Sinclair Lewis is king of the second 100, with four books.  He is on the cover of Time Magazine, 15 years after winning the Nobel Prize.  Have you ever read anything by him?

Sinclair Lewis is king of the second 100, with four books. Here he is on the cover of Time Magazine, 15 years after winning the Nobel Prize, yet now he is mostly forgotten or ignored. Have you ever read anything by him?

This list works a bit differently than the Top 100.  First of all, this is not a ranked list.  Except for the first three listed titles, they are placed on this list chronologically.  Second, I have not been back through each one of these titles the way I have gone through the Top 100.  Some of these I haven’t re-read in years while every one of the Top 100 were re-read before I wrote on them.  There won’t be individual posts on these books.  Think of this list as less the definitive second 100 as 100 great novels that are worth a read.

Don’t mistake me.  These aren’t just books I enjoy reading.  I hope to start a series soon called Great Reads (which will all get individual posts), which are all about the books I really enjoy, but that don’t really belong on a list like this one, let alone the Top 100.  These are all great novels (though some might also end up in Great Reads).

What about your book, the one you were surprised didn’t make the Top 100 and are even more surprised didn’t make this list?  Well, I had to pare it down (I originally typed out over 125 novels and considered far more).  Just imagine that whatever book you’re thinking of that didn’t make the list was one of the last ones I cut.  Well, unless your book is Infinite Jest, Middlemarch, On the Road or anything by Jane Austen or Henry James.  If you thought those might ever make the list you have clearly never read anything else I have ever posted on literature and are probably brand new to the site.  Welcome!

Now, as for those first three titles.  Well, I made the decision not to re-approach my list while in the process of doing these posts (of course I didn’t know it would take over three years to get the whole list done).  Because of that, sometimes things come up that I realized belonged on the list.  The first of them was something I had somehow never read and as soon as I read it (mid-2011), I realized it should have been on the list.  The second was one I went back and re-read in the summer of 2012 after re-watching the film with Veronica and I realized I had long under-estimated it and it should have been on the list.  The third of them I have the best excuse for – it hadn’t even been written when I did the list.  But it belongs on it.  So those are the de facto other Top 100 books.

the big 3:

  • The Return of the Native  (Thomas Hardy, 1878)
    • “A Saturday afternoon in November was approaching the time of twilight, and the vast tract of unenclosed wild known as Egdon Heath embrowned itself moment by moment.”
  • East of Eden  (John Steinbeck, 1952)
    • “The Salinas Valley is in Northern California.”
  • The Tiger’s Wife  (Tea Obreht, 2011)
    • “In my earliest memory, my grandfather is bald as a stone and he takes me to see the tigers.”

the other 97:

