8 out of 100

By Shamus Posted Friday Nov 3, 2006

Filed under: Nerd Culture 31 comments

beckyzoole has an interesting meme:

In 2005, Time magazine picked the 100 best English-language novels. Mark the selections you have read in bold. If you liked it, add a star (*) in front of the title, if you didn’t, give it a minus (-). [I’ve added, if you feel totally indifferent or just can’t remember, mark it with a question mark (?).] Then, put the total number of books you’ve read in the subject line.

I’m using red / green to denote disliked / liked for read books, because it seems to scan a little easier:

The Adventures of Augie March – Saul Bellow
All the King’s Men – Robert Penn Warren
American Pastoral – Philip Roth
An American Tragedy – Theodore Dreiser
Animal Farm – George Orwell
Appointment in Samarra – John O’Hara
Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret – Judy Blume
The Assistant – Bernard Malamud
At Swim-Two-Birds – Flann O’Brien
Atonement – Ian McEwan
Beloved – Toni Morrison
The Berlin Stories – Christopher Isherwood
The Big Sleep – Raymond Chandler
The Blind Assassin – Margaret Atwood
Blood Meridian – Cormac McCarthy
Brideshead Revisited – Evelyn Waugh
The Bridge of San Luis Rey – Thornton Wilder
Call It Sleep – Henry Roth
Catch-22 – Joseph Heller
The Catcher in the Rye – J.D. Salinger
A Clockwork Orange – Anthony Burgess
The Confessions of Nat Turner – William Styron
The Corrections – Jonathan Franzen
The Crying of Lot 49 – Thomas Pynchon
A Dance to the Music of Time – Anthony Powell
The Day of the Locust – Nathanael West
Death Comes for the Archbishop – Willa Cather
A Death in the Family – James Agee
The Death of the Heart – Elizabeth Bowen
Deliverance – James Dickey
Dog Soldiers – Robert Stone
Falconer – John Cheever
The French Lieutenant’s Woman – John Fowles
The Golden Notebook – Doris Lessing
Go Tell it on the Mountain – James Baldwin
Gone With the Wind – Margaret Mitchell
The Grapes of Wrath – John Steinbeck
Gravity’s Rainbow – Thomas Pynchon
The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald
A Handful of Dust – Evelyn Waugh
The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter – Carson McCullers
The Heart of the Matter – Graham Greene
Herzog – Saul Bellow
Housekeeping – Marilynne Robinson
A House for Mr. Biswas – V.S. Naipaul
I, Claudius – Robert Graves
Infinite Jest – David Foster Wallace
Invisible Man – Ralph Ellison
Light in August – William Faulkner
+The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe – C.S. Lewis
Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov
+Lord of the Flies – William Golding
+The Lord of the Rings – J.R.R. Tolkien
Loving – Henry Green
Lucky Jim – Kingsley Amis
The Man Who Loved Children – Christina Stead
Midnight’s Children – Salman Rushdie
Money – Martin Amis
The Moviegoer – Walker Percy
Mrs. Dalloway – Virginia Woolf
Naked Lunch – William Burroughs
Native Son – Richard Wright
+Neuromancer – William Gibson
Never Let Me Go – Kazuo Ishiguro
1984 – George Orwell
On the Road – Jack Kerouac
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest – Ken Kesey
The Painted Bird – Jerzy Kosinski
Pale Fire – Vladimir Nabokov
A Passage to India – E.M. Forster
Play It As It Lays – Joan Didion
Portnoy’s Complaint – Philip Roth
Possession – A.S. Byatt
The Power and the Glory – Graham Greene
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie – Muriel Spark
Rabbit, Run – John Updike
Ragtime – E.L. Doctorow
The Recognitions – William Gaddis
Red Harvest – Dashiell Hammett
Revolutionary Road – Richard Yates
The Sheltering Sky – Paul Bowles
Slaughterhouse-Five – Kurt Vonnegut
+Snow Crash – Neal Stephenson
The Sot-Weed Factor – John Barth
The Sound and the Fury – William Faulkner
The Sportswriter – Richard Ford
The Spy Who Came in From the Cold – John le Carré
The Sun Also Rises – Ernest Hemingway
Their Eyes Were Watching God – Zora Neale Hurston
Things Fall Apart – Chinua Achebe
To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee
To the Lighthouse – Virginia Woolf
Tropic of Cancer – Henry Miller
Ubik – Philip K. Dick
Under the Net – Iris Murdoch
Under the Volcano – Malcolm Lowry
Watchmen – Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons
White Noise – Don DeLillo
White Teeth – Zadie Smith
Wide Sargasso Sea – Jean Rhys

