Favorite fiction of the last 200 years

I was talking to my friend Tim last night, and told him I’d come upon a Guardian list of novels that everyone should have read before leaving college, and that the list included Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (seriously?) as well as Lord of the Rings (a good and entertaining read, but not nearly as worthwhile as Tolstoy, who wasn’t on the list). I can’t find the link now, but so be it.

I’m a sucker for such lists, as from them I’ve found some great books, but they can also include some clunkers. (I have read that Harry Potter book, by the way: an undergrad in my lab and I decided to exchange book recommendations: she’d read a book of my choosing and I’d read one of hers. Her choice for me was Harry Potter, mine for her was D. H. Lawrence’s Sons and Lovers. I read her choice [meh]; she didn’t read mine! I also read Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit in high school, and loved them.)

Tim and I, considering ourselves well read, of course criticized the Guardian‘s choices, and that led us to exchange lists of our favorite 20 works of fiction of the last 200 years. We would each make our own list before reading the other’s. So here are my favorites, which I just jotted down without thinking too much. Tim’s list is below mine, and it’s surprising to see how much coincidence there is. Of course we both went to the same college, and we’ve known each other and discussed books for years, but still . . .

Remember, these are lists of our favorite books, not necessarily the best books, though of course there will be considerable overlap. For example, Tender is the Night is not a perfect book by any means, suffering from a bizarre narrative break in the middle, but the prose and story are lovely, and I love good prose.

My list (not in any particular order)

  1. Dubliners (especially “The Dead”) James Joyce*
  2. The Tin Drum (Gunter Grass)
  3. Native Son (Richard Wright)
  4. A House for Mr. Biswas (V. S. Naipal)*
  5. The Sun Also Rises (Ernest Hemingway)
  6. Anna Karenina (Tolstoy)*
  7. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (Mark Twain)*
  8. Middlemarch (George Eliot)
  9. Crime and Punishment (Dostoevsky)
  10. The Remains of the Day (Kazuo Ishiguro)
  11. A Hundred Years of Solitude (Gabriel García Márquez)*
  12. The Heart is a Lonely Hunter (Carson McCullers)
  13. Midnight’s Children (Salman Rushdie)
  14. The Master and Margarita (Mikhail Bulgakov)
  15. Winesburg, Ohio (Sherwood Anderson)
  16. Tender is the Night (F. Scott Fitzgerald)*
  17. The Sound and the Fury (William Faulkner)
  18. The Raj Quartet (Paul Scott; four books, but I’d include the sequel Staying On, which belongs with the others)
  19. Invisible Man (Ralph Ellison)*
  20. Blood Meridian (Cormac McCarthy)

If I could add one more from modern times, it would be Pat Barker’s Regeneration Trilogy. Also, Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go is a close second to The Remains of the Day. I also note that I chose three works of “magical realism”: the Bulgakov, Garcia Márquez, and Rushdie.

Tim’s List (in alphabetical order by author)

  1. Sonny’s Blues (James Baldwin)
  2. Death Comes for the Archbishop (Willa Cather)
  3. Heart of Darkness (Joseph Conrad)
  4. Invisible Man (Ralph Ellison)
  5. Absalom, Absalom (William Falkner)
  6. Tender Is the Night (F. Scott Fitzgerald)
  7. The Overcoat (Nikolai Gogol)
  8. For Whom the Bell Tolls (Ernest Hemingway)
  9. Their Eyes Were Watching God (Zora Neale Hurston)
  10. The Dead  (James Joyce)
  11. The Feast of the Goat (Mario Vargas Llosa)
  12. One Hundred Years of Solitude (Gabriel Garcia Marquez)
  13. Member of the Wedding (Carson McCullers)
  14. Moby-Dick (Herman Melville)
  15. Beloved (Toni Morrison)
  16. A House for Mr. Biswas (V.S. Naipul)
  17. Complete Stories of Flannery O’Connor
  18. The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis (José Saramago)
  19. Anna Karenina (Leo Tolstoy)
  20. Huckleberry Finn (Mark Twain)

The books we have in common are indicated by asterisks on my list; fully seven of the twenty were shared, and even more authors were shared.

One final note: I had a hard time choosing between Carson McCullers’s books Member of the Wedding and The Heart is a Lonely Hunter. Both are terrific, but Tim and I chose alternatives.

You know what to do now; make your own list (top five, maybe?), criticize or laud our choices, and so on. Clearly, the coincidence of the lists above means that we’ve learned about books either from each other or from our teachers.


  1. Frank
    Posted November 10, 2017 at 9:00 am | Permalink

    We’re so serious; not a lot of comedic fiction on those lists, which is why I would add A Confederacy of Dunces (Pulitzer winner). It may seem a bit dated now (set in early 60s New Orleans), and even a little racist, but Ignatius J. Reilly remains a personal “hero”.

    And … Middlemarch, Madame Bovary, Great Expectations, Mrs. Dalloway.

    • Craw
      Posted November 10, 2017 at 9:23 am | Permalink

      Plus one to all this, especially Bovary.

      I did not mention maupassant because we seem to be talking novels, but if short stories are allowed he shoots to the top region of my list.

      • Jonathan Dore
        Posted November 10, 2017 at 10:45 am | Permalink

        Likewise, Alice Munro and William Trevor would have been up there for me if short stories were included.

        • Posted November 10, 2017 at 1:15 pm | Permalink

          I would put Love in the Time of Cholera ahead of 100 Years…. And where is Nabokov’s Lolita???!!!!! A fave of mine is V. Woolf’s Orlando, masterful comedy and a bit of fantasy. And for short stories: Katharine Anne Porter, both Pale Horse, Pale Rider, but the heart stopping Noon Wine, a classic American tragedy (should be an opera). And where is Philip Roth? And right now, Valeria Luiselli’s The Story of My Teeth. For me, the writing style looms largest, hence Nabokov and Marquez. And Roth and Luiselli too. Check them out.

          • Posted November 10, 2017 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

            I think you identify a major split between types of readers: Those for whom the style is the big thing (or all) and those for whom the story is the big thing (or all).

            I generally fall in the latter category. Which may be why I am mainly a NF reader.

            • Posted November 10, 2017 at 6:49 pm | Permalink

              You may be on to something. For me, a great story is very entertaining, but great style can be mind blowing.

            • Posted December 21, 2017 at 10:54 am | Permalink

              Isn’t Style vs Story the precisely the marker that distinguishes genre/commercial fiction (James Patterson, J.K. Rowling, Dan Brown, Michael Connelly) from the more highbrow literary fiction (Ian McEwan, John Dike, Conrad, Rebecca Goldstein)?

              To me, good prose and character development win the day. Don’t care much for plots and cliffhangers.

          • Posted November 10, 2017 at 2:01 pm | Permalink

            Speaking of pale things, my favourite Nabokov is Pale Fire.

      • Robert Ryder
        Posted November 10, 2017 at 2:06 pm | Permalink

        Tim included “Sonny’s Blues,” which is a short story by James Baldwin, so I guess short stories are included.

        • Mark R.
          Posted November 10, 2017 at 5:27 pm | Permalink

          Joyce’s “The Dead” is also a short story. And no surprise it’s on both Jerry’s and Tim’s lists. And “Dubliners” is also a book of short stories.

    • mirandaga
      Posted November 10, 2017 at 3:32 pm | Permalink

      Yes, “Confederacy of Dunces” is one of those one-hit wonders that is almost in a class by itself. “Wuthering Heights” is another and even “A River Runs Through It” on a smaller scale.

      • Mark R.
        Posted November 10, 2017 at 5:31 pm | Permalink

        The author committed suicide at age 31 (it’s suggested he killed himself because “Confederacy of Dunces” was rejected). If he lived longer, perhaps “Confederacy of Dunces” wouldn’t have been a one-hit wonder. Alas, we’ll never know.

        • Ken Kukec
          Posted November 11, 2017 at 7:48 am | Permalink

          As I recall, the story of its publication, involving J.K. Toole’s mother and Walker Percy, is quite a tale in its own right.

  2. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted November 10, 2017 at 9:00 am | Permalink

    Yeah, I tried to read Harry Potter a couple times and gee why can’t I get into it? I mean, Winnie The Pooh, Alice in Wonderland, Jungle Book, Just So Stories – those are “children’s literature” that are inexhaustibly pleasant in a way that Harry Potter is not. I don’t know what it is…. I like the Harry Potter STORY as presented in the movies, but the WRITING…

    • Posted November 10, 2017 at 9:02 am | Permalink

      I am not a fan of the Fantasy genre. I have not tried Mr. Potter yet.

      My experience is that all of it is poor imitations of Tolkien. (Why bother?)

      • ThyroidPlanet
        Posted November 10, 2017 at 9:07 am | Permalink

        I am generally late to the party when it comes to literature – LOTR I love, Hobbit, even took The Silmarilion and carried it around reading it like a bible for a time. Dug pretty deep into Tolkien.

      • Harrison
        Posted November 10, 2017 at 10:28 am | Permalink

        Potter isn’t imitating Tolkien, at least not directly. Rowling’s two major influences seem to be Roald Dahl and British folklore, particularly Welsh (Lloyd Alexander drew from this as well and THOSE parallels leapt out at me because I devoured the Prydain books as a kid).

      • bundorgarden
        Posted November 10, 2017 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

        Potter is very “Englishy’. I read one just out of curiosity. It is written for children, and hence is not really satisfying for adults for that reason IMO.
        Regardless, when the books first came out I was always amazed to see adults enthusiastically reading it: a children’s book!
        At the risk of appearing a snob, I always imagined those adults probably didnt read for pleasure very often, so reading a novel was perhaps a novelty for them.

    • Taz
      Posted November 10, 2017 at 10:14 am | Permalink

      Children’s literature or not, “Alice” would have to be on my list.

    • Posted November 10, 2017 at 1:46 pm | Permalink

      JK Rowling’s fortune is evidence that you are in the minority. Personally, I liked some of the books, but the sixth one, in particular stands out for not being very good.

      On the other hand I think LotR is seriously overrated. My overriding memory of it is that large parts are interminably boring. The Hobbit was OK though.

      • ThyroidPlanet
        Posted November 10, 2017 at 6:37 pm | Permalink

        LOTR I admit I forced myself to read at first to meet the nerd requirements – e.g. the books’ popularity…. aaand the movies were due out and I wanted book first, movie after.

        the story was carrying me along at some point though…

        • Doug
          Posted November 10, 2017 at 11:31 pm | Permalink

          As a teen, I made several attempts to read LOTR; it SOUNDED fantastic. I could never get into it.

          My choices: “Huckleberry Finn,” “Wuthering Heights,” “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” and anything by Dickens. I’ll say “Our Mutual Friend,” since that was the book that got me hooked on Dickens.

  3. Posted November 10, 2017 at 9:00 am | Permalink

    Hi Jerry,

    I tried, very hard, to like the award-winning, famous, highly-praised Midnight’s Children. (I had read Freedom at Midnight before I (tried to) read Rushdie’s book.)

    I read 75% of the book and finally set it down (“no pony under there” as I like to say).

    May I respectfully ask what it is that you like so well about the book?

    I’ve read very widely, pretty consistently at least a book per week for my adult life. I did not “get” Midnight’s Children.


    • Teresa Carson
      Posted November 10, 2017 at 9:15 am | Permalink

      I also do not get Midnight’s Children. I tried to read it a couple of times, and I always felt like I was missing out on a lot of what Rushdie was trying to communicate. I finally gave up when I decided that I just don’t know enough about Indian culture and history to fully understand it. Perhaps I should try again.

    • Posted November 10, 2017 at 9:23 am | Permalink

      All I can say, since it’s been a while, is that I know a lot about India and have been there many times, and perhaps that conditioned my response to the book.

      But I’m not alone in my approbation: it not only won the Booker Prize, but won the “Best of the Booker” award: the best among all Booker Prize winners of the 40 years before 2008. That was by public vote, but, in 1993, the novel also won the “Booker of Bookers” award for being the best of all the Booker Prize novels, and that was decided by three Booker judges.

      • Craw
        Posted November 10, 2017 at 9:50 am | Permalink

        I think of these rather as disapprobations. But my favorite novel also comes with a sordid recommendation : AL Gore also picked Red and Black as his favorite novel. At least he never errors said his favorite Symphony was Sibelius 7!

      • Posted November 10, 2017 at 9:53 am | Permalink

        Yes, I think this is just one of those where I’m the odd man out.

        I have little actual experience in India itself (more in Nepal); but I have read quite extensively about India.

        I think there was too much “inside baseball” in the book that I simply didn’t get. Reading what Rushdie has written about the book leads my in that direction as well.

        Thanks for your reply! 🙂

        • Craw
          Posted November 10, 2017 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

          Inside baseball is a great phrase for it. I know exactly what you mean, and I think that’s exactly the reason for all the accolades Jerry cites.
          I wanted to like Verses, but the inside baseball begins in the first sentence, an allusion to the City of Mahagony by Brecht and Will. I gave e up soon after.

      • Posted November 11, 2017 at 1:09 am | Permalink

        That’s the point. Although it clearly is not necessary for everyone, it does help to know a bit about India in order to appreciate Midnight’s Children, which I loved.

    • Posted November 10, 2017 at 6:35 pm | Permalink

      I knew very little about India before reading Midnight’s Children. I loved it and moved on to other Rushdie books and he has become a favorite author.

      • Posted November 10, 2017 at 6:37 pm | Permalink

        It does owe a bit to The Tim Drum, though. Especially the witch and the green and black and green and black and green and black. When the witch was revealed in Midnight’s Children, I got goosebumps and felt a chill through my whole body.

    • Tim Harris
      Posted November 10, 2017 at 8:25 pm | Permalink

      The greatest novel by an Indian writer that I know is ‘All about H. Hatterr’ by G.V. Desani. It also influenced Rushdie a lot. I think it is much better than Rushdie’s work,which I somehow have not got on with.

      • Tim Harris
        Posted November 10, 2017 at 8:44 pm | Permalink

        Desani’s novel was out of print for years, but I see it is available new from the New York Review of Books. I recommend it very strongly.

  4. Patrick Clark
    Posted November 10, 2017 at 9:05 am | Permalink

    It is tough to limit oneself to 5:

    1. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
    2. Crime and Punishment
    3. Persuasion (the only Austen book published in the last 200 years. Pride and Prejudice was published in 1813 or I would have picked it)
    4. All Quiet On The Western Front. Erich Maria Remarque
    5. Great Expectations Charles Dickens
    6. The Short Stories Of F. Scott Fitzgerald
    7. Empire Falls Richard Russo
    8. Anna Karenina
    9. Lord Of The Flies William Golding
    10. Catch 22 Joseph Heller

  5. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted November 10, 2017 at 9:10 am | Permalink

    I forgot to add :

    The Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy by Douglas Adams

    … another better-late-than-never reading of mine, and nerd-lit that along with Tolkien I couldn’t let go unread and be comfortable with myself.

    • Jeff Lewis
      Posted November 10, 2017 at 11:49 am | Permalink

      It’s been several years since I’ve read any of these books, but I think I might prefer the Dirk Gently series over the Hitchhikers series. Of course, both series are great.

      • Heather Hastie
        Posted November 10, 2017 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

        When I first read them I liked HHGTTG better, but now I prefer the Dirk Gently books too.

  6. Jorge Rojas
    Posted November 10, 2017 at 9:10 am | Permalink

    “The Feast of the Goat” of Mario Vargas Llosa is a great, great book. But if you guys are going to read just one book of Mario Vargas Llosa (Literature Nobel Prize winner 2010) I would recommend you “The war of the End of the World”. This is a masterpiece. It´s huge.

    • Robert Bray
      Posted November 10, 2017 at 9:37 am | Permalink

      I had a similar reaction to ‘Feast of the Goat’ (after reading it in translation). But when a Latina friend read it she was appalled by the violence and declared she’d never look at it again. I didn’t know how to respond to this. . . .

      • Jorge Rojas
        Posted November 10, 2017 at 10:29 am | Permalink

        Indeed, it is very cruel in some parts ( I will never forget a specific passage abuout a prisioner). But men can be cruel and in a dictatorship men do cruel things.

