10 Big Books I Have Read & Loved

Not too long ago, in the book section at Target, I overheard a woman say to her companion, “I stay away from big books.” They walked away, so I didn’t get to hear any more of the conversation, but it made me think about big books.

I can imagine many reasons someone might offer for staying away from big books:

  • Big books intimidate me.
  • Big books contain too much stuff for me to keep straight in my head.
  • Big books are too heavy to carry around.
  • Reading a big book requires a long time commitment.
  • I prefer shorter books that I can read quickly.
  • Big books deal with too many big ideas. I just want an entertaining story.

For my money, a book should be as long as it needs to be to tell its story. And a long story can be just as entertaining as a short one. In fact—and I know many readers who would agree with me here—if a story is well told, I sometimes want it not to end; occasionally I purposely wait to finish a book because I don’t want to leave those characters and their world quite yet.

Here, in no particular order, are some big books that I have read and loved. For the sake of definition, I use the term big book to refer to one of 500 or more pages.

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
paperback, 515 pages

cloud atlasIn this brilliant novel David Mitchell uses intertwined stories to demonstrate how individual people and their fates are connected across space and time. The literary genres featured here include autobiography, philosophical inquiry, mystery, and speculative fiction in a narrative framework that circles back on itself to create the paradox of discrete moments within the vast expanse of human experience.

This big novel is challenging but not daunting. It well rewards the time spent on a slow and careful reading. This was my introduction to David Mitchell’s work, and I am slowly working my way through the rest of his work.

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
hardcover, 773 pages

the goldfinchThirteen-year-old Theo Decker is devastated by the death of his mother. Having been abandoned earlier by his father, he is taken in by the wealthy family of a former schoolmate before his father claims him and moves him from New York City to Las Vegas in pursuit of his own agenda.

Theo spends his adolescence and young adulthood in search of love, family, and a sense of identity. Intrigue in the world of art and antiques keeps the plot moving. With an ever-growing cast of compelling characters, Theo’s coming-of-age travels take him between New York, Las Vegas, and Amsterdam in a journey during which he must learn what things are worth keeping and what ones he must let go of.

This big book caused a big critical controversy over the question, “Is it art?” I’m not going to contribute to that debate, with its unsavory suggestion that any work of literature that is popular cannot also be artistic or literary. All I can tell you is that, for me, this was a real page-turner.

Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl
hardcover, 514 pagesclamity physics

Marisha Pessl’s dazzling debut sparked raves from critics and heralded the arrival of a vibrant new voice in American fiction. At the center of Special Topics in Calamity Physics is clever, deadpan Blue van Meer, who has a head full of literary, philosophical, scientific, and cinematic knowledge, but she could use some friends. Upon entering the elite St. Gallway School, she finds some–a clique of eccentrics known as the Bluebloods. One drowning and one hanging later, Blue finds herself puzzling out a byzantine murder mystery. Nabokov meets Donna Tartt (then invites the rest of the Western Canon to the party) in this novel–with visual aids drawn by the author–that has won over readers of all ages.

Goodreads

If you like literary puzzles, you’ll love this big novel that requires readers to tolerate ambiguity and hold several possibilities in abeyance until the pieces all, finally, fall into place.

East of Eden by John Steinbeck
paperback, 601 pages

east of eden

Set in the farmland of the Salinas Valley in California, this novel retells the stories of Adam and Eve and of the rivalry between Cain and Abel through the intertwined generations of the Trask and Hamilton families.

Here Steinbeck created some of his most memorable characters and explored his most enduring themes: the mystery of identity; the inexplicability of love; and the murderous consequences of love’s absence.

Goodreads

And there’s no question over this big novel, as there is about Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch, of whether it’s art. It most definitely is—an artful and rewarding reading experience.

The Secret History by Donna Tartt
paperback, 503 pages

secret historyAs a classics major myself, I was easily drawn into Donna Tartt’s first novel about an inner circle of “five students, worldly and self-assured, selected by a charismatic classics professor to participate in the search for truth and beauty. Together they study the mysteries of ancient Greek culture and spend long weekends at an old country house, reading, boating, basking in an Indian summer that stretches late into autumn.”

