There is, of course, no right answer for this list. Art is subjective. Period. And as every voracious reader knows, the more you read, the harder it becomes to say which is your favourite novel, let alone which book is the “best novel.”
Still it’s kind of fun to compare notes with others on what they consider great literature. I’ve compiled three lists here for people to sink their literary fangs into. The Modern Library has two lists of the 100 Best Novels, the Board’s List and a Reader’s List. I’ll include both and then list my Top 10 favourite novels, along with a few footnotes for books that deserve worthy mention.
You might not agree with any of these lists, but if nothing else it’s food for thought and something you might refer to when looking for your next book to read.
So, without further ado, here we go…
THE BOARD’S LIST THE READER’S LIST
1. Ulysses 1. Atlas Shrugged
(James Joyce) (Ayn Rand)
2. The Great Gatsby 2. The Fountainhead
(F. Scott Fitzgerald) (Ayn Rand)
3. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man 3. Battlefield Earth
(James Joyce) (L. Ron Hubbard)
4. Lolita 4. The Lord of the Rings
(Vladamir Nabakov) (J.R.R. Tolkien)
5. Brave New World 5. To Kill a Mockingbird
(Aldous Huxley) (Harper Lee)
6. The Sound and the Fury 6. 1984
(William Faulkner) (George Orwell)
7. Catch-22 7. Anthem
(Joseph Heller) (Ayn Rand)
8. Darkness at Noon 8. We the Living
(Arthur Koestler) (Ayn Rand)
9. Sons and Lovers 9. Mission Earth
(D.H. Lawrence) (L. Ron Hubbard)
10. The Grapes of Wrath 10. Fear
(John Steinbeck) (L. Ron Hubbard)
As you can see, there is some serious bias going on in both lists. The “Modern” Library relishes classics (the most recent book on the list was published in 1955). Two Joyce novels in the Top 10? I love Joyce and he has had a profound effect on my writing, but even I wouldn’t put two Joyce novels so close together. As for the Reader’s List, apparently they are sci-fi/fantasy junkies. They also seem to lack diversity. Four Ayn Rand novels and three L. Ron Hubbard novels? Seriously? Do these people go to the library and look up only two names?
As for my own list, I’m going to call it my Top 10 Favourites and include a list of other books that almost made the cut.
1. The English Patient (Michael Ondaatje), 2. War and Peace (Leo Tolstoy), 3. The Wind-up Bird Chronicle (Murakami Haruki), 4. The Master and Margarita (Mikhail Bulgakov), 5. Bel Canto (Ann Patchett), 6. Justine (the Alexandria Quartet, Lawrence Durrell) 7. A Confederacy of Dunces (John Kennedy Toole), 8. The Count of Monte Cristo (Alexandre Dumas), 9. The Naked and the Dead (Norman Mailer), 10. A Suitable Boy (Vikram Seth)
A few books I love which could easily have made the list include (in no particular order): Atlas Shrugged (Ayn Rand), In the Skin of a Lion (Michael Ondaatje), Barney’s Version (Mordecai Richler), The Poet (Yi Mun-yol), Madame Bovary (Gustave Flaubert), A Prayer for Owen Meany (John Irving), Rabbit at Rest (John Updike), The Quiet American (Graham Greene), Olive Kittridge (Elizabeth Stout), Three Junes (Julia Glass), Anna Karenina (Leo Tolstoy), A Wild Sheep Chase (Murakami Haruki), Freedom (Jonathan Franzen), a visit from the goon squad (Jennifer Egan), Brideshead Revisited (Evelyn Waugh), The Line of Beauty (Alan Hollinghurst), Cloud Atlas (David Mitchell), Ghostwritten (David Mitchell), Shogun (James Clavell), The Robber Bride (Margaret Atwood), The Razor’s Edge (Somerset Maugham), A Gesture Life (Chang-rae Lee), The End of the Affair (Graham Greene), Catcher in the Rye (J.D. Salinger), Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream (Hunter S. Thompson)
I’m probably forgetting a few books, so may update this over the coming days. For the next post I think I’ll try my hand at the Top 10 NON-FICTION BOOKS.