  7. Petu W
    Posted November 10, 2017 at 9:16 am | Permalink

    I won’t include any books written in my mother tongue (Finnish) although some of them are the ones I love the most. Here goes:
    – Joseph Conrad: Lord Jim
    – Annie Proulx: Close range
    – Joseph Heller: God knows
    – James Joyce: Ulysses
    – Ian McEwan: Solar

    • Posted November 10, 2017 at 11:15 am | Permalink

      I’ll accept Ulysses and Solar. I couldn’t live without Huckleberry Finn or Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man. The untranslatable Finnish masterpiece is Lauri Viita’s Moreeni.

      • Posted November 10, 2017 at 11:28 am | Permalink

        If we stick to translatable masterpieces, I’ll go for Humboldt’s Gift by Saul Bellow. Any friend of Viita’s will understand why.

      • Petu W
        Posted November 11, 2017 at 6:53 am | Permalink

        JP, I have admired your taste and knowledge in jazz, thus it comes with no surprise that your opinion is interesting. My choices for the untranslatable Finnish masterpieces would be Kivi (the beauty of the language), Linna (the philosophical profoundity), and Kilpi (both).

        • Posted November 11, 2017 at 9:09 am | Permalink

          It won’t come as a surprise that Kivi and Linna are second and third on my Finnish fiction list.

  8. Craw
    Posted November 10, 2017 at 9:19 am | Permalink

    Egregious omissions

    The Red and the Black
    The Good Soldier (Ford)

    I like Coyne’s list far more.

  9. BJ
    Posted November 10, 2017 at 9:21 am | Permalink

    Like Frank said above, it seems these lists often don’t take comedy as seriously as drama. I’m also always saddened to see disregard for fantasy (like the Wheel of Time series) and hard sci-fi. Also often leaves out modern authors with unique and purposefully grotesque styles, such as Irvine Welsh (Filth is one of my favorites).

    As for more dramatic material, The Brothers Karamazov is my favorite Dostoevsky novel.

    • BJ
      Posted November 10, 2017 at 9:23 am | Permalink

      I meant to mention Vonnegut in my first sentence. I’m surprised he didn’t make your list, Jerry. I know you’ve posted before about your love for his books.

      • Posted November 10, 2017 at 10:53 am | Permalink

        Yes, for me too that is a conspicuous absence.

    • Craw
      Posted November 10, 2017 at 9:24 am | Permalink

      Ever read The Sot-Weed Factor? Hilarious.

      • BJ
        Posted November 10, 2017 at 9:31 am | Permalink

        I haven’t, but thanks for the suggestion. I’ll order it today.

      • Jonathan Wallace
        Posted November 10, 2017 at 10:22 am | Permalink

        Yes – I found a copy in a youth hostel in Athens about forty years ago and loved it.

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted November 10, 2017 at 11:44 am | Permalink

        When it comes to Barth, I really like Giles Goat-Boy.

  10. chris moffatt
    Posted November 10, 2017 at 9:22 am | Permalink

    It’s all subjective so here’s a short list of books that can be reread several times:

    The apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz
    The wind in the willows
    Brave new world
    One flew over the cuckoo’s nest
    That’s me in the middle
    three men in a boat

  11. DrBrydon
    Posted November 10, 2017 at 9:24 am | Permalink

    I am not much of a fiction reader, or rather my tastes tend to the escapist, so I read Dubliners in high-school, for example, and wouldn’t read it again. So my list:

    1) The Caine Mutiny — Herman Wouk. The movie captures only part of the story.

    2) Mister Roberts — Thomas Heggen. The movie doesn’t do it anything like justice.

    3) Guys and Dolls — Damon Runyon

    4) At the Mountains of Madness — H. P. Lovecraft

    5) The Case of the Toxic Spell Dump — Harry Turtledove

    6) The Chinatown Death Cloud Peril: A Novel — Paul Malmont

    7) Foucault’s Pendulum — Umberto Eco

    8) Right Ho, Jeeves — P. G. Wodehouse

    9) The Hornblower novels of C. S. Forester and the Aubrey-Maturin novels of Patrick O’Brian

    • Posted November 10, 2017 at 9:49 am | Permalink

      Agree on the Caine Mutiny — and I should have listed it and Wouk’s Winds of War and War and Remembrance set.

      In my opinion, The Caine Mutiny is mainly (the book) a coming-of-age story about the narrator — and a superb novel.

    • Jeff Rankin
      Posted November 10, 2017 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

      Nice to see some Lovecraft. AtMoM is great. I’d pick “The Case of Charles Dexter Ward” as my favorite novella-length Lovecraft.

    • Posted November 10, 2017 at 1:49 pm | Permalink

      Foucault’s Pendulum is the first book I gave up reading before the end. It’s the Da Vinci Code with all the entertainment stripped out, although I grant it is a well written piece of monotony.

      • Posted November 10, 2017 at 6:57 pm | Permalink

        Agree. It’s unreadable. The Rushdie review of it is fantastic. And apparently Eco was a good sport about it afterwards.

        • Posted November 10, 2017 at 8:22 pm | Permalink

          I have read most of Eco’s fiction, including
          Foucault’s Pendulum. It was read so long ago that I don’t retain much detail. But, I do remember that I much preferred The Name of the Rose. And, I recently read a non-fiction book of his titled How to Travel with a Salmon & Other Essays. In looking him up on Wikipedia, his list of non-fiction works makes me eager to read more of them.

      • Posted November 16, 2017 at 7:32 am | Permalink

        I loved The Name of the Rose (a recent re-read showed me that it wasn’t as good as I thought it was as a youth; but still good).

        But, like you, I found Foucault’s pendulum to be ponderous and uninteresting.

  12. notsecurelyanchored
    Posted November 10, 2017 at 9:28 am | Permalink

    Books chosen on the basis that I want to reread them every year or so: Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame, a favourite since childhood; Housekeeping, early Marilynne Robinson; Lolly Willows by Sylvia Townsend Warner and The Leopard by Giuseppe di Lampedusa, both primers on aging; The Tale of Genji by Lady Murasaki in the escape-to-another-world genre.

    • notsecurelyanchored
      Posted November 10, 2017 at 9:30 am | Permalink

      Though I’m thinking Lady Murasaki fails the 200 year test.

    • Posted November 10, 2017 at 11:21 pm | Permalink

      I really enjoyed The Leopard. Just to get a view of the world from the eyes of a 19th century Sicilian prince as the world he knew was crumbling, was absolutely fascinating.

  13. DiscoveredJoys
    Posted November 10, 2017 at 9:29 am | Permalink

    I rarely like books that others’ think I *ought* to read. It must be the natural curmudgeon in me.

    I *do* like books that are generally positive, entertaining, and set in places and times that I am not familiar with. So my list, in no particular order, is:

    1) The Hobbit – J R R Tolkien
    2) The Stand – Stephen King
    3) The Curse of Chalion – Lois McMaster Bujold (part of a loose series)
    4) Daughter of the Empire Raymond E Feist and Janny Wurtz (book 1 of a trilogy)
    5) Angels Fall – Nora Roberts

    None of them are ‘realistic’. Some include gods or magic. Ask me 20 years ago and I had a radically different harder science list. Ask me again tomorrow and I’ll have a different list, but still not ‘realistic’.

    • Heather Hastie
      Posted November 10, 2017 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

      I’m the same re books I “ought” to read. Almost every time someone recommends a book to me, I don’t particularly enjoy it.

      I think we should just read what we enjoy and not worry about whether it’s popular or important or great literature or anything else. The important thing is to read as much as possible.

      Having said that, I recommend Ken Follett, especially Pillars of the Earth, The Eye of the Needle, and The Key to Rebecca.

      Also James Clavell’s Asian saga, especially Shogun and King Rat.

    • Mark Joseph
      Posted November 10, 2017 at 8:28 pm | Permalink

      Glad to see some love for “The Curse of Chalion,” which is undoubtedly the best-written fantasy novel I’ve ever read (and I’ve read a lot of them). And a wonderful character study, too, for those who think at fantasy plays up plot at the expense of character.

  14. Robert Bray
    Posted November 10, 2017 at 9:33 am | Permalink

    Making such a list is very difficult for me, and for these three reasons: five is too few; fiction read most recently prevails in head and heart; and, most importantly, a career teaching classic American and British novels has somewhat dulled the appeal of several of the ‘great’ ones.

    Another note before I make a fool of myself, this one for our esteemed host. Prof. CCE, having noted your occasional quite high praise for the artistry of Thomas Wolfe, I was surprised not to see any of his novels on your list . . . .

    War and Peace (Tolstoy)
    The Dying Grass (Vollmann)
    Emma (Austen)
    As I Lay Dying (Faulkner)
    The Song of the Lark (Cather)

    • Robert Bray
      Posted November 11, 2017 at 10:05 am | Permalink

      I’m astounded at the outpouring of lists and comments engendered by PCCE’s post of–was it only?–yesterday. It’s more than a little reassuring, in this darkly disturbing world, to read the literate remarks of such a large group of literate readers. I’m trying to keep up with the over-washing tide, and as I do I hope the company won’t mind my commenting on my own short list.


      Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse

  15. BobTerrace
    Posted November 10, 2017 at 9:40 am | Permalink

    My additions to the list:

    War & Peace – Tolstoy

    George Orwell: 1984 or Animal Farm

    Sinclair Lewis: Main Street or Babbitt or Arrowsmith

    • Posted November 10, 2017 at 9:44 am | Permalink

      What about Leo Tolstoy, by Warren Peace?!

      • Posted November 10, 2017 at 10:22 am | Permalink

        I thought he spelled his last name, “Peas”! 🙂

    • Posted November 10, 2017 at 11:25 pm | Permalink

      Agree on Sinclair Lewis. Although I put Main Street on my list, I actually think Babbit is better. But one should read Main Street first. Arrowsmith is very close behind.

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted November 11, 2017 at 7:57 am | Permalink

        In times like these, It Can’t Happen Here, too.

    • Posted November 10, 2017 at 11:27 pm | Permalink

      Also, Main Street is one of the biggest reasons that I live in New York City and I’m somewhat terrified of living anywhere smaller.

  16. Posted November 10, 2017 at 9:41 am | Permalink

    I know it’s outside of the time limit, but, really, Candide still makes me laugh and think.

    • Posted November 10, 2017 at 9:47 am | Permalink

      + a large number

    • Jonathan Wallace
      Posted November 10, 2017 at 10:25 am | Permalink

      Yes – fantastic book!

    • Posted November 10, 2017 at 8:26 pm | Permalink

      I also greatly enjoyed the Leonard Bernstein musical of Candide. Some of the music is running through my head as I write this.

  17. Posted November 10, 2017 at 9:46 am | Permalink

    OK, favorites: Means I enjoyed them the most. So many to choose from!

    Fiction (no order):

    Perfume Patrick Süskind
    The Count of Monte Cristo Dumas
    The Monkey Wrench Gang Edward Abbey
    My Antonia Cather
    Great Expectations Dickens
    The Summer of Katya Trevanian
    I, Claudius Graves
    For Whom the Bell Tolls Hemingway
    Kim Kipling
    Of Human Bondage Maugham
    The Aubrey-Maturin series, Patrick O’Brian
    Captain Blood Sabatini
    The Ladies No. 1 Detective Agency McCall Smith
    The Grapes of Wrath Steinbeck
    Kidnapped Stevenson
    Any Human Heart William Boyd
    1984 Orwell
    Fields of Fire James Webb

    Non-fiction (at least nominally non-fiction), no order:

    Desert Solitaire Edward Abbey
    Blackhawk Down Bowden
    At Home Bill Bryson
    The Gallic War Caesar
    What Am I Doing Here? Bruce Chatwin
    The Second World War Churchill
    The Ancestor’s Tale Dawkins
    Guns, Germs, and Steel Diamond
    The Battle Cry of Freedom James McPherson
    Discoveries and Opinions of Galileo Stillman Drake
    Barbarian Days William Finnegan
    News from Tartary Peter Fleming
    Complications Atul Gawande
    Seven Years in Tibet Harrer
    The Green Hills of Africa Hemingway
    By Line Hemingway
    The Fatal Shore Robert Hughes
    The Perfect Storm Sebastian Junger
    Under the Banner of Heaven Jon Krakauer
    Salt: A World History Mark Kurlansky
    A Sand County Almanac Aldo Leopold
    If This Is a Man Primo Levi
    A World Lit Only by Fire Manchester
    Oranges John McPhee
    The Emperor of All Maladies Siddhartha Mukherjee
    My First Summer in the Sierra John Muir
    A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush Eric Newby
    The Exploration of the Colorado River and Its Canyons John Wesley Powell
    The Conquest of Mexico Prescott
    The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat Sacks
    The Varieties of Scientific Experience Sagan
    Wind, Sand, and Stars Saint-Exupéry
    Canoeing with the Cree Eric Sevareid
    The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich Shirer
    Jupiter’s Travels Ted Simon
    Sailing Alone Around the World Slocum
    The Log from the Sea of Cortez Steinbeck
    Arabian Sands Wilfred Thesiger
    The Guns of August Tuchman
    No Picnic on Mount Kenya Felice Benuzzi
    The Right Stuff Tom Wolfe
    On Writing Well William Zinnser

    OK, more than enough …

    • allison
      Posted November 10, 2017 at 9:54 am | Permalink

      I’m glad to see Edward Abbey mentioned. He was a fantastic writer.

    • Craw
      Posted November 10, 2017 at 9:54 am | Permalink

      Sabatini? There is a rare visitor to favorites these days! I liked Scaramouche more than Blood. Those are the only ones I’ve read.

      • Posted November 10, 2017 at 10:02 am | Permalink

        Scaramouche was good too. The Sea Hawk as well.

        If there’s a theme in my lists, it is: Adventure and travel, hence Blood tops my list of Sabatini books.

        Aside from the two I mention and Scaramouche, the rest of his books I’ve read are on a lower level, unfortunately. So you’ve chosen well!

        • Posted November 10, 2017 at 10:19 am | Permalink

          I cannot do the fandango 😦

          • Posted November 10, 2017 at 10:43 am | Permalink

            We will not let him go!

            • Craw
              Posted November 10, 2017 at 11:41 am | Permalink

              The beginning of the book is one of the great opening lines:

              He was born with the gift of laughter and the sense the world was mad.

    • Posted November 10, 2017 at 10:15 am | Permalink

      I should have listed Austen’s Pride and Prejudice as well. Love that book, only recently discovered by me. And a few other Victorian novels (does Austen count as Victorian?) (Also great 2005 movie.)

      The Portrait of a Lady
      Wuthering Heights
      Tess of the D’Urbervilles (great Polanski movie)

      • Jeff Lewis
        Posted November 10, 2017 at 11:54 am | Permalink

        Pride and Prejudice is one of my favorites, as well. In fact, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies was even decent just because the core of Pride and Prejudice was so good.

    • DrBrydon
      Posted November 10, 2017 at 10:20 am | Permalink

      Back at you. I should have had Kim on my list. And I quite agree about Prescott’s Conquest of Mexico. Have you read Hopkirk’s The Great Game? Based on those two, I think you’d like it.

      • Posted November 10, 2017 at 10:43 am | Permalink

        Yes, I have (so many great books to choose from!) and I loved it too.

    • Heather Hastie
      Posted November 10, 2017 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

      I’d endorse the recommendation of The Ladies No 1 Detective Agency.

      • Posted November 10, 2017 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

        I read many in the series; and enjoyed them very much. But I ran out of gas (petrol 🙂 ) at about #11.

        • Heather Hastie
          Posted November 10, 2017 at 4:55 pm | Permalink

          There’s a tv or movie series made of them that’s very good.

  18. Posted November 10, 2017 at 9:50 am | Permalink

    I have not read most of the books you like, only six of them. I mostly agree with you on those six, and there is one interesting note. Master and Margarita is also a favorite of mine, it is a damn good book. But it is also a markedly anti-atheist book, the author projects his anti-communist hate to atheists by association. Luckily it is not a big part of the book, not the main topic.

