I was going to put a picture of a Henry James novel with a big NOOOO!!!!!! underneath it, but I can’t seem to get the captions to work. It’s why The Princess Bride poster was the first thing shown in a post whose title was the exact opposite (it had a caption that didn’t show up that made sense). Anyway, Henry James is the poster child for the novels I don’t like from the original Modern Library list. I have never taken to his obsession with the European upper class and their distinctions.

It also seems like a good time to mention some other “acclaimed” novels you won’t be finding on this list: those dismissed by Truman Capote as “that’s not writing, it’s typing” (On the Road), pretentious over-developed novels (Underworld, Infinite Jest, most of Pynchon), mind-numbing works populated by selfish characters masquerading as philosophy (Fountainhead, Atlas Shrugged), most Booker Prize winners and Invisible Man. As for what I’ve read that qualifies me to make this list? Aside from the ML list, I’ve also read over 75% of the Booker Prize, Pulitzer Prize, National Book Award, National Book Critics Circle and PEN/Faulkner winners, as well as every English language novelist who’s won the Nobel Prize.

Now, here’s 75 through 51:

75 – A Farewell to Arms (Ernest Hemingway) – ML list #74A Farewell to Arms - Modern Library

“If people bring so much courage to this world the world has to kill them to break them, so of course it kills them. The world breaks every one and afterwards many are strong at the broken places. But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially.” (p 249)

(ironic note – long before I read the novel, I was exposed to that quote when it appeared in the Green Arrow story in the now iconic Green Lantern / Green Arrow #87)

74 – The Power and the Glory (Graham Greene)

“It seemed to him, at that moment, that it would have been quite easy to have been a saint. It would only have needed a little self-confidence and a little courage.” (p 210)

73 – The English Patient (Michael Ondaatje) – Booker Prize

“Who lays the crumbs of food that tempt you? Towards a person you never considered. A dream. Then later another series of dreams.” (p 150)

72 – American Pastoral (Philip Roth) – Pulitzer Prize

“The old system that made order doesn’t work anymore. All that was left was his fear and astonishment, but now concealed by nothing.” (p 422)

71 – Tender is the Night (F. Scott Fitzgerald) – ML list #28

“In the spring of 1917, when Doctor Richard Diver first arrived in Zurich, he was twenty-six years old, a fine age for a man, indeed the very acme of bachelorhood. Even in war-time days, it was fine age for Dick, who was already too valuable, too much of a capital investment to be shot off in a gun.” (p 113)

70 – The End of the Affair (Graham Greene)

“I hate You, God, I hate You as though You existed.” (p 191)

Women in Love (Modern Library)69 – A Passage to India (E. M. Forster)

“It’s only one’s own dead who matter.” (p 247)

68 – Women in Love (D. H. Lawrence) – ML list #50

“Birkin remembered how once Gerald had clutched his hand with a warm, momentaneous grip of final love. For one second – then let go again, let go for ever. If he had kept true to that clasp, death would not have mattered.” (p 540)

67 – Snopes (William Faulkner)

(trilogy composed of The Hamlet, The Town and The Mansion)

“Except that it was not a monument: it was a footprint. A monument only says At least I got this far while a footprint says This is where I was when I moved again.” (p 540)

66 – The French Lieutenant’s Woman (John Fowles)

“One of the commonest symptoms of wealth today is destructive neurosis; in his century it was tranquil boredom.” (p 16)

65 – Ironweed (William Kennedy) – ML list #92, Pulitzer, National Book Critics Circle Award

“Riding up the winding road of Saint Agnes Cemetery in the back of the rattling old truck, Francis Phelan became aware that the dead, even more than the living, settled down in neighborhoods.” (opening line)

64 – The Rabbit Tetralogy (John Updike) – 2 Pulitzers, 2 National Book Critics Circle Awards, National Book Award

(consists of Rabbit, Run; Rabbit, Redux; Rabbit is Rich and Rabbit at Rest)

“He finds this inward curve and slips along it, sleeps. He. She. Sleeps. O.K.?” (last line – Rabbit, Redux)

63 – Go Tell It on the Mountain (James Baldwin) – ML list #39

“The Lord was riding on the wind tonight. What might that wind have spoken before the morning came.” (p 61)

62 – Cat’s Cradle (Kurt Vonnegut)

“Peculiar travel suggestions are dancing lessons from God.” (p 50)

61 – Nostromo (Joseph Conrad) – ML list #47

“The light in the room went out, and weighted with silver, the magnificent capataz clasped her round her white neck in the darkness of the gulf as a drowning man clutches at a straw.” (p 389)

60 – Sons and Lovers (D.H. Lawrence) – ML list #9

“He would not take that direction, to the darkness, to follow her. He walked towards the faintly humming, glowing town, quietly.” (last line)

59 – The Risk Pool (Richard Russo)

“He had one hand on my shoulder and was looking down at me, proudly, as if he believed me to be truly capable of wondrous things.” (p 479)

58 – The Human Stain (Philip Roth) – PEN/Faulkner Award

“Only rarely, at the end of our century, does life offer up a vision as pure and peaceful as this one: a solitary man on a bucket, fishing through eighteen inches of ice in a lake that’s constantly turning over its water atop an arcadian mountain in America.” (last line)

57 – A Clockwork Orange (Anthony Burgess) – ML list #65

“And there was the slow movement and the lovely last singing moment still to come. I was cured all right.” (p 205 – but was the last line in the version first released in the U.S.)

56 – Appointment in Samarra (John O’Hara) – ML list #22

“When Caroline Walker fell in love with Julian English she was a little tired of him. That was in the summer of 1926, one of the most unimportant years in the history of the United States, and the year in which Caroline Walker was sure her life had reached a pinnacle of uselessness.” (p 125)

55 – The Princess Bride (William Goldman)

“This is my favorite book in all the world, though I have never read it.” (opening line)

54 – Gravity’s Rainbow (Thomas Pynchon) – voted Pulitzer winner by committee, overturned by Board and no Pulitzer award that year

“For some reason now, she who never laughs has become the top surface of a deep, rising balloon of laughter. Later as she’s about to go to sleep, she will also whisper, “Laughing,” laughing again.” (p 229)

53 – Nova (Samuel Delaney)

“The only way to protect myself from the jinx, I guess, would be to abandon it before I finish the last” (last line)

(sadly, Nova is again out of print, just as it was when it was assigned for Academic Decathlon in 1990, so rather than my usual link to Powells, I have linked to Addall, a wonderful site for finding used books that everyone should know about)

52 – The Shipping News (Annie Proulx) – Pulitzer / National Book Award

“Quoyle hated the thought of an incestuous, fit-prone, seal-killing child for a grandfather, but there was no choice. The mysteries of unknown family.” (p 25)

51 – Watership Down (Richard Adams)

” ‘You needn’t worry about them,’ said his companion. ‘They’ll be all right – and thousands like them. If you’ll come along, I’ll show you what I mean.’ ” (p 475)

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