Tuesday, July 27, 2010

100 Best Contemporary Novels

A few years ago, I spent a week publishing lists of the 100 Best books (which I hope, someday, will include something I've written ;). For a long time, my favorite list was the Modern Library's 100 Best Contemporary Novels, as determined by their board. I was working on buying and reading all of the books. When I read Nabokov's Lolita, I lost interest. The subject matter turned my stomach. As a woman, and as a mother of girls, I hated the protagonist. If you want to know more, you'll have to look it up. Just thinking about it makes me a little queasy.

The kicker is that the writing was really good - phenomenal even - and Nabokov's use of the language was simply amazing, which is why (I'm sure) the book made the list, but I still didn't like the content, and for me, that's enough not to want to read such stuff.

The Modern Library has published a second list of the 100 Best Contemporary Novels - this one compiled by their readers, and I thought it would be fun to post the list, with the books I own and/or have read highlighted in bold-face type.

How many do you have?

ATLAS SHRUGGED by Ayn Rand
THE FOUNTAINHEAD by Ayn Rand
BATTLEFIELD EARTH by L. Ron Hubbard
THE LORD OF THE RINGS by J.R.R. Tolkien
TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD by Harper Lee
1984 by George Orwell
ANTHEM by Ayn Rand
WE THE LIVING by Ayn Rand

MISSION EARTH by L. Ron Hubbard
FEAR by L. Ron Hubbard
ULYSSES by James Joyce
CATCH-22 by Joseph Heller
THE GREAT GATSBY by F. Scott Fitzgerald
DUNE by Frank Herbert

THE MOON IS A HARSH MISTRESS by Robert Heinlein
STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND by Robert Heinlein
A TOWN LIKE ALICE by Nevil Shute
BRAVE NEW WORLD by Aldous Huxley
THE CATCHER IN THE RYE by J.D. Salinger
ANIMAL FARM by George Orwell

GRAVITY'S RAINBOW by Thomas Pynchon
THE GRAPES OF WRATH by John Steinbeck
SLAUGHTERHOUSE FIVE by Kurt Vonnegut
GONE WITH THE WIND by Margaret Mitchell
LORD OF THE FLIES by William Golding

SHANE by Jack Schaefer
TRUSTEE FROM THE TOOLROOM by Nevil Shute
A PRAYER FOR OWEN MEANY by John Irving
THE STAND by Stephen King
THE FRENCH LIEUTENANT'S WOMAN by John Fowles
BELOVED by Toni Morrison

THE WORM OUROBOROS by E.R. Eddison
THE SOUND AND THE FURY by William Faulkner
LOLITA by Vladimir Nabokov

MOONHEART by Charles de Lint
ABSALOM, ABSALOM! by William Faulkner
OF HUMAN BONDAGE by W. Somerset Maugham

WISE BLOOD by Flannery O'Connor
UNDER THE VOLCANO by Malcolm Lowry
FIFTH BUSINESS by Robertson Davies
SOMEPLACE TO BE FLYING by Charles de Lint
ON THE ROAD by Jack Kerouac
HEART OF DARKNESS by Joseph Conrad
YARROW by Charles de Lint
AT THE MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS by H.P. Lovecraft
ONE LONELY NIGHT by Mickey Spillane
MEMORY AND DREAM by Charles de Lint
TO THE LIGHTHOUSE by Virginia Woolf
THE MOVIEGOER by Walker Percy
TRADER by Charles de Lint
THE HITCHHIKER'S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY by Douglas Adams
THE HEART IS A LONELY HUNTER by Carson McCullers
THE HANDMAID'S TALE by Margaret Atwood

BLOOD MERIDIAN by Cormac McCarthy
A CLOCKWORK ORANGE by Anthony Burgess
ON THE BEACH by Nevil Shute
A PORTRAIT OF THE ARTIST AS A YOUNG MAN by James Joyce
GREENMANTLE by Charles de Lint
ENDER'S GAME by Orson Scott Card
THE LITTLE COUNTRY by Charles de Lint
THE RECOGNITIONS by William Gaddis
STARSHIP TROOPERS by Robert Heinlein
THE SUN ALSO RISES by Ernest Hemingway
THE WORLD ACCORDING TO GARP by John Irving

SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES by Ray Bradbury
THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE by Shirley Jackson
AS I LAY DYING by William Faulkner
TROPIC OF CANCER by Henry Miller
INVISIBLE MAN by Ralph Ellison
THE WOOD WIFE by Terri Windling
THE MAGUS by John Fowles
THE DOOR INTO SUMMER by Robert Heinlein
ZEN AND THE ART OF MOTORCYCLE MAINTENANCE by Robert Pirsig
I, CLAUDIUS by Robert Graves
THE CALL OF THE WILD by Jack London
AT SWIM-TWO-BIRDS by Flann O'Brien
FARENHEIT 451 by Ray Bradbury
ARROWSMITH by Sinclair Lewis
WATERSHIP DOWN by Richard Adams
NAKED LUNCH by William S. Burroughs
THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER by Tom Clancy
GUILTY PLEASURES by Laurell K. Hamilton
THE PUPPET MASTERS by Robert Heinlein
IT by Stephen King
V. by Thomas Pynchon
DOUBLE STAR by Robert Heinlein
CITIZEN OF THE GALAXY by Robert Heinlein
BRIDESHEAD REVISITED by Evelyn Waugh
LIGHT IN AUGUST by William Faulkner
ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST by Ken Kesey
A FAREWELL TO ARMS by Ernest Hemingway

