Time magazine has a list of the "100

posted by Jason Kottke Oct 17, 2005

Time magazine has a list of the "100 best English language novels from 1923 to the present". I'm not much for novels, but I've read 11 of the works on the list.

Reader comments

wirthyOct 17, 2005 at 6:30PM

I've only read one (To Kill a Mockingbird), but that's pretty good for a guy who can barely read.

sockdaddyOct 17, 2005 at 7:12PM

interesting that the Graphic Novel "Watchmen" made the list...

OverwormOct 17, 2005 at 7:13PM

I've read ten. There are four others I've started yet found too excruciating to complete, including LotR. There are four others that are on my list of books I'd like to read in the next year.

That's a cool list. It's more inclusive than similar "best of" lists, but not condescendingly so.

CurtisOct 17, 2005 at 7:49PM

How could this list not include a single work by John Dos Passos? Ridiculous.

DylanOct 17, 2005 at 8:19PM

i've got 20.

i'm (pleasantly) surprised at watchmen (as sockdaddy noted) and philip k. dick's ubik. though i think both could be replaced by better examples from the same authors.

MargaretOct 17, 2005 at 8:51PM

I have read about 13, but I'm including ones I still haven't finished. When Steinbeck spent 6 pages describing a turtle crossing a road, I gave up. I also lost interest in Catch-22 after, oh, the eighteenth time Yossarian was kept in Italy. I think I got the point, though. However, I am also 16, so I guess I'm doing OK.

AugustOct 17, 2005 at 8:59PM


I found it a little American-heavy, to be honest. And The Corrections? What the hell?

Not a bad list overall, though.

Jon Eben FieldOct 17, 2005 at 9:48PM


Looks like I've got a lot of reading to do, but, then again, that almost always seems to be the case.

MargaretOct 17, 2005 at 10:01PM

I've read 19 of them—incidentally, the same number of films I've seen from Time's Best 100 Movies list.

jkottkeOct 17, 2005 at 10:02PM

And The Corrections? What the hell?

I thought that was an odd choice as well. It's a good, maybe even great, book, but it's gotta be too early to tell if it's one of the best.

TessOct 17, 2005 at 10:12PM


That list reminds me of all the books I have not yet read, which makes me want to stop doing homework and finish The Verificationist. Why have I not yet read Snow Crash, how did this happen?

That said, Alan Moore! Righteous!

StevenOct 17, 2005 at 10:28PM

August, it's TIME; what do you expect?

For the record, I've read twenty-two, among which are most of my favorite novels. I was a bit surprised to see Atonement there, as I'm reading it right now!

ypOct 18, 2005 at 12:29AM

31 total, but 5 this year. I'm happy they included Yates' under-appreciated Revolutionary Road.

jeremiah sherrillOct 18, 2005 at 4:01AM

Uhm ya... I have read about 12 of these. I must interject that the greatest novel East of Eden is missing.

LaurieOct 18, 2005 at 7:39AM

18, all during my senior year in high school. Whatever
happened to me since then?

Alex DOct 18, 2005 at 8:17AM

Yeah some good books in there. HEHE I also stopped reading recently, fiction that is. Im all into non fiction now.


Abe FroemanOct 18, 2005 at 10:18AM

27. The best being Blood Meridian, To Kill a Mockingbird and The Power and the Glory.

MegOct 18, 2005 at 12:44PM

51, but probably only because English Lit was my university major. And because I write... to write well, I figure you should be reading often. I am a die-hard Faulkner-Fitzgerald-O'Brien-Roth-elegant-male-novelists-in-general-fan. A man who can write is like a cold pint of beer -- refreshing and entirely compromising of my judgment.

joshOct 18, 2005 at 12:59PM

Although I can't quite understand what occasion prompted them to make the list (other than that "everyone loves lists" -- which is possibly true. SPIN seems to use this as their guiding editorial principle.), I think I'm at 18.