Yeah, only 8 books on the list. Sort of shabby. I certainly don’t read as much as some people I could mention.

I agree with beckyzoole that the list seems a bit odd. Not that I love Dickens, but I can’t believe he didn’t make the list. Her suggestion of The Caine Mutiny would have been nice as well. The omission of Mark Twain is grotesque.

I might toss a token technothriller on the list. I’m sure most “serious readers” look down on those books as the male equivalent of romance novels, but despite the derisive laughter it would earn me I’d still suggest Hunt for Red October.

I’d put Stevenson’s Cryptonomicon in there long before Snow Crash. Snow Crash was a fine book and it made him famous, but just about everything he’s written since then has been better.

Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy should be on there, without a doubt.

Atlas Shrugged would be another I would suggest for the list. I’ve never read it myself, and I hesitate to even mention it for fear of the flames it may incite, but the book has a wide reach and a lot of influence. People quote it and cite it often, which is more than I can say for about half of Time’s list.

The facination with Catcher in the Rye has always escaped me. It must have spoken to baby boomers in some way that I just miss. The book stikes me as incoherant, ugly, and pointless. Although, I can understand why it made the list. I just thought I’d get my digs in since I have the chance.

Edit: The list is from 1923 to present, which explains why Dickens and Twain didn’t make it.

MORE LATER: Added – and + signs for Firefox users, because the Red / Green isn’t showing up in FF.


From The Archives:

31 thoughts on “8 out of 100

  1. GreyDuck says:

    There should be another mark indicating “only read while in high school,” which is why I won’t be doing this meme: With the exception of LotR, everything else on the list that I’ve read was in class.

    Wait, wait, I think I read Animal Farm again later on. But that’s just about it.

  2. Interesting. The red and green don’t show up in Firefox (1.5), but do in my RSS Reader and IE 7.

  3. ubu roi says:

    Lord of the Rings,
    One Flew Over the Cukoo’s Nest.

    Although I’m stunned that Watchmen made the list. If that was a novel, it was novelized from the comic series, which makes it doubly stunning.

  4. Justin says:

    The red and green showed up in the feed I watch (in my browser) also, but not on this post.

    As for Hitchhiker’s Guide, as much as I loved those books, the internal inconsistencies and such probably preclude it from a list like this, and I have no problem with that.

    I do have a problem with the fact that A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole and House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski (say what you want, but I’ll stand by that choice) weren’t on the list.

  5. beckyzoole says:

    I just saw the clarification, too. 1923 does explain why Mark Twain and Jane Austen aren’t there, but I still think it’s a badly flawed list. Even with that restriction, it should include:

    The Caine Mutiny
    The Chosen
    Doomsday Book
    The Good Earth
    The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
    The Hunt for Red October
    The Joy Luck Club
    The Killer Angels
    The Little Prince
    The Lovely Bones
    The Postman Always Rings Twice
    A Prayer for Owen Meany
    Stranger in a Strange Land
    Tales of the South Pacific
    A Wrinkle in Time

  6. Watchmen, and the books by Dick and Burgess, are on the list because they didn’t want to be accused of being unhip by leaving out “graphic novels” and science fiction. Of course, if they were going to do SF, they’d have done better with “The City and the Stars” and “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress” than the two they chose.

    Why the arbitrary cutoff at 1923?

  7. Huckleberry says:

    How they came up with 1923 as the cutoff:

    “The parameters: English language novels published anywhere in the world since 1923, the year that TIME Magazine began, which, before you ask, means that Ulysses (1922) doesn’t make the cut.”


