The Modern Library’s 100 Best Novels of the 20th Century (Mostly Suck)

A little unfair in that, in fact, I’m surprised they included so many novels that I don’t think suck. Also unfair in that I’m not sure I can confidently name more than 15-20 novels that, in my mind, don’t suck. And that I haven’t read most of the list. Ah well.

I also appreciated Game Dame‘s validation for not having to finish reading books that one does not like. I’m not sure she meant to imply thereby that it’s also okay to claim to have read a book that you only read, say, 100 pages of, but I’m taking that next step. Wikipedia mentions some worthy concerns and useful details about the list (it was compiled in 1998, Darkness at Noon shouldn’t qualify, it doesn’t include anything written after 1983, etc.).

  1. ULYSSES by James Joyce – Never read it, but read #3 and drew (I’m assuming) accurate conclusions to the effect that James Joyce is the ultimate combination of Emperor’s New Clothes Syndrome and Reading This Was Torture So It Must Be Art Syndrome.
  2. THE GREAT GATSBY by F. Scott Fitzgerald – Deathly slow and dull. Which, I imagine, is what F. Scott was going for. OTOH, to be called The Great American Novel — I dunno, I suppose our country *is* deathly slow and dull. Hopefully Obama will fix that.
  3. A PORTRAIT OF THE ARTIST AS A YOUNG MAN by James Joyce – Described above at #1. Unbearable, self-absorbed writing that shouldn’t be forced on anyone.
  4. LOLITA by Vladimir Nabokov – Never read.
  5. BRAVE NEW WORLD by Aldous Huxley -I *liked* it. I think it’s a joke that it’s considered the fifth greatest novel in the English language. But, yeah, *liked* it.
  6. THE SOUND AND THE FURY by William Faulkner – Never read. What I’ve read of Faulkner I’ve despised, but OTOH, I’m not sure that isn’t just because I didn’t like my Faulkner-phile AP English teacher. In retrospect, I’m *glad* I pissed her off by doing my Chemistry (Physics?) homework in her class every day.
  7. CATCH-22 by Joseph Heller – Oddly, the Modern Library website left the author out of their list. Are they insinuating something? The novel is *so* one-note it’s unbearable. I may use that word again in this list. The characters don’t matter, the destination is vague, very little happens, and while I can appreciate snarkiness better than most, like violence, snarkiness without substance is doofishness.
  8. DARKNESS AT NOON by Arthur Koestler – An odd inclusion in that this book was translated from German. Oh. Well. It was okay. Interesting information and insight into post-revolution Gulaghood. But the writing was far from brilliant (although that may have been an issue with the translation).
  9. SONS AND LOVERS by D.H. Lawrence – I think I was supposed to read this for a college class that I ended up dropping once I took a look at the middle four pages of this book. Never read. Aside from those four pages.
  10. THE GRAPES OF WRATH by John Steinbeck – Never read, but I sort of like Steinbeck, so I probably should.
  11. UNDER THE VOLCANO by Malcolm Lowry – Never read.
  12. THE WAY OF ALL FLESH by Samuel Butler – Never read.
  13. 1984 by George Orwell – Greatest novel in the history of mankind. Too bad no one but me learned anything from it. I should probably read it again — it’s been a couple years.
  14. I, CLAUDIUS by Robert Graves – Never read, but it *is* in my guest bathroom in case the stars ever align correctly.
  15. TO THE LIGHTHOUSE by Virginia Woolf – Never read.
  16. AN AMERICAN TRAGEDY by Theodore Dreiser – Never read.
  17. THE HEART IS A LONELY HUNTER by Carson McCullers – Never read.
  18. SLAUGHTERHOUSE-FIVE by Kurt Vonnegut – In my personal Top 5. The one novel Vonnegut ever needed to write. Sharp, funny, fast-moving, relatable.
  19. INVISIBLE MAN by Ralph Ellison – The opposite of Slaughterhouse-Five. Although I’m not sure it’s fair to claim books that I read in, yes, AP English. In 1989.
  20. NATIVE SON by Richard Wright – Never read.
  21. HENDERSON THE RAIN KING by Saul Bellow – Never read, but it’s in my Amazon account as being “saved for later” and has been there since October 2, 2005.
