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)


If you would like to be listed here, please leave a comment with a link to the relevant page or post on your blog and I will list it here.

Author Interview: Sandra A. Miller, Author of Trove

Author Sandra A. Miller's memoir Trove starts with an armchair treasure hunt for gold coins buried in New York City, but like all good memoirs, delves much deeper. Read my review of Trove here.

Trove: A Woman's Search for Truth and Buried Treasure by Sandra A. Miller, from Brown Paper Press (2019)

Sandra recently talked with Rose City Reader about treasure hunts, writing, and her book Trove:

Tell us a bit about the armchair treasure hunt that inspired your memoir Trove.

My friend David who, like me, is obsessed with treasure, invited me to go with him on a search for a chest filled with $10,000 in gold coins buried in NYC. In this kind of armchair treasure hunt, a person hides something of value then sets up a series of codes and clues to reveal the location where it can be found. It’s been a “thing” for a while, but now the hobby is really growing in popularity. Once you think you know where the treasure is, you have to go to the exact spot and try to find it. Over the course of two years, David and I made several trips to NYC in search of that treasure chest, but as my memoir reveals, the whole thing got a lot more complicated than I ever could have imagined. Then again, treasure hunting often does.

Also, in the same adventurous spirit, I’ve created an armchair treasure hunt to go with Trove. If you read the book and follow the 8 clues on my blog, you may win the treasure: A handcrafted bejeweled bracelet worth $2,200.

How did you come to write Trove?

I was working on that armchair treasure hunt with David when I realized that as much as I wanted to find that chest of gold coins, there were other things in my life that I was looking for: a connection to my mother who was dying; a deeper sense of purpose; an understanding of who I was in my marriage and family. In my journals, I began writing about my many searches, exploring the idea of life as a treasure hunt—which mine had always seemed to be. I kept writing, making the connections between something I had lost as a little girl, and the ache I carried inside for something I couldn’t even name. I just kept writing and telling my story, revealing the details like clues discovered in a treasure hunt. Soon enough, those stories began to make sense as a longer narrative.

Your memoir is intensely personal, dealing with a rough patch in your marriage, your childhood, and your relationship with your aging mother. Did you have any qualms about sharing so much?

Absolutely. I think almost every memoirist must have some qualms about revealing the most intimate details of her life. At the same time, I knew I had to lay myself bare in this book, or I couldn’t accomplish what I wanted to do, which is make other people more compassionate for their own journeys, help them to realize that the darkest parts of their lives may offer the most insight and—ultimately—illumination. So in sharing my story without holding back, I think readers are able to connect their struggles, however different they may be, with mine.

Did you consider turning your experience into fiction and writing the book as a novel?

After reading various blog posts about how hard/impossible it is to sell a memoir, I’d think, oh, no, what am I doing trying to publish this story in an already saturated market? No one is going to buy this, so maybe I should just really make it a novel. But I knew in my gut—and I almost always listen to my gut—that fictionalizing this was the wrong approach to take. Writing this book and sharing the narrativized but unvarnished truth, was a deeply healing experience for me, and it ultimately makes Trove a more powerful, revealing, and intimate story, I think. And judging from many of the comments I’ve received from readers, they appreciate that it is my true story and that I was able to strip down on the page. I hope to write a novel someday, but Trove was never meant to be a novel. I never wanted to enhance, distort, or dilute the truths I tell.

What did you learn from writing your book – either about the experiences you describe or the writing process – that most surprised you?

I finally had proof of something I had suspected for a long time: that if you believe in a project with unwavering faith and work at it with persistence, and love, then you can bring it to fruition. I had heard a version of that advice from so many writers, but I needed to find it out for myself. I believed in this book more so than I’d ever believed in any other creative project I’ve ever attempted. Long before I found Wendy Thomas Russell, my wonderful publisher at Brown Paper Press, I pictured this book on shelves in my favorite stores. I felt the weight of this book in my hands. I imagined presenting it at workshops and conferences, signing copies, sharing it with friends. As I was writing this book, I was also dreaming it into being. And every single one of the things I dreamed has come to pass.

Can you recommend any other memoirs that deal with major life issues with the kind of heart and humor you put into yours?

It’s not terribly humorous—although I can tell the author does have a lively sense of humor—but I think absolutely everyone should read Know My Name by Chanel Miller. Run don’t walk to the nearest indie bookstore and get a copy. Trust me on this.

I also love Body Leaping Backward: Memoir of a Delinquent Girlhood by Maureen Stanton. Now this is a memoir with great humor and a huge beating heart.

Who are your three (or four or five) favorite authors? Is your own writing influenced by the authors you read?

I grew up in a house in which we had very few books and could not easily get to the library. Consequently, I tended to read several of my favorite books over and over again, and I think that’s how I came to understand plot structure. I read books like The Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett and Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery dozens of times. I would keep returning to books I loved for comfort, but they ended up giving me so much more in an very challenging childhood. Really, they gave me my creative path.

What kind of books do you like to read? What are you reading now?

I read widely, but when a new rock ‘n’ roll memoir or biography comes out, I have to get it right away. So right now, I’m finishing up Me: Elton John, which was a Christmas present from my husband. Also, inspired by a friend of mine who has been reading all of the Pulitzer Prize winning books, I’m starting to do the same. I recently dove into Gilead by Marilyn Robinson, and it’s a very meditative experience. You just can’t rush it.

You have a terrific website and are also active on twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Instagram. From an author's perspective, how important are social media to the reading and writing community?

Thank you for saying so. I often feel shy about putting myself out there (gone are the old days of writing in obscurity), but social media is an essential and accessible path for writers who need to bring attention to their work. And, seriously, what writer doesn’t? Also, social media has leveled the playing field for authors in a very positive way. Whether you are with one of the Big 5 publishers or an indie press, you can leverage your social media contacts to promote your book. And for that reason, people can take non-traditional paths to publication and not despair when Random House doesn’t sign them. A savvy author with a small press can be very successful.

Do you have any events coming up to promote your book? 

I have several events to start off 2020 and keep adding more. Check my events page for updated details.

What is the most valuable advice you’ve been given as an author?

My friend Lisa Carey, who has published five novels gave me excellent advice when I was trying to sell Trove. She said, “Trust that your book is strong enough to make the journey.” If you believe in your book, then you must keep the faith, and be patient as well as persistent. A book’s journey is seldom as expected.

What is the best thing about being a writer?

Exploring ideas and topics that interest me and bringing them to life on the page. I’d always wanted to write a book about treasure hunting, and here it is.

What’s next? Are you working on your next book?

I am, and it’s different from Trove, but still has a treasure component to it, because I’m clearly not done with the topic. But I’m also toying with the idea of that novel. A character keeps pestering me, so I think I’d better see what that’s about.



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