  19. Posted November 10, 2017 at 9:50 am | Permalink

    Off the top of my head:

    The War of the Worlds (HG Wells)
    Finnegans Wake (James Joyce)
    The Master and Margarita (Mikhail Bulgakov)
    Nineteen Eighty-Four (George Orwellian)
    The Day of the Triffids (John Wyndham)
    The Caves of Steel (Isaac Asimov)Tiger! Tiger! (Alfred Bester)
    Naked Lunch (William S Burroughs)
    A Clockwork Orange (Anthony Burgess)
    Stand on Zanzibar (John Bruner)
    Bug Jack Barron (Norman Spinrad)
    The Fountains of Paradise (Arthur C Clarke)
    Riddley Walker (Russell Hoban)
    Crash (JG Ballard)
    A Scanner Darkly (Philip K Dick)
    The Hitch-Hikers Guide to the Galaxy (Douglas Adams)
    Walking on Glass (Iain Banks)
    The Butcher Boy (Patrick McCabe)
    The Time Ships (Stephen Baxter)
    The Road (Cormack McCarthy)

    • Posted November 10, 2017 at 9:51 am | Permalink

      Orwell. Bloody autocorrect.

    • Posted November 10, 2017 at 10:18 am | Permalink

      We both have Riddley Walker! And I thought it an obscure choice…

      • Posted November 10, 2017 at 10:34 am | Permalink

        I’m a sucker for anything written in an invented language.

        The plots not dissimilar to The Crysalids which would also have made my list if I hadn’t already chosen The Day of the Triffids. I didn’t want to include more than one book by any one author.

        • Craw
          Posted November 10, 2017 at 11:42 am | Permalink

          Invented language? You’re gonna love Trump’s memoirs.

  20. Christopher
    Posted November 10, 2017 at 9:58 am | Permalink

    I find it hard to manufacture much excitement towards the reading of fiction these days, it in my youth I was a great fan of Twain, Steinbeck, Hemingway, Bradbury, and Vonnegut. I can’t single out my favorites of their works, I’ll leave that to the rest of you. I will say that I did enjoy Harry Potter, which I read to my son before bed. My joy, however, stems primarily from this shared experience with my young son rather than any personal value placed upon the literature and I don’t quite know what to make of adults who love them. Neoteny, perhaps? (I’m joking!) They were a fun diversion for us and a key bonding moment. I am heartbroken that so many parents fail to share the same experiences with their own children. It brought us both much joy. Cheers!

    • Sabine
      Posted November 10, 2017 at 10:14 am | Permalink

      Completely agree that Harry Potter was a bonding experience with my son. Read to your children!

    • Heather Hastie
      Posted November 10, 2017 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

      I’ve got no kids, but I love the Harry Potter books. It wasn’t until about the fourth or fifth one came out that I started reading them, and I’m glad I did. There are heaps of allusions to Greek, Roman, and Celtic myths and more. A knowledge of Latin is a bonus too in understanding a lot of the names and spells. There’s a lot in them for adults as well as kids.

      • Mark Joseph
        Posted November 10, 2017 at 8:32 pm | Permalink

        As well as being possibly the finest treatment of the value of friendship in any language.

      • Christopher
        Posted November 10, 2017 at 8:47 pm | Permalink

        I was being a bit of a smartass, I admit, but I honestly doubt I would have read the HP books without my son. I think they were fun though and I don’t regret reading them or losing sleep taking him to the midnight releases of the last few books or movies. I am a bit confused by the adult adulation showered upon books clearly written for children or teens though. To appreciate them for what they are is understandable but I was assigned The Philosopher’s Stone in a university English course! That was absurd. It’s a fine line between that appreciation and absurdity. But, too each their own. I hope no offense was taken with my comment, for nor harm was intended. And while I’m at it, let me offer up another author for whom I have a great and life-along love: Arnold Lobel. Every child should have the complete set of Frog and Toad books, as well as Owl at Home. Cheers!

        • Heather Hastie
          Posted November 11, 2017 at 11:45 am | Permalink

          I certainly didn’t take any offence! I feel no need to apologise for liking the books, but I don’t expect others to feel the same way about them as I do. I was just offering my own opinion. 🙂

  21. Patrick
    Posted November 10, 2017 at 9:59 am | Permalink

    Two books leap to mind for me. The first is “The Yiddish Policemen’s Union”, by Michael Chabon. His prose is so clever, funny, and just downright tasty. Meyer Landsman is my hero. The second is “Riddley Walker”, by Russell Hoban. A strange, riveting puzzle of a book.

    • Posted November 10, 2017 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

      I knew I recognized Chabon’s name. Some years ago I randomly picked up The Final Solution, A Story of Detection at a used book store and loved it.

      I will try Policeman’s Union… Thanks!

      • Posted November 10, 2017 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

        Chabon’s Telegraph Avenue impressed me.

  22. dabertini
    Posted November 10, 2017 at 10:00 am | Permalink

    1. Of Human Bondage (Sommerset Maugham)
    2. Nicholas Nickleby (Charles Dickens)
    3. The Earth (Emile Zola)
    4. A Farewell to Arms (Ernest Hemingway)
    5. The Outsider (Albert Camus)

  23. Jake Sevins
    Posted November 10, 2017 at 10:02 am | Permalink

    Happy to see one commenter name “Guns, Germs and Steel” on his list for “Favorite Fiction” as I certainly agree that it is fiction. 😉

    Also, commenters complaining about “egregious omissions”… not possible in a list of “favorites”.

    • DrBrydon
      Posted November 10, 2017 at 10:21 am | Permalink

      I was trying to think of a book I could do that to, but was pressed for time.

    • Posted November 10, 2017 at 1:13 pm | Permalink

      ““Guns, Germs and Steel” … it is fiction”

      Would you elaborate, please? Cheers.

      • Posted November 10, 2017 at 1:21 pm | Permalink

        Some anthropologists and geographers do accuse Diamond of cherry-picking his evidence and discarding some important findings.

        I respect Guns, Germs and Steel as an important work of nonfiction.

        • Posted November 10, 2017 at 1:46 pm | Permalink

          OK, I am aligned with your comment here. I was curious if there were some back story about the book I hadn’t heard before.

        • marvol19
          Posted November 12, 2017 at 4:01 am | Permalink

          I once tried to read some of these criticisms. I can’t even remember exactly what they addressed but I remember 1) some findings antedated GG&S 2) they went into excruciating detail of particular findings which misses the point of GG&S and 3) the smug tone and condescension towards Diamond (which gave the strong impression of having an axe to grind)

          Overall I came away that the criticism of GG&S is similar to criticism of The Origin of Species – maybe correct for some details but not invalidating the whole.

          As mentioned by the other poster – 5 domesticable species: fact. Extended longitudinal axis helps spread crops: fact. Nothing PC about facts.

      • Jake Sevins
        Posted November 10, 2017 at 9:06 pm | Permalink

        It is my view (which is certainly subject to opposing argument) that Diamond’s methodology is deeply flawed and is likely driven by his desire to reach a P.C. conclusion (i.e., that the preeminence of European conquerers had mostly to do with latitudinal transfers of technology and crops rather than other factors).

        • Michael Fisher
          Posted November 10, 2017 at 9:36 pm | Permalink

          PC? Are you sure you mean that? Diamond makes the point that ‘Europe’ [or rather Eurasia & North Africa] won the lottery having FIVE LARGE domesticatable animals to hand: goat, sheep, pig, horse & of course the cow.

          The cow changed everything for those people with access to such a versatile resource – it made it possible to farm land that otherwise was worthless [too much back breaking effort to plough without the cow]

          If the Americas or Australasia had such treasures, the Civilization Game would have played out differently.

          • Posted November 10, 2017 at 11:36 pm | Permalink

            Yes. By PC he means, “it was all luck; Europeans are not better, smarter, harder working, etc than anyone else. They just got very very lucky.”

          • Jake Sevins
            Posted November 11, 2017 at 9:53 am | Permalink

            Yes it is far more palatable to most (I would think) to suggest that European preeminence was due to a geographical accident than due to any racial or genetic advantage. The latter idea has been around for centuries, but is unproven (maybe unprovable), supports racist theories, is highly controversial, etc. Of course if racial differences were part of the story, it would just be another accident of a different kind…

            Diamond also says, in GG&S, that be believes New Guineans are on average more intelligent than Europeans (although he says this after claiming that there are no race-based IQ differences, seeming to contradict himself). He goes on to explain his reasons for believing in their innate intellectual superiority (based on the frequency of wars and resistance to smallpox) but gives no citations.

            To me it seems that Diamond is virtue signaling (saying brown people are racially superior to white people) or just expressing a supportive feeling about a population he’s spent 33 years living with. In either case, it’s shoddy writing from an evolutionary biologist.

  24. Michael Fisher
    Posted November 10, 2017 at 10:02 am | Permalink

    One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey
    Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
    Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll

    A Wrinkle In Time by Madeleine L’Engle
    Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson
    Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
    Household Tales by Brothers Grimm
    A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
    Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
    The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen
    The Call of the Wild by Jack London
    The Big Sleep [& everything else] by Raymond Chandler
    Three-Ten to Yuma and Other Stories [& ABSOLUTELY everything else] by Elmore Leonard
    The Way We Live Now [& everything else] by Anthony Trollope
    The Three-Body Problem [& everything else] by Liu Cixin [Sci Fi]
    Consider Phlebas [& everything else] by Iain M. Banks [Sci Fi]

    At Swim-Two-Birds [& nearly everything alse under all pseudonyms] by Flann O’Brien [pseudonym]

    • Michael Waterhouse
      Posted November 10, 2017 at 12:22 pm | Permalink

      Don’t **** with The Culture.

    • Jeff Rankin
      Posted November 10, 2017 at 1:57 pm | Permalink

      “A Wrinkle in Time” – that’s a great one.

      • Posted November 10, 2017 at 8:01 pm | Permalink

        Agreed; I read it recently.

        • Mark Joseph
          Posted November 10, 2017 at 8:33 pm | Permalink

          One of the very few books I’ve read more than once.

  25. allison
    Posted November 10, 2017 at 10:03 am | Permalink

    Am I the only person who disliked The Master and Margarita? It bored the living daylights out of me!

    My “favorite” list would include
    The Sound and the Fury by Faulkner
    For Whom the Bell Tolls by Hemingway
    White Noise by Don Delillo
    Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
    Lord of the Rings by Tolkien

    My favorite novel from the 21st century is The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz.

    • Posted November 10, 2017 at 10:23 am | Permalink

      Might have been the translation of Master and Margarita. There are several around.

      • Posted November 10, 2017 at 1:15 pm | Permalink

        Can you recommend a good translation? Thanks!

      • Posted November 16, 2017 at 7:36 am | Permalink

        One of relatives has read several translations and her favorite is the one by: Diana Burgin and Katherine Tiernan O’Connor.

        I have picked up a Kindle version of their translation.

    • Jonathan Wallace
      Posted November 10, 2017 at 10:29 am | Permalink

      Boring! I found it highly entertaining! That is one of the problems with newspaper lists of greatest novels – tastes differ and what is a masterpiece to one person can be dull as ditch water to another.

    • Posted November 10, 2017 at 11:54 am | Permalink

      I read it in Russian and it’s one of the best books I’ve ever read.

  26. Barry Lyons
    Posted November 10, 2017 at 10:03 am | Permalink

    I won’t comment on novels by Twain, Balzac, Tolstoy, etc., because there are so many I haven’t read and I’m embarrassed to list them (okay, here’s one: anything by Dickens), but as far as modern novels are concerned (of the past 20 to 40 years), here’s my Top Five, in no particular order:

    Sophie’s Choice by William Styron
    The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
    Sabbath’s Theater by Philip Roth
    Enduring Love by Ian McEwan
    The Grotesque by Patrick McGrath

    • Posted November 10, 2017 at 10:22 am | Permalink

      It’s great to see Patrick McGrath making someone’s list.

      I’m already looking back at my list and wondering how I could leave out Vonnegut and Jonathan Carroll and Neil Gaiman and…

  27. Posted November 10, 2017 at 10:04 am | Permalink

    I would add:

    Germinal- E. Zola
    War and Peace- Tolstoy
    Les Miserable- Hugo
    David Copperfield- Dickens
    and considered as a single work-
    The Aubrey/Maturin series by Patrick OBrian

    This last one is a series of historical fiction novels. Some have claimed it as a work of literature in that the sheer length of the novels provides opportunities for the writer that no shorter work could provide no matter how talented the writer. I would add that the nature of the narrative is rather unique for fiction in that one doesn’t have a sense of an author behind it. This is in part due to the fact that the narrative was cobbled together from actual events.
    I just cant put into words how much I loved these books. Reading them was an event in my life and I have a deep envy for anyone who starts to read them.

    • Posted November 10, 2017 at 10:08 am | Permalink

      Of course I forgot to mention my fav single novel

      Of Human Bondage- Maugham

      • Posted November 10, 2017 at 10:10 am | Permalink

        Indeed. Wonderful book.

    • Posted November 10, 2017 at 10:09 am | Permalink

      Totally agree on Aubrey-Maturin series.

      Before I read them, I would have laughed at anyone who usggested I would read a 20-book series of novels(!). I’m mainly non-fiction reader.

      However, I have just recently embarked on my 4th reading of the series (even though re-reading goes against my grain and my feeling of “so many books, so little time!”). And I am enjoying it this time, if anything, more than ever before(!).

      POB was one brilliant writer, goodness!

      One side note, I tried the unpublished book, published as 21. Don’t bother. A mere shade of what the real, published books are.

      • Posted November 10, 2017 at 11:07 am | Permalink

        Give you joy of your rereading!

        Two books I wish I had when I read them

        A Sea of Words which is a reference to the nautical, geographical and scientific terms. I didn’t need it for the latter. I already knew what a gynandromorphic fly was…and the Steven Beisty cut away view of a Man-O-War book.

        • Posted November 10, 2017 at 12:09 pm | Permalink


          I have the illustrated book about the Royal Navy of that time. I forget the title; but it is fun.

          Wait, here it is: Patrick O’Brian’s Navy: The Illustrated Companion to Jack Aubrey’s World by Richard O’Neill.

  28. Bob Lundgren
    Posted November 10, 2017 at 10:05 am | Permalink

    Agree with most everything. A few of my favorites in addition.

    “Out Stealing Horses”, Per Petterson
    “The Elegance of the Hedgehog, Muriel Barbery
    “A Thread of Grace”, Mary Doria Russell

  29. Jonathan Dore
    Posted November 10, 2017 at 10:10 am | Permalink

    My top 20 favourites from the last 200 years, after the top three in no particular order. There would have been an Austen in there but I haven’t read Persuasion, which as Patrick notes above is the only one within the date bracket.

    1. “Middlemarch”, George Eliot/Mary Anne Evans, not only my favourite but the greatest novel I’ve ever read or ever expect to read.
    2. “Nostromo”, Joseph Conrad.
    3. “The Glass Bead Game”, Herman Hesse.
    4. “A Passage to India”, E.M. Forster.
    5. “Cry, The Beloved Country”, Alan Paton.
    6. “The Reivers”, William Faulkner.
    7. “Buddenbrooks”, Thomas Mann.
    8. “Atonement”, Ian McEwan.
    9. “Count Belisarius”, Robert Graves.
    10. “The High Window”, Raymond Chandler.
    11. “Jude the Obscure”, Thomas Hardy.
    12. “The Blithedale Romance”, Nathaniel Hawthorne.
    13. “Wolf Solent”, John Cowper Powys.
    14. “The Shipping News”, Annie Proulx.
    15. “Cloud Atlas”, David Mitchell.
    16. “Moby Dick”, Herman Melville.
    17. “The Samurai”, Shusaku Endo.
    18. “Death Comes for the Archbishop”, Willa Cather.
    19. “Bleak House”, Charles Dickens.
    “A History of the World in Ten and a Half Chapters”, Julian Barnes.
    20. “The Emigrants”, W.G. Sebald.

    • Jonathan Dore
      Posted November 10, 2017 at 10:12 am | Permalink

      Whoops, I see that’s 21. A bonus!

      • Posted November 10, 2017 at 10:12 am | Permalink

        Matthew likes Sebald…

    • Posted November 10, 2017 at 10:12 am | Permalink

      “Count Belisarius” – very good… what about Julian by Gore Vidal? Isn’t Vidal a classic 20th century author or is he not read these days?

