Friday, January 23, 2009

The 100 novels everyone should read (or so they say)

When it comes to book lists, I cannot resist taking a look. Here is a list of "100 Novels Everyone Should Read" from The Telegraph. Everyone should read these? Really? Is that not a bit pushy? Anyhow, following CW's example, who got it from someplace else (detecting a pattern here?):

  • The ones I have read are in bold.
  • The ones I started and did not finish are in italics. They expect me to actually admit that? Hey, I have no shame. If a book is not for me, it's adios and let's get a different one.
  • Books in my collection, read or not, are underlined.
  • As usual, any additional commentary and/or snark is mine.
So, here we go:

100. The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien.

99. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.

98. The Home and the World by Rabindranath Tagore.

97. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams. This has been on my TBR list for a while. I own one of those omnibus editions that has the five novels, so once I do get to it, I should be able to get through the whole thing, assuming it keeps my interest. I have mixed feelings since I tried to read Pratchett's first Discworld novel, and I ended up dropping it. I hear these two authors are similar, thus my slight apprehension. However, some folks have told me Pratchett gets better in later works, so I may yet take another chance on him. Adams has me curious since I liked the movie.

96. One Thousand and One Nights by Anon.

95 The Sorrows of Young Werther by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.

94. Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie. I read this in graduate school. I used to own a copy, but it got purged in the "great weeding" prior to our move from Houston to Tyler. From the many things I had to read in graduate school, this was one of the few I actually liked.

93. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John le Carré.

92. Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons.

91. The Tale of Genji by Lady Murasaki.

90. Under the Net by Iris Murdoch.

89. The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing. Another one I read in graduate school as an English major. Back then, I did not get a lot out of it. Odds of me going back for a second look are next to none since I remember disliking it back then.

88. Eugene Onegin by Alexander Pushkin.

87. On the Road by Jack Kerouac. I read this for leisure. I did not particularly care for it, and I fail to see why so many people make a big deal out of it. There are probably much better road tales out there.

86. Old Goriot by Honoré de Balzac.

85. The Red and the Black by Stendhal.

84. The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas. Another one on my TBR list. I bought one of those cheap Wordsworth editions.

83. Germinal by Emile Zola.

82. The Stranger by Albert Camus.

81 The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco. I have an old paperback copy. I remember it as a bit of a challenging read at times, lengthy, but I did feel very satisfied when I read it. I may revisit it soon.

80. Oscar and Lucinda by Peter Carey.

79. Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys.

78. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll.

77. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller. I had a copy at one point, but I can't seem to find it. It's possible it went out with the "great weeding."

76. The Trial by Franz Kafka.

75. Cider with Rosie by Laurie Lee.

74. Waiting for the Mahatma by RK Narayan.

73. All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Remarque.

72. Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant by Anne Tyler.

71. The Dream of the Red Chamber by Cao Xueqin.

70. The Leopard by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa.

69. If On a Winter’s Night a Traveller by Italo Calvino.

68. Crash by JG Ballard.

67. A Bend in the River by VS Naipaul.

66. Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky.

65. Dr Zhivago by Boris Pasternak.

64. The Cairo Trilogy by Naguib Mahfouz.

63 The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson. I own an omnibus that also has Frankenstein and Dracula, so I read all three together.

62. Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift.

61. My Name Is Red by Orhan Pamuk.

60. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez. This is my all-time favorite novel. As far as I am concerned, if you have read this, you can pretty much skip a lot of the stuff on this list; you don't need to read anything else. This novel is that good. Anyhow, I own a copy that belonged to my mother, which though tattered, I am certainly holding on to. I have read it a few times, and I will be rereading it soon.

59. London Fields by Martin Amis.

58. The Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolaño. I have been hearing a lot about this author, so it may be time to go read some of his works.

57. The Glass Bead Game by Herman Hesse.

56. The Tin Drum by Günter Grass.

55. Austerlitz by WG Sebald.

54. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov.

53. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. I owned a copy of this, but "bookcrossed" it ages ago. It is not the most readable of novels, but it is a necessary reading. If you want an idea of what will happen (especially to women) if a theocracy ends up gaining power in the U.S., read this. It would not be pretty. I think it should be read as a strong warning.

52. The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger. A book that I hated, and as I have said before, Salinger owes me for the time I lost reading his overrated tripe.