Many years later one of these students, Richard Papen, pens this confession of how willing he was to be drawn into this inner circle and of how far these young men went to experience what they considered the fullness of intellectual and emotional life.

This is a big novel full of big ideas:

Hugely ambitious and compulsively readable, this is a chronicle of deception and complicity, of Dionysian abandon, of innocence corrupted by self-love and moral arrogance; and, finally, it is a story of guilt and responsibility.

Goodreads

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson
hardcover, 544 pages

life after lifeOn a snowy, cold night in 1910 Ursula Todd is born, the third child of a wealthy English banker and his wife. She arrives too soon and dies before drawing her first breath. On the same night Ursula Todd is born, takes a big breath, and lets out a loud cry, the beginning of but one of the many lives Ursula Todd is destined to live.

Throughout the novel Ursula Todd is reborn many times and dies many times, at different points in her life span. She seems to learn a little bit from each life that her unconscious mind carries into subsequent lives—because she is destined to live her life over and over again until she gets it right. The fate of modern civilization depends on her ability to get it right, finally.

This big book was a big hit: It was a winner in the 2013 Goodreads Choice Awards.

Possession: A Romance by A.S. Byatt
paperback, 555 pages

possession

Possession is an exhilarating novel of wit and romance, at once an intellectual mystery and triumphant love story. It is the tale of a pair of young scholars researching the lives of two Victorian poets. As they uncover their letters, journals, and poems, and track their movements from London to Yorkshire—from spiritualist séances to the fairy-haunted far west of Brittany—what emerges is an extraordinary counterpoint of passions and ideas.

Goodreads

This is another book you’ll love if you like literary puzzles. I liked this big novel so much that I’ve read it twice.

Underworld by Don DeLillo
hardcover, 827 pages

underworld

This book is so complex that I’m going to rely on Goodreads to describe it:

While Eisenstein documented the forces of totalitarianism and Stalinism upon the faces of the Russian peoples, DeLillo offers a stunning, at times overwhelming, document of the twin forces of the cold war and American culture, compelling that “swerve from evenness” in which he finds events and people both wondrous and horrifying. Underworld opens with a breathlessly graceful prologue set during the final game of the Giants-Dodgers pennant race in 1951. Written in what DeLillo calls “super-omniscience” the sentences sweep from young Cotter Martin as he jumps the gate to the press box, soars over the radio waves, runs out to the diamond, slides in on a fast ball, pops into the stands where J. Edgar Hoover is sitting with a drunken Jackie Gleason and a splenetic Frank Sinatra, and learns of the Soviet Union’s second detonation of a nuclear bomb. It’s an absolutely thrilling literary moment. When Bobby Thomson hits Branca’s pitch into the outstretched hand of Cotter–the “shot heard around the world”–and Jackie Gleason pukes on Sinatra’s shoes, the events of the next few decades are set in motion, all threaded together by the baseball as it passes from hand to hand.

Goodreads

Yet despite its complexity, the story keeps moving through all 827 pages. Similar to David Mitchell, DeLillo uses intertwined stories to create the sense of connected experience over 50 years of American life.

I Know This Much Is True by Wally Lamb
paperback, 897 pages

i know this muchThis book narrates the story of identical twins Thomas and Dominick Birdsey. The novel opens when the two are adults. Thomas has schizophrenia, and Dominick is his caregiver. It’s a complex story that jumps between the 1920s, the 1940s, the 1960s, and the 1980s to examine family relationships, the interconnections between generations, love, and responsibility (both personal and civic). Despite the presence of several storylines in different eras playing out throughout, the novel is easy to follow.

This big novel that deals with big truths has a big, loyal following. I know three people who name I Know This Much is True as the favorite book they’ve ever read. Many others say this is the novel that has stuck with them the most of all the books they’ve ever read.

If you haven’t read it yet, I—and a lot of other people—recommend that you give it a try. Chances are that you won’t be able to put it down until you’ve finished page 897.