The discussion above regarding the Corrections is interesting, since the compilers of the list did seem to make an effort to live up to the "to present" criteria. They even included Never Let Me Go, which was published in 2005. How long do you think it takes to determine whether a novel is good?

ErinOct 18, 2005 at 3:12PM

I've got 16 and a half. The half coming from the several on that list that I started but just COULDN'T get past the first few chapters. I have an especially hard time with Virginia Woolfe (and what, two of her novels are on the list?), and The Corrections, in my opinion, was far too pretentiously-written to be enjoyable.

I think that's the problem with making lists, really - things (especially novels) can be good but not enjoyable. And then there's the issue of, you know, personal preference. Everyone in the world could make a list of the 100 best ANYTHING and they'd all be different.

Yet, a list is a clever tool that sells magazines. I know I bought the Rolling Stone 100 greatest albums of all time issue just so I could disagree with it.

OverwormOct 18, 2005 at 3:53PM

"how long do you think it takes to determine whether a novel is good?"

The minute I read the final page. Actually, I can determine if it's good by the time I'm halfway done. I can't determine whether a novel is great until the final page.

The only difference time makes is in my maturation as a person and reader. A book I considered great when I was 13 might not make my top 100 in my 30's.

But I see no reason why a novel released last year, or last month, or last week, can't be hailed as one of the 100 greatest of all time.

NataliOct 18, 2005 at 6:27PM

15 from me (and I'm just 21 with no University degree, so I guess that's pretty good). I agree with August - it's a little American heavy. Not to mention horrendously white and peniscentric. But so it goes. Media publications tend to be biased towards their readers, and TIME obviously has a white American male readership. For what it is, it's a good list, and it reminds me of a few books I have yet to read.

Eric BostromOct 18, 2005 at 7:27PM

Animal Farm
Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret
The Catcher in the Rye
A Clockwork Orange
Gone With the Wind (horrible book, got so close, but couldnt)
The Grapes of Wrath
The Great Gatsby
The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe
Lord of the Flies
The Lord of the Rings
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
Slaughterhouse-Five (in the middle of now)
Snow Crash
To Kill a Mockingbird
Tropic of Cancer (never finished)

100 years of solitude by gabriel garcia marquez should be on that list, even if it's only in the english language now

also just finished the hotel new hampshire by irving. it was a great read. lots of bad events seperated by family love, and family lovin'.

RichardOct 19, 2005 at 2:27AM

I'm a little surprised Moby Dick isn't included...

jkottkeOct 19, 2005 at 8:54AM

"from 1923 to the present" That means no Moby Dick, no Jane Austen, etc.

JeffOct 19, 2005 at 9:03AM

Ugh, can I just say I thought The Sun Also Rises was one of the worst novels I have ever read. (For the record 12 read with 2 in the queue. I guess you can't go through one of these lists reading sci-fi eh. )

AugustOct 19, 2005 at 1:01PM

One of the problems with these lists is that there are an incredible number of extremely powerful novels that only get marginal, regional attention for reasons that have nothing to do with the quality of the work. (Are you a Canadian trying to get published in the US or the UK? Congratulations, the location of your birth just decreased your chances by 80% or more.)

Margaret Lawrence isn't read outside of Canada anymore (and barely inside), but her work is far superior to that of many on the list (she makes Atwood, our "most-celebrated" author, look like she should be writing for Tiger Beat), and it's marginalized because it didn't fit into the agenda of certain publishers when it was most crucial that her legacy be preserved.

(Re: Franzen... the latest issue of Harper's, and the letters section of the current Believer do a pretty good job of explaining why I have difficulty taking him seriously as a writer... although The Corrections was indeed a pretty good book.)

andyOct 19, 2005 at 1:07PM

Margaret Lawrence is great! Read "The Diviners."

This is the list I'd like to see: "100 best Esperanto language novels from 1923 to the present".