  • Frankenstein  (Mary Shelley, 1818)
    • “To Mrs. Saville, England, St. Petersburgh, Dec. 11th, 17–, You will rejoice to hear that no disaster has accompanied the commencement of an enterprise which you have regarded with such evil forebodings.”
  • The Red and the Black  (Stendhal, 1830)
    • “The little town of Verrières is one of the prettiest in Franche-Comté.”
  • Notre-Dame de Paris  (Victor Hugo, 1831)
    • “It is three hundred forty-eight years, six months, and nineteen days ago today that the citizens of Paris were awakened by the pealing of all the bells in the triple precincts of the City, the University, and the Town.”
  • Nicholas Nickleby  (Charles Dickens, 1839)
    • “There once lived, in a sequestered part of the country of Devonshire, one Mr. Godfrey Nickleby: a worthy gentleman, who, taking it into his head rather late in life that must get married, and not being young enough or rich enough to aspire to the hand of a lady of fortune, had wedded an old flame out of mere attachment, who in her turn had taken him for the same reason.”
  • The Three Musketeers  (Alexandre Dumas, 1844)
    • “On the first Monday of April, 1625, the market town of Meung, birthplace of the author of the Roman de la Rose, seemed to be in as great a turmoil as if the Huguenots had come to turn it into a second La Rochelle.”
  • The Count of Monte Cristo  (Alexandre Dumas, 1846)
    • “On the 24th of February, 1815, the lookout of Notre-Dame de la Garde signalled the three-master, the Pharaon, from Smyrna, Trieste, and Naples.”
  • Madame Bovary  (Gustave Flaubert, 1857)
    • “We were in class when the head-master came in, followed by a ‘new fellow,’ not wearing the school uniform, and a school servant carrying a large desk.”
  • Notes from Underground  (Fyodor Dostoevsky, 1864)
    • “I am a sick man . . . I am a wicked man.”
  • The Mayor of Casterbridge  (Thomas Hardy, 1886)
    • “One evening of late summer, before the present century had reached its thirtieth year, a young man and woman, the latter carrying a child, were approaching the large village of Weydon-Priors, in Upper Wessex, on foot.”
  • The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde  (Robert Louis Stevenson, 1886)
    • “Mr. Utterson the lawyer was a man of a rugged countenance that was never lighted by a smile; cold, scanty and embarrassed in discourse; backward in sentiment; lean, long, dusty, dreary and yet somehow lovable.”
  • A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court  (Mark Twain, 1889)
    • “It was in Warwick Castle that I came across the curious stranger who I am going to talk about.”
  • La Bête Humaine  (Emila Zola, 1890)
    • “Roubaud came into the room and put the pound loaf, pâté and bottle of white wine on the table.”
  • The Picture of Dorian Gray  (Oscar Wilde, 1891)
    • “The studio was filled with the rich odour of roses, and when the light summer wind stirred amidst the trees of the garden there came through the open door the heavy scent of the lilac, or the more delicate perfume of the pink-flowering thorn.”
  • Jude the Obscure  (Thomas Hardy, 1895)
    • “The schoolmaster was leaving the village, and everybody seemed sorry.”
  • The Red Badge of Courage  (Stephen Crane, 1895)
    • “The cold passed reluctantly from the earth, and the retiring fogs revealed an army stretched out on the hills, resting.”
  • The Awakening  (Kate Chopin, 1899)
    • “A green and yellow parrot, which hung in a cage outside the door, kept repeating over and over: ‘Allez, vous-en! Allez vous-en!  Sapristi!  That’s all right!’
  • Lord Jim  (Joseph Conrad, 1900)
    • “He was an inch, perhaps two, under six feet, powerfully built, and he advanced straight at you with a slight stoop of the shoulders, head forward, and a fixed from-under stare which made you think of a charging bull.”
  • Sister Carrie  (Theodore Dreiser, 1900)
    • “When Caroline Meeber boarded the afternoon train for Chicago, her total outfit consisted of a small trunk, a cheap imitation alligator-skin satchel, a small lunch in a paper box, and a yellow leather snap-purse, containing her ticket, a scrap of paper with her sister’s address in Van Buren Street, and four dollars of money.”
  • The Hound of the Baskervilles  (Arthur Conan Doyle, 1902)
    • “Mr. Sherlock Holmes, who was usually very late in the mornings, save upon those not infrequent occasions when he was up all night, was seated at the breakfast table.”
  • The Secret Agent  (Joseph Conrad, 1907)
    • “Mr. Verloc, going out in the morning, left his shop nominally in charge of his brother-in-law.”