  22. APPOINTMENT IN SAMARRA by John O’Hara – Never read.
  23. U.S.A. (trilogy) by John Dos Passos – Never read.
  24. WINESBURG, OHIO by Sherwood Anderson – Another AP English novel and one that I remember somewhat pleasantly. Slow but occasionally-enough engaging, IIRC.
  25. A PASSAGE TO INDIA by E.M. Forster – Never read. Saw the movie, which I know doesn’t count, but didn’t portend to a book I’d enjoy reading in any way whatsoever.
  26. THE WINGS OF THE DOVE by Henry James – Never read.
  27. THE AMBASSADORS by Henry James – Never read.
  28. TENDER IS THE NIGHT by F. Scott Fitzgerald – Never read, but the Fitzgerald-James love bender that the Modern Library’s editorial board was on that day in 1998 seems noteworthy.
  29. THE STUDS LONIGAN TRILOGY by James T. Farrell – Never read.
  30. THE GOOD SOLDIER by Ford Madox Ford – Never read.
  31. ANIMAL FARM by George Orwell – It is amazing how applicable this novel is to Every Single Organization on Earth. If I could have two Orwell books in my personal Top 5, this would be there.
  32. THE GOLDEN BOWL by Henry James – Never read. And, oddly enough, I usually confuse Fitzgerald for Henry James (and vice versa). Or at least, the two names occupy the same compartment in my brain. The compartment of “highly respected” American writers I’ve managed, probably thankfully, to avoid reading my entire life.
  33. SISTER CARRIE by Theodore Dreiser – Never read.
  34. A HANDFUL OF DUST by Evelyn Waugh – Never read.
  35. AS I LAY DYING by William Faulkner – Never read. But hey, I was pretty solid back when we were doing the Top 20, right?
  36. ALL THE KING’S MEN by Robert Penn Warren – Never read.
  37. THE BRIDGE OF SAN LUIS REY by Thornton Wilder – Never read.
  38. HOWARDS END by E.M. Forster – Never read.
  39. GO TELL IT ON THE MOUNTAIN by James Baldwin – Never read.
  40. THE HEART OF THE MATTER by Graham Greene – Never read.
  41. LORD OF THE FLIES by William Golding – Really liked it when I read it in 9th Grade Honors English. Re-read it a few years ago and, well, it was still *good*, but it didn’t seem all that brilliant. Just seemed like mass market-quality writing with an interesting, iconic story.
  42. DELIVERANCE by James Dickey – Never read *or* seen the movie.
  43. A DANCE TO THE MUSIC OF TIME (series) by Anthony Powell – Never read.
  44. POINT COUNTER POINT by Aldous Huxley – Never read.
  45. THE SUN ALSO RISES by Ernest Hemingway – Never read.
  46. THE SECRET AGENT by Joseph Conrad – Never read.
  47. NOSTROMO by Joseph Conrad – Never read. I *did* read Heart of Darkness though. Liked Apocolypse Now better.
  48. THE RAINBOW by D.H. Lawrence – Never read.
  49. WOMEN IN LOVE by D.H. Lawrence – Never read.
  50. TROPIC OF CANCER by Henry Miller – Never read.
  51. THE NAKED AND THE DEAD by Norman Mailer – Sucked. Tragically. I kept thinking there was something to this book, but it didn’t ever want to pay off. Or stick with the useful characters. Or end 500 pages sooner than it did.
  52. PORTNOY’S COMPLAINT by Philip Roth – Never read.
  53. PALE FIRE by Vladimir Nabokov – Never read.
  54. LIGHT IN AUGUST by William Faulkner – Never read.
  55. ON THE ROAD by Jack Kerouac – Never read, but I’ve always meant to.
  56. THE MALTESE FALCON by Dashiell Hammett – Horrifyingly unbearable. To me. Only to me. I realize the style wasn’t cliche when it was written, but it sure is now.
  57. PARADE’S END by Ford Madox Ford – Never read.
  58. THE AGE OF INNOCENCE by Edith Wharton – Never read.
  59. ZULEIKA DOBSON by Max Beerbohm – Never read. And I thought Ian made up the name Zuleika for his underwater arcology story. Huh. Notion shattered!
  60. THE MOVIEGOER by Walker Percy – Never read.
  61. DEATH COMES FOR THE ARCHBISHOP by Willa Cather – Honestly can’t remember if I read this or not. If I did, it was in an American Literature class at BYU. We read *something* from Willa Cather for that class. Maybe this was it. I’m gonna say yes and that it was okay.