The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett
paperback, 973 pages

pillars of earthSet in twelfth-century England, this is the story of the building of a great Gothic cathedral. Several characters people the story: Tom Builder, who dreams of working on such a structure; Philip, prior of the fictional Kingsbridge who must fight the sin of pride in his own desire to build the world’s biggest church; Jack, Tom’s son, a master stone artist; and Aliena, a noblewoman who fights patriarchal prejudice to build a business.

But perhaps the two dominant characters of the novel are the cathedral itself and the historical age in which it is built. The cathedral becomes the focal point for pride, arrogance, and greed among the Church and the nobility, and for a source of sustenance among the peasant workers. In an age when geopolitical boundaries did not exist, power belonged to whichever nobleman could muster the biggest army. Peasants were at the mercy of the nobility, and peasants lived or died according to noble whim. The Church and the nobility jockeyed for power over the masses whose labor they both exploited.

Ken Follett had written a number of thrillers before he turned to this big story, his pet project. He spent years on the research necessary to write the book. In a foreword he says that many readers tell him Pillars of the Earth is their favorite of his novels. “It’s mine, too,” he says.

What about you?

Do you avoid big books, or do you embrace them? Are there any big books that you have read and loved?

Let us know in the comments.

The things that are saving my life right now

Anne over at Modern Mrs. Darcy recently suggested listing The things that are saving my life right now. Here’s her explanation of this idea:

The idea comes from author Barbara Brown Taylor. In her memoir Leaving Church, Taylor tells about a time she was invited to speak, and her host assigned her this topic: “Tell us what is saving your life right now.”

It’s easy and often tempting to rattle off a bunch of things that are killing us: “My sore feet are killing me.” “All this snow is killing me.” “I have a couple of clients right now who are trying to kill me.”

Yes, we complain a lot when things are going badly. But what we may fail to notice is all the things that are going well. It’s easy to pull our hair, look skyward, and yell, “Why me?” when we feel overwhelmed. But we almost never ask “Why me?” when things go well. We accept the good things as our due without acknowledging them.

So Modern Mrs. Darcy’s challenge is a chance to set things right, to appreciate the good things as well as the bad. She has invited us to put together our list and post a link to it over at her blog.

Here are some things that are saving me right now.

A little bit of sunshine

Winter can get pretty dreary here in the Pacific Northwest of the USA. But last week we had a few periods when the sun actually broke through. A little bit of sun doesn’t mean that the day won’t also include some rain, but just those fleeting periods of sunshine improved my mood and reminded me of the promise of spring and summer, which are truly glorious here.

Still crazy after all these years

My husband is one of the kindest, most generous people I’ve ever known. And he loves me. ME! Out of the whole big wide world, he chose me to spend life with. I still marvel at this miracle every single day.

Getting to know our daughter

Our daughter was born and grew up in St. Louis, MO. She left there for college in Tacoma, WA (University of Puget Sound), fell in love with the area, and never came back. We visited enough to know that we, too, loved the area and decided to retire here. And here we are! We have enjoyed immensely seeing our daughter more than once a year and being able to spend holidays together. Since she left home right after high school, we never really spent much time with her as an adult. Getting to know the woman she has become continues to be extremely gratifying.

A brighter world

I had cataract surgery on both my eyes last fall, and since then the world has been a much brighter place. Cataracts smothered my vision so gradually that I didn’t notice it for a long time. But when I realized that I could no longer appreciate subtle differences in colors, I knew it was time for me to do something about it. After I had the first eye done, I would frequently cover one eye and look through the other one. I could not believe the vast difference between the eye with the new lens and the one without. And now that both eyes have new lenses, my reading glasses require a much milder prescription than before. I am so looking forward to seeing all the flowers this spring and summer.

Retirement

What a luxury it is to be able to choose what I want to do and when I want to do it (and to choose to not do many things I don’t want to do). Having relocated to a different part of the country for our retirement has given us a whole new world of stuff to learn about it. Sometimes I feel like a kid in a candy store.