THE SHELTERING SKY by Paul Bowles
SOMETIMES A GREAT NOTION by Ken Kesey
MY ANTONIA by Willa Cather
MULENGRO by Charles de Lint
SUTTREE by Cormac McCarthy
MYTHAGO WOOD by Robert Holdstock
ILLUSIONS by Richard Bach
THE CUNNING MAN by Robertson Davies
THE SATANIC VERSES by Salman Rushdie

What's interesting to me, in looking through the list, is how many of Robert Heinlein's novels are on the list, and many of which I know are "doomer" novels.

It may mean nothing, but it struck me as ... interesting.

8 comments:

  1. I've read 17 of the 100 on this list. Mostly the old classics - Tolkien, Lee, Orwell, Fitzgerald, etc. They are almost all in your highlighted list. But I think you were schooled just after me, and those were popluar then.

    There's nothing like a good book!

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  2. Farmgal - most of the books I've read on this list I did so because I wanted to (or because they appeared on the other list, too :). Only a few of them were for school. The rest were because I wanted a good book (like Harper Lee's classic was not for school, but because I'd seen the movie and wanted to read the book ;).

    What was interesting was to see Stephen King made the list. When I was in college, my professors called King "dime store trash." As someone who was reading both King and the greats like Faulkner, Hemingway, and Fitzgerald, I had a much different perspective. Some of his story lines were definitely sensational, but his insight into what makes people do things was (is) masterful and is what makes good literature.

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  3. I've only read seven of these. I always considered myself well-read, but *sigh* according to this list I'm not.

    I'm with you on the Lolita thing, I've never read it but I've suffered through a book before because it was so well written but the content was wretched. Case in point: Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller (it's on the list).

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  4. My list of reads overlaps to a remarkable degree with yours. I've read all but a few of the ones you bolded. I've also read Hitchhiker's Guide, the Claudius books, Tropic of Cancer (which I can't recommend to most readers), Ender's Game, and, I'll admit, Hunt for Red October, which is imho the best of Clancy's execrable lot. I was defeated by Absalom, Absalom, though I gave it a good run. Just couldn't get into Prayer for Owen Meany and set it down, though maybe I should give it another shake. I loved Lolita, probably because I'm not a mother and I am a language geek. I detested Rand's work. She was a lousy writer and not all that great a thinker, imo. Surprising to see so much of her stuff on this list.

    Thanks for posting this. Always good to see recommended reads.

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  5. I suppose everyone will have their quibbles with such a list. Now the question is, are these the most popular or "best" books?

    I wouldn't have put King's IT on a "100 best" list, but at least I'd replace it with Firestarter. But if it's really a "most popular," then it probably stands as-is. His Dark Tower series peaked with Book III, The Waste Lands, one of two books I immediately re-read upon finishing it, but he really started running out of steam after that & the finale was less than satisfying. But I digress.

    With all the sci-fi on there, it's nearly criminal that Asimov's Foundation Trilogy doesn't appear as well. It's a seminal work.

    I've read a synopsis of Lolita — I never dared to try obtaining the book itself for fear it would put me on someone's watchlist. But if Nobokov is Russian, they have a more relaxed view of such content. IIRC, the age of consent in Russia is 14, which is why so much kiddie pr0n came from Russia back in the early 90s (and "Lolita" became shorthand for such). Going back to Stephen King for a moment, he pushes some of the same boundaries IMO… and he can get away with it because he's Stephen King. Kind of like Grapes of Wrath having language & content you wouldn't expect to see in a book published in the 30s… but Steinbeck was Steinbeck so he similarly could get away with it (and I certainly won't quibble about that book being on the list!).

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  6. Nice to know that I at least read a third of them. Now to get to that other 2/3!

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  7. I've read a quarter of them, with surprisingly little overlap of your list. I have not read a lot of the traditional "classics" due to an obnoxious phase in my youth where I refused to read the books everyone had read - why follow the flock? ;-)

    Now I don't feel like slogging through them. Reading right now is my escape from stress, especially since I gave away the TV (that got no reception out here) yesterday. I'm going for fairly light scifi/fantasy with a few prep books thrown in. None of which are on the list.

    I do have a brain. Really. It's just on vacation right now.

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  8. Thanks for the list. I've read about a third of them. I was interested that there were so many by Charles de Lint, but mostly not the ones I've read (and very much enjoyed) by him. Hmm... New fodder for the to-read list!

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