      • Posted November 10, 2017 at 10:14 am | Permalink

        Powys – never read, but isn’t he also a forgotten modern classic? His books were widely available in the 1970s – I recall seeing them, but I am not a fan of fat books!

        • Jonathan Dore
          Posted November 10, 2017 at 11:15 am | Permalink

          Yes, Wolf Solent pleads guilty as a fat book! So do lots of them in my list I’m afraid; I must be a sucker (though I read rather slowly!).

        • Tim Harris
          Posted November 10, 2017 at 7:40 pm | Permalink

          I honestly wouldn’t waste your time trying to read John Cowper Powys’s novels – blown up with billowing writing into great dirigibles and with nothing really within them but hot air. He is only a ‘modern classic’ for a not very discerning critic like George Steiner (who also indulges in windy writing). But I do recommend his brother T.F. Powys’s ‘Mr Weston’s Good Wine’ – a funny and splendidly atheistical book about God or his absence.

          Others, oh (in no particular order and as they pop into my head):

          *James Hogg: The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner.
          *Jane Austen: Emma
          *Laurence Sterne: Tristram Shandy
          *Goethe: Elective Affinities
          *Melville: Moby Dick
          *Gogol: Dead Souls
          *Robert Musil: The Confusions of Young Torless
          *Ernst Junger: On the Marble Cliffs
          *Witold Gombrowicz: Ferdydurke
          *Natsume Soseki: Kokoro
          *Flann O’Brien: The Third Policeman
          *Mikhail Bulgakov: The Master & Margharita
          *Joseph Roth: The Radetzky March
          *Henry Green: Loving
          *Samuel Beckett: Malone Dies
          *Cees Nooteboom: The Following Story
          *Penelope Fitzgerald: The Blue Flower
          *Mario Vargas Llosa: The War of the Worlds, & The Feast of the Goat

          And so many many more – and I forgot ‘Huckleberry Finn’.

          • Jonathan Dore
            Posted November 11, 2017 at 3:46 am | Permalink

            Last 200 years Tim, last 200 years, so no Emma or Sterne (Tristram Shandy would definitely have been on my list without that restriction). Not sure if you’ve read “Wolf Solent” but I don’t recognize it from your description. A more modern and (even) darker take on Hardy with some great set pieces (pub garden skittles, Anglo-Saxon kings’ graves in the abbey) and, like Hardy, a cumulative effect that’s enormously powerful.

            • Tim Harris
              Posted November 11, 2017 at 5:58 am | Permalink

              Yes, I missed that 200 years. Sorry. But I have read JCP, and he cannot begin to touch Hardy at his best or even at his less good. He’s a large, windy writer, and very unconvincing.

      • Jonathan Dore
        Posted November 10, 2017 at 11:14 am | Permalink

        Thanks for the recommendation – I’ve never read any Vidal, but Julian is one of my favourite emperors (book 2 of Gibbon’s “Decline and Fall” is almost like a romantic novel with Julian as the hero).

    • Posted November 10, 2017 at 10:25 am | Permalink

      Atonement is very good. If the list were thirty books, I’d put that one on.

    • Posted November 10, 2017 at 11:20 am | Permalink

      After college I worked in a bookstore where the manager was a very well-read lit major. He despised Willa Cather and said he had wished death had come for her before she had written that book.

    • revelator60
      Posted November 10, 2017 at 6:35 pm | Permalink

      Glad to see Bleak House finally pop up—I think it’s Dickens’s best novel by far.

    • Posted November 10, 2017 at 8:04 pm | Permalink

      Now I’m starting to wonder if I shouldn’t ahve put “Atonement” on my list. I’ve read about five McEwan books, and that is by far the best.

      • Posted November 11, 2017 at 2:38 am | Permalink

        Among living writers he’s my number one pick. I especially like his sardonic ones. Amsterdam and Solar are favourites.

    • Posted November 10, 2017 at 11:43 pm | Permalink

      I forgot Cry, The Beloved Country. It belongs on my list.
      I mean, “Cry, the beloved country, for the unborn child that’s the inheritor of our fear. Let him not love the earth too deeply.”
      That’s writing.

  30. Posted November 10, 2017 at 10:11 am | Permalink

    Thought you were a Hardy fan?

    I have read very little ‘classic’ literature of the type listed. Bulgakov, yes, but preferred The White Guard if I recall, & Faulkner, but As I lay Dying not Sound & Fury.

    Tarjei Vesaas, Fuglane (The Birds)
    Russell Hoban, Riddley Walker
    Christopher Davis, Belmarch, a legend of the First Crusade
    H.E. Bates, The Poacher, recently read so fresh in mind
    Anna Kavan, The Ice, ditto – really strange but very good https://www.theguardian.com/books/2011/dec/21/ice-anna-kavan-winter-reads

    But also Hesse, Hamsun, Robert Holdstock, Robert Nye, & lots of comparatively obscure authors whose books I cannot recall without checking my shelves… I forget books quickly so can re-read things…

    • Posted November 10, 2017 at 10:15 am | Permalink


      • Posted November 10, 2017 at 10:15 am | Permalink


        • Jeff Lewis
          Posted November 10, 2017 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

          Camus can do, but Sartre is smartre.

          • Ken Kukec
            Posted November 11, 2017 at 11:56 am | Permalink

            How much Rive-Gauche absinthe ya hafta drink before coming up with that one, Jeff? 🙂

      • Posted November 10, 2017 at 10:19 am | Permalink

        Yes, I loved The Plague (read in translation, my French isn’t good enough).

        • nicky
          Posted November 10, 2017 at 11:28 am | Permalink

          Yes, “La Peste” is a great book. Of Sartre I only really liked “les Mains Sales” and “l’ Enfer c’est les Autres” , but his philosophical works are weak, to put it charitably.

    • Posted November 10, 2017 at 10:42 am | Permalink

      Holdstock is fantastic!

  31. Posted November 10, 2017 at 10:11 am | Permalink

    Random order …

    Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austen)
    Shogun (James Clavell)
    The Fountainhead (Ayn Rand)
    Sophie’s Choice (William Styron)
    Winds of War + War and Remembrance (Hermann Wouk)

    • Posted November 10, 2017 at 11:21 am | Permalink

      Well now, I got as far as comment #32 before I found a book I absolutely loathe: The Fountainhead.

      • Posted November 10, 2017 at 11:36 am | Permalink

        I doubt that comment is in the spirit of this thread. Additionally, I would bet most here are finding books they loathe, and refraining from comment out of civility.

        • Posted November 10, 2017 at 11:38 am | Permalink


        • Craw
          Posted November 10, 2017 at 11:50 am | Permalink

          This is a common debate. Must wee all be pious Pollyanna or may we give honest reactions. Wait till someone mentions The Turner Diaries.

        • Posted November 10, 2017 at 11:54 am | Permalink

          Well, I’m sorry if you, unlike me, find plenty of books to loathe here.

          • Posted November 10, 2017 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

            @ jpvuorela
            non-sequitur from my comment

            Trust me, I am not Polly-ish, but also not about to get into a fight over this. Here.

          • Craw
            Posted November 10, 2017 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

            I disagree. Loathing is a legitimate reaction to art. I loathe Arno Breker. I think him a formidable sculptor, I wouldn’t quarr6with calling him a great one. But I loathe his stuff.

            • Posted November 10, 2017 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

              Obviously I believe it’s a legitimate reaction. That’s why I was astonished about the scarcity of loathsome books here 🙂

              Enough about that. I’ll repeat my positive comments about Twain, Joyce, Steinbeck, Ellison, Lem, Bellow, Vonnegut, DeLillo… and Lauri Viita.

        • Posted November 11, 2017 at 1:37 am | Permalink

          Yup. Take 1984. Please. I tried to read the damn thing three times, but the book just falls out of my hands. Combination of uninteresting characters, lugubrious story and boring writing. I will get through life hearing quotes from it.

          • Ken Kukec
            Posted November 11, 2017 at 8:18 am | Permalink

            Just to be clear: you couldn’t finish 1984 because of Orwell’s boring writing, but The Fountainhead is one of your favorites, with Rand’s interminable speech by Howard Roark?

            • Posted November 11, 2017 at 9:03 am | Permalink

              Ken, you have a wire crossed, I think. Two different “john”s

              Meanwhile …

              In my experience, Roark’s speech, and all the similar posts in Atlas Shrugged, are horrid to anyone not in alignment with Ayn Rand’s worldview, and also to those who prize fiction for style and naturalistic prose.

              If it helps, reverse the circumstances.

              Imagine someone opposed to Joyce’s worldview having to endure 24,205 words of Molly’s Soliloquy.

              • Ken Kukec
                Posted November 11, 2017 at 9:43 am | Permalink

                Yes, sorry, I committed a hooker’s unpardonable faux pas of mixing up two Johns. Apologies to both.

                As for The Fountainhead, I’ll give you this: it reads like Proust compared to Atlas Shrugged. 🙂

              • Posted November 11, 2017 at 9:57 am | Permalink

                @ Ken

                Thought experiment: a read of Rand without the philosophical interludes. That is the way most Objectivists read her fiction, after the first time through. Then, when interested and wanted, a read of the philosophical entries stand-alone.

                For brilliant prose, I suggest, for instance, he three pages following Dagny’s first sexual experience.

                Did you endure Molly? Not just the climax (pun intended), but the entire thing?

  32. nwalsh
    Posted November 10, 2017 at 10:20 am | Permalink

    no scifi people here, pity: Anything by Arthur C Clarke, and lately getting into some of Robert Heinlein’s writings.

    • Posted November 10, 2017 at 10:41 am | Permalink

      I listed some sf above including The Fountains of Paradise.

      • nwalsh
        Posted November 10, 2017 at 11:24 am | Permalink

        I do remember that one. Space elevator I believe.
        My favourite of Clarke’s is The Songs of Distant Earth. I remember reading somewhere it was his favorite to write.

        • darrelle
          Posted November 10, 2017 at 11:58 am | Permalink

          I’ll 2nd The Songs Of Distant Earth. It’s my favorite Clarke as well. Very poignant.

          • Posted November 10, 2017 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

            Probably the only Clarke book I haven’t read (excluding those he co-wrote) so great to know I haven’t exhausted his work yet!

            • darrelle
              Posted November 10, 2017 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

              I know there are a few I’ve never read. Two I’ve been meaning to read some day but never have are A Fall Of Moon Dust and Imperial Earth.

    • Posted November 10, 2017 at 12:03 pm | Permalink

      Ah, scifi. I’m not “scifi people”, but I love anything by Stanislaw Lem.

    • Posted November 10, 2017 at 1:23 pm | Permalink

      I might have thought of putting some up; but I read almost all of mine in my teens and 20s and re-reading it later — it just didn’t hold up (for me).

      Mainly, almost all the dialogue (of the “classic” Sci-Fi stuff (e.g. Heinlein, which I loved when I first read it) is straight out of the he-man pulp fiction of the 40s/50s.

      Here’s a very recent SciFi book that I loved: The Martian by Andy Weir (good movie too).

      I like to call it “Engineering Fiction” though everyone else insists that it is SciFi.

      • Posted November 10, 2017 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

        And, I should have said that I do like (still), Asimov. The Foundation series and I, Robot, in particular.

        He auto-bio, I, Asimov, is a fun read.

        • Derek Freyberg
          Posted November 10, 2017 at 4:42 pm | Permalink

          I have some of the same feelings about early sci-fi as you do; but the major John Brunner books (“Stand on Zanzibar”, “The Sheep Look Up”, and “The Shockwave Rider”) have held up well in my view, though a lot of his minor works are pot-boilers; and Neal Stephenson (“Anathem”, “Reamde”, Cryptonomicon”, “The Diamond Age”, “Snow Crash”) is well worth a read – I’d start with one of the last two, as they’re shorter: the first three are each 1000+ pages.

          • Posted November 16, 2017 at 7:41 am | Permalink

            I read Snow Crash and liked it very well.

    • DiscoveredJoys
      Posted November 11, 2017 at 8:29 am | Permalink

      I mentioned up thread that I was much more into hard science stories 20 years ago – I remember that “Starman Jones” by Robert Heinlein was the first proper sci-fi book I read (from the Children’s Library).

      But of my sci-fi era I guess Jack Vance (particularly the Cadwal Chronicles trilogy) was my favourite author with many other notables of around that time such as Poul Anderson, Philip K Dick, Larry Niven, Andre Norton, Gordon R Dickson and (still writing) L E Modesitt Jr. Lois McMaster Bujold has also written the outstanding Miles Vorkosigan series and only just semi-retired.

      Happy days.

  33. Sabine
    Posted November 10, 2017 at 10:20 am | Permalink

    A recent book I highly recommend to all: “A Little Life” by Hanya Yanagihara

  34. pablo
    Posted November 10, 2017 at 10:23 am | Permalink

    I’d put Kipling’s Kim on the list, also Confederacy of Dunces- the only book I regularly reread and it still makes me laugh out loud.

    Am I the only one who didn’t like Blood Meridian? I like other McCarthy books but I did not like that one.

  35. Mark Reaume
    Posted November 10, 2017 at 10:25 am | Permalink

    Posts like this make me feel bad about myself.

    • Posted November 10, 2017 at 10:26 am | Permalink

      It shouldn’t; it should inspire you to read some of the books that sound intriguing!

      • Mark Reaume
        Posted November 10, 2017 at 10:28 am | Permalink

        That is a better way of looking at it.

      • Posted November 10, 2017 at 10:39 am | Permalink

        Yes, if be more depressed if it turned out I’d already read everything worth reading.

        I like the fact there are still Terry Pratchett books I’ve not read yet. I’m sad that there are no more from Douglas Adams.

      • Posted November 10, 2017 at 10:57 am | Permalink

        + a large number

      • Posted November 10, 2017 at 10:59 am | Permalink

        It’s free excellent advise from a a well-educated bunch of colleagues and/or friends.

        I can’t tell you how often I’ve replied to my wife, when she asks, “how in the world to you hear about X?”:

        “I read it in the comments thread on Dr. Coyne’s site.”

        A fine living room you have here, Jerry!

      • Craw
        Posted November 10, 2017 at 11:53 am | Permalink

        If that is so, why would someone saying they did not like a book not be a useful comment? Especially if it leads to some discussion why. Sometimes I see dislike as a plus!

        • Posted November 10, 2017 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

          I, too, find negative reviews very helpful. They’ve saved me time and money on numerous occasions.

          • Ken Kukec
            Posted November 10, 2017 at 9:02 pm | Permalink

            They’re usually a lot more fun to read, too.

    • Posted November 10, 2017 at 11:30 am | Permalink

      If you don’t read the prospects of starting seem daunting. How do you choose your first book? I don’t think you should start with a ‘classic’. If you’re not used to reading fiction you’re brain will be slow to adjust to the unfamiliar language. I’d suggest starting with a book that is generally acknowledged as very good but was also a relatively recent bestseller. My vote is Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry.

      • Mark Joseph
        Posted November 10, 2017 at 8:41 pm | Permalink

        When people ask me for recommendations, the first thing I ask them is “what kind of stuff do you like?” The first big divide is fiction vs. non-fiction. After that I can ask what sort of genre (for fiction) or subject (for non-fiction) they are interested in.

        Because I know that not everyone will like even my very favorite books (to be listed below).

  36. Harrison
    Posted November 10, 2017 at 10:33 am | Permalink

    As Tom Shippey points out, LotR’s continual high ranking on lists of popular favorites is very striking when one considers that most such lists abound with books that are:
    -Required reading in schools.
    -Fairly short.

    LotR is a long, long, LONG book. And almost nobody is ever forced to read it even at the university level. For such a large book to have an entirely voluntary readership is very much to its credit. That it continues to hold that readership for decades indicates it’s probably not just a fluke.

    • Posted November 10, 2017 at 10:56 am | Permalink

      I’ve read the ring series at least 3 times. Got better each time …

    • Posted November 10, 2017 at 11:10 am | Permalink

      Professor Tolkien made no secret he was attempting to create the deep myth of the British people, which he stated did not exist.

      His opus runs from the creation of reality (prior to the existence of matter) through this very minute (we are in the 4th Age of Middle Earth.)

      There is a strong implication that of the two unaccounted Istari, one was later know as “Merlin.”

