A while ago I decided I wanted to read some of the “best books ever written” but upon researching the topic further, I discovered there were multiple lists and I was unsure which one to follow. So, I decided to chose five of the lists and draw from them the books for my own list. My qualifications were that they appear on 3 of the 5 lists but this only left me with 33 books and if I were to change my qualifications to 2 lists instead of 3, this left me with more than 50 but less than 100. I knew people would more likely search for the “50 greatest novels” rather than some obscure number, so I somewhat subjectively chose 17 books from the lists to make an even 50. I feel justified in doing this because I plan to read all of these books and I am sure I will need some “breather books” through which I can recover from reading a few of the monster books which made it onto the list. I have no doubt the “monsters” have literary merit but some of them are long and old and though I am a lover of reading, I am not literary scholar. I also was not an English major, so my book reviews/critiques which I write are going to be based on my personal opinion rather than on literary systems, formulas, styles, and what not.
The lists I drew from are: Radcliffe Publishing Course List, Modern Library’s List (they have a board’s list and a reader’s list, so two of my lists are from here), BBC’s List (Britain’s best-loved novels), and “100 best works of fiction…as determined from a vote by 100 noted writers from 54 countries.”
Without further ado, here is the list. Oh, the number beside the author’s name indicates how many lists the book appeared in and other than that they are in no particular order.
- Ulysses by James Joyce this is the only book to make it onto all 5 lists
- To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf 4
- Catch-22 by Joseph Heller 4
- The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner 4
- Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh 4
- Lord Of The Flies by William Golding 4
- Brave New World by Aldous Huxley 4
- The Grapes Of Wrath by John Steinbeck 4
- Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison 4
- On the Road by Jack Kerouac 4
- Lolita by Vladmir Nabokov 4
- 1984 by George Orwell 4
- The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald 4
- The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger 3
- To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee 3
- Beloved by Toni Morrison 3
- A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce 3
- Animal Farm by George Orwell 3
- The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway 3
- As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner 3
- A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway 3
- Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad 3
- The Magus by John Fowles 3
- Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell 3
- The Call of the Wild by Jack London 3
- Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien 3
- Sons and Lovers by D.H. Lawrence 3
- Light in August by William Faulkner 3
- The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams 3
- Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller 3
- Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie 3
- Absalom, Absalom! by William Faulkner 3
- A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess 3
The rest are ones that I choose which only appear on one or two of the lists:
- Winnie the Pooh, AA Milne (from BBC’s list and Radcliffe’s Publishing List)
- Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand (Modern Library’s reader’s list and the Radcliffe’s Publishing Course)
- The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway (Radcliffe’s and Writer’s List)
- The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame (from BBC’s list and Radcliffe’s Publishing Course)
- Dune by Frank Herbert (from BBC’s list and Modern Library’s Reader’s List)
- One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey (Radcliffe’s Publishing Course and Modern Library’s Reader’s List)
- The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie (Radcliffe’s and Modern’s Reader’s List)
- Watership Down by Richard Adams (BBC’s list and Modern Library’s Reader’s List)
- The Count Of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas (from BBC’s list)
- Swallows And Amazons by Arthur Ransome (from BBC’s list)
- Anne Of Green Gables by LM Montgomery (from BBC’s list)
- Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra
- Mythago Wood by Robert Holdstock (from Modern Library’s Reader’s List)
- Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë (from BBC’s list)
- Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë (from BBC’s list)
- The God Of Small Things, Arundhati Roy (from BBC’s list)
- And to make it an even 50, a book from my favorite series, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis (from BBC’s list).
I am not going to try and read through these in a year, because a few of them are a thousand pages long and some are just difficult to read; but I do make it through a decent amount of books per year, so check back if you want to hear my opinions of them as I go.
Right now I am almost finished with Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh. So far it has been quite enjoyable.
Also, if you enjoy art and photography as well as reading, be sure to check out my photography site which is in the right hand column.
I hope this list helped you chose some amazing books.