BuzzOct 24, 2005 at 10:07AM

Jeff said:

"Ugh, can I just say I thought The Sun Also Rises was one of the worst novels I have ever read. (For the record 12 read with 2 in the queue. I guess you can't go through one of these lists reading sci-fi eh. )"

That's one of the worst reviews I've ever read.

BTW, this is one of the worst discussions I've ever read.

And the keys on this keyboard I'm using--what's with them, all slanted and sans-serify? Some of them are even wearing off! Worst keyboard I've ever read.

memerOct 24, 2005 at 1:45PM

The review for Hemmingway's The Sun Also Rises:

“Here’s the first half of the book: ‘We had dinner and a few drinks. We went to a cafe and talked and had some drinks. We ate dinner and had a few drinks. Dinner. Drinks. More dinner. More drinks. We took a cab here (or there) in Paris and had some drinks, and maybe we danced and flirted and talked sh*t about somebody. More dinner. More drinks. I love you, I hate you, maybe you should come up to my room, no you can’t’… I flipped through the second half of the book a day or two later and saw the words ‘dinner’ and ‘drinks’ on nearly every page and figured it wasn’t worth the risk.”

I'm sure it's embarrassingly ignorant (wthdik), but, c'mon...that's funny. (no, obviously, i haven't read that book)

I've read precious few from this list, but I aim to get thru a quarter of the NY Public Library's Books of the Century before the big croak. Good enough.

AugustOct 24, 2005 at 2:28PM

memer: that's actually pretty accurate about the first half of the book. The second half is dinner, drinks, and fishing in Spain instead of Paris, and a bullfight thrown in for good measure.

I can't stand Hemingway. He had a tremendous impact on how American authors use language, but he was boring as hell.

memerOct 24, 2005 at 2:57PM

August: I hear ya. Did Old Man and the Sea in high school and I think I'd rather've watched a Richard Simmons workout tape for, like, a whole hour instead.

AugustOct 24, 2005 at 3:16PM

I get a lot of angry looks and snide comments when I say the same thing about Fitzgerald... tremendous influence, boring as hell. But this is why we don't legislate taste. Not everybody likes everything. I think the trick about being a serious reader is being able to recognize that just because you don't like something doesn't mean it isn't *good* (this is what frustrated me so much about all that arguing over Ulysses that went on last year).

MegOct 24, 2005 at 3:35PM

Fitzgerald was very elegant and socially astute -- he was a great class-critic in his time, along the same lines as say, Dorothy Parker (although she was much more funny). I loved the contrast of the silky smooth language to the sharp points contained therein -- the edge would be imperceptible if you were caught in the system he was criticizing, and that is half the appeal.

As to Joyce -- who I also love -- reading him is like downing a bottle of great scotch: it hurts a little, it stings a little, it confuses you a little, you can get lost in the flow of things, but in the end, you also disappear into the world he creates.

In the end, it's all so subjective. I never understood what people saw in Margaret Atwood -- it's all bad sex and heavy-handed motifs with a side dose of self-pity. And Sylivia Plath! Brilliant, brilliant -- but all she seemed to be able to express was pain and impending doom. We refer to bad days as 'blackberries' in honour of Sylvia and her eternally lurid portrayal of torment. Depression is one thing -- but eventually one must kick Ted Hughes to the curb.

AugustOct 24, 2005 at 4:14PM

I don't understand Atwood's appeal either. She's so... sloppy.

My biggest complaint about Fitzgerald I suppose is that he's too damn vague, or maybe I just grew up far, far too poor to have the slightest inkling of what he's talking about most of the time (the parody of him in Cerebus is far more entertaining that he ever was, and his penchant for writing almost diary-like about people he knew, well, to me that's the sort of subject matter you find in high school creative writing classes). I suppose maybe that's why I'm more attracted to Faulkner.