      I consider myth and magical fiction as metaphor. Tolkien’s great themes were Power vs Freedom, and Mortality vs Immortality. Those themes are real, in our reality. This is what keeps his work alive.

      • Tim Harris
        Posted November 10, 2017 at 7:46 pm | Permalink

        I read, beneath my bedclothes when I was 13 or 14, one volume a night of the Lord of the Rings – a friend at school lent me one volume a day. But I must say that I consider The Hobbit to be a far better book – it has a sense of humour, for one thing. ‘Great themes’ don’t necessarily make great books.

        • Michael Fisher
          Posted November 10, 2017 at 8:02 pm | Permalink

          330 pages [or so] a night is some going!

          • Tim Harris
            Posted November 10, 2017 at 8:33 pm | Permalink

            I had taught myself to read fast. I didn’t know anything about speed-reading – hadn’t even heard of it, but I worked a way of doing it when I was quite young. Generally, though, one finds that the less the literary quality of a book the more amenable it is to reading fast. I don’t think I would want to speed-read my way through Proust, or Joyce…

  37. Posted November 10, 2017 at 10:45 am | Permalink

    My top 5:

    *The Winter of Our Discontent (Steinbeck) – the greatest American novel.
    *Slaughterhouse Five (Vonnegut)
    *The Plague (Camus)
    *The Razor’s Edge (Maugham) – Of Human Bondage is good too, as others have pointed out, but The Razor’s Edge is Maugham at the peak of his powers.
    *The Call of the Wild (London) – a short novel, but absolutely timeless. No one could put you in the mind of and make you empathize with another species like London.

    • Posted November 10, 2017 at 11:24 am | Permalink

      When I was a kid, Steinbeck was overrated, but now he seems unduly forgotten. No one should go through life without reading The Grapes of Wrath, or indeed The Winter of Our Discontent.

      • Posted November 10, 2017 at 12:12 pm | Permalink

        + a large number. Don’t forget East of Eden and The Log of the Sea of Cortez. The latter is exemplary travel writing. And very funny.

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted November 11, 2017 at 11:47 am | Permalink

        It may not be peak Steinbeck (let alone a world-class novel), but I’ve always had a special fondness for Cannery Row.

        • Posted November 16, 2017 at 7:47 am | Permalink

          Yes, excellent. The Log …/i>contains many echoes of Cannery Row — or maybe the other way ’round.

          • Posted November 16, 2017 at 11:49 am | Permalink

            Yes, the real Ed Ricketts of the Log was the model for the Doc in Cannery Row.

    • Posted November 10, 2017 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

      @ William S. Maugham – Thanks for the memory of this great author, I read a lot from him and had a lot of fun with it

    • Posted November 10, 2017 at 8:07 pm | Permalink

      I thought about Slaughterhouse-5, which I consider the best of Vonnegut’s books, though Tim thinks that God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater was better.

  38. Historian
    Posted November 10, 2017 at 10:52 am | Permalink

    This post raises a question in my mind that I have been struggling with for quite some time. In the modern world, what does it mean to be an educated person? I think most would agree that being familiar with at least some of the “great books” is essential. Yet, in the past century there has been such an explosion of knowledge that for most people to prosper they need to become specialized in a very limited area. For example, even in a medical area such as cardiology there are specializations within specializations. This means that most people have only the most superficial knowledge, if even that, outside of their little areas of expertise. To gain even this superficial knowledge, we must take on faith, with the assistance of the ability to think critically, the pearls of wisdom of people we accept as experts in these other areas. In other words, are we all ignoramuses, just hoping that what other people we trust tell us is true? It seems to me that the concept of being educated has a much different meaning than it had before the dawn of the knowledge revolution, starting approximately in the second half of the nineteenth century.

    • Posted November 10, 2017 at 10:57 am | Permalink

      Excellent comment.

    • Posted November 10, 2017 at 11:02 am | Permalink

      Well, you can have a good liberal arts education, including philosophy, fine art, Greek and English literature, etc. Those are all courses I took, and more important than the content itself was the fact that I had great teachers who inspired me (and Tim) to continue reading, to continue looking at paintings, and so on. In other words, a great liberal arts teacher is one who promotes the acquisition of a lifelong love of learning.

      • Posted November 10, 2017 at 12:19 pm | Permalink

        + a very large number.

        As an engineering student at university, I had very little time to take Liberal Arts courses (and it cost money!). I would have loved to have taken a full year of nothing but LA classes (most engineering students hated them). But, alas, I had to get out and make money.

        But university sparked so many intellectual fires in me that it just kept going and I have read (like crazy) ever since. (I haven’t watched TV since 1987 (Miami Vice, baby!).)

        And I had the example of my father (engineer, painter, photographer, music lover, voracious reader, writer, museum-goer) and my mother (degree in English, painter, voracious reader, museum-goer, music lover). They also took us traveling as much as they could afford to, which really set my course in life as well.

      • Craw
        Posted November 10, 2017 at 12:19 pm | Permalink

        We are both old enough to have teachers in the arts who were like that. They are rare now I think. A classics prof I was friends with in the 80s was depressed how his department was changing as Pomo “theory” advanced. Seems to be worse now.

        • Posted November 10, 2017 at 8:09 pm | Permalink

          Yes, one of my friends was chairman of a prestigious English department at a very famous university, and just quit (retired early) because he couldn’t stand teaching the love of literature being replaced by postmodern lit-crit.

      • James Walker
        Posted November 10, 2017 at 5:04 pm | Permalink

        I agree, which makes me so sad and angry that social attitudes to liberal arts education are so negative these days. Programs in the humanities are cut and students are dissuaded from studying anything that isn’t immediately useful.

        • Tim Harris
          Posted November 10, 2017 at 9:10 pm | Permalink

          A younger friend of mine who was at Oxford when post modernism was becoming the rage remarked to me once that it was noticeable at the university that it was those students who loved literature least and were mostly insensitive to it who took up the post-modernist methods with the greatest eagerness. I suspect that one reason why post-modernism became such a fad was that it gave the appearance of being a bit scientific, while not being so at all, and so was thought to give an air of academic respectability to the study of literature that would keep government and other funding coming. But post-modernism was no single thing, and it is very wrong, I think, to paint it as one unmitigated disaster. Books like John Barrell’s on the poetry of John Clare and Kieran Ryan’s on Shakespeare certainly shook up the complacency of many literary departments, and in the case of Shakespeare led to productions that have been far more attentive to the political questioning that informs of the plays, as opposed to sticking all the plays in the boring framework of the ‘Elizabethan World Picture’.

  39. Ken Kukec
    Posted November 10, 2017 at 10:57 am | Permalink

    Many of mine are on your lists. But, off the top of my head, five additions from my own college days:

    The Adventures of Augie March (Saul Bellow)
    Portnoy’s Complaint (Philip Roth)
    One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (Ken Kesey)

    and a pair of true-crime novels:

    In Cold Blood (Truman Capote)
    The Executioner’s Song (Norman Mailer)

    • Jorge Rojas
      Posted November 10, 2017 at 11:11 am | Permalink

      Portnoy´s Complaint is great. The first book I read of Philip Roth that make me wanted to read more from him. Sadly I just have managed to read Everyman (“Elegía” in spanish).

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted November 10, 2017 at 11:40 am | Permalink

      Hell, I gotta add five more:

      Catch-22 (Joseph Heller)
      Slaughterhouse-Five (Kurt Vonnegut)
      Gravity’s Rainbow (Thomas Pynchon)
      Underworld (Don DeLillo)
      Interzone (William Boroughs)

      These aren’t necessarily the best, or most important, or even most influential; they’re the ones I got the most pure pleasure out of reading.

      • Posted November 10, 2017 at 11:58 am | Permalink

        All of those five could be on my Top 20.

      • Mark R.
        Posted November 10, 2017 at 5:36 pm | Permalink

        I read three of DeLillo’s novels in a row a while back: Mao II, White Noise, Libra
        I enjoyed all of them, but Underworld is still on my bookshelf. I’ll have to dust that one off.

    • Posted November 10, 2017 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

      In Cold Blood is superb.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted November 10, 2017 at 12:28 pm | Permalink

      And five more:

      <Tropic of Cancer (Henry Miller)
      Infinite Jest (David Foster Wallace)
      Dog Soldiers (Robert Stone)
      American Tabloid (Jemes Ellroy)
      Clockers (Richard Price)

    • Posted November 10, 2017 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

      In my youth, I was very impressed by Norman Mailer’s: The Naked and the Dead

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted November 10, 2017 at 12:45 pm | Permalink

        Me, too: still am. (As Mailer made clear, it owes a lot to Dos Passos.)

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted November 10, 2017 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

      To round out my 20 with some non-Yanks:

      Money (Martin Amis)
      Lucky Jim (Martin’s daddy)
      Heart of Darkness (Joseph Conrad)
      The Trial (Franz Kafka)
      Notes From Underground (Fyodor Dostoevsky)

    • Posted November 10, 2017 at 8:10 pm | Permalink

      I thought of adding In Cold Blood but it didn’t fit into the category of “fiction”. It’s sort of a hybrid, but in that genre it’s superb. It’s superb in any genre.

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted November 10, 2017 at 9:11 pm | Permalink

        I think Capote billed it as a “non-fiction novel,” which is why I set it and Mailer’s book (similarly billed) off from the others. I’ve always thought the two of them together form a sort of American (non-fiction) Crime and Punishment.

        • Posted November 16, 2017 at 7:49 am | Permalink

          I recently gave The Naked and the Dead a go, based on all the praise.

          I am sorry to say that the 1940s, he-man dialogue (though it was probably accurate) just put me off terribly.

          Maybe I’ll try again later.

  40. Jorge Rojas
    Posted November 10, 2017 at 11:02 am | Permalink

    I am very surprised nobody has considered something of Jorge Luis Borges (at least his stories). “Ficciones” (Fictions)is very appreciated book considered one of the 100 books of the 20th century by Le Monde.
    Even Dennett himself usues his metapahor in order to explain “the library of mendel” in Darwin´s Dangerous Idea and before that in The “I” Minds he coment the story “Borges and I”.
    Borges sadly did not win a Nobel Prize in Literature but everybody recognize he sould have.

    • nicky
      Posted November 10, 2017 at 11:36 am | Permalink

      I’ll second that, “the Library of Babel” or “Labyrinths” are true masterpieces.

      • Tim Harris
        Posted November 10, 2017 at 7:49 pm | Permalink

        I’ll second that, too. And add Danilo Kis, the Serbian writer who was influenced by Borges.

    • Posted November 10, 2017 at 10:13 pm | Permalink

      Sub. Borges is wonderful and should have won a Nobel. His poetry is exceptional also.

  41. clarkia
    Posted November 10, 2017 at 11:02 am | Permalink

    My favorite nonfiction would be The Annals, by Tacitus (Yardley translation). I’ve also read all of Caesar’s surviving works, and those are very good. However, Caesar was in the position of selling his exploits, whereas Tacitus provided a critical examination of a prior period from the point of view of a man who had achieved consulship in Rome. It’s a fascinating study of the functioning (or not) of Rome under the Julio-Claudian dynasty.

  42. Geoff Toscano
    Posted November 10, 2017 at 11:02 am | Permalink

    I feel humbled amongst all these truly academic type choices. In no particular order I’ll go

    To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (very recent read)
    It by Stephen King (sorry if that sounds sad)
    Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruis Zafon (originally in Spanish)
    Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett
    Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell

    I’ve enjoyed reading this. It’s made me think of loads of books I haven’t read in years and might get back to.

  43. Posted November 10, 2017 at 11:17 am | Permalink

    You ask about our favorite books – that’s a question about the times when we experienced adventures while reading, traveling to distant lands or into the past, when we were trapped by exciting, startling stories that took us into the realm of fantasy.
    To ask about the favorite books is synonymous with: remembering times of happiness given to you by reading books. And who would not like to remember those times?

    T. C. Boyle Budding Prospects, Watermusic, Drop City
    Daniel Defoe Robinsoe Crusoe
    Charles Dickens Oliver Twist
    E.L. Doctorow Ragtime
    Fjodor Dostojewsky The Idiot, Crime and Punishment
    F. Dürrenmatt The Judge and His Hangman, Suspicion
    Hans Fallada Wolf Among Wolves, An Old Heart Goes A-Journeying,
    William Golding Lord of Flies
    Heinrich von Kleist Michael Kohlhaas
    Jack London The Sea-Wolf, White Fang
    Thomas Mann: The Magic Mountain, Buddenbrooks
    Gabriel G. Márquez A Hundred Years of Solitude
    Rohinton Mistry A fine Balance
    Vladimir Nabokov Pnin
    Vikram Seth A Suitable Boy
    Robert L. Stevenson Kidnapped, Treasure Island, St. Ives
    Mark Twain The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn
    Jules Verne Journey to the Center of the Earth

    • Posted November 10, 2017 at 11:31 am | Permalink

      It does seem impossible not to mention both of those Dürrenmatts at the same time, doesn’t it.

      • Posted November 10, 2017 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

        Dürrenmatt is just great. I could have listed so many other titles: The Physicists, The Visit Of The Old Lady …

    • Craw
      Posted November 10, 2017 at 11:57 am | Permalink

      Budding Prospects is great. Hilarious. Alas I have not found any of his later stuff as good.

      • Posted November 10, 2017 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

        T.C. Boyle is still one of my current favorites, I devoured his last book “The harder they come”

        • Ken Kukec
          Posted November 11, 2017 at 11:43 am | Permalink

          I really liked Drop City, though once the gang made the move to Alaska, I thought the narrative dropped off.

    • Tim Harris
      Posted November 10, 2017 at 7:50 pm | Permalink

      Yes – Kleist is an extraordinary writer.

  44. Jonathan Wallace
    Posted November 10, 2017 at 11:22 am | Permalink

    I think I’d produce a different list every time I tried. Some great books listed above (and many I’ve never read). Some others worthy of a read:
    The Tree of Man – Patrick White
    The Grass is Singing – Doris Lessing
    Waterland – Graham Swift
    Several Cormack McCarthy novels Blood Meridian already mentioned above but also, the All the Pretty Horses trilogy, Suttree…
    Darkness at Noon Arthur Koestler
    Post Cards Annie Proulx
    Killing Mr Watson Peter Matthiesen
    Esprit de Corps Lawrence Durrell (not very politically correct but wickedly funny)
    Whisky Galore! Compton Mackenzie (not a great literary masterpiece but a very entertaining tale)
    Snow Falling on Cedars David Mitchell

    Various Evelyn Waugh novels -though I am not especially fussed about Brideshead Re-visted which is often claimed as his masterpiece. I prefer his more humorous, satirical works – The Loved One being an excellent example.

    • Tim Harris
      Posted November 10, 2017 at 7:53 pm | Permalink

      And Patrick White’s ‘Voss’!

  45. George
    Posted November 10, 2017 at 11:41 am | Permalink

    At one time, I wanted to be a writer. Reading The Dubliners put an end to that. I knew I could not do anything that resembled what Joyce did. Bellow and Roth inspired me to go to the University of Chicago. Where I ended up majoring in math.

    A word about Richard Wright – who no one has mentioned in their comments. There are many great Chicago writers. Wright – often overlooked – is among the best. Read anything he wrote. Native Son is a good place to start.

  46. Ken Kukec
    Posted November 10, 2017 at 11:48 am | Permalink

    Did I miss it, or has nobody here put up Gatsby? I still get gooseflesh every time I read the last couple pages.

    • Craw
      Posted November 10, 2017 at 11:59 am | Permalink

      I keep meaning to reread that. Haven’t read it since Andy Kauffman died 🙂

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted November 10, 2017 at 12:22 pm | Permalink

        I’m starting to suspect Andy’s been in suspended animation, recently emerging to spring his new performance piece “Carter Page” on an unsuspecting world. 🙂

    • Posted November 10, 2017 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

      Must be on the list …

    • Posted November 10, 2017 at 12:41 pm | Permalink

      I had to choose between Gatsby and Tender is the Night, and it was a hard choice. Gatsby is a tighter tale, but I love the quality of the writing in Tender is the Night. If you’re a Fitzgerald fan, and can get hold of a copy of his letters to his daughter Scottie, you’ll be in for another good read. I have one, but it’s years old and I see that used copies are now pretty expensive.

      • Posted November 10, 2017 at 4:37 pm | Permalink

        I prefer Tender is the Night to Gatsby too; it seems more personal. I’ve always loved the name Dick Diver too!

    • Posted November 10, 2017 at 11:55 pm | Permalink

      The problem with Gatsby is that Tender Is The Night is better and most people limit themselves to one book per author.

  47. nicky
    Posted November 10, 2017 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

    Some absolutely great works of fiction where mentioned above. I’m not going to repeat the ones I liked (and I admit there are many I haven’t read at all). I’ll mention some that shine by their not having been mentioned yet.
    IRobert’ll start with van Gulik’s Judge Dee ‘detective’ stories. As detective stories go, they are possibly not the best, but as ethnographies, getting some insight into Confucianist culture they are unsurpassed. I consider his short “Four Fingers” the best, not least because he unobtrusively exhibits a deep interest in, and knowledge of, Gibbon behaviour. As a start I recommend “Necklace and Calbash” or “The Red Pavillion”, best adapted to ‘Western’ tastes.
    I think van Gulik is about the most underestimated writer I can think of.
    I’m missing Isaac Asimov too. Is there a more hilarious SF short story than “Victory Unintentional”?
    Talking about short stories (I’m sucker for short stories): some Masters like Maugham, Kipling and Dahl were already mentioned, but what about say, Charles Henry Bosman? His stories,narrated by oom Schalk Lourens, are great.
    and sticking with short stories, the greatest of them all must be TH White, also not mentioned yet.
    Another ‘pearl’, both SF and short, is Manuel van Loggem’s “Pairpuppets”.

    • Craw
      Posted November 10, 2017 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

      I liked the van Gulik books too. I have reread a couple.forgot to mention earlier
      The Maltese Falcon by Hammett

    • nicky
      Posted November 10, 2017 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

      Oops, what greater book of short stories than “O Rei da Terra” by Dalton Trevisan? There is an English translation “The King of the Land”, but I’m not sure how good it is (I’d have translated it by ‘The King of the Earth’ or ‘The King of the World’, crown of creation-like)

    • Posted November 10, 2017 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

      Re: short stories. I would put both Kafka and A. Bierce as among the top short fiction writers. I don’t think I’ve ever read something of theirs that didn’t resonate.

      • revelator60
        Posted November 10, 2017 at 6:41 pm | Permalink

        Bierce is an example of an author who chose to write in short stories and looked down on the novel. In his great nonfiction work The Devil’s Dictionary, he came up with the following definition:

        “NOVEL, n. A short story padded. A species of composition bearing the same relation to literature that the panorama bears to art. As it is too long to be read at a sitting the impressions made by its successive parts are successively effaced, as in the panorama. Unity, totality of effect, is impossible; for besides the few pages last read all that is carried in mind is the mere plot of what has gone before. To the romance the novel is what photography is to painting. Its distinguishing principle, probability, corresponds to the literal actuality of the photograph and puts it distinctly into the category of reporting; whereas the free wing of the romancer enables him to mount to such altitudes of imagination as he may be fitted to attain; and the first three essentials of the literary art are imagination, imagination and imagination. The art of writing novels, such as it was, is long dead everywhere except in Russia, where it is new. Peace to its ashes—–some of which have a large sale.”

  48. Heather Hastie
    Posted November 10, 2017 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

    No one has mentioned Bram Stoker’s Dracula yet, so I thought I should. I loved it anyway!

    • Heather Hastie
      Posted November 10, 2017 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

      Or The Eight by Katherine Neville.

      And since I don’t care what other people think of me, I liked Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code too.

      • Posted November 10, 2017 at 1:02 pm | Permalink

        I like Dan Brown’s books as light page-turners. He can tell a tale! Fun stuff.

        • Heather Hastie
          Posted November 10, 2017 at 5:26 pm | Permalink

          I wish I were a renowned blogger! A few more people might follow my, ahem, blog. (Is that word allowed here? 😀 )

          I said somewhere above that I think the important thing is to read. Just in case anyone thinks what I say is important, it’s important for me to say that there’s nothing wrong with enjoying Dan Brown, or Stephen King, or even the Jack Reacher books. Yes, I’ve read one of them, and I enjoyed it too!

          When I was in my early teens my main reading was Mills & Boon! Absolutely ghastly stuff, but the act of reading is still good, Read to your kids. Get them excited about reading by getting them books about stuff they’re interested in, and they’ll keep reading for life.

          • Ken Kukec
            Posted November 10, 2017 at 9:28 pm | Permalink

            I’m just teasing you, Heather; I read The Da Vinci Code, too. Brown might not be much of a prose stylist, but he sure as hell knows how to keep his readers making the jump to the next chapter (sometimes in spite of themselves).

            • Posted November 10, 2017 at 11:59 pm | Permalink

              I read the DaVinci Code, too. The writing was so bad it made me want to break things. I tried to rip the book in half a few times. I did finish it, though, because I wanted to know how it ended. So that’s something.

              • Posted November 16, 2017 at 7:51 am | Permalink

                I did not find the writing bad per se; just uninspired, somewhat simple minded.

            • Heather Hastie
              Posted November 11, 2017 at 12:03 pm | Permalink

              Yeah, that’s true. I also remember that the more I knew about the actual history of any given part of the code, the less believable the story was. Though I enjoyed it a lot, I was a bit bemused by all the people who either treated it as fact, or considered it blasphemy or heresy or whatever. I thought it was a good sign as well – people were recognizing there were lots of holes in what the various sects of Christianity were teaching. The ones that banned the book only added to the realization there was something wrong.

      • Posted November 10, 2017 at 10:26 pm | Permalink

        Read Dan Brown’s most recent novel: Origins.

        • Heather Hastie
          Posted November 11, 2017 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

          Thanks. I didn’t realize he had a new one out.

    • Mark Joseph
      Posted November 10, 2017 at 8:50 pm | Permalink

      Hi Heather:

      I’m surprised. After all, it is an overtly christian book. I liked it when I read it as a christian, but remember fair amounts of it, and am quite certain that I would not like it at all if I had to read it again. Ditto Narnia. And Pilgrim’s Progress.

      • Heather Hastie
        Posted November 11, 2017 at 11:55 am | Permalink

        I was a Christian when I first read it in my teens, but I actually think I enjoyed it more the second time I read it when I was older. Iirc, the first time I read it I had worries that the sort of stuff in the book was real. Once I’d got over that it was more enjoyable. But that doesn’t mean others would react the same way of course. I read Pilgrim’s Progress at a very young age – about 7 – and I remember almost nothing about it, but it doesn’t appeal. Same with the Narnia books. I went through those at 7-8 and I remember very little of them either. I sometimes consider reading them again to see what all the fuss is about, but I’ve never got around to it.

  49. bonetired
    Posted November 10, 2017 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

    No “Hound of the Baskervilles”? Need some Sherlock in there !

  50. Posted November 10, 2017 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

    Some terrific books already listed. My choices:
    All Quiet on the Western Front – Erich Maria Remarque
    Cider with Rosie – Laurie Lee
    Puckoon – Spike Milligan
    Indecent Exposure – Tom Sharpe
    The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde – Robert Louis Stevenson

    • Posted November 10, 2017 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

      The incomparable Mr. Milligan. My favourite Spike is The Looney.

      • Posted November 11, 2017 at 8:07 am | Permalink

        To be honest I could have chosen any of about half a dozen of Spikes books!

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted November 10, 2017 at 3:09 pm | Permalink

      I love Tom Sharpe’s Riotous Assembly!

      • Posted November 11, 2017 at 8:22 am | Permalink

        Those two books got him chucked out of South Africa I think. It’s impossible to read a Tom Sharpe book and not laugh out loud at some point. Wilt is a great character.

    • DiscoveredJoys
      Posted November 11, 2017 at 8:46 am | Permalink

      I have to say the Tom Sharpe’s “Wilt” resonated very strongly with the state of my life when I first read it. “Wilt” didn’t make me think or feel differently but it did make me observe life differently. The Seventies are a different place.

      The story is very British farce, funny, but sharp and cutting. Read a summary of the plot on Wikipedia.

  51. darrelle
    Posted November 10, 2017 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

    I do appreciate the literary classics, but I’m going to go a bit low-brow. A few people have mentioned science fiction and fantasy, but I’m going to stick with just that as it is what 1st got me into reading in a big way as a child reading books off my father’s book shelf.

    The Stars My Destination, Alfred Bester

    This is science fiction that also qualifies as good literature, IMO.

    The Silmarillion, JRR Tolkien

    If you really enjoyed TLOTR you should read this, much denser but worth it.

    Startide Rising & The Uplift War, David Brin

    There is a prequel to these but it’s not in the same league in my opinion. I think these stories are one of the finest examples of the spirit (if I may) of the genre.

    I, Robot, Isaac Asimov

    Not a novel but a collection of interlinked short stories. This is what underlay Asimov’s huge arc of stories from The Caves Of Steel through the final Foundation stories. But though it is about robots and the 3 Laws it is of course really all about human beings.

    The Mountains of Mourning, Lois McMaster Bujold

    LMB is a favorite of mine. This novella is my favorite story by her. It is very moving. I’m usually rather disturbed for the rest of the day any time I read it.

    A Fire Upon The Deep, Vernor Vinge

    Wonderfully imaginative.

    Exordium, Sherwood Smith & Dave Trowbridge

    This is a 5 book series that I always like to mention because they are relatively unknown and I can’t for the life of me understand why. This series is IMO the best example of Space Opera ever. It is huge in scope, very complex, tons of interesting characters, many plot lines, politics, art, blood & guts, space ships, sex, sorrow. If you like Space Opera and you haven’t read this, you are missing out.

    The Belgariad, David Eddings

    Another series of 5 books, sword & sorcerer type fantasy. These books certainly aren’t fine literature but they are a fun read. Not strictly speaking comedy, but there is a lot of humor. Someone above mentioned reading Harry Potter books to / with their kids was a great experience. That’s exactly what happened with these books. They aren’t intended to be kids books, but trying to find something new to read to the kids one evening I grabbed the 1st book in this series off my “old SF & Fantasy” bookshelf. They loved it. At their insistence we plowed through the whole series and had a great time doing it.

    I could go on, but I’ve got to get some work done!

    • James Walker
      Posted November 10, 2017 at 4:56 pm | Permalink

      If we’re going with SF, I’d add Ursula K. LeGuin’s “The Dispossessed” and “The Left Hand of Darkness”.

      • darrelle
        Posted November 10, 2017 at 5:01 pm | Permalink

        Definitely top shelf.

        • Mark Joseph
          Posted November 10, 2017 at 8:51 pm | Permalink

          Agreed, but her Earthsea books, especially the first three, are even better.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted November 10, 2017 at 9:20 pm | Permalink

      “… but I’m going to go a bit low-brow.”

      You’re being too hard on yourself and those books, darrelle; they’re solidly middlebrow. 🙂

      • darrelle
        Posted November 11, 2017 at 9:11 am | Permalink


        Thanks Ken. I feel better now.

  52. Posted November 10, 2017 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

    Here’s one that skirts the edge of fiction that I really enjoyed: _The Boomer Bible_. (I’m not a boomer, either.)

    Others that have not been mentioned: I really liked _Vendetta_, by Peter David. (Yes, it is a ST:TNG novel. A very good one, and at the time of release it would have made a good movie.)

    I had fun with _The Mysts of Avalon_, though it was really odd in some ways.

    • Jeff Rankin
      Posted November 10, 2017 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

      Some of those ‘Trek books were truly great sci-fi. IIRC, “Wounded Sky” by – maybe – Diane Duane and “Spock’s World” (can’t recall the author).

      And I’m sure I’ve read some of Peter David’s work.

  53. chris
    Posted November 10, 2017 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

    I’d like to add my personal Steinbeck favorite “To a God Unknown” and “Prince of Tides” by Pat Conroy.

    Now I’m off to make a list of all the books in this thread that I haven’t read.

  54. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted November 10, 2017 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

    I spend sooo much more time with live theatre, opera, movies and non-fiction than i do with novels that I am poorly qualified to create such a list. I am most interested in a novel if I Both hear that it is good AND it is the source of either a really bad movie or a movie radically different from the novel. ( I also like historical fiction.) In particular, I have read virtually every novel filmed by Stanley Kubrick since he always imposes an artistic and moral vision on his films quite alien to the source material.

    Best novel I read in last 15 years: Beloved by Toni Morrison
    Best novel much better in English translation than original German: anything by Hermann Hesse
    Best novel I’ve read turned into abysmally awful movie: Endless Love by Scott Spenser
    Best novel brilliantly adapted while wildly distorted by Stanley Kubrick: Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov and A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted November 10, 2017 at 3:16 pm | Permalink

      No love for Stanley’s adaptation of W.M. Thackeray’s Barry Lyndon? I realize the pacing’s awfully slow, but it’s one of the most gorgeous pictures ever filmed.

      • JonLynnHarvey
        Posted November 10, 2017 at 3:27 pm | Permalink

        Oh, I like ALL of SK’s pictures while realizing they are not not not the book!

        But I was careful in my wording to note that I was ranking the novels adapted by him(!!), NOT ranking the movies themselves.

        By that standard, “Lolita” and “Clockwork Orange” remain the two standouts, though Schnitzler’s novella “Dream Story” (basis for Eyes Wide Shut) is also a close contender.

        • Ken Kukec
          Posted November 10, 2017 at 3:37 pm | Permalink

          Clockwork is peak Kubrick for me. The perfect match between auteur and author, made before Stanley’s output got bogged down by doing hundreds and hundreds of takes of every scene.

          • James Walker
            Posted November 10, 2017 at 4:55 pm | Permalink

            “The Shining” is a case where I thought the movie was better than the book 🙂 I think Stephen King is a good storyteller but he’s a clunky writer.

            • Ken Kukec
              Posted November 10, 2017 at 5:04 pm | Permalink

              Yeah, me too. But he is nothing if not prolific. 🙂

            • JonLynnHarvey
              Posted November 10, 2017 at 5:04 pm | Permalink

              I like the substance of the storyline much much better in the book, but am deeply impressed by the style of the film-making.

              Re the quarrels between the two SKs, I’m on team King on content, but team Kubrick on form.

          • JonLynnHarvey
            Posted November 10, 2017 at 5:03 pm | Permalink

            Oh, Kubrick was already doing a lot of takes back then.
            A) The original actress in the earlier rape scene quit over this.
            B) Derek (body of Darth Vader) Prowse preemptively told Kubrick he would only do a few takes of the scene where he (as the writer’s caretaker) carries the writer in his wheel chair down the stairs. “You aren’t exactly known as one-take Kubrick are you?”

            • Ken Kukec
              Posted November 10, 2017 at 5:14 pm | Permalink

              Eyes Wide Shut is, I think, sadly underrated. When I saw it the first time in a theater, I was a bit disappointed. Then I saw an interview with Marty Scorsese in which he ranked it one of the top five films of the 90s. It was playing in rotation at the time on one of the premium cable channels, and I watched it a couple more times. Gets better with every viewing.

  55. Diana Hook
    Posted November 10, 2017 at 2:08 pm | Permalink

    The ladies are a bit underrepresented here, so I’ll list a few of my favorite books by female authors:
    Jane Austen: Emma, Pride and Prejudice, Persuasion
    Barbara Pym: Excellent Women, Quartet in Autumn
    Dorothy Dunnett: The Lymond Chronicles (6 vols. I think)
    Lois McMaster Bujold: Ethan of Athos, A Civil Campaign
    Elizabeth Moon: The Deed of Paksennarion

    • Posted November 10, 2017 at 6:18 pm | Permalink

      Just to add to your list:

      Precious Bane by Mary Webb
      The Ripley books by Patricia Highsmith
      Jerry includes Middlemarch, which is superb, but I also love The Mill on the Floss by too
      A 1000 Acres by Jane Smiley
      Master Georgie by Beryl Bainbridge

      • claudia baker
        Posted November 10, 2017 at 7:35 pm | Permalink

        And “Possession” by A.S. Byatt.

      • Posted November 10, 2017 at 8:16 pm | Permalink

        Don’t forget that Carson McCullers was also a woman!