Travel planning

We didn’t take much time to travel when we were younger. Life was just always too busy. To make up for that, we have committed to traveling frequently in our early retirement years, while we can still move around fairly easily. There are just so many interesting places to visit, so many peoples and countries to learn about, so much glorious nature to see.

Books

There are so many good books out there that I haven’t read yet. Finishing one and picking up another is one of the true joys of my life.

Silver and gold

Make new friends but keep the old.
One is silver and the other’s gold.

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I’m sure I’m leaving out a lot, but all of these things remind me how good my life is. I look forward to checking out other peoples’ lists on the Modern Mrs. Darcy website.

What about you? What things are saving your life right now?

Remembering Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

17 Martin Luther King Jr. Quotes You Never Hear

While best known for his “I Have a Dream” speech, King’s legacy included much more than that.

Memorable words here.

Annual Blog Report

Even though it’s not quite the end of the year yet, the blogging stat monkeys have delivered their report on how things went here at the Notes in the Margin blog during 2015. I’ll have my own, more detailed report ready early next month, but for now I offer you the stat monkeys’ findings.

“In 2015, there were 121 new posts, growing the total archive of this blog to 830 posts.”

Of the five most viewed posts this year, only two of them were written in 2015:

Cover: The Girl on the Train
Cover: The Girl on the Train

(1) Review: “The Girl on the Train,” Paula Hawkins, from January

(4) “Books fall open, you fall in.” —David McCord, also from January

The other three most viewed posts were all from 2014:

(2) “The Door,” E.B. White, a Literature & Psychology post

(3) Gothic Elements in Shirley Jackson’s “We Have Always Lived in the Castle”, a Classics Club post

(5) Joseph Campbell and the Hero’s Journey, a Literature & Psychology post

These were some of my favorite posts to write during 2015:

(1) Getting Lost in a Good Book

(2) Reading in Flow

(3) “Go Set a Watchman”: A Lesson in Writing & Reading Fiction

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this blog as much as I’ve enjoyed writing it.

My List: Best Books Read in 2015

It’s not quite the end of the year yet, but since it looks as if I won’t finish any more books in time, I might as well go ahead with my annual list.

I had an abysmal year of reading this year, only 28 books.

While most other “best books of 2015” lists include books published this year, my list includes any books I’ve read, regardless of when they were published. Here, listed alphabetically by author, are the 10 best of the 28 I read this year.

winesburgAnderson, Sherwood. Winesburg, Ohio
Connelly, Michael. The Crossing
Costello, Mary. Academy Street: A Novel
Cumming, Alan. Not My Father’s Son
Fowler, Karen Joy. We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves
Green, John. The Fault in Our Stars
Highsmith, Patricia. The Price of Salt
Ueland, Brenda. If You Want to Write
Vine, Barbara. A Dark-Adapted Eye
Zindel, Paul. The Pigman

That’s eight novels and two works of nonfiction.

And here are a couple of 2015’s noteworthy books that I read but that did not make the cut:

Since my own reading total is so low, for those of you who’d like to see the accomplishment of a more productive reader, I offer you I read 164 books in 2015 and tracked them all in a spreadsheet. Here’s what I learned..

Holiday Shopping: #GiveaBook, Help a Child

’Tis the season for buying, giving, and donating books. Penguin Random House is embracing that spirit of generosity with the launch of #GiveaBook, a social media campaign that promotes books as holiday gifts, and also serves as an avenue to donate books to U.S. children in need via the aid organization Save the Children. Each time the hashtag #GiveaBook is used on Facebook and Twitter before December 25, Penguin Random House will donate a book to Save the Children, up to 25,000 times.

Source: Holiday Shopping: #GiveaBook, Help a Child

Banned Books Week 2015 (September 27–October 3)

(Artwork above courtesy of the American Library Association)

Banned Book Week is an annual event celebrating the right to read usually held during the last week of September. It’s sponsored by the following organizations:

American Booksellers Association

American Booksellers for Free Expression

American Library Association

American Society of Journalists and Authors

Association of American Publishers

Comic Book Legal Defense Fund

Freedom to Read Foundation

National Coalition Against Censorship

National Council of Teachers of English

National Association of College Stores

People for the American Way

PEN American Center

Project Censored

It is also endorsed by the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress.