51. Underworld by Don DeLillo.

50. Beloved by Toni Morrison.

49. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck.

48. Go Tell It On the Mountain by James Baldwin.

47. The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera.

46. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark.

45. The Voyeur by Alain Robbe-Grillet.

44. Nausea by Jean-Paul Sartre.

43. The Rabbit books by John Updike.

42. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain. I read this and Tom Sawyer in 6th grade English class. Had to reread Huck Finn at some point as an English major, but I can't quite recall when I did it.

41 The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle. Another of my favorite writers. I own a two-volume complete Sherlock Holmes set.

40. The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton. Another English major graduate school reading.

39. Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe. I read something else by Achebe in graduate school, but can't quite remember what it was.

38. The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald. Ditto on this being a graduate school reading.

37. The Warden by Anthony Trollope.

36. Les Misérables by Victor Hugo.

35. Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis.

34. The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler. I have read some of Chandler's short fiction, but never one of his novels. I will have to remedy that soon.

33. Clarissa by Samuel Richardson.

32. A Dance to the Music of Time by Anthony Powell.

31. Suite Francaise by Irène Némirovsky.

30. Atonement by Ian McEwan.

29. Life: a User’s Manual by Georges Perec.

28. Tom Jones by Henry Fielding. I just could not get into this. I owned it (bought it at the same time I got my copy of The Three Musketeers), but went out in the "great weeding." Odds are very slim I will try it again.

27. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley.

26. Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell.

25. The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins.

24. Ulysses by James Joyce.

23. Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert. Read it as an undergraduate. I hated it, but one does what one has to do as an English teaching major.

22. A Passage to India by EM Forster. See my note above for #23.

21. 1984 by George Orwell. I taught this in high school, so I don't feel a need to reread it anytime soon (I can practically recite a lot of it even years later).

20. Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne.

19. The War of the Worlds by HG Wells. Read this eons ago, which means I need to reread it.

18. Scoop by Evelyn Waugh. I had to read something else by this author in graduate school.

17. Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy. Same for Hardy.

16. Brighton Rock by Graham Greene. And same for Greene. Overall, I did not particularly care for "canonical" Brit. lit. in graduate school. That is probably why I took more of an interest in minority literatures and science fiction. I read some Greene, but this was not it. Another author I barely recall.

15. The Code of the Woosters by PG Wodehouse.

14. Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë.

13. David Copperfield by Charles Dickens. I have read Great Expectations and had to teach it at one point. It pretty much turned me off Dickens. It will probably be years before I give this author another chance.

12. Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe. Another undergraduate reading.

11. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen.

10. Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes. I read this in high school during my senior year, in Spanish, and in the original (not some abridged edition). I am quite proud of that, and once was enough.

9. Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf.

8. Disgrace by JM Coetzee.

7. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë.

6. In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust.

5. Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad. Undergraduate and graduate school reading.

4. The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James. Graduate school reading.

3. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy.

2. Moby-Dick by Herman Melville. Graduate school reading.

1. Middlemarch by George Eliot.

Total read: 28

When I specify that I read something in college, it usually means it was inflicted on me, so to speak. When it comes to "classic" British and American literature, I do not have good memories of most of it. I always found writers from other parts of the world to be better, usually more engaging, and more diverse in their subjects. Back then, I found things like Teatro Campesino, the works of Suzan-Lori Parks, a few other drama pieces, and novels and works that were more unconventional to be the things I wanted to work with had I continued towards a doctorate; I had an exceptional professor of dramatic literature who was very inspiring and ignited my interest in that area. Also, I wrote a paper on a science fiction novel which I presented at one point. That would have been another option for me had I continued, and in fact, sci-fi is still one of my scholarly interests (as well as just for leisure). Most canonical stuff was just too boring and ordinary for me. What does that say about me as an English major? Maybe that I prefer different things, that I want to look at literature when it pushes the envelope, and that there is more than just the usual gang on dead white authors. But that could be the topic of another post. Anyhow, as that wise man said, "every book its reader, and every reader its book." I am at peace with my reading preferences by now, and unlike a lot of people, have no sense of guilt or shame for not having read X or Y so-called classic book. If I need to know what the book is about (for a book I don't care for), a good internet search solves the problem. Life is short, so go find what you like to read, and as Joseph Campbell would say, go follow your bliss.

And if you need some reassurance, go remind yourself of The Reader's Bill of Rights.

No comments: