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. (more…)


The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle: Haruki Murakami's masterpiece

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle  (ねじまき鳥クロニクル Nejimaki-dori Kuronikuru)

  • Author:  Haruki Murakami
  • Rank:  #25
  • Published:  1995; 1997 (English translation)
  • Publisher:  Shinchosha; Random House (English translation)
  • Pages:  607
  • First Line:  “When the phone rang I was in the kitchen, boiling a potful of spaghetti and whistling along with an FM broadcast of the overture to Rossini’s The Thieving Magpie, which has to be the perfect music for cooking pasta.”
  • Last Line:  “In a place far away from anyone or anywhere, I drifted off for a moment.”
  • ML Edition:  none
  • Acclaim:  Yomiuri Literary Award
  • Film:  none
  • First Read:  Fall 2001


Hi, I'm James Joyce, possibly the greatest writer who ever lived and I never won the Nobel Prize.

Sometime in early October, the Swedish Academy will present this year’s Nobel Prize in Literature.  By now, they should have already reduced their list of candidates for this year down to five.  But, nonetheless, I will throw up this list now in the hopes of getting their attention (yeah, right).

I had intended to combine this list with a retrospective on the complete works of Philip Roth, but I was also planning on tying that in to one of his novels in my top 100 and that’ll be a while, so I’m tying it in with a Rushdie novel.

It seems that at times the Nobel Prize Committee could use a list.  To be fair, the Nobel Prize has gone to many worthy recipients, including Knut Hamsun, William Butler Yeats, George Bernard Shaw, Eugene O’Neill, T.S. Eliot, William Faulkner, Ernest Hemingway, Albert Camus, Samuel Beckett, Saul Bellow, Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Toni Morrison.  And, because, with rare exceptions, the award doesn’t mention a particular work, it is hard to criticize the exclusion of any particular author in any particular year. (more…)

Jurassic Park by Michael Crichten (1942-2008)

Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton (1942-2008)

Don’t you ever just read for enjoyment? You can’t read Faulkner all the time! It’s too difficult, too depressing. You must unwind and relax a bit sometimes.

That’s the argument, anyway, and I hear it a lot. Of course I do. Like I said, there are plenty of books I love that wouldn’t necessarily make my top novels list. So to that end, I hereby present my 25 favorite novels to read, the ones I read over and over again. And there’s no Faulkner.

There is Michael Crichton, though. For a long time he was a very enjoyable author to read. I read Jurassic Park in high school, knowing that Spielberg was working on the film, and I not only loved it, it actually changed the way I view the world (seriously).

So, to the author of Jurassic Park, The Great Train Robbery, Sphere and The Andromeda Strain (all highly enjoyable), in honor of his untimely death yesterday, I dedicate my following list.

There are a few books that in the end, surprisingly didn’t make my list, some brilliant but damn enjoyable (Catch-22, 100 Years of Solitude, The Stranger), some more of a pleasure (The Big Sleep, Hound of the Baskervilles, The Golden Compass), some because I love the author but couldn’t pin down a specific book (Kurt Vonnegut, Christopher Moore), and, then, the Harry Potter series, because I just couldn’t figure out which one, yet didn’t want to put the whole series, because the last four books are so much better than the first three.


Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn - Rest in Peace at #20

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn – Rest in Peace at #20

I meant to post this list late on Sunday when I heard that Solzhenitsyn had died, since he’s on the list, but a truck hit a telephone pole and killed our Internet, Cable and phone until a few hours ago.

Anyway, for this list, I have abandoned the idea of limiting it in any way. I cut the list off at 25 because that’s where quality starts to take a dive. The most glaring omission is going to be Don Quixote, because I have never finished reading it. After that, I suppose people might lament the absence of Les Miserables, but while it’s a great story (I’m actually re-reading it), it’s twice as long as it should be. And Thomas Mann. But he is boring as can be. The foreign language Henry James (as Eliot put it so succinctly about James: “a mind so fine no idea could violate it.”).

Before I get to the list, I feel the need to mention the power of a great novel. If you truly find yourself wrapped up in a novel, it can affect how you feel. I’ve been on edge the last couple of days and I realized why: I was re-reading Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, and it is so good, so compelling, does such a good job of making you feel in danger and on edge, that you end up feeling that way. The only other book that ever made me feel so on edge while reading it was The Stand by Stephen King. They produce the same kind of effect that The Trial and Crime and Punishment do. Harold Bloom can dump on Rowling (and King) all he wants, but if a novel is that good at making you feel on edge, it has certainly done its job






A quick note: the following 10 novels will not appear on this list. It’s not your list. You might think these are great. I think they are overrated, whether because they are simply badly written (The Historian, The Memory Keeper’s Daughter), pretentious McSweeney’s-esque prattle (Absurdistan, Special Topics in Calamity Physics, Everything is Illuminated), boring (Life of Pi), overrated due to serious subject matter (Lovely Bones), well written but uninteresting (Bee Season, Wickett’s Remedy), or fatally flawed due to oversimplification of a truly horrid situation (The Kite Runner). They’re not here so don’t ask for them.  While I am at it, I should add a few more: A Visit from Goon Squad (an utter mess), The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (even being part of its target audience I hated it), The Finkler Question (simply awful).  Those are more recent prize-winning novels that also aren’t here because I couldn’t stand them. Also not here are the Thursday Next books by Jasper Fforde, which are fantastic, but, like Douglas Adams, not quite great writing, or the Jump 225 Trilogy, which I love and was written by a friend of mine, but isn’t quite up there. I have done away with the English language requirement for this list, because my previous list was done to Modern Library standards to match up against their list. Only two of these are foreign language novels anyway.

Before I get to the list, I feel I should point out that it’s now up to 29 35 books.  That’s because I have added some updates over the last couple of years and didn’t feel the need to delete the books at the bottom of the list.

Actually, let me add to that last little paragraph, which was written in 2010.  At the time I was just doing some additions.  This time I have actually changed the title of the list.  Why change the title and not just do a whole new post?  Because I am proud that people keep finding this list and I like all the conversations that the comments have inspired.  So, I decided to up it to 35, add six more books and go with that.  To that end, I had to cut some books I considered, including The Sense of an Ending, The Marriage Plot, Wolf Hall, 1Q84 and even The Casual Vacancy (yes, I thought it was very good – a modern Thomas Hardy).  But something interesting came to me as I was doing the additional titles: five of the six of them were written by females and three of them were first novels.  So let’s be glad for some new blood getting out there and getting noticed (at least by me).