  56. Charles Sawicki
    Posted November 10, 2017 at 2:09 pm | Permalink

    One of the best of all SF/fantasy writers who unfortunately was diverted into television before he could finish his Kingkiller trilogy.
    The Name of the Wind (Patrick Rothfuss)

    • DiscoveredJoys
      Posted November 11, 2017 at 8:51 am | Permalink

      I’ve been waiting for the third book for some time… I didn’t realise it had been delayed for a particular reason. Botheration.

  57. Jeff Rankin
    Posted November 10, 2017 at 2:12 pm | Permalink

    I’m not sure it’s considered fiction or not, but one of the books mentioned many times by teachers when I was growing up (along with Hobbit/LoTR) was “All Creatures Great & Small”.

    It wasn’t until I was much older when I read it, and it’s one of my favorites. The BBC adaptation is great and holds to the story really well.

  58. Posted November 10, 2017 at 2:13 pm | Permalink

    I don’t know how to categorise the Devil’s Dictionary by Ambrose Bierce, but it’s certainly one of the most impressive books of the last 200 years.

    • revelator60
      Posted November 10, 2017 at 6:43 pm | Permalink

      Everything in the Devil’s Dictionary is true, so mark it as non-fiction!

      • Posted November 14, 2017 at 1:10 pm | Permalink

        I wondered how to categorize the _Boomer Bible_, since it has a Past Testament which is a history of the world from the big bang to the JFK assassination. It just happens to be a “insult everyone” and do a “bad history like school kids might do” style throughout. So some of it is, at least, contentious.

        Of course, the Present Testament and the Punk Testament are *complete* fiction, unless there’s something about Philadelphia and a guy named Harry I’ve never been told …

  59. mirandaga
    Posted November 10, 2017 at 3:06 pm | Permalink

    Glad to see you got Tolstoy in there (though I’d include “War and Peace” along with “Anna”) and George Eliot (“Middlemarch” is a masterpiece). But I agree with Diana Hook that Jane Austen should be included and I’m disappointed that neither you nor your friend included Dickens, surely one of the great novelists of all time. My personal favorite of his is “David Copperfield,” but his best book IMO is “Bleak House.” De gustibus and all that.

    • mirandaga
      Posted November 10, 2017 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

      Actually, I see that Jane Austen died in 1817, so on the assumption that she wrote her great books before she died, she may be out of the running on a technicality. Still no excuse re Dickens.

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted November 10, 2017 at 3:26 pm | Permalink

        Austen wrote her masterworks — S&S, P&P, Mansfield Park, and Emma — between 1810-1815, the same half-decade in which Dickens, Thackeray, and Trollope were born. I wrote a paper in college about her influence on them, and that’s factoid that has stuck with me lo these many years for some damn reason.

        • mirandaga
          Posted November 10, 2017 at 3:50 pm | Permalink

          I’ve read everything by all four authors you mention and can understand why Thackeray and Trollope get short shift on these lists, but can’t say the same about Austen and Dickens, whose works I’ve read more than once (I’ve “David Copperfield” probably five times, once aloud to my son when he was 12!). Incidentally, I admire your fortitude in taking the trouble to put the book titles in italics rather than quotation marks. I considered it, but am way too lazy.

          • Ken Kukec
            Posted November 10, 2017 at 5:00 pm | Permalink

            Trollope is a bit much (and doesn’t seem to get read much anymore), but Thakeray’s Vanity Fair, I think, continues to stand up, right there along with Dickens.

            • mirandaga
              Posted November 11, 2017 at 12:09 am | Permalink

              OK, I’ll give you “Vanity Fair” (though I find Becky Sharp a bit hard to take). But we’re both right about Trollope–I’ve never run into anyone else who’s ever read him!

  60. Voltaire
    Posted November 10, 2017 at 3:08 pm | Permalink

    1. A House for Mr. Biswas (V. S. Naipal)*
    2. The old man and the sea (Ernest Hemingway)
    3. War and Peace – Tolstoy
    4. Huckleberry Finn (Mark Twain)
    5. Borges – Collected Fictions
    6. Crime and punishment – Dostoevsky
    7. Buddenbrooks – Thomas Mann
    8. A Hundred Years of Solitude – García Marquez
    9. Memoirs of Hadrian-Marguerite Yourcenar
    10. Camus-The Stranger
    11. Vargas Llosa. The feast of the Goat
    12. Eugénie Grandet – Balzac,
    13. Candide – Voltaire
    14. Humberto Eco- The name of the rose
    15. Wuthering Heights – Emily Brontë’
    16. War & Peace – Tolstoy
    17. George Orwell: Animal Farm
    18. Caine Mutiny — Wouk
    19. Heart of darkness-Conrad
    20. Disgrace – Coetzee

    • Voltaire
      Posted November 10, 2017 at 3:24 pm | Permalink

      I duplicated War and Peace. So the slot goes to Ray Bradbury, Martian chronicles

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted November 10, 2017 at 3:30 pm | Permalink

      Your namesake and Balzac, but no Zola for “Voltaire”?

      • Voltaire
        Posted November 10, 2017 at 11:10 pm | Permalink

        Why Zola? What I know is that both were French, one essayist and playwriter, and the other journalist and novelist. Both passionate for secularism and for freedom of speech and conscience (Voltaire was called the Bete Noir of Christianism). As far as I know there are no other links, but there may be. You tell me.
        On the other hand, Zola was a great writer and would certainly be in a longer list, but given the limits (20), and for pure subjective reasons is not in mine.

        • Ken Kukec
          Posted November 10, 2017 at 11:27 pm | Permalink

          I came upon both writers at about the same time and read them essentially in tandem. I tend to think of them as a pair, as the great proponents of realism and naturalism in 19th century French Lit. Probably more an idiosyncrasy of my own than anything else.

    • Posted November 10, 2017 at 5:22 pm | Permalink

      No 4,6,7,8 were on my list too. No 2,5, 14, 19, and 20 I’ve also read.
      I found “Disgrace” quite depressing, as was “The Stranger”.
      Regarding to your list with many european authors I guess you are from europe too.

      • Voltaire
        Posted November 10, 2017 at 11:29 pm | Permalink

        I am from South America and have lived several years in Europe. I think it is normal that there were more important novelists outside of the United States in the last 200 years for the simple reason that 200 years ago USA was not very important in the literary field and not even in the last 100 years compared to Europe. Certainly English as a language was and is very important, which is why 8 of the 20 books cited by me (40%) were originally written in English by Americans, English, Hindus and South Africans.

        • Posted November 11, 2017 at 5:44 am | Permalink

          You are from South America – there I was a bit wrong with my guess …
          You are right, in the last 200 years it can not be otherwise than that European authors are overrepresented.
          However, looking into the present, into the 21st century, the pendulum should be very much in favor of English-speaking authors.
          And looking at the future, the general meaning of literature will inevitably be on the decline, given the many multimedia entertainment options

          • Tim Harris
            Posted November 11, 2017 at 6:31 am | Permalink

            What do you mean by ‘overrepresented’? You sound very disgruntled by this state of affairs. Voltaire has given a very good reason for his choices. I wonder if I should point out that Britain and Ireland, which are mostly English-speaking, are part of Europe, and not in the Americas? And Germans and French and others are not going to stop writing novels, and good ones, in their own languages. Just to spice things up, another great non-English novel: Independent People by the Icelandic writer Halldor Laxness (who won the Nobel Prize).

            • Posted November 11, 2017 at 7:50 am | Permalink

              “You sound very angry about this condition.” Not at all! You completely misunderstood me. Perhaps it was not the right vocabulary to choose “overrepresented” because it could be understood as a rating, in the sense of regrettable. But that’s not the case at all.
              And as for the English language, there is of course a mixup of European, Asian and African writers.
              For the future, however, I no longer believe in the great importance of literature. Similar to classical music (Bach, Mozart, Beethoven), the zenith for literary works seems to have been exceeded due to technological developments.

        • Ken Kukec
          Posted November 11, 2017 at 11:11 am | Permalink

          “… 200 years ago USA was not very important in the literary …”

          Twain put the American novel on the map (no disrespect to Melville or Hawthorne or the others who came before). Ever since, every American writer — each in his or her own way, however slightly or well-disguised — has been chasing the great white whale of Huckleberry Finn.

  61. Pierluigi Ballabeni
    Posted November 10, 2017 at 3:09 pm | Permalink

    Am I allowed to mention non-english titles, since I do not read much in english and I would not know how the titles translate in English? If yes:
    Ficciones – JL Borges
    El Aleph – Borges
    La invención de Morel – Adolfo Bioy Casares
    Der Schloss (the castle ?) – Kafka
    Das Prozess (the trial ?) – Kafka
    In search of lost time – Marcel Proust
    Il deserto dei tartari – Dino Buzzati
    Sostiene Pereira – Antonio Tabucchi
    War and peace – Tolstoi
    The Petersburg stories (?) – Gogol
    Mein Name sei Gantenbein – Max Frisch
    Der Mensch erscheint im Holozän – M Frisch
    Hundred Years of solitude – G García Márquez
    Pedro Páramo – Juan Rulfo
    The sound and the fury – Faulkner
    The secret agent – J Conrad
    L’insupportable légèreté de l’être – M Kundera
    La plaisanterie – M Kundera
    Anything by Patrick Modiano
    A collection of short stories by Maupassant
    La familia de Pascual Duarte – CJ Cela
    Anything by Eça de Queiroz
    Almost anything by José Saramago.

    • Pierluigi Ballabeni
      Posted November 10, 2017 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

      I forgot Mémoires d’Hadrien by Marguerite Yourcenar and many more.

      • claudia baker
        Posted November 10, 2017 at 7:37 pm | Permalink

        Yes, anything by Saramago! Love his writing.

        • Tim Harris
          Posted November 11, 2017 at 6:08 am | Permalink

          Yes, almost anything by Saramago; and Yourcenar is an extraordinarily good writer.

    • Posted November 11, 2017 at 1:47 am | Permalink

      Proust is very special. I loved the Recherche, but having read the first one in english first, I can garantee that they are better in french.

      I’ll second the Tabucchi and Buzzati. Excellent books.

  62. Posted November 10, 2017 at 3:10 pm | Permalink

    Of Jerry’s list, I’ve read only three, though I loved each of them:

    italic Anna Karenina
    italicHundred Years of Solitude

  63. Bernie Lohr
    Posted November 10, 2017 at 3:40 pm | Permalink

    As mentioned earlier some readers may focus more on the prose, others more on the plot (plenty of good ones for each, with favorites of mine being Cormac McCarthy’s The Road for prose, and Tolkien for plot).

    But as I do a considerable amount of NF reading in my day job, my pleasure/fiction reading is mostly for ideas. And for that I typically go to the best of sci-fi, especially shorter works (Clarke through the better modern anthologies, like Gardner Dozois’).

  64. Kurtis Rader
    Posted November 10, 2017 at 3:46 pm | Permalink

    The way I approach such lists is to wonder if I were the Tom Hanks character in the movie “Castaway” what books, movies, music would I want to find in the flotsam that washes ashore. So with that as the criteria here are five that came to mind (out of several hundred that qualify):

    * The three volume, hard cover, collection of every “Calvin and Hobbes” comic strip
    * “Stranger in a Strange Land” by Robert Heinlein
    * “Water for Elephants” by Sara Gruen
    * “Paddle Your Own Canoe” by Nick Offerman
    * “A Short History of Nearly Everything” by Bill Bryson

    • Posted November 10, 2017 at 4:26 pm | Permalink

      I’d like to find something I haven’t read.

  65. nwalsh
    Posted November 10, 2017 at 4:36 pm | Permalink

    Dumb question here: If I wanted to refer back to these lists down the road, how would one search?

    • Michael Fisher
      Posted November 10, 2017 at 5:14 pm | Permalink

      While on this page in your browser…
      [1] Bookmark it via your browser’s options
      [2] File > Save Page As. Save it as “Web Page, Complete” somewhere in your documents [but this misses any comments added after you’ve saved it]
      [3] Take a screen shot of the page – advanced screenshot s/ware will capture the entire page [even off screen parts]
      [4] Search for it via google [or similar engine]. This link searches only this site – put ‘favorite books in the box when you open it https://www.google.co.uk/search?sitesearch=https://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com
      [5] Use the search box top left of this page – put ‘favorite books’& click the ‘find’ button

  66. Brian
    Posted November 10, 2017 at 4:38 pm | Permalink

    Three or four of my favorites that do not seem to be mentioned are:
    1. The Brothers Karamazov by Dostoevsky. It is his longest novel and there is a 30-40 page passage that every Christian should read about Jesus coming back as the Messiah during the Inquisition.
    2. Metamorphosis by Kafka. This is a short novel or novella that can be read in 1-2 hours. The key for me is that once you get into it your anxiety level will be raised as you identify with the main character.
    3. I also liked Solzhenitsyn’s great works that starkly picture life in the USSR. The First Circle is a must read as is the Gulag Archipelago.

  67. Bernardo
    Posted November 10, 2017 at 4:41 pm | Permalink

    I would highly recommend the A Song of Ice and Fire book series. Not just because it inspired Game of Thrones, but because they are truly excellent books. They are very different from Tolkien, as they are based on actual history. What I like is that each chapter reflects a character’s first -person point of view, which is immensely useful.

  68. James Walker
    Posted November 10, 2017 at 4:51 pm | Permalink

    In my top five favourites:

    Pnin, by Vladimir Nabokov
    Lucky Jim, by Kingsley Amis
    The Horse’s Mouth, by Joyce Carey
    Le coeur découvert, by Michel Tremblay
    Earthly Powers, by Anthony Burgess

    Note that these are books I’ve reread many times over the years, not necessarily ones that I would recommend to others or claim to be the *best* novels – that would be a somewhat different list. There are others that I’ve read more recently (like Middlemarch and Swann’s Way) that I could see becoming favourites in the future.

  69. Posted November 10, 2017 at 5:37 pm | Permalink

    Emma (Jane Austen)
    The Hunting of the Snark (Lewis Carroll)
    Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (Mark Twain)
    Pale Fire (Vladimir Nabokov)
    Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (Hunter S. Thompson)

    (I excluded books that are primarily graphic; otherwise Walt Kelly, Dan O’Neill, and Crockett Johnson might have put in an appearance)

  70. Mark R.
    Posted November 10, 2017 at 5:46 pm | Permalink

    Has anyone here read Brian O’Nolan’s The Third Policeman? O’Nolan was an Irish writer and he wrote it in 1939/40. (Though it wasn’t published until the 60’s.)

    I loved that novel…one of the strangest I have ever read. A very interesting pancake indeed.

    I only know of one other person who has read it, and I was recommended the novel by him.

    • Michael Fisher
      Posted November 10, 2017 at 6:09 pm | Permalink

      I have – where he writes as Flann O’Brien [only one of his nyms] – a great bit of comedy philosophy. Ideal for reading in a quiet corner of a pub with a Guinness to nurse along.

      I highly recommend his seven books of journalistic writings for The Irish Times under the nym Myles na gCopaleen. Crazy, imaginative, mad.

      • Mark R.
        Posted November 10, 2017 at 6:29 pm | Permalink

        Thanks for the tip, I’ll check it out. Sadly, no proper pubs around here…just dive bars.

    • Tim Harris
      Posted November 10, 2017 at 8:00 pm | Permalink

      It is a very great novel, which manages to be both very funny and absolutely terrifying. It is certainly one of the great Irish novels of the last century, and, I would say, one of the great novels of the last century from anywhere.

    • James Walker
      Posted November 10, 2017 at 11:19 pm | Permalink

      Oh yes, that and “At Swim-Two-Birds” are in my top twenty.

  71. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted November 10, 2017 at 6:39 pm | Permalink

    Ah carp, I did this again :

    Sherlock Holmes – all by A. C. Doyle.

  72. Posted November 10, 2017 at 6:47 pm | Permalink

    I am very late, so no one will read this, but anyway, here goes (not necessarily in order):
    Sometimes A Great Notion by Ken Kesey
    Tender Is The Night by F Scott Fitzgerald
    Lolita by Vladimir Nabakov
    Middlemarch by George Eliot
    Point Counter Point by Aldous Huxley
    Main Street by Sinclair Lewis
    Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie
    All The king’s men by Robert Penn Warren
    All the rest of Fitzgerald, early Sinclair Lewis, and Pale Fire by Nabakov (I am the shadow of the waxwing slain, by the false azure in the window pane… what’s better than that?)