  62. FROM HERE TO ETERNITY by James Jones – Haven’t read. Didn’t really dig Thin Red Line, but thought FHtE was a pretty good movie, so: maybe.
  63. THE WAPSHOT CHRONICLES by John Cheever – Never read.
  64. THE CATCHER IN THE RYE by J.D. Salinger – I love Salinger’s writing quality, but hate his characters. Especially the ones in this book. I don’t get a lot out of understanding the inner-workings of the self-obsessed. Or maybe I do, just that I don’t need more than, say, five pages of it before it seems redundant.
  65. A CLOCKWORK ORANGE by Anthony Burgess – Liked it, but thought the movie was way better. [spoiler]I think the original US editor of the book made the absolutely correct call to remove the ridiculous deus ex machina ending of it. That ending was in no way deserved or established by anything that had gone on before it. Ridiculous, IMHO.[/spoiler] But the made-up language especially was brilliant. I hate it when people tag stuff as being spoiler material.
  66. OF HUMAN BONDAGE by W. Somerset Maugham – Never read.
  67. HEART OF DARKNESS by Joseph Conrad – Right, read it. Seemed slow. Was a long time ago.
  68. MAIN STREET by Sinclair Lewis – Never read.
  69. THE HOUSE OF MIRTH by Edith Wharton – Never read.
  70. THE ALEXANDRIA QUARTET by Lawrence Durell – Never read.
  71. A HIGH WIND IN JAMAICA by Richard Hughes – Never read.
  72. A HOUSE FOR MR BISWAS by V.S. Naipaul – Never read.
  73. THE DAY OF THE LOCUST by Nathanael West – Never read.
  74. A FAREWELL TO ARMS by Ernest Hemingway – Read. I’m not a Hemingway fan. It seems like his real life was way more interesting than his writing.
  75. SCOOP by Evelyn Waugh – Never read.
  76. THE PRIME OF MISS JEAN BRODIE by Muriel Spark – Never read.
  77. FINNEGANS WAKE by James Joyce – Never read. Maybe Joyce is more enjoyable when you’re drunk. Probably puts you in the right frame of mind.
  78. KIM by Rudyard Kipling – Never read.
  79. A ROOM WITH A VIEW by E.M. Forster – Never read.
  80. BRIDESHEAD REVISITED by Evelyn Waugh – Never read, but why are so many of these books the subject matter for BBC-made movies and mini-series? Crazy. I don’t like BBC-made movies or mini-series I don’t think.
  81. THE ADVENTURES OF AUGIE MARCH by Saul Bellow – Never read.
  82. ANGLE OF REPOSE by Wallace Stegner – Personal Top Five and a little surprising to me that any sort of editorial board manned up enough to include this book. This is, IMHO, without a doubt, IMHO, arguably, IMHO The Great Novel of the American West. No one else ever needs to write another one.
  83. A BEND IN THE RIVER by V.S. Naipaul – Never read.
  84. THE DEATH OF THE HEART by Elizabeth Bowen – Never read.
  85. LORD JIM by Joseph Conrad – Never read, but man, what’s with the Joseph Conrad love?
  86. RAGTIME by E.L. Doctorow – Never read.
  87. THE OLD WIVES’ TALE by Arnold Bennett – Never read.
  88. THE CALL OF THE WILD by Jack London – I *think* I’ve read it. I like everything I’ve read by Jack London. I *know* I read White Fang. I *am* going to write a novel set in the asteroid belt that basically borrows the plot from Call.
  89. LOVING by Henry Green – Never read.
  90. MIDNIGHT’S CHILDREN by Salman Rushdie – Never read, but his name always reminds me of the fatwa that went out against him and the corresponding Dennis Miller SNL Weekly News in which was stated that his last name means “man who is in a rush to die“. I don’t remember it because it was funny, I just remember it.
  91. TOBACCO ROAD by Erskine Caldwell – Never read.
  92. IRONWEED by William Kennedy – Never read.
  93. THE MAGUS by John Fowles – Never read.
  94. WIDE SARGASSO SEA by Jean Rhys – Never read.
  95. UNDER THE NET by Iris Murdoch – Never read.
  96. SOPHIE’S CHOICE by William Styron – Never read.
  97. THE SHELTERING SKY by Paul Bowles – Never read.
  98. THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE by James M. Cain – Never read.
  99. THE GINGER MAN by J.P. Donleavy – Never read.
  100. THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS by Booth Tarkington – Never read.

