still, there are many times I am bewildered by each mile I have traveled, each meal I have eaten, each person I have known, each room in which I have slept. As ordinary as it all appears, there are times when it is beyond my imagination."

Also, The Namesake draws heavily on 19th-century Russian literature: the main character's name is Gogol, and that his name is Gogol is what gives the book its name, and there are trains all over the place. Unless your students have read Anna Karenina and a bunch of Gogol stories, I don't think all of the motifs will hit home.

I'd be curious to know what other books you're planning to have them read. Oscar Wao?

Suzanne said...

Josie, thanks for the recommendation. I will probably change my plan, now. I haven't fully decided on my choices yet, but I was thinking about a graphic novel called The Arrival by Shaun Tan, Namesake (but now I will probably change that to Interpreter, and then something featuring The Great Migration, a form of "immigration" rarely discussed as such in our country. The non-fiction book The Warmth of Other Suns deals with this topic really well, but I am not sure if having them read the whole book is what I am after. I am thinking about Sula instead, which focuses on a small town in Ohio where African Americans settled after migrating from the south. There are a few key scenes in it that work really well with my theme. The class is really a composition class, but I find that focusing on a theme and having honors students do the extra novel reading really makes the class more interesting in a way that challenges them a bit. I can't require too much extra novel reading, though, since they must still read and write essays in the class. Many of the essays they read will tie in to our theme, too.

I haven't read Oscar Wao? But it sounds wonderful. Do you recommend it?

sunbunny said...

Suzanne - I second Josie. The Namesake wasn't bad, but it was unremarkable, especially when compared to Interpreter of Maladies.

I'm probably in the minority here, but I can't stand John Steinbeck. Honestly, I'm not that big a fan of American writers in general. There are exceptions, of course, but in general, I prefer the Brits. Can't explain it.

I'm also not a huge fan of foreign works just because I don't speak any foreign language well enough to be able to read them in their original language and I always feel that something is lost in translation, no matter how great that translation is.

Suzanne said...

Sunbunny, I think you are right about translations. I have a friend who read 100 Years of Solitude in Spanish, and she said it is so much better than in English. The language really matters there. She is Russian and had the same issue with most English translations of Russian works, but she did enjoy the Pevar translations that have come out recently. She said they are so much closer to the original than the older ones.

Josie Kafka said...

Suzanne, that's a hard call. I enjoyed Oscar Wao, but didn't love it as much as everyone else, and I don't remember it very clearly. How's your ratio of male to female protagonists? :-)

You mentioned Julia Alvarez a few comments ago. I love her writing. Even her nonfiction essays, collected in Something to Declare, are really good.

This might cover a time period you're not interested in, but have you considered Michael Chabon's The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay? It's long, but wonderful. Probably too long, though. Sigh.

Is this a high school class or a college class?

Ben P. Duck said...

Jess

Regarding "The Road." I just wanted to say I had exactly same reaction. I read it in a single day (and this from someone who can read a magazine article for a couple of days)and it haunted me for weeks afterwards. In fact, it still does to some extent.

Suzanne said...

Josie,

It is a college Honors Freshman Composition course. I definitely considered The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay since it is one of my all-time favorites. I am concerned about the length, but maybe I will revisit it. Thanks for your recommendations. This is so much fun.

a.m. said...

Wow! I've seen 24 of the movies and read 24 of the books...I bet my TV number will be higher, but I'll have to wait and see :)

a.m. said...

Suzanne, reading all of your comments makes me wish I could go back to college and spend my time reading and discussing books :)

If you're doing immigration, I love Julia Alvarez too. I especially like her writing now that I am an ESL teacher and work with immigrants every day. It might not be challenging enough but _How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents_ is a great story about the differences between the experiences of parents and children as they immigrate and acculturate in America. You also might be able to use just one chapter from _Yo!_ Isn't that the one that's told from a variety of POV? I agree with you about _In the Time of the Butterflies_

I guess if I can't rewind life and participate in great seminars, I can at least join in here and discuss all of these books with all of you!

Bea said...

Wow, this is a fun discussion!

Much like many of you, I was surprised by the lack of Orwell (not just 1984, but maybe even Animal Farm), Bradbury and Huxley (no Brave New World, really?).

I can't agree with The Road here. I just don't get McCarthy, I guess, and trus me, I've tried. The premises of his novels are always fantastic, and I've tried not just The Road but others, and I just find him utterly boring. I get he's trying to do brutal and raw, but I just don't feel it.

I think sometimes books are not only affected by language, but also culture itself. I adore 100 Years of Solitude, and I read it while living in Venezuela. The style of the book, this thing called "magical realism" is basically about the exaggeration of reality, and this book is a perfect example of it. So maybe it's just more prominent when you're living in the actual reality that it's trying to exaggerate.

As a Spaniard myself (¡hola Cris!) I will defend Don Quixote, if only for its importance in the development of modern novels. It's a tiring book, though, and it's honestly not neccesary to read the whole thing, just because it's the same over and over again (Don Quixote arrives somewhere, gets in trouble, goes somewhere else, gets it trouble...). I'd reccomed to read the first two or three chapters as well as the last two or three, with maybe one of the (in)famous ones from the middle (windmills as giants, anyone?).

I'm missing some authors here, but then I wonder if it's only because they're my favorites. I'd say Irvine Welsh's Trainspotting deserves a mention, and also Boris Vian's I Spit on Your Graves, both of them brutal and raw in a way that really speaks to me.

I agree wholehartedly on The Spy Who Came In From the Cold, but as far the genre goes, I missed Dashiell Hammet's Red Harvest.

I WAS happy to see A Confederance of Dunces in there. It's one of my favorite novels of all time.

Josie Kafka said...

Suzanne, if you want to incorporate non-fiction, have you considered Takaki's A Different Mirror? Easily excerptable.

Mirza Ghalib said...

I had read better books than this one , it is mostly hype which makes this book popular. Its same old story of poor guy , rich gal just like old Hindi movies, Nothing significant will happen throughout book that you can not predict earlier. As for book quality, it is good enough to read, you wont need dictionary by your side to read this translation.