FALSTAFF: We have heard the chimes at midnight, Master Robert Shallow. (Henry IV Part 2, III. ii. 220)

My Top 10:

  1. Chimes at Midnight
  2. Z
  3. Stolen Kisses
  4. Oh! What a Lovely War
  5. Midnight Cowboy
  6. They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?
  7. Boudu Saved from Drowning
  8. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie
  9. Goodbye Columbus
  10. Cactus Flower

Note:  This year’s post is a bit ugly with a number of source materials I was unable to get.  There is also even a film that I am unable to really review because while I have seen it, it was years ago (well over a decade ago) and it is extremely difficult to get hold of and I wasn’t able to do so. (more…)

The Top 100 Novels.

The Top 100 Novels.

Here it is.  My Top 100 Novels – the complete list.

The intro was here.  The second 100 can be found here.  Various statistics and trivia about the list can be found here.

Here is the list: (more…)

Faulkner is the king of the list.  Does that really surprise you?

Faulkner is the king of the list. Does that really surprise you?

Before I put up the full Top 100 list (and do the post for #1), I am tossing up this bit of various trivia and statistics about the novels on my Top 100 list and on the 101-200 list.

Please note that none of the lists involving 101-200 have numbers attached because I didn’t rank them.

  • Longest Top 100 Novel:  In Search of Lost Time  (4651 pages)
  • Shortest Top 100 Novel:  Heart of Darkness  (96 pages)
  • Earliest Top 100 Novel:  Gulliver’s Travels  (1726)
  • Latest Top 100 Novel:  Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrel  (2004)
  • Latest Top 200 Novel:  The Night Circus / The Tiger’s Wife  (2011) (more…)
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…)

A young Philip Roth in 1968 about to set everyone alight with Portnoy's Complaint.

“I write fiction and I’m told it’s autobiography, I write autobiography and I’m told it’s fiction, so since I’m so dim and they’re so smart, let them decide what it is or it isn’t.”  (Deception)

My 1st Edition Philip Roth collection.

Philip Roth has not won the Nobel Prize.  But it seems like he’s won everything else.  And if the Nobel Committee were to realize that there are countries outside of Europe (hell, outside of Sweden – nine Swedes have now won the Nobel Prize in Literature – I know it’s your country, but that’s ridiculous), they would look at Roth again.  He has written award winning books, award winning short stories, he has written on the art of writing and on his contemporaries.  He has helped to build the knowledge of European Literature in the United States, being the editor of Writers from the Other Europe Series from Penguin that brought, among others, Milan Kundera to the forefront in the States.  With John Updike and Saul Bellow now gone, he is the last of that breed, those writers who were obsessed with sex, obsessed with life, who gave us great novels that were cultural as well as literary milestones.

He is one of my favorites.  You might not want to shake his hand, or even know him.  But you should definitely read him.


the first edition of Philip Roth's best book: The Ghost Writer (1979)

The Ghost Writer

  • Author:  Philip Roth  (b. 1933)
  • Rank:  #20
  • Published:  1979
  • Publisher:  Farrar, Straus and Giroux
  • Pages:  222
  • First Line:  “It was the last daylight hour of a December afternoon more than twenty years ago – I was twenty-three, writing and publishing my first short stories, and like many a Bildungsroman hero before me, already contemplating my own massive Bildungsroman – when I arrived at his hideaway to meet the great man.”
  • Last Line:  ” ‘It’s like being married to Tolstoy,’ he said, and left me to make my feverish notes while he started off after the runaway spouse, some five minutes now into her doomed journey in search of a less noble calling.”
  • ML Edition:  none
  • Acclaim:  Pulitzer Prize Finalist (chosen by Committee for award, over-ruled by Board); National Book Award Finalist; National Book Critics Circle Finalist
  • Film Version:  tv movie (1984)
  • First Read:  Spring, 1995


Portnoy's Complaint: the novel that made Philip Roth a household name

Portnoy’s Complaint

  • Rank:  #39
  • Author:  Philip Roth  (b. 1933)
  • Published:  1969
  • Publisher:  Random House
  • Pages:  309
  • First Line:  “She was so deeply imbedded in my consciousness that for the first year of school I seem to have believed that each of my teachers was my mother in disguise.”
  • Last Lines:  “So [said the doctor].  Now vee may perhaps to begin.  Yes?”
  • ML Edition:  1982 tan hardcover – hard to find
  • Film:  1972 – never seen, supposed to be quite bad
  • Acclaim:  Modern Library Top 100 English Language Novels of the 20th Century #52; All-TIME List
  • First Read:  Spring, 1994 (more…)

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…)

  • The Human Stain
  • The 1st Edition cover of Philip Roth's brilliant The Human Stain (2000)

    Author:  Philip Roth

  • Rank:  #86
  • Published:  2000
  • Publisher:  Houghton Mifflin
  • Pages:  361 (1st Edition)
  • First Line:  “It was in the summer of 1998 that my neighbor Coleman Silk – who, before retiring two years earlier, had been a classics professor at nearby Athena College for some twenty odd years as well as serving for sixteen more as the dean of the faculty – confided to me that, at the age of seventy-one, he was having an affair with a thirty-four-year-old cleaning woman who worked down at the college.”
  • Last Line:  “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.”
  • ML Edition:  none
  • Film:  2003  –  ***  (dir. Robert Benton)
  • Acclaim:  PEN / Faulkner Award
  • Read:  Summer, 2000 (more…)

Poor F. Scott Fitzgerald never won a Pulitzer Prize. How distinguished can it really be?

The Pulitzer Prize for Fiction is the oldest and perhaps most distinguished literary award in the United States.  Faulkner, Hemingway and Steinbeck all won it, as did Morrison, Updike and Roth.  But how distinguished is it, really?  How many of these books are still studied?  How many of them are even still read?  How well do they stack up over time?

A quick comparison.  When the Modern Library did their list of the 100 Best English Language Novels of the 20th Century, only 7 of them had won the Pulitzer.  By contrast, 6 of them had won the National Book Award, which is 30 years younger.  None of those overlap, as only two post-1950 Pulitzer winners were on the list and neither won the NBA.  Only 5 Pulitzer winners have won the NBA.  Of course, the major book awards don’t like to copy each other – only twice has a Pulitzer winner also won the PEN/Faulkner award.  But the Pulitzer Prize is supposed to be the award, the one that truly lasts.  Well, now that I’m finally done reading the list of all the Pulitzers, I just wanted to a quick look back and see how well that list actually stands up to the test of time. (more…)