Being Canadian, and therefore from an extremely young literary tradition I think maybe I have a perspective that's somewhat different from many of the people discussing American lit online... not so much in terms of Hemingway/Fitzgerald/Faulkner, but more the contemporary branch. We're young, but we self-identify more often with the British tradition than with the American, so we tend to look further back than Faulkner et al for our influences, and it's in fact really easy to see how much of the new and innovative fiction coming out the US right now is in fact an unacknowledged return to a lot of pre-Victorian stuff that never really took hold in the US, except as amusing imports. It's not the authors that are irritating in that respect so much as the discussions around them, because it's very clear that a lot of the book press in the US really doesn't know anything pre-US-Modernists very well. (Don't get me started on the stagnation of CanLit, we'll be here all day.) But what we wind up with is a feeling of "because it's being done in the US right now, it's obviously never been done by anyone else ever before" and most of the lists similar to this that I see reflect that attitude--although this list does a much better job than most at avoiding it. I see the rise of McSweeney's and the nonsense in The Believer and Harper's and I can't help but think that we had this argument in Canada almost 40 years ago, and they've had it in England about a dozen times in the last three hundred years, and in Spain 500 years ago, and so on, but we're still treated to it as though it's some enormous revelation...

Sorry, a bit of a digression there.

MegOct 24, 2005 at 4:48PM

Ooh! I'm Canadian, too -- West Coast. But I am a lover of the American literary tradition and a bit of a "disturber" within our own. Canadians tend to revere their authors because they're Canadian -- like we all sit at home waiting for M. Atwood to release a new book just so we can read again. Now, mind you, I am a die-hard Richler lover and Davies had some wicked turns-of-phrase, but sometimes it's all just trees and emotional abuse. And if I wanted that, I could move to Ontario.

And I love Faulkner! But not what Oprah's done to him.

AugustOct 24, 2005 at 5:02PM

I think the best description of CanLit right now would be "Occassionally funny stories about people dealing with issues." Or some times it's about poor alcoholics in Newfoundland... It is my goal to destroy this notion of CanLit (also to destroy Stephen Henighan, but that's a story for another day). Fingers crossed, eh?

We've got youngsters like Sheila Heti going back and picking up where the Modernists left off, but that's again an acknowledgment of what was going on before our own tradition started to come into its own (a *conscious* acknowledgement, which I think is what's important).

Your Ontario comment made me chuckle.. It's only Northwest of Sudbury where you get emotional abuse and trees, though. In the South (where I am now, but I grew up near Manitoba) it's cottages and arrogance.

It's interesting that the only three Faulkner books I have are those that Oprah chose, but I have had them long before they hit he book list, and I chose them more or less at random... Serendipitous?

MatthewOct 24, 2005 at 5:46PM

Snow Crash made it? I like Stephenson, but c'mon.....

“While the story did have a great moral to go along with it, it was about dirt! Dirt and migrating. Dirt and migrating and more dirt.”

memerOct 24, 2005 at 11:27PM

...but sometimes it's all just trees and emotional abuse.
heh! as opposed to BC where it's all just trees and...trees.

And, oh, but there's so much to mine in emotional abuse, so many degrees of gray begging description -- kinda like west coast weather.

Tried hacking my way thru SnF (pre-Oprah) but couldn't see the forest.

MegOct 25, 2005 at 2:01PM

Well, at least we skip the emotional abuse! The ocean is so soothing...

And we get sun pretty often, too -- let's not slag my pretty city too hard!

And Faulkner was always a remarkably smooth read for me...

memerOct 26, 2005 at 1:31PM

Alright, alright, i keed. I'll fly out and enjoy a fine vanc sunshower one of these days.

And Faulkner was always a remarkably smooth read for me...

.... wtf? impressive (seriously).

AugustOct 26, 2005 at 5:05PM

I find him smooth too, actually. Not Nabokov smooth, but certainly full of liquidy goodness.

This thread is closed to new comments. Thanks to everyone who responded.