  • A Room with a View  (E. M. Forster, 1908)
    • “‘The Signora had no business to do it,’ said Miss Bartlett, ‘no business at all.’”
  • The Wind in the Willows  (Kenneth Grahame, 1908)
    • “The Mole had been working very hard all the morning, spring-cleaning his little home.”
  • The Rainbow  (D. H. Lawrence, 1915)
    • “The Brangwens had lived for generations on the Marsh Farm, in the meadows where the Erewash twisted sluggishly through alder trees, separating Derbyshire from Nottinghamshire.”
  • The Magnificent Ambersons  (Booth Tarkington, 1918)
    • “Major Amberson had ‘made a fortune’ in 1873, when other people were losing fortunes, and the magnificence of the Ambersons began then.”
  • The Age of Innocence  (Edith Wharton, 1920)
    • “On a January evening of the early seventies, Christine Nilsson was singing in Faust at the Academy of Music in New York.”
  • Main Street  (Sinclair Lewis, 1920)
    • “On a hill by the Mississippi where Chippewas camped two generations ago, a girl stood in relief against the cornflower blue of Northern sky.”
  • Babbitt  (Sinclair Lewis, 1922)
    • “The towers of Zenith aspired above the morning mist; austere towers of steel and cement and limestone, sturdy as cliffs and delicate as silver rods.”
  • The Good Soldier Švejk  (Jaroslav Hašek, 1923)
    • ” ‘And so they’ve killed our Ferdinand,’ said the charwoman to Mr Švejk, who had left military service years before, after having been finally certified by an army medical board as an imbecile, and now lived by selling dogs – ugly, mongrel monstrosities whose pedigrees he forged.”
  • The Bridge of San Luis Rey  (Thornton Wilder, 1927)
    • “On Friday noon, July the twentieth, 1714, the finest bridge in all Peru broke and precipitated five travellers into the gulf below.”
  • Elmer Gantry  (Sinclair Lewis, 1927)
    • “Elmer Gantry was drunk.”
  • Lady Chatterley’s Lover  (D. H. Lawrence, 1928)
    • “Ours is essentially a tragic age, so we refuse to take it tragically.”
  • Dodsworth  (Sinclair Lewis, 1929)
    • “The aristocracy of Zenith were dancing at the Kennepoose Canoe Club.”
  • A Farewell to Arms  (Ernest Hemingway, 1929)
    • “In the late summer of that year we lived in a house in a village that looked across the river and the plain to the mountains.”
  • A Handful of Dust  (Evelyn Waugh, 1934)
    • ” ‘Was anyone hurt?’ “
  • Tender is the Night  (F. Scott Fitzgerald, 1934)
    • “On the pleasant shore of the French Riviera, about half way between Marseilles and the Italian border, stands a large, proud, rose-colored hotel.”
  • I Claudius / Claudius the God  (Robert Graves, 1934, 1935)
    • “I, Tiberius Claudius Drusus Nero Germanicus This-that-and-the-other (for I shall not trouble you yet with all my titles) who was once, and not so long ago either, known to my friends and relatives and associates as ‘Claudius the Idiot’, or ‘That Claudius’, or ‘Claudius the Stammerer’ or ‘Clau-Clau-Claudius’ or at best as ‘Poor Uncle Claudius’, am now about to write this strange history of my life; starting from my earliest childhood and continuing year by year until I reach the fateful point of change where, some eight years ago, at the age of fifty-one, I suddenly found myself caught in what I may call the ‘golden predicament’ from which I have never since become disentangled.”
  • Of Mice and Men  (John Steinbeck, 1937)
    • “A few miles south of Soledad, the Salinas River drops in close to the hillside bank and runs deep and green.”
  • Brighton Rock  (Graham Greene, 1938)
    • “Hale knew, before he had been in Brighton three hours, that they meant to murder him.”
  • Scoop  (Evelyn Waugh, 1938)
    • “While still a young man, John Courteney Boot had, as his publisher proclaimed, ‘achieved an assured and enviable position in contemporary letters.’ “
  • The Big Sleep  (Raymond Chandler, 1939)
    • “It was about eleven o’clock in the morning, mid October, with the sun not shining and a look of hard wet rain in the clearness of the foothills.”
  • The Day of the Locust  (Nathanael West, 1939)
    • “Around quitting time, Tod Hackett heard a great din on the road outside his office.”
  • The Power and the Glory  (Graham Greene, 1940)
    • “Mr Tench went out to look for his ether cylinder, into the blazing Mexican sun and the bleaching dust.”
  • Brideshead Revisited  (Evelyn Waugh, 1945)
    • “When I reached ‘C’ Company lines, which were at the top of the hill, I paused and look back at the camp, just coming into full view below me through the grey mist of early morning.”
  • All the King’s Men  (Robert Penn Warren, 1946)