I Read Banned Books
Celebrate the freedom to read

A challenge is an attempt to remove or restrict the availability of specified materials. A banning is the removal of materials:

Challenges do not simply involve a person expressing a point of view; rather, they are an attempt to remove material from the curriculum or library, thereby restricting the access of others.

Read more about who challenges books and why at the ALA FAQ page about banned and challenged books.

Check the American Library Association’s Frequently Challenged Books list for 2014. Some of the titles might surprise you.

You can also see statistics in the form of infographics on the number of challenges by reasons, challenges by initiator, and challenges by institution.

4 More Literary Lists, and Where I Stand on Each

One of the activities that my daily blogging challenge is cutting heavily into is reading. Since I’m not currently adding many new titles to my lifetime reading list, I’m turning to some other lists for a bit of consolation.

I think that for next year I’ll have to define for myself a serious reading challenge.

14 Women Writers Who Dominate The Universe Of Sci-Fi

I decided to start with Maddie Crum’s list of women science fiction authors for Huffington Post because I anticipated that I’d have my worst score here. I don’t read much science fiction. My reading in this genre is limited to the best known classics.

This is a list of authors rather than of specific books. I include in my tally the number of writers whose books I’ve read at least one of.

How many I’ve read: 4 of 14, or 28%

The percentage looks so much better than the actual number.

NPR’s Top 100 Science-Fiction & Fantasy Books

I don’t read much fantasy, either, but I hoped I might do better with this list because it includes some classics of literature.

How many I’ve read: 28, or 28%, which the web site tells me is in the top 37% of people who have participated.

At least I’m consistent.

The 100 best novels written in English: the full list

After two years of careful consideration, Robert McCrum has reached a verdict on his selection of the 100 greatest novels written in English.

Keep in mind that this list is from a newspaper in the United Kingdom.

If you want to know how McCrum made his choices, there’s a link to his discussion at the top of the page.

But I’m putting off the inevitable:

How many I’ve read: 48, or 48%

Darn. I was hoping for at least 50%. In my defense, I have enough of the ones I haven’t read on my list of classics TBR, so I at least give myself a pat on the back for knowing where my deficiencies lie.

BBC Believes You Only Read 6 of These Books…

I remember seeing something like this list by the BBC several years ago. Here’s List Challenges’s explanation:

Interestingly, the BBC never actually made this declaration. The list was created by an unknown individual and spread around the internet as a meme called The BBC Book List Challenge. It was probably loosely based on another list of books that was the result of a survey carried out in 2003 by the BBC in which three quarters of a million people voted to find the nation’s best-loved novels of all time.

The explanation ends with a link to BBC’s The Big Read – Best Loved Novels of All Time.

How many I’ve read: 58, or 58%, in the top 7%

Well, that’s more like it. Actually, I’ve read 58.3 of these works, since I read the first volume of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy. And a number of the books on this list that I haven’t yet read are on my list of classics TBR.

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How about you? How many of the books on these lists have you read?

Blog a Day Challenge: July Report

After the chaos of my June blogging, in July my main goal was simply to get back into the habit of writing and publishing a post every day. At that I succeeded.

However, I did not work on my word for the year, story.

And I anticipate a bit more chaos in the upcoming weeks because we are taking a two-week cruise along the West Coast between Seattle and Alaska during the last week of August and the first week of September. Once again, both my internet connectivity and my free time will be limited. I am therefore not setting any specific goals other than to end up with a post for each day until the second week of September.

Here are my statistics for last month:

Number of posts written: 31

Shortest post: 210

Longest post: 1,770

Total words written: 22,340

Average post length: 721

I was happy to get my word count back up after June’s scant month. In fact, July’s total word count was the second highest of my seven months of this blogging challenge. And my average post length was the third highest; although I had seven posts of 1,000 or more words in July, I also had several shorter (500 words or fewer) posts as well.