In terms of heinous omissions, the only two that come readily to mind would be Bukowski’s Post Office and Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men. I might also argue for Bradbury’s Martian Chronicles.

I’ve only read 20 of the above, but that still seems like a lot. Meh. You?

bkd

8 comments

  • telkontar

    Your HS AP teacher let you off light. I think I best you by 5, but I wasn’t keeping strict count. You never read “Kim?” The original cold war spy novel of all time? By the greatest English-language poet ever (if you ignore a certain dramatist named William)?

    I’m glad someone else has the same feelings as me on Joyce. Conrad is loved for English style, I believe, but I found him slow, too. Lord Jim is too long for a novel of redemption; Stagecoach (the movie) rocks redemption. Many of the books I have read that are on this list failed to edify in any meaningful way.

    Fitzgerald is OK if you’re in an artsy mood — at least his works are shorter than Faulkner. You got something out of 1984 other than totalitariansim sucks? You must be more equal than I am.

    And now I can delete my internet bookmark of this list, that I consider on occasion — before deciding it is a far, far better thing to read non-fiction.

  • bkdunn

    “I was very surprised that Brian got a 5 on the AP test. He and his brothers have very poor study habits.”

    Was never sure what Sis. Bjorn saw in her. Oh well.

  • Chris Bigelow

    OK, here’s me:

    ULYSSES by James Joyce – Read the first several pages, slammed shut, sold on half.com.
    THE GREAT GATSBY by F. Scott Fitzgerald – Read in high school and again later. What’s the big whoop about it? Way overrated.
    LOLITA by Vladimir Nabokov – Quite an amazing experience, in terms of the voice.
    BRAVE NEW WORLD by Aldous Huxley – Read the first few chapters online recently, liked it well enough to continue in print, when I get around to it.
    THE SOUND AND THE FURY by William Faulkner – Haven’t really tried any Faulkner yet, own a few volumes that I hope to get to sometime.
    CATCH-22 by Joseph Heller – Started it, found it very obnoxious, stopped it.
    SONS AND LOVERS by D.H. Lawrence – Don’t think I’ve read this one yet but quite like Lawrence and hope to read someday (I think the only Lawrence novel I’ve read is Lady Chatterley’s Lover).
    THE GRAPES OF WRATH by John Steinbeck – Loved it in high school, would like to read again.
    1984 by George Orwell – I’m pretty sure I read it in high school; didn’t make much impact on me.
    SLAUGHTERHOUSE-FIVE by Kurt Vonnegut – Read it in college. Can’t remember much about it or what I thought of it.
    WINESBURG, OHIO by Sherwood Anderson – I think I’ve read portions.
    THE WINGS OF THE DOVE by Henry James – I may have read this, but I now have a policy against reading Henry James. Life is too short.
    ANIMAL FARM by George Orwell – Ditto 1984. I would probably get more out of Orwell if I returned to him now, which I’m not opposed to doing.
    HOWARDS END by E.M. Forster – Enjoyed it. I like British stuff a lot, probably overall better than ‘murrican.
    LORD OF THE FLIES by William Golding – Loved it in school, would like to revisit.
    THE SUN ALSO RISES by Ernest Hemingway – I like reading Hemingway. He always inspires me to write my own stuff because he makes it seem so easy and simple.
    PORTNOY’S COMPLAINT by Philip Roth – Nasty, lots of fun.
    ON THE ROAD by Jack Kerouac – Never read, but I’ve always meant to.
    THE AGE OF INNOCENCE by Edith Wharton – Did the audiobook, liked it rather a lot but don’t remember much from it.
    THE CATCHER IN THE RYE by J.D. Salinger – Eh, whatever. I’m sure it meant something big in its time but I didn’t get what all the fuss was about.
    HEART OF DARKNESS by Joseph Conrad – I think I tried this and bogged down and didn’t finish.
    A FAREWELL TO ARMS by Ernest Hemingway – Ditto on my earlier Hemingway comment.
    BRIDESHEAD REVISITED by Evelyn Waugh – Enjoyed it a lot as a book, but recently found the TV version sort of queasy, because I’m so tired of pro-gay propaganda.
    THE ADVENTURES OF AUGIE MARCH by Saul Bellow – I’ve only read Humbolt’s Gift but want to read more Bellow.
    ANGLE OF REPOSE by Wallace Stegner – Own it, want to read.

    That’s it for me.

  • bkdunn

    Never been much of a fan of British writing. It comes across as overly affected and overwrought to me. Except for Orwell, who IMHO and to his immense credit writes clearly, like an American :).

  • telkontar

    Shane is a much better Western novel and more edifying than Angle of Repose. John Ford & John Wayne beat all written Westerns. I have started Riders of the Purple Sage and will consider the religious intolerance of Zane Grey, I suppose.
    The writing was excellent, but the book was twice as long as needed for it to reach its own angle of repose. I enjoyed some of the social commentary.

    ANGLE OF REPOSE by Wallace Stegner – Personal Top Five … This is, IMHO, without a doubt, IMHO, arguably, IMHO The Great Novel of the American West. No one else ever needs to write another one.

  • Ummm...

    This is the worst list of non-sensical judgment I have ever seen on ANY BLOG about ANY THING, EVER. You haven’t even read most of these books… Why do you feel qualified to comment on them? Why are you angry about this list?

    What, pray tell, would you place on this list? Have you read the 100 books it would minimally require to even establish your own list?

    Broad generalizations and blind hatred, like the drivel above, are the factors that lead to genocide.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *