April 14, 2008


110 best books: The perfect library: From classics and sci-fi to poetry, biographies and books that changed the world… we present the ultimate reading list. (Daily Telegraph, 06/04/2008


The Portrait of a Lady
Henry James

James's mastery of psychology has never been more elegantly expressed nor more gripping than in his tale of Isabel Archer, a young American in search of her destiny, and Gilbert Osmond, the ultimate cold fish and one of literature's most repellent villains.

A la recherche du temps perdu

A novel whose every sentence can be a struggle to finish may sound forbidding, but this masterpiece of modernity, taking us into every nook and cranny of the narrator's fascinating mind, is worth all the effort.

James Joyce

Banned in Britain and America for its depiction of female masturbation, Joyce's Ulysses takes its scatological stand at the pinnacle of modernist literature. Lyrical and witty, its stream-of-consciousness narration deters many, but makes enraptured enthusiasts of others.

For Whom the Bell Tolls
Ernest Hemingway

A sparse, masculine, world-weary meditation on death, ideology and the savagery of war in general, and the Spanish civil war in particular.

Sword of Honour trilogy
Evelyn Waugh

A poignant, ironic study of the disintegration of aristocratic values in the face of blank bureaucracy and Second World War butchery, Men at Arms, Officers and Gentlemen and Unconditional Surrender are Waugh's crowning achievements.

The Ballad of Peckham Rye
Muriel Spark

Comic, satirical and ineffably odd, Spark's fifth novel introduces Dougal Douglas, ghost-writer, researcher, mysterious figure of Satanic magnetism and mayhem, to the upper working-class/ lower middle-class milieu of Peckham.

Rabbit series
John Updike

We first meet Harry 'Rabbit' Angstrom in Rabbit, Run, as a boorish, unhappy former basketball jock who runs from (and to) his pregnant wife. The novels that follow cover 30 years and make up the great study of American manhood.

One Hundred Years of Solitude
Gabriel García Márquez

The greatest moment in magical realist fiction, García Márquez's passionate, humorous history of Macondo and its founding family, the Buendías, has the seductive power of myth.

Toni Morrison

Morrison brought to life a version of the slave narrative that has become a classic. Her tour de force of guilt, abandonment and revenge plays out against the background of pre-emancipation American life.

The Human Stain
Philip Roth

Roth's brilliant, angry dissection of race, disgrace and hypocrisy in Clinton-Lewinsky era America brings to a close his grand and meticulous American trilogy (American Pastoral, I Married a Communist).

And then you just poke out your eyes.

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 14, 2008 11:08 AM

I liked One Hundred Years of Solitude, but I'll admit that it didn't make much sense.

Posted by: Brandon at April 14, 2008 1:54 PM

I am aware that there exists an incredibly wide range of opinions on all sorts of issues political, religious, literary, historical, etc., and am completely comfortable with the fact that others hold opinions that are wildly divergent from my own.

However, I am unwilling to accept that there is a human being on the planet who honestly thinks that Beloved is anything other than complete garbage.

Posted by: b at April 14, 2008 2:05 PM

I rather like Proust, and Ulysses is good too. I prefer the Dubliner short stories and Portrait, but Ulysses isn't terrible, like that dreck Finnigan's Wake.

Also I haven't read that particular Spark, but her othe stuff I've read has been enjoyable.

Waugh, of course, is superlative.

B: I don't care Beloved, but I know a few conservative-minded Catholic lit scholars, UDallas folks,who love it and have written on it. They mostly dislike her other work btw.

Posted by: Jim in Chicago at April 14, 2008 2:54 PM

Where is Paul Johnson? He changed my world for the better. Most of the books in that , Rousseau, Marx, Freud, changed the world for the worst.

Trollope great, ditto Dickens, Austen, Bronte, Tolstoy, etc., but where are Cervantes, Dosteovsky, Hesse, Mann, Tom Wolfe, Willa Cather?

Some other good ones in the article, but puhleese! Updike, Toni Morrison, Hemingway and God help us, Elmore Leonard & Richard Bach -- aieeeeeeee.

Posted by: erp at April 14, 2008 3:45 PM

Ulysses is the greatest run-on sentence ever written, but I'm not sure it really should be thought of as literature.

The SF section is missing Ender's Game and Lord of the Rings -- and how do you pick Day of the Triffids (fine book that it is) over The Midwich Cuckoos?

Posted by: Mike Morley at April 14, 2008 7:15 PM

Jim in Chicago:

Tell OJ you've actually read Ulysees and watch what happens.

Posted by: Matt Murphy at April 14, 2008 8:41 PM

Previous commenters have pretty well covered all the bases.
OJ should've given the link he uses quite often at fuse action. Of couse it's 14 years old, only novels, and only numbers 99!

Posted by: Mike at April 14, 2008 8:52 PM

No, he hasn't.

Posted by: oj at April 14, 2008 9:06 PM


Oh, I'm well aware of oj's feelings re "the book."

I have read it, more than once though, and not to impress anyone. I was in Dublin the first time I read it though, and iirc it was some sort of Bloomsday anniversary, which might have given me the necessary fortitude to get through it, along with copiuous drafts of porter and the odd glass of whisky.

Posted by: Jim in Chicago at April 15, 2008 12:09 AM

Jim in Chicago:

Granting literary subjectivity and all that, how can the book possibly be "good" when you needed large quantities of alcohol not to enjoy it but just to "get through" it?

Posted by: Matt Murphy at April 15, 2008 12:44 AM


I read the picks and, let me tell you, I've had a rule since high school that any Modern Book List which includes stuff like Ulysees but leaves out To Kill a Mockingbird is a total joke.

This does confirm, however, that the New York Times is a bad punchline.

Posted by: Matt Murphy at April 15, 2008 12:51 AM

Get drunk enough and you can convince yourself you read it. You didn't.

Posted by: oj at April 15, 2008 6:18 AM

C'mon, were there no books on the list new to you which also looked like they could be interesting?
OJ took the link in my first comment: http://www.nytimes.com/books/97/11/30/home/burgess-bestnovels.html
and found the wonderful little book "The Aerodrome" http://www.brothersjudd.com/index.cfm/fuseaction/reviews.detail/book_id/195/Aerodrome%20%3A%20.htm

Posted by: Mike at April 15, 2008 8:35 PM