Friday, March 21, 2008

They Had Me With "Ulysses"

The Modern Library’s list of Top 100 Novels of the 20th Century was the trigger of my book list obsession. When I encountered this list in 1999, I had read about 25 of the books on it, mostly in high school and college. Thanks to a Great Books class my freshman year, I had already finished Ulysses, so I figured I had a head start. I decided to read them all.

I finished reading all the books on the list in September 2007. This was before I started Rose City Reader, so I did not review many of them.

I wasn’t a nut about it. It took me seven years to finish the list, which is about a book a month or so. It was a little daunting to realize that there are 121 books on this “Top 100” list because some listed as one book, are really sets, trilogies, etc. But I kept plugging along.

Reading through the list required me to read some classics I had never read (An American Tragedy, Studs Lonigan, and The Secret Agent, for example) and introduced me to some authors I had not encountered before (such as John O’Hara and Lawrence Durell). I certainly did not like every book I read, but I am glad that I have now read them all.

Here’s the list:

1. Ulysses by James Joyce

2. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

3. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce (reviewed here)

4. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

5. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

6. The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner (reviewed here)

7. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

8. Darkness at Noon by Arthur Koestler

9. Sons and Lovers by D.H. Lawrence

10. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

11. Under the Volcano by Malcolm Lowry

12. The Way of All Flesh by Samuel Butler

13. 1984 by George Orwell

14. I, Claudius by Robert Graves

15. To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf

16. An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser

17. The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers

18. Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut (reviewed here)

19. Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison

20. Native Son by Richard Wright

21. Henderson the Rain King by Saul Bellow

22. Appointment in Samarra by John O’Hara

23. U.S.A. (trilogy) by John Dos Passos

24. Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson

25. A Passage to India by E.M. Forster

26. The Wings of the Dove by Henry James

27. The Ambassadors by Henry James (reviewed here)

28. Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald

29. The Studs Lonigan Trilogy by James T. Farrell (reviewed here)

30. The Good Solidier by Ford Madox Ford

31. Animal Farm by George Orwell

32. The Golden Bowl by Henry James (reviewed here)

33. Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser (reviewed here)

34. A Handful of Dust by Evelyn Waugh (notes here)

35. As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner

36. All the King's Men by Robert Penn Warren (reviewed here)

37. The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder

38. Howards End by E.M. Forster

39. Go Tell It on the Mountain by James Baldwin

40. The Heart of the Matter by Graham Greene

41. Lord of the Flies by William Golding

42. Deliverance by James Dickey

43. A Dance to the Music of Time (series) by Anthony Powell  (discussed here)

44. Point Counter Point by Aldous Huxley

45. The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway

46. The Secret Agent by Joseph Conrad

47. Nostromo by Joseph Conrad

48. The Rainbow by D.H. Lawrence

49. Women in Love by D.H. Lawrence

50. Tropic of Cancerby Henry Miller

51. The Naked and the Dead by Norman Mailer (reviewed here)

52. Portnoy's Complaint by Philip Roth

53. Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov

54. Light in August by William Faulkner

55. On the Road by Jack Kerouac

56. The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett

57. Parade's End by Ford Madox Ford

58. The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton

59. Zuleika Dobson by Max Beerbohm

60. The Moviegoer by Walker Percy

61. Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather

62. From Here to Eternity by James Jones

63. The Wapshot Chronicles by John Cheever

64. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

65. A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess

66. Of Human Bondage by W. Somerset Maugham

67. Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

68. Main Street by Sinclair Lewis

69. The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton

70. The Alexandria Quartet by Lawrence Durell

71. A High Wind in Jamaica by Richard Hughes

72. A House for Mr. Biswasby V.S. Naipaul

73. The Day of the Locustby Nathanael West

74. A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway

75. Scoop by Evelyn Waugh

76. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark

77. Finnegans Wake by James Joyce (discussed here)

78. Kim by Rudyard Kipling

79. A Room With a View by E.M. Forster

80. Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh

81. The Adventures of Augie March by Saul Bellow (short review here)

82. Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner

83. A Bend in the River by V.S. Naipaul

84. The Death  of the Heart by Elizabeth Bowen

85. Lord Jim by Joseph Conrad

86. Ragtime by E.L. Doctorow

87. The Old Wives Tale by Arnold Bennett

88. The Call of the Wild by Jack London

89. Loving by Henry Green

90. Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie (reviewed here)

