100 Years, 100 Novels, One List

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James Joyce

Topping the list: James Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man Hulton Archive/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Hulton Archive/Getty Images

I have wanted to write this column for a long time but didn't have the chutzpah. But I can't resist.

In 1998, the Modern Library published a list of the best 100 English-language novels of the 20th century. A few years later, at dinner with my wife and a friend who is a novel-reading fiend, we started composing our own list. We soon gave up. But being a male who likes lists and novels, I squirreled the list away and tinkered with it occasionally. I always wanted to toss it into the ether and see other readers play with it and comment.

I am not a learned or prolific reader of novels. My taste is probably medium-brow, male and parochial in many ways. Tough. It's my list. I included two books that probably aren't novels: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and Fabulous Small Jews. Lots of innovative, modern stuff didn't make it because I am not good at reading it.

My criteria were essentially how much the book hit me, moved me, made me see — and how it stuck with me. The books are all English-language novels written after 1900. The order is essentially silly. Here it is:

1. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, James Joyce

2. The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald

3. The Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger

4. Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad

5. Brave New World, Aldous Huxley

6. The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck

7. Angle of Repose, Wallace Stegner

8. Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov

9. Humboldt's Gift, Saul Bellow

10. A Passage to India, E.M. Forster

11. To the Lighthouse, Virginia Woolf

12. U.S.A. Trilogy, John Dos Passos

13. The Untouchable, John Banville

14. To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee

15. Rabbit at Rest, John Updike

16. All the King's Men, Robert Penn Warren

17. American Pastoral, Philip Roth

18. Beloved, Toni Morrison

19. The Remains of the Day, Kazuo Ishiguro

20. Of Human Bondage, W. Somerset Maugham

21. Light in August, William Faulkner

22. My Antonia, Willa Cather

23. The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway

24. A Lesson Before Dying, Ernest Gaines

25. Rabbit, Run, John Updike

26. Babbitt, Sinclair Lewis

27. The Moviegoer, Walker Percy

28. The Jungle, Upton Sinclair

29. The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath

30. Midnight's Children, Salman Rushdie

31. All the Pretty Horses, Cormac McCarthy

32. The Sportswriter, Richard Ford

33. The Lay of the Land, Richard Ford

34. Sons and Lovers, D.H. Lawrence

35. Aloft, Chang-Rae Lee

36. Appointment in Samarra, John O'Hara

37. Atonement, Ian McEwan

38. So Long, See You Tomorrow, William Maxwell

39. Winesburg, Ohio, Sherwood Anderson

40. Lucky Jim, Kingsley Amis

41. The Forsyte Saga, John Galsworthy

42. Franny and Zooey, J.D. Salinger

43. A Soldier of the Great War, Mark Helprin

44. The Big Sleep, Raymond Chandler

45. Animal Farm, George Orwell

46. Charlotte's Web, E.B. White

47. The Good Soldier, Ford Maddox Ford

48. The Secret Sharer, Joseph Conrad

49. Blood Meridian, Cormac McCarthy

50. The Day of the Locust, Nathaniel West

51. Crossing to Safety, Wallace Stegner

52. Felicia's Journey, William Trevor

53. Ironweed, William Kennedy

54. Lonesome Dove, Larry McMurtry

55. The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, John LeCarre

56. In the Lake of the Woods, Tim O'Brien

57. A Coffin for Dimitrios, Eric Ambler

58. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert Pirsig

59. The Caine Mutiny, Herman Wouk

60. The Killer Angels, Michael Shaara

61. The Human Factor, Graham Greene

62. Tarzan of the Apes, Edgar Rice Burroughs

63. Paris Trout, Pete Dexter

64. Howard's End, E.M. Forster

65. The Killer Inside Me, Jim Thompson

66. The English Patient, Michael Ondaatje

67. Portnoy's Complaint, Philip Roth

68. Fabulous Small Jews, Joseph Epstein

69. Tender is the Night, F. Scott Fitzgerald

70. Roscoe, William Kennedy

71. Charming Billy, Alice McDermott

72. Lord of the Flies, William Golding

73. Razor's Edge, W. Somerset Maugham

74. Lying Awake, Mark Salzman

75. A Confederacy of Dunces, John Kennedy Toole

76. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Ken Kesey

77. Light Years, James Salter

78. Black Dogs, Ian McEwan

79. Spartina, John Casey

80. A Fan's Notes, Frederick Exley

81. Scoop, Evelyn Waugh

82. Blood of the Lamb, Peter De Vries

83. Empire Falls, Richard Russo

84. The Maltese Falcon, Dashiell Hammett

85. Double Indemnity, James Cain

86. The Sunlight Dialogues, John Gardner

87. The Ginger Man, J.P. Donleavy

88. Seize the Day, Saul Bellow

89. Rabbit Is Rich, John Updike

90. Deliverance, James Dickey

91. The Bird Artist, Howard Norman

92. Pnin, Vladimir Nabokov

93. City Boy, Herman Wouk

94. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, John le Carre

95. Advise and Consent, Allen Drury

96. A Man in Full, Tom Wolfe

97. Sophie's Choice, William Styron

98. Breakfast of Champions, Kurt Vonnegut

99. The Godfather, Mario Puzo

100. A History of Love, Nicole Krauss

 

I'd welcome any comments, counterlists, other lists and mockery.

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