Distribution of posts across my three blogs:

Because our two-week European vacation produced an inordinate number of posts to my personal blog, Retreading for Retirement, in June, in July I tried to even up the number of posts across the three blogs.

The total of posts here may not equal the number of posts written last month because I occasionally publish the same post on more than one blog. However, I have included each post only once in my total word count.

Last month’s featured post:

The Love-Hate Challenge

I’m featuring this post for several reasons:

  1. It was my longest post of the month.
  2. The topic is one I happened upon in a visit to someone else’s blog.
  3. The topic engaged me personally and therefore helped me concentrate on voice as I was writing.

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Overall, I consider July to have been a good blogging month for me.

I’d love to hear your comments.

All-TIME 100 Novels

Way back in January 2010 Time magazine drew up a list of “the 100 best English-language novels published since 1923—the beginning of TIME”: All-TIME 100 Novels:

The parameters: English language novels published anywhere in the world since 1923, the year that TIME Magazine began, which, before you ask, means that Ulysses (1922) doesn’t make the cut.

Richard Lacayo and Lev Grossman used this approach in drawing up the list:

Grossman and I [Lacayo] each began by drawing up inventories of our nominees. Once we traded notes, it turned out that more than 80 of our separately chosen titles matched. (Even some of the less well-known ones, like At-Swim Two Birds.) We decided then that we would more or less divide the remaining slots between us. That would allow each of us to include books that the other might not have chosen. Or might not even have read. (Ubik? What’s an Ubik?) And that would extend the list into places where mere agreement wouldn’t take it.

They end by acknowledging that there are many titles not included “that we’re still anguishing over.”

I never did anything with this list when it first came out, but I come across references to it often enough that I thought it time to do the math.

This is the key to my list:

Books I’ve read: 45

Books that are on my classics reading list: 3

A – B

The Adventures of Augie March by Saul Bellow

I read this in college in a course on the contemporary novel.

All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren

This is one of my all-time favorite books. I read it as either a junior or senior high school. It was the book that made me realize how all the pieces of a well-crafted novel fall together.

American Pastoral by Philip Roth

An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser

I read this in graduate school.

Animal Farm by George Orwell

Like just about every other American kid, I read this in high school.

Appointment in Samarra by John O’Hara

Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume

I read this when my daughter was young. It’s more of her generation than mine, but I wanted to be able to talk about it with her.

The Assistant by Bernard Malamud

At Swim-Two-Birds by Flann O’Brien

Atonement by Ian McEwan

I read this with a book group when the paperback edition came out.

Beloved by Toni Morrison

The Berlin Stories by Christopher Isherwood

The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler

I can’t believe I still haven’t gotten to this one.

The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood

I’ve read this one twice: It’s that good. (The first time was for a book group; the second time was on my own.)

Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy

Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh

The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder

I read this one for my in-person classics book group.

C – D

Call It Sleep by Henry Roth

Catch–22 by Joseph Heller

I read this on my own early in my college years.

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

I’ve read this several times, most recently about a year ago for my in-person classics book group.

A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess

The Confessions of Nat Turner by William Styron

The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen

One of my book groups read this not long after it came out.

The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon

This one’s on my personal to-be-read list.

A Dance to the Music of Time by Anthony Powell

The Day of the Locust by Nathaneal West

Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather

I can’t remember if we read this in high school or if I just think we did because I’ve heard of it so much.

A Death in the Family by James Agee

The Death of the Heart by Elizabeth Bowen

Deliverance by James Dickey

I read this one after seeing the movie.

Dog Soldiers by Robert Stone

F – G

Falconer by John Cheever

The French Lieutenant’s Woman by John Fowles

I read this one on my own soon after college.

The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing

Go Tell it on the Mountain by James Baldwin

Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

I read this in college.

Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

I read this in college, again in graduate school, and again a few years ago before the movie with Leonardo DiCaprio was released.

H – I

A Handful of Dust by Evelyn Waugh

The Heart is A Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers

I read this one several years ago in an attempt to fill in some of the gaps in my knowledge of American literature.