    Favorite short story: Hills Like White Elephants by Ernest Hemingway.

    Book I’m embarrassed I started twice and couldn’t get into: Catch-22.

    • Posted November 10, 2017 at 6:59 pm | Permalink

      re Hemingway, I read Men without Women over and over when I was younger, reveling in his prose. Happy days.

  73. Larry Smith
    Posted November 10, 2017 at 7:26 pm | Permalink

    I am even later to this thread, so more than no one will ever read this, so, briefly:

    good to see “Pnin” mentioned several times (as well as “Pale Fire”)

    “Master and Margarita” recently showed up as one of the best Surrealistic Five Books (https://fivebooks.com/), but I chose instead “The City and The City” by China Mieville, which is amazing so far.

    And “Dead Souls” by Gogol.


    • DiscoveredJoys
      Posted November 11, 2017 at 8:59 am | Permalink

      Strange that there are some authors that I just can’t get into. China Miéville is one, Brian Aldiss another.

      I have no justification for this and, as I age, no patience to work at a book beyond the first few chapters.

  74. claudia baker
    Posted November 10, 2017 at 7:41 pm | Permalink

    Anything by Michael Ondaatje, but especially “The English Patient”.

  75. eric
    Posted November 10, 2017 at 7:58 pm | Permalink

    Good lists. I’m going to make a radical suggestion here and say we shouldn’t necessarily be teaching such books in high school. Why do I say that? Because I read a bunch of those books in high school, and hated being forced to do it. Didn’t particularly like them in terms of content, either. I read another bunch of those books in my own free time starting three or four years later and liked them a lot more. I think by forcing kids to read such literature when they’re 16-17, we do both the kids and the lit itself a disservice.

    I very much like the idea of giving the kids a broad list of full length books to pick from and letting them pick. I know that makes it harder on the teacher for grading and limits group discussion to shorter pieces, but I think it’s worth it. IMO the ‘benefit’ of ensuring they’ve read some of these iconic novels before they graduate is not worth the cost of souring most teens on good literature writ large.

    I don’t have a “high quality literature” list, and I certainly won’t go back 200 years, but here are some past-30-year sci-fi/fantasy and non-fiction books that I think are pretty ‘best in class’. They are not ordered in each category. And I take ‘five’ fairly loosely.

    Five for Sci-Fi/Fantasy.
    Sherri Tepper: the Arbai trilogy (Grass, Raising the Stones, and Sideshow). This was IMO Tepper at her best, weaving social commentary into her fiction seamlessly, rather than banging you heavily over the head with her opinion like she does in some of her other novels.

    Ian Banks: Use of Weapons. For commentary on atheism vs. religion, try Surface Detail instead (but Use of Weapons is better written). People who don’t particularly like Sci-Fi might want to go for The Bridge as an alternate, but I’d recommend Ian Banks as one of my top sci-fi authors of the ’80s-10s.

    Terry Pratchett/Neil Gaiman, Good Omens Because get over yourself already.

    Robert Jackson Bennett, City of Stairs. The plot is okay, but the writing pulls you in; it’s just really well written. Not all of his books equal this one in quality, but Bennett would be my vote for ‘best newcomer’ in fantasy and sci-fi at the moment based on the strength of this one and a couple others.

    Joan Slonczewski, A Door Into Ocean. While touted as a feminist book (and it is), I was more impressed with it’s commentary on violence vs. pacifism and the power of nonviolent resistance.

    Five for Non Fiction. These are books whose messages left an impression on me. And just to keep the pandering to a minimum, I’m going to omit PCC’s books from contention for the moment (but I highly recommend them!)

    Obedience to Authority by Stanley Milgram. Everyone should read the first half of this book (the experiments and results). The lesson it teaches about human nature is probably something every generation needs to learn, because we’re never going to intuitively accept it to be true. As a bonus, it’s very short.

    Better Angels of our Nature by Pinker. I probably don’t need to comment on this one on this web page, Jerry already has. This one is not short. 🙂

    Last Chance to See by Douglas Adams. A bit dated now, but wow. Wow.

    Collapse by Jarrod Diamond. This book screams ‘those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.’

    Your inner fish by Neil Shubin. Great story, very approachable.


    Anything by Robert Sapolski. He’s an excellent science writer.

    The Most Human Human by Brian Christian. An account of a journalist who decides to he wants to enter the annual Turing Test competition to see if he can demonstrate his human-ness in a blinded test where his ‘opponents’ don’t know if they’re conversing with a machine or a human being. Can he win the award for being the most human human? You’ll have to read to find out.

    Them: Adventures with Extremists by Jon Ronson. Join this Jewish journalist as he infiltrates jihadi groups, the Bilderbergers, and other secretive societies to see what makes them tick. His The Men Who Stare At Goats is also good, and was made into a movie (which wasn’t as good).

    Whew, I guess that’s enough for now.

    • Mark Joseph
      Posted November 11, 2017 at 10:39 am | Permalink

      Ah, the first mention of Sheri S. Tepper. She’s on my list (forthcoming).

      Thank you for the comment on City of Stairs. I read the sample that Amazon lets you download, and thought it was pretty interesting, but it’s such a long book that I still wasn’t sure. I may well add it to the list now, though.

      I liked A Door Into Ocean a lot, but even more, I like this line from a review of the book on Amazon:

      “This is a book about lesbian Quaker anarchist communist pacifist mermaids from the Moon, and what happens when they’re invaded by the Holy Roman Empire.”

      • eric
        Posted November 11, 2017 at 8:38 pm | Permalink

        LOL yep that’s the pithy version. 🙂

  76. Posted November 10, 2017 at 8:50 pm | Permalink

    I’ve seen Anthony Burgess: Clockwork Orange crop up on this thread, so I’ll just bung in his ‘Earthly Powers’ as well. Apart from anything else, it can be bloody funny.

  77. Kiwi Dave
    Posted November 10, 2017 at 9:43 pm | Permalink

    My reading tastes have changed so much over the decades, from university English literature to low brow detective, that it’s now difficult to list favourites, many of which others have already mentioned, but…

    The God Boy by Ian Cross (The story of a disintegrating marriage and worse, it is all the more moving by being told by an adolescent boy who didn’t fully understand what was happening and how he has been affected.)

    The Riddle of the Sands by Erskin Childers. (A spy story from 1903, it led to many imitations. The start is rather slow; available on-line,)

    Condemned as a Nihilist by G A Henty (You’ll have to tolerate Henty’s pompous dialogue and patronising assumption of English superiority. It combines a prison break, travelogue, and an account of Siberian exile under the czar; available on-line.)

    Any Harry Bosch book by Michael Connelly. (A detective series set in California.)

    Any Harry Hole book by Jo Nesbo (a Scandinavian detective series.)

  78. Charles Minus
    Posted November 10, 2017 at 10:48 pm | Permalink

    Let me add some late votes:

    _The Golden Calf_ by Ilya Ilf & Evgeny Petrov (a hilarious about 1920s Soviet Union.)

    _Bleak House_ by Dickens (a very funny book about lawyers)

    _A Dance to the Music of Time_ by Anthony Powell (exquisite stye with epic scope book about my least favorite subject – entitled upper class English snobs. Loved every page.)

    _The Balkan Trilogy_ by Olivia Manning (beginning of world war two as seen from the east)

    _White Teeth_ or any of the other books by Zadie Smith.

  79. Wayne Y Hoskisson
    Posted November 11, 2017 at 12:06 am | Permalink

    So many great books are listed. Here are some more authors that are near the top of my favorites beyond those already mentioned.

    Cat’s Cradle, my favorite from Kurt Vonnegut

    All Edgar Allen Poe short stories. Auguste Dupin is one of the great characters in literature with a great legacy.

    Lord Malquist and Mr Moon by Tom Stoppard. I think it is his only novel. It has been on my bookshelf for about 50 years one a very few I have kept that long. If you enjoy Stoppard felicity with English you may enjoy this novel. The Risen Christ features prominently and hilariously in the book.

    On the Road or Visions of Cody by Jack Kerouac. Actually several his books are equals but these two I read first. I am not sure what place will be given to Kerouac in the future but he was formative to my youth. His characters pursued life in a way that was alien to my religious upbringing.

    I recommend David Markson, the “best known unknown author” in America. I have never met anyone else who reads or likes him. David Foster Wallace praised one of his books, Wittgenstein’s Mistress, which I found in the library while looking for info about Wittgenstein. It is not about him but I loved the book. His last three novels deal with approaching the end of life. The books resemble no other novels I have read.

    • Posted November 11, 2017 at 6:13 am | Permalink

      Cat’s Cradle is one I’d love to read. Grey goo scenarios are something I’ve always been fascinated with.

      • Mark Joseph
        Posted November 11, 2017 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

        Cat’s Cradle is a great book, and I especially love this snippet, as one realizes that Vonnegut is commenting on the “there’s no there, there” of religion:

        “No wonder kids grow up crazy. A cat’s cradle is nothing but a bunch of X’s between somebody’s hands, and little kids look and look and look at all those X’s…”
        “No damn cat, and no damn cradle.”

  80. Posted November 11, 2017 at 1:26 am | Permalink

    Don’t seem to be many Pynchon fans here. Although “Gravity’s Rainbow” is more … notorious, I find “Mason & Dixon” to be his best novel. Wonderful read. Great writing. Great take on the quarrelsome couple.

    Among the all-time greats are Faulkner. To paraphrase someone else, “The sound and the fury” is his greatest book, but “Absalom, Absalom” is the only one.

    Want to read a great mixture of classical literature and gangster novel? Then Nick Tosches’s “In the hand of Dante” is for you.

    Farther abroad, little known Hjalmar Bergman’s “The Markurell of Wadköping” is a marvelous send-up of 19th-c. Swedish small-town bourgeooisie, but I’m not sure it’s been translated into english yet (It’s available in french), which is a damn shame.

    Bruce Chatwin’s “The viceroy of Ouidah” is a hilarious and marvelously written and, in the end, very moving story.

    And, of course, the sublime, hilarious, wonderful “Ulysses” of James Joyce. There is a book you can read again and again. Matter of fact, I think I will (fourth time).

    • Posted November 11, 2017 at 2:49 am | Permalink

      For the sheer virtuosity of the credible 18th century language, I admire Mason & Dixon. I do like all of Pynchon, but not enough to put him on a top five list.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted November 11, 2017 at 9:02 am | Permalink

      I read Tosche’s Me and the Devil last year and loved it. Best blend of belles-lettres and seamy sex since Henry Miller strode the globe.

    • Posted November 16, 2017 at 7:57 am | Permalink

      Anything by Chatwin. Period. We lost him much too young.

  81. Matthew Jenkins
    Posted November 11, 2017 at 9:55 am | Permalink

    Moby Dick is a great book, but someone should stand up, as Shakespeare put it, for bastards; books which were simply fun to read.
    Even better if there is a series of books which are fun to read. Buy one of any of these as a Christmas present for someone and with a little luck you’ve introduced them to many, many hours of pleasure.

    1. The Flashman novels
    2. Louis de la Berniere’s series beginning with ‘The War of Don Emmanuel’s Nether Parts’
    3. The Aubrey/Maturin novels of O’Brien
    4. The Discworld series – given PCC’s preferences, I would suggest ‘Small Gods’
    5. Philip Pullman’s Dark Materials trilogy

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted November 11, 2017 at 10:11 am | Permalink

      Moby Dick is a great book, but someone should stand up, as Shakespeare put it, for bastards; books which were simply fun to read.

      I got further into Moby Dick than I did Dostoyevski, but didn’t finish either.

      5. Philip Pullman’s Dark Materials trilogy

      There’s a new one out – La Belle Sauvage – which’ll be another trilogy, I think. It’s OK, but not earth-shaking.

    • Mark Joseph
      Posted November 11, 2017 at 10:33 am | Permalink

      Many times I’ve wanted to recommend “Small Gods” to PCC(E), so I’ll second your recommendation now.

  82. Posted November 11, 2017 at 10:24 am | Permalink

    So many good contributions!

    A ‘dark horse’ book I would recommend, if you enjoy sad, beautiful books with a relatively simple plot, is Mañana en la battalla piensa en mí, (Tomorrow in the Battle Think on Me), by Spanish author Javier Marías. It’s the only book I’ve ever read three times, and will definitely read again. The original in Spanish is sublime, though I see from Amazon reviews that the translations do it justice as well. I’m currently reading Corazón tan blanco (A Heart So White) by Marías as well, and so far it’s pretty good too.

  83. Mark Joseph
    Posted November 11, 2017 at 12:38 pm | Permalink

    Five SF:
    Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson, the most fun I’ve ever had reading one book. His The Diamond Age is almost as good, too.
    Dune by Frank Herbert. As good as everyone says it is.
    Gibbon’s Decline and Fall by Sheri S. Tepper. Like The Handmaid’s Tale turned up to eleven. A book that needs to be a lot more widely known.
    Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. The other great dystopias, 1984 and Brave New World, too. And, despite all the crap it takes from the critics, The Hunger Games trilogy.
    Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan, because I love books!
    Honorable mention (my way of sneaking a sixth book on to a five-book list): Eifelheim by Michael F. Flynn.

    Five Fantasy:
    The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster, because it’s the GREATEST BOOK EVER WRITTEN!™ One of the very few books by which one can live one’s life (here, the search for rhyme and reason, by defeating the demons of ignorance).
    Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. As necessary for cultural literacy (at least, in the English-speaking world) as the Greek myths, the King James bible, and Shakespeare, and a lot more fun to read.
    Perdido Street Station by China Miéville, the second-most fun I’ve ever had reading one book.
    American Gods by Neil Gaiman, third-most.
    Declare by Tim Powers. The best book by my favorite fantasy author. I’ve met Mr. Powers a few times at book shows, and he also stated it was his best.
    Honorable mentions: The Phoenix and the Mirror by Avram Davidson, the single most erudite fantasy novel I know, and The Coyote Kings of the Space-Age Bachelor Pad by Minister Faust. Every bit as much fun as the title would indicate. It’s either science fiction or fantasy, depending on how you squint at it.

    Five science fiction and fantasy series:
    Harry Potter by J. K. Rowling. There’s a reason that Ms. Rowling is a billionaire!
    Discworld by Terry Pratchett. Funniest. Books. Ever. Douglas Adams’ Hitchhikers series has as many laughs per page, but far fewer pages.
    Revelation Space by Alastair Reynolds. The *best* science fiction. Five novels, two novellas, and a book of short stories. Brilliant, inventive, spectacularly well-written, and all by a real scientist.
    The Dying Earth by Jack Vance. Because of the florid writing style, this is definitely a “love-it-or-hate-it” series of four books. I love it to pieces. If you also like it, don’t miss Michael Shea’s official follow up The Quest for Simbilis, and a tribute volume of stories set in the same world, Songs of the Dying Earth. Vance’s other fantasy series, the Lyonesse trilogy, is every bit as good.
    The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien. You may have heard of it.
    Honorable mentions: His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman, Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin, A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin, and The Book of the New Sun by Gene Wolfe.

    Five books to show that I read more than science fiction and fantasy:
    Bleak House by Dickens (with Barnaby Rudge a close second)
    Faust by Goethe
    The Three Musketeers by Dumas
    Notre-Dame de Paris by Hugo
    The Good Soldier Svejk by Jaroslav Hasek

  84. bobkillian
    Posted November 11, 2017 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

    Pedantic sidenote: Twain nitpickers point out that it’s “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” – but “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.” No “The” for Huck, which tells you the author’s sense of the limitations of one book versus the other.

  85. simonchicago
    Posted November 11, 2017 at 5:20 pm | Permalink

    Some additions:
    Coetze: Waiting for the Barbarians
    Hasek: The good soldier Svejk
    Camus: The Plague
    If short stories are allowed: Maupassant, Hemingway (short stories much better than any of the novels), Chekhov, Thomas Mann, Maugham, Joyce, Borges, Machado de Assis.

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