  8. Wonderduck says:

    21 read, plus the four that Shamus wanted to put on the list. I’m not a fan of Cryptonomicon, alas. I’m actually rereading Red October right now.

    Becky, why in the world would ANYBODY like Owen Meany? I couldn’t find anything worthwhile in it… except for the fringe benefit of making the girlfriend happy (shortly before she dumped me).

  9. Will says:

    I’ve read 11 of them, with all but 3 being compulsory for a class. There are about another 3 I’d actually like to read, given the time. The rest sound like bookshelf dressing.

  10. ubu roi says:

    Well, I think the first mistake is that any of us are paying attention to a list that TIME Magazine put out. I’ve seen their past lists, and never been impressed by the amount of serious research or thought that they’ve put into them.

    And while The Moon is a Harsh Mistress is definately one of Heinlein’s best works, I might be tempted to chose Stranger in a Strange Land or Starship Troopers (the better choice for our times, I think). Maybe Glory Road.

  11. Pixy Misa says:

    Read 8, two under duress. Liked 4.

    There are only a couple of difference between my list and Shamus’s, but one is Chandler’s The Big Sleep. If you like detective stories at all (not mysteries, but detective stories), this is one you should seek out. Not because it’s somehow “worthy”, but because Chandler is a lot of fun to read.

  12. They included a half dozen low-brow titles in there as deliberate slumming, to show that they’re “regular guys” amidst all the pretentious bookshelf dressing (as Will so accurately calls them) titles on the list.

    I’ll be damned if I understand what all of you see in “Stranger in a Strange Land”. I didn’t think it was all that good.

  13. “font color=” doesn’t work in Firefox? That’s strange. Was it deprecated?

    I just looked it up, and apparently it was. But it’s weird that Firefox doesn’t support it; it is one of the most commonly used tags in the business.

  14. Aha! No, Firefox understands it, but your syntax is wrong. To get red you’re using color=”ff0000″. You need to make it color=”#ff0000″. The pound sign is necessary to indicate that it’s hex; otherwise it is assumed to be a decimal number — and “f” ain’t a legal decimal digit. Apparently Microsoft is overly forgiving on this.

  15. Heather says:

    I hated just about every book that I did read on that list (about 20 I think.) Most of them are ugly, detestable, showing only the ugly in life. With the exception of course of L’Engle, Tolkien, Gibson, Stephenson, and C.S. Lewis. This is one of the reasons I prefer pre-1920 books, after 1920 most “quality” books speak only of misery, even Graham Greene and Virgina Wolfe, whom I love, is all about the misery of life. There are several I am surprised didn’t make it but then I am always shocked at people’s fascination with Kurt Vonnegut, Hemingway, and Margaret Mitchell. Several of them I have begun and couldn’t be bothered to finish, not because I don’t like to read (I love to read and LOVE classics) but I hate the ugliness and misery combined with hatred they produce.

    Lucy Maud Montgomery once said that there is as much realism in a pine grove as in a trash heap, or something the like. I do wish writers would realize that you needn’t write about garbage and misery to write well. It is actually harder to write something beautiful without sounding insipid and chintzy than it is to write about something ugly and make it sound like good writing.

  16. Stiehle says:

    How about Stephen King? I’d put The Stand up there at the very least.

  17. Lyz says:

    *applaudes Heather with vigor* Hear hear! I’ve read a number of books on that list, most of which I detested with power and vim for exactly the reasons Heather’s talking about. I *love* L.M. Montgomery and Jane Austen! I love the way they deal with the less-savory characters in the world. They certainly don’t make them the main characters and spend the whole book wallowing through their misery, hate, filth, and loathing. If you’re going to do that, at least pull a Tolstoy (Crime and Punishment) and get over it at the end. Eeesh.

  18. Lyz says:

    AAAACK! DOSTOYEVSKY!!! Now I feel stupid…. -_-;

  19. Shamus says:

    Thanks Steven! Should be fixed now. Or, at least it will be broken for an entirely different reason.

    An old boss once said “most coding errors are from copy & pasting code”. That sounded extreme at first, but I’ve come to see how true that is. That’s exactly what happened here. I did one tag wrong and then replicated that mistake down the list.