91. Tobacco Road by Erskine Caldwell

92. Ironweed by William Kennedy

93. The Magus by John Fowles

94. Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys (reviewed here)

95. Under the Net by Iris Murdoch

96. Sophie's Choice by William Styron (reviewed here)

97. The Sheltering Sky by Paul Bowles

98. The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M. Cain

99. The Ginger Man by J.P. Donleavy

100. The Magnificent Ambersons by Booth Tarkington (reviewed here)


100 Books in 100 Weeks
The Modern Library List
Doug Reviews the Top 100 Novels
The Treacle Well

(If you would like to be listed here, please leave a comment with links to your progress reports or reviews ans I will add them here.)


  1. Wow, I am impressed -- now which one was your favorite?
    great blog... "TeacherDad"

  2. Thanks for the comment -- my first! Most exciting for me. My favorite was Dance to the Music of Time. I just added an entry about it. I'll add entries about other books on the list as I go along.

    I looked at your TeacherDad blog -- what a great idea to do reviews of kids books! I'll pass it along to my parent friends.

  3. I have read about fifteen of the books...I've started at #100 and worked up to #85. I have really loved some, endured some, and loathed some, just like I would any list of books, but it is still a quest that is worthwhile to me. I will enjoy reading your blog.


  4. Pam -- Thanks for visiting! I visited your blog today and think it is great.

    If you make a post specific to your progress on the Modern Library list, please leave a link to it in a comment here and I will add it to my post.

    Good luck! I don't think I would want to read the list from bottom to top, because then you always have Ulysses looming over you. Not to mention Finnigans Wake right up there at the top too!

  5. You know, you're not the first to warn me about "Finnegan's Wake". Maybe I should start to be worried. :) Between that and what I've heard about "Henderson the Rain King", I may throw in the towel yet. But it's little gems like "The Old Wives' Tale" and "Tobacco Road" that will keep me going.

  6. Wish I could go back to reading the oldies but classics. Can't see myself going back to them as there are so many new books to read! But have great fun!

  7. SocrMom -- Finnigans Wake is nuts and makes no sense. At least Henderson is pretty short. I like Bellow. I liked Augie March a ton (apparently many people don't), but Henderson didn't do anything for me.

    But I have several favorites, some of which were real surprises, like Appointment in Samara, The Heart of the Matter, and Deliverance.

    BD -- I seem to enjoy books that have a few years (or decades) on them. I've always preferred the older books to the new ones. Just habit, I think.

  8. Hi there,

    I still in the first leg of my journey, but I am also blogging on the ML Top 100 list.

    Check me out here:



  9. Beyond commendable that you finished the List! It's all about great books, isn't it -- and finding that most of the classics are, gasp, accessible and enjoyable reads.

    I have a few more years to go with my blog,

    Keep your insights coming!


  10. I'm just starting the list... at Ulysses... and my blog is

  11. Thanks for stopping by and checking out my blog today! I started reading the "100 Best" in 2007 after I finished my undergraduate degree in French and felt that I had missed out on reading so many classics in my native language. To date, I'm a little less than halfway through, and reading books willy-nilly as I find them. You can follow along here:

    Now, I'm especially looking forward to Powell's Dance to the Music of Time :-)

  12. Dormouse -- Thanks! Sorry I didn't see this earlier. Doh! I'll add it now.

  13. Feel free to add a link to my list of (121!) novels, too :-)


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