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Time‘s Greatest Books, 1923-Present

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Time magazine has just released their list of the Top 100 Greatest English Language Novels, from 1923 through today. Why such an odd year, one might ask? Because that’s the first year Time was in business… and, as one of the critics involved in the selection process, Richard Lacayo, put it: “[this] means that Ulysses (1922) doesn’t make the cut.”

Time critics Lacayo and Lev Grossman each prepared a list on their own and compared notes — at which point they found that their selections largely matched. That was the easy part. They split the remaining titles, leaving each to come up with ten independantely, to ensure that great books the other might not have read were included. Lacayo wrote an in depth look at the process, so that readers might better understand what went into the list… and why certain books, though great, were not included. After all, in a list of one hundred, there is still only so much space.

While Time‘s list had no rankings to differentiate between the titles, readers were allowed to rank the novels in a poll, and it’s apparent that the “geek” contingent was out in force. Lord of the Rings took the top slot there, with other popular favorites like Alan Moore’s fantastic graphic novel Watchmen, Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash, and the dystopian staple of English classes everywhere, George Orwell’s 1984 grabbing places in the reader poll.

Many of the books on the Time list are obvious choices for any list of the “greatest” novels, like F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby and Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man. But some are recent titles (like Zadie Smith’s White Teeth, 2001), and others are a pleasant surprise, like the aforementioned Watchmen. If this list does nothing else, I would hope that it at least helps to spotlight graphic novels, some of which truly are excellent, like Alan’s Moore’s dark study of power and corruption. Too often, graphic novels are written off as something for children, or equated with mindless action comics, and Moore’s work, among that of others, is truly outstanding. If anyone worked to earn their place on this list, it is Alan Moore.

The full list:

The Adventures of Augie March
Saul Bellow

All the King’s Men
Robert Penn Warren

American Pastoral
Philip Roth

An American Tragedy
Theodore Dreiser

Animal Farm
George Orwell

Appointment in Samarra
John O’Hara

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

The Assistant
Bernard Malamud

At Swim-Two-Birds
Flann O’Brien

Ian McEwan

Toni Morrison

The Berlin Stories
Christopher Isherwood

The Big Sleep
Raymond Chandler

The Blind Assassin
Margaret Atwood

Blood Meridian
Cormac McCarthy

Brideshead Revisited
Evelyn Waugh

The Bridge of San Luis Rey
Thornton Wilder

Call It Sleep
Henry Roth

Joseph Heller

The Catcher in the Rye
J.D. Salinger

A Clockwork Orange
Anthony Burgess

The Confessions of Nat Turner
William Styron

The Corrections
Jonathan Franzen

The Crying of Lot 49
Thomas Pynchon

A Dance to the Music of Time
Anthony Powell

The Day of the Locust
Nathanael West

Death Comes for the Archbishop
Willa Cather

A Death in the Family
James Agee

The Death of the Heart
Elizabeth Bowen

James Dickey

Dog Soldiers
Robert Stone

John Cheever

The French Lieutenant’s Woman
John Fowles

The Golden Notebook
Doris Lessing

Go Tell it on the Mountain
James Baldwin

Gone With the Wind
Margaret Mitchell

The Grapes of Wrath
John Steinbeck

Gravity’s Rainbow
Thomas Pynchon

The Great Gatsby
F. Scott Fitzgerald

A Handful of Dust
Evelyn Waugh

The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter
Carson McCullers

The Heart of the Matter
Graham Greene

Saul Bellow

Marilynne Robinson

A House for Mr. Biswas
V.S. Naipaul

I, Claudius
Robert Graves

Infinite Jest
David Foster Wallace

Invisible Man
Ralph Ellison

Light in August
William Faulkner

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

Vladimir Nabokov

Lord of the Flies
William Golding

The Lord of the Rings
J.R.R. Tolkien

Henry Green

Lucky Jim
Kingsley Amis

The Man Who Loved Children
Christina Stead

Midnight’s Children
Salman Rushdie

Martin Amis

The Moviegoer
Walker Percy

Mrs. Dalloway
Virginia Woolf

Naked Lunch
William Burroughs

Native Son
Richard Wright

William Gibson

Never Let Me Go
Kazuo Ishiguro

George Orwell

On the Road
Jack Kerouac

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
Ken Kesey

The Painted Bird
Jerzy Kosinski

Pale Fire
Vladimir Nabokov

A Passage to India
E.M. Forster

Play It As It Lays
Joan Didion

Portnoy’s Complaint
Philip Roth

A.S. Byatt

The Power and the Glory
Graham Greene

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie
Muriel Spark

Rabbit, Run
John Updike

E.L. Doctorow

The Recognitions
William Gaddis

Red Harvest
Dashiell Hammett

Revolutionary Road
Richard Yates

The Sheltering Sky
Paul Bowles

Kurt Vonnegut

Snow Crash
Neal Stephenson

The Sot-Weed Factor
John Barth

The Sound and the Fury
William Faulkner

The Sportswriter
Richard Ford

The Spy Who Came in From the Cold
John le Carre

The Sun Also Rises
Ernest Hemingway

Their Eyes Were Watching God
Zora Neale Hurston

Things Fall Apart
Chinua Achebe

To Kill a Mockingbird
Harper Lee

To the Lighthouse
Virginia Woolf

Tropic of Cancer
Henry Miller

Philip K. Dick

Under the Net
Iris Murdoch

Under the Volcano
Malcolm Lowry

Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons

White Noise
Don DeLillo

White Teeth
Zadie Smith

Wide Sargasso Sea
Jean Rhys

The LegendaryMonkey is also Alisha Karabinus, a writer and blogger in Little Rock, Arkansas. Find out more at Sudden Nothing.

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  • Man, I hate that Franzen made the list! Overall it’s a nice job, though. Happy to see Kerouac and Burgess, two of my all time of all time faves, selected here.

    As I just mentioned on Bill Wallo’s piece, it would have been interesting to see lists broken out for lit fiction, genre, and perhaps even non-fic.

  • The list is incomplete without Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces.

  • No such list will ever be complete, but I can understand their reasons behind many of the choices and applaud the effort.

    Like any list, it’s subjective, but it gives us something to talk about, and I’d rather argue books than discuss the same stupid news stories again and again.

    -LM, who is anti-CNN today, randomly

  • AT

    Where did the original of this 100 best appear? In what issue of Time?