The Heart of the Matter by Graham Greene

Herzog by Saul Bellow

I read this one in a course on contemporary literature in college.

Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson

A House for Mr. Biswas by V. S. Naipaul

I, Claudius by Robert Graves

I read this after seeing the PBS version starring Derek Jacobi.

Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace

Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison

I read this in a college course.

L – N

Light in August by William Faulkner

The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

I’ve read this twice, once in a college course and again later on my own.

Lord of the Flies by William Golding

We also read this one in high school.

The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkein

I devoured this one on my own soon after graduating from college.

Loving by Henry Green

Although I haven’t read this, it looks like one I would enjoy.

The Moviegoer by Walker Percy

I read this one in college in a course on the history of the novel. I reread it on my own many years later.

Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis

The Man Who Loved Children by Christina Stead

Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie

Money by Martin Amis

Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

This one is on my TBR list.

Naked Lunch by William Burroughs

Native Son by Richard Wright

I read this in an introductory literature course in college.

Neuromancer by William Gibson

I read this one quite a few years ago when I decided that I should become at least a little familiar with current science fiction. I was delightfully surprised by how much I enjoyed it as a modern quest story.

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

I read this one not long after it came out.

1984 by George Orwell

Again, this is one that I read, probably along with every other American kid, in high school.

O – R

On the Road by Jack Kerouac

I read this one on my own when I was filling in the gaps in my reading of American classics.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey

I read this one on my own while in college during the 1960s.

The Painted Bird Jerzy Kosiński

Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov

I read this one while on a Nabokov reading kick between my junior and senior years of college.

A Passage to India by E.M. Forster

I read this one in college.

Play It As It Lays by Joan Didion

Portnoy’s Complaint by Philip Roth

Another one that I read while in college in the 1960s.

Possession by A.S. Byatt

I’ve read this one twice, on my own both times.

The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark

Rabbit, Run by John Updike

I’ve read this one at least three times, the latest time within the last year or so for my in-person classics book group.

Ragtime by E.L. Doctorow

This one I read soon after publication. A friend gave me a hardcover copy for Christmas.

The Recognitions by William Gaddis

Red Harvest by Dashiell Hammett

This one is waiting on my TBR shelf.

Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates

I read this one recently for the online Classics Club.

S – T

The Sheltering Sky by Paul Bowles

Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut

Here’s yet another classic that I read on my own during college in the 1960s.

Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson

I also read this one during my mid-life attempt to introduce myself to contemporary science fiction. I liked this one, but I liked The Diamond AGe even more.

The Sot-Weed Factor by John Barth

The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner

I read this once in college and once again much later.

The Sportswriter by Richard Ford

This is one I read not long after it came out.

The Spy Who Came in From the Cold by John le Carré

The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway

I read this several years ago for a book group.

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

One of my book groups read this quite a few years ago.

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

I don’t remember when I first read this, but I’ve reread it many times over.

To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf

I read this in a college course.

Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller

U – W

Ubik by Philip K. Dick

Under the Net by Iris Murdoch

Under the Volcano by Malcolm Lowry

Watchmen by Alan Moore,

White Noise by Don DeLillo

I haven’t yet read this one, but it’s on my TBR shelf.

White Teeth by Zadie Smith

Wide Sargasso Sea by Jeanne Rhys

This is the August selection for my in-person classics book group, so I’m counting it as read because I’ll be reading it in the next couple of week.

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And what have I learned from doing this assessment?

First, I’ve read fewer than half (45) of these “all-time best” novels. Even if I read and add to the total the titles on my classics club reading list, I’ll still be under half (48).

Second, of the listed novels that I have read, I read most of them in my high school, college, and early adult years. Maybe I had better radar then for good books. But I suspect that the real reason is that many newer books haven’t yet had time to prove themselves as classic novels and therefore are not included in this list. (One notable exception to this speculation is Marilynne Robinson’s Housekeeping.)

Third, however I look at the situation, one thing is clear: I have A LOT more reading to do.