Wednesday, January 22, 2020

List: Modern Library’s list of Top 100 Novels of the 20th Century

Remember 1999? One of my favorite crazes of 1999 was all the "best books of the century" lists that came out as we raced towards the new Millennium. I got hooked on the Modern Library’s list of Top 100 Novels of the 20th Century.

When I took up the list in 1999, I had read about 25 of the books on it, mostly in high school and college. I had already knocked off Ulysses thanks to a Great Books course in college, so I figured I had a head start. I decided to read them all.

I wasn’t a nut about it. I read about one book from the list every month or so. It was a little daunting to realize that there are 121 books on this “Top 100” list, because even though they are listed as one book, some are really sets, trilogies, etc.

It took me about seven years to finish the rest of the books on the list. Finishing this list sparked my obsession with book lists, which led to me starting this blog so I could keep track of my favorite lists.

I certainly did not like every book I read, but I am glad that I have now read them all. How many have you read? Any favorites?

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)


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  1. Wow! I've read fewer than two dozen of these, although I'm familiar with most of them. I need to up my game!

    1. I ended up reading many books I never would have read, loving them, and loving the authors. I'm thinking of Muriel Spark and Anthony Powell in particular.

  2. 71 and still going...though I can imagine getting to 99 and never reading Finnegans Wake, so congratulations on finishing!

    I read House of Mirth at least partly because it was on this list & loved it. Nostromo is probably the book I've read the most times on the list.

    I liked Studs Lonigan better than you did, but I am from Chicago... ;-)

  3. I'm at 25.3 (I've read one of the three in Dos Passos' USA Trilogy, and can't say I plan to go back to read the others... hehe!). Such a fascinating list in retrospect, very dude-heavy and US-centric, I'm sure an equivalent list crafted today would look different. Love this flashback! And good on you for getting through them all, that's quite an undertaking! ;)


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