    • “Mason City.”
  • Under the Volcano  (Malcolm Lowry, 1947)
    • “Two mountain chaines traverse the republic roughly from north to south, forming between them a number of valleys and plateaux.”
  • The Naked and the Dead  (Norman Mailer, 1948)
    • “Nobody could sleep.”
  • From Here to Eternity  (James Jones, 1951)
    • “When he finished packing, he walked out on to the third-floor porch of the barracks brushing the dust from his hands, a very neat and deceptively slim young man in the summer khakis that were still early morning fresh.”
  • Wise Blood  (Flannery O’Connor, 1952)
    • “Hazel Motes sat at a forward angle on the green plush train seat, looking one minute at the window, as if he might want to jump out of it, and the next down the aisle at the other end of the car.”
  • The Adventures of Augie March  (Saul Bellow, 1953)
    • “I am an American, Chicago born – Chicago, that somber city – and go at things as I have taught myself, free-style, and will make the record in my own way: first to knock, first admitted; sometimes an innocent known, sometimes a not so innocent.”
  • The Last Hurrah  (Edwin O’Connor, 1956)
    • “It was early in August when Frank Skeffington decided – or rather, announced his decision, which actually had been arrived at some months before – to run for re-election as mayor of the city.”
  • Seize the Day  (Saul Bellow, 1956)
    • “When it came to concealing his troubles, Tommy Wilhelm was not less capable than the next fellow.”
  • The Temple of the Golden Pavilion  (Yukio Mishima, 1956)
    • “Ever since my childhood, Father had often spoken to me about the Golden Temple.”
  • The Wapshot Chronicles  (John Cheever, 1957, 1964)
    • “St. Botolphs was an old place, an old river town.”
  • The Poorhouse Fair  (John Updike, 1959)
    • ” ‘What’s this?’ “
  • To Kill a Mockingbird  (Harper Lee, 1960)
    • “When he was nearly thirteen, my brother Jem got his arm badly broken at the elbow.”
  • One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich  (Alexander Solzhenitsyn, 1962)
    • “At five o’clock that morning reveille was sounded, as usual, by the blows of a hammer on a length of rail hanging up near the staff quarters.”
  • Dune  (Frank Herbert, 1965)
    • “In the week before their departure to Arrakis, when all the final scurrying about had reached a nearly unbearable frenzy, an old crone came to visit the mother of the boy, Paul.”
  • The Painted Bird  (Jerzy Kosinski, 1965)
    • “In the first weeks of World War II, in the fall of 1939, a six-year-old boy from a large city in Eastern Europe was sent by his parents, like thousands of other children, to the shelter of a distant village.”
  • Couples  (John Updike, 1968)
    • ” ‘What did you make of the new couple?’ “
  • True Grit  (Charles Portis, 1968)
    • “People do not give it credence that a fourteen-year-old girl could leave home and go off in the wintertime to avenge her father’s blood but it did not seem so strange then, although I will say it did not happen every day.”
  • Them  (Joyce Carol Oates, 1969)
    • “One warm evening in August 1937 a girl in love stood before a mirror.”
  • Flags in the Dust  (William Faulkner, 1973)
    • “Old man Falls roared: ‘Cunnel was settin’ thar in a cheer, his sock feet propped on the po’ch railin, smokin’ this hyer very pipe.’ “
  • The Great American Novel  (Philip Roth, 1973)
    • “Call me Smitty.”
  • Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy  (John Le Carré, 1974)
    • “The truth is, if old Major Dover hadn’t dropped dead at Taunton races Jim would never have come to Thursgood’s at all.”
  • Ragtime  (E. L. Doctorow, 1975)
    • “In 1902 Father built a house at the crest of the Broadview Avenue hill in New Rochelle, New York.”
  • The Book of Laughter and Forgetting  (Milan Kundera, 1978)
    • “In February 1948, the Communist leader Klement Gottwald stepped out on the balcony of a Baroque palace in Prague to harangue hundreds of thousands of citizens massed in Old Town Square.”
  • Chronicle of a Death Foretold  (Gabriel García Márquez, 1982)
    • “On the day they were going to kill him, Santiago Nasar got up at five-thirty in the morning to wait for the boat the bishop was coming on.”
  • The Color Purple  (Alice Walker, 1982)
    • “You better not never tell nobody but God.”
  • The House of the Spirits  (Isabel Allende, 1982)
    • Barrabás came to us by the sea, the child Clara wrote in her delicate calligraphy.”
  • Shoeless Joe  (W.P. Kinsella, 1982)
    • “My father said he saw him years later playing in a tenth-rate commercial league in a textile town in Carolina, wearing shoes and an assumed name.”