  20. Acksiom says:

    No Thurber, no White, no Pratchett. . .no point.

  21. Cineris says:

    That red and green aren’t showing up in Firefox is news to me. I see the colors fine.

    I remember there was some discussion about this list when it was recently released, in particular about the seemingly arbitrary cutoff date of 1923. My vague impression is that the editors did not want to venture into that 23 year period lest their weakest choices (which are there for social signifying reasons) get knocked off the list. I’m betting in Time’s meeting room this entire project had a list going back to 1900 and they drew a line at 1923 (why not 1925?) just to cut some off.

    Thomas Pynchon, Philip Roth, Graham Greene both get two books on the list. Does lightning really strike twice so often, or is it just that these are convenient names to throw around to raise your status within the social circles of these editors? Does anyone really think The Corrections was a good book? It was nominated for Oprah’s book club, after all. It’s really sad that for their multiculti picks they had to go with The Invisible Man (insipid) and Native Son (actively disgusting), amongst others.

    All in all, though I have enjoyed some of the books on this list, as an author I’d be ashamed to be on it, as it would mean my book had been coopted into the peacock-strutting of the barren Time culture and, generally speaking, not survived because it was good.

  22. Cineris says:

    Re: Comments

    Definitely have to agree with beckyzoole on The Killer Angels. Good luck getting Time editors to read military history, though.

    Stranger in a Strange Land would not be my first choice of Heinlein novels, but it’s probably palatable enough to the book-choosing demographic that I’m a bit surprised it’s not on there.

    As for House of Leaves… I found it exceedingly dull, and could barely manage to press on to the end of the book. My favorite part was all of the blank pages. For everything House of Leaves does, there are better and less gimmicky books, in my opinion.

  23. ubu roi says:

    Honestly…. I’d pick Starship Troopers first, but that’s based on recent world events and trends in the American zeitgeist. Stranger was probably me trying to be pretentious, and I’m not sure I ever understood it either. Though there is one scene that has stuck in my mind forever, as an insight to human nature — When Smith is at the zoo, and witnesses a large monkey beat up a smaller monkey. The second monkey then goes to find an even smaller monkey and beats up on it. (This also marks the first time that Smith laughs for real: “It hurts too much not to.”)

    Reading that was the moment that I realized how any one could ever have supported the Nazi regime’s atrocities. Oversimplification, but it was a beginning of understanding.

  24. David V.S. says:

    We should make our own list, perhaps also changing the “since 1923” restriction. Maybe start small: which 20 books since Shamus’s birthdate do Shamus’s readers and friends think are most important for people to read?

  25. Heather says:

    Ooo. Exatly. I loved Dostoyevsky and Thurber is awesome. And Cineris’ point is excellent. David, not sure how well that would go since those of us who prefer quality tend to go back 100 years, at least I do. My reading of modern books is rather limited, mostly because I cant stand the insipid, the pattern based, and hate reading the ugly. In fact, of late the only modern books I bother with are quality children’s authors because the don’t feel the need to show ugliness yet have stepped forward with some truly thought provoking stories. Take Kate Dicamillo for example who’s stories can only truly be called children’s stories because they can be read by children, not because they are child-only. She is a brilliant author, showing beauty and truth without being preachy or insipid. I would also mention E. B. White, Gail Carson Levine, M. M. Kaye, and Peter S. Beagle. I am not sure all of those wrote in the last 35 years, but I know they are all “good” writers.

  26. Geirr says:

    I got smothered with ‘Wuthering Heights’ in highschool – you can all skip it now – our class read it and suffered in place of you to save your pain and boredom.

    My score was 13, and I agree I’d like to see ‘Atlas Shrugged’ up there. Most lit-rut-chuh types point to ‘Fountainhead’ when they think of Rand, in part because ‘Atlas Shrugged’ more thorougly repudiates socialism and how destructive it is to the soul and motivation of enterpreneurs and inventors. Similarly, Solzhenitsyn’s “Gulag Archipelago” won’t make their cut – even though it’s rather useful reading on how to survive in a police state. Also, you probably won’t see much of H.L. Menken and his dry, libertarian wit.

    I’d also guess the list-maker considers Le Carre as the limit figure of the spy thriller genre; beyond that pale one leaves the spotlight of ‘lit-ruh-chuh’ and ventures into pulp, trash, penny-dreadfuls, or whatever term the pretentious people use who tell us what good books we *should* read instead of whatever it is we read and enjoy. Anyways, no Alistair Maclean, Tom Clancy, or Clive Cussler for YOU.

    I definitely agree on the lack of military fiction or biography, in part because the interests of people who tend to accrue credentials in the lit, editing, or journalism are only rarely interested in the tools and stratagems of war. To some extent these list-makers also seem to shun stories about police work, and avoid science, math, and engineering subjects. So, nothing about mining in the Old West, cattle wars, steam railroading, oil exploration, blacksmithing, etc.
    John Miur yes, but Jim Bridger no.

  27. beckyzoole says:

    Well, Time Magazine set their cutoff at 1923 because that was the year that Time began. Thus, these are their picks of the 100 Best Novels of ALl Time.

    Or something like that.

    I like David’s idea of picking the best novels of Shamus’s life! What’s been published since 1971 that’s really, really great?

    American Gods
    The Blind Assassin
    The Color Purple
    The Corrections (hey, I liked it!)
    Doomsday Book
    His Dark Materials
    The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
    Hogfather (although it’s so hard to pick just one Pratchett — Mort or Wyrd Sisters or Jingo would be good too)
    The Hunt for Red October
    The Joy Luck Club
    The Killer Angels
    The Lovely Bones
    Memoirs of a Geisha
    A Prayer for Owen Meany
    Sophie’s Choice
    The Stand
    Watership Down
    The Winds of War/War and Remembrance
    Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

  28. Shamus says:

    Humorous: A meme centered around me, in which I am unqualified to participate. Really, my post-1971 reading list is quite short. It’s mostly Cyberpunk and Technothrillers. I doubt I could remember them all, much less fill a list of 100.

    becky reminded me of mauz: A good book I discovered by accident and for a long time thought I’d found a rare, obscure gem. Later found out it was famous and lots of people have read it.

  29. Telas says:

    14, or 12 if you count books I gave up on… :-\

    Great comments, Heather. I’m backing you 100% on the ease of destroying something vs. the difficulty of building something. Eric Hoffer has comments in the same vein, so you’re in good company.

    Ayn Rand should be on the list. I would suggest that Fountainhead is more “literature” than Atlas Shrugged, but AS has been more widely read and influenced more people.

    Heinlein’s a tough one… Aside from Starship Troopers, and maybe TMIAHM, I can’t point to any one book that is good enough to be there.

    Terry Pratchett is a far better author than he gets credit for. I think he will forever be underappreciated; (in the eyes of the elite) how could someone so prolific be such a good writer?

    Stephenson’s Snow Crash is far better than Cryptonomicon, IMO. The depth and breadth of SC is amazing, and I am still floored by the prophetic nature of it. The Baroque Cycle is good, too, but intimidatingly massive.

    I’m surprised nobody mentioned Tom Wolfe. Bonfire of the Vanities is excellent, and A Man in Full is (IMHO) even better.

  30. AndrewNZachsDad says:

    Telas, thanks for the link. Love those Cohen stories. I can’t believe they left Terry out of the list. I’ll never read Time tabloid again.

  31. Robsta says:

    3 of 100, 2 of which were fantasy, the other for school.
    Agreed with most said above. I read nearly exclusively fantasy now, with breaks for historical or informative documents (The Prince by Machiavelli for example) and sci-fi.
    For this reason I think Tolkien should be #1. Although it is not the best fantasy book, it is the best known, and fairly good. I liked The Hobbit better than the lord of the rings, perhaps it should be on the list.
    Other authors I think should be on the list include Douglas Adams (Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy), Terry Pratchett (The Colour of magic), Guy Gavriel Kay (either his better known Fionaver Tapestries, or his better written Tiganna), and Monica Huges (Devil on my Back)

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