  • Shame  (Salman Rushdie, 1983)
    • “In the remote border town of Q., which when seen from the air resembles nothing so much as an ill-proportioned dumb-bell, there once lived three lovely, and loving, sisters.”
  • Love Medicine  (Louise Erdrich, 1984)
    • “The morning before Easter Sunday, June Kashpaw was walking down the clogged main street of oil boomtown Williston, North Dakota, killing time before the noon bus arrived that would take her home.”
  • The Cider House Rules  (John Irving, 1985)
    • “In the hospital of the orphanage – the boys’ division at St. Cloud’s, Maine – two nurses were in charge of naming the new babies and checking that their little penises were healing from the obligatory circumcision.”
  • The Handmaid’s Tale  (Margaret Atwood, 1985)
    • “We slept in what had once been the gymnasium.”
  • Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World  (Haruki Murakami, 1985)
    • “The elevator continued its impossibly slow ascent.”
  • Perfume: The Story of a Murderer  (Patrick Suskind, 1985)
    • “In eighteenth-century France there lived a man who was one of the most gifted and abominable personages in an era that knew no lack of gifted and abominable personages.”
  • White Noise  (Don DeLillo, 1985)
    • “The station wagons arrived at noon, a long shining line that coursed through the west campus.”
  • Tracks  (Louise Erdrich, 1988)
    • “We started dying before the snow, and like the snow, we continued to fall.”
  • L.A. Confidential  (James Ellroy, 1990)
    • “An abandoned auto court in the San Berdoo foothills; Buzz Meeks checked in with ninety-four thousand dollars, eighteen pounds of high-grade heroin, a 10-gauge pump, a .38 special, a .45 automatic and a switchblade he’d bought off a pachuco at the border – right before he spotted the car parked across the line: Mickey Cohen goons in an LAPD unmarked, Tijuana cops standing by the bootjack a piece of his goodies, dump his body in the San Yisdro River.”
  • The Sweet Hereafter  (Russell Banks, 1991)
    • “A dog – it was a dog I saw for certain.”
  • The English Patient  (Michael Ondaatje, 1992)
    • “She stands up in the garden where she has been working and looks into the distance.”
  • Nobody’s Fool  (Richard Russo, 1993)
    • “Upper Main Street in the village of North Bath, just above the town’s two-block-long business district, was quietly residential for three more bocks, then became even more quietly rural along old Route 27A, a serpentine two-lane blacktop that snaked its way through the Adirondacks of northern New York, with their tiny, down-at-the-heels resort towns, all the way to Montreal and prosperity.”
  • Sabbath’s Theater  (Philip Roth, 1995)
    • “Either forswear fucking others or the affair is over.”
  • American Pastoral  (Philip Roth, 1997)
    • “The Swede.”
  • Straight Man  (Richard Russo, 1997)
    • “Truth be told, I’m not an easy man.”
  • The Hours  (Michael Cunningham, 1998)
    • “She hurries from the house, wearing a coat too heavy for the weather.”
  • The Blind Assassin  (Margaret Atwood, 2000)
    • “Ten days after the war ended, my sister Laura drove a car off a bridge.”
  • Bel Canto  (Ann Patchett, 2001)
    • “When the lights went off the accompanist kissed her.”
  • The Corrections  (Jonathan Franzen, 2001)
    • “The madness of an autumn prairie cold front coming through.”
  • Middlesex  (Jeffrey Eugenides, 2002)
    • “I was born twice: first, as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day in January of 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of 1974.”
  • Out Stealing Horses  (Per Petterson, 2003)
    • “Early November.”
  • The History of Love  (Nicole Krauss, 2005)
    • “When they write my obituary.”
  • No Country for Old Men  (Cormac McCarthy, 2005)
    • “I sent one boy to the gaschamber at Huntsville.”
  • Shalimar the Clown  (Salman Rushdie, 2005)
    • “At twenty-four the ambassador’s daughter slept badly through the warm, unsurprising nights.”
  • Freedom  (Jonathan Franzen, 2010)
    • “The news about Walter Bergulund wasn’t picked up locally – he and Patty had moved away to Washington two years earlier and meant nothing to St. Paul now – but the urban gentry of Ramsey Hill were not so loyal to their city as not to read the New York Times.”
  • The Imperfectionists  (Tom Rachman, 2010)
    • “Lloyd shoves off the bedcovers and hurries to the front door in white underwear and black socks.”
  • The Night Circus  (Erin Morgenstern, 2011)
    • “The circus arrives without warning.”