In The Beginning

So, last year I started a classics book club and really enjoyed the regular reading of excellent novels.  Then I had a baby and the group disbanded and between the two, I reverted back to reading an assortment of contemporary novels (kind of like stopping a diet and filling up on gummy worms and Miss Vicky’s the next day) and began griping about them; my discerning husband kindly pointed out that I rarely had that problem when I was reading classics and suggested I get back into them.

Because I’m one of those people who relishes being organized, I promptly began looking for a list of the best novels ever written to give me some guidance.  It turns out there are actually a lot of lists out there.  I considered the 100 Favourite Novels of Librarians, but the fact that it included The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood squashed that idea.  The Modern Library’s 100 Best Novels looked promising at first, but it’s actual the 100 Best Novels of the 20th Century and some of my favourite books were written in the 1800s (Jane Eyre, Pride & Prejudice and Bleak House, for instance).  I finally decided to go with The Observer’s 100 Greatest Novels of All Time.  My plan is to both read and discuss 99 of the 100 novels featured on that list (apparently Ulysses is nearly unreadable, so my heart is not set on finishing that one).  It’s an ambitious project, I know, and one that requires some time to complete – my guess would be somewhere between four to eight years.  Yikes!

Are you wondering what books are included?  Here we go, The Observer’s 100 Greatest Novels of All Time:

1. Don Quixote by Miguel Cervantes
2. Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan
3. Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe
4. Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift
5. Tom Jones by Henry Fielding
6. Clarissa by Samuel Richardson
7. Tristam Shandy by Laurence Sterne
8. Dangerous Liaison by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos
9. Emma by Jane Austen
10. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
11. Nightmare Abbey by Thomas Love Peacock
12. Black Sheep by Georgette Heyer
13. The Charterhouse of Parma by Stendhal
14. The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
15. Sybil by Flora Rheta Schrieber
16. David Copperfield by Charles Dickens
17. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
18. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
19. Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray
20. The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
21. Moby Dick by Herman Melville
22. Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
23. The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins
24. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Louis Carroll
25. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
26. The Way We Live Now by Anthony Trollope
27. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
28. Daniel Deronda by George Eliot
29. The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
30. The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James
31. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
32. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson
33. Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome
34. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
35. The Diary of a Nobody by George & Weedon Grossmith
36. Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy
37. Riddle of the Sands by Erskine Childers
38. The Call of the Wild by Jack London
39. Nostromo by Joseph Conrad
40. The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame
41. In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust
42. The Rainbow by D.H. Lawrence
43. The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford
44. The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan
45. Ulysses by James Joyce
46. Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
47. A Passage to India by E.M. Forster
48. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
49. The Trial by Franz Kafka
50. Men Without Women by Ernest Hemingway
51. Journey to the End of the Night by Louis-Ferdinand Celine
52. As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner
53. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
54. Scoop by Evelyn Waugh
55. U.S.A. by John Dos Passos
56. The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler
57. The Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford
58. The Plague by Albert Camus
59. 1984 by George Orwell
60. Malone Dies by Samuel Beckett
61. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
62. Wise Blood by Flannery O’Connor
63. Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White
64. The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
65. Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis
66. Lord of the Flies by William Golding
67. The Quiet American by Graham Greene
68. On the Road by Jack Kerouac
69. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
70. The Tin Drum by Gunter Grass
71. Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
72. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark
73. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
74. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
75. Herzog by Saul Bellow
76. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
77. Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont by Elizabeth Taylor
78. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John Le Carre
79. Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison
80. The Bottle Factory Outing by Beryl Bainbridge
81. The Executioner’s Song by Norman Mailer
82. If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller by Italo Calvino
83. A Bend in the River by V.S. Naipaul
84. Waiting for the Barbarians by J.M. Coetzee
85. Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson
86. Lanark by Alasdair Gray
87. The New York Trilogy by Paul Auster
88. The BFG by Roald Dahl
89. The Periodic Table by Primo Levi
90. Money by Martin Amis
91. An Artist of the Floating World by Kazuo Ishiguro
92. Oscar and Lucinda by Peter Carey
93. The Book of Laughter and Forgetting by Milan Kundera
94. Haroun and the Sea of Stories by Salmon Rushdie
95. L.A. Confidential by James Ellroy
96. Wise Children by Angela Carter
97. Atonement by Ian McEwan
98. Northern Lights by Philip Pullman
99. American Pastoral by Philip Roth
100. Austerlitz by W.G. Sebald

I’m excited about this!  There are a number of books here I’ve already read, like Jane Eyre and Vanity Fair, but also a fair number I’ve never even heard of, like Lanark and Malone Dies.  I’m trepidatious about reading Ulysses and Moby Dick, but on the other hand there are several children’s books that ought to be refreshing (Charlotte’s Web and The BFG).  

My plan is to start with number 94, Haroun and the Sea of Stories by Salmon Rushdie.  It’s a story about stories – the perfect sort of book to start with, I think.  Mortimer Adler wrote that, “In the case of good books, the point is not to see how many of them you can get through, but rather how many can get through to you.”  Well, Mr. Adler, here’s hoping for the best of both worlds.

Join me?

~ Arenda


6 thoughts on “In The Beginning

  1. Diana says:

    I don’t know you, but I sort of stumbled upon your blog. I love the idea, so I’m going to try it! I’ve read a few of these, heard of lots but not read them, and totally not heard of the rest. Knowing the volume of some of these books, it will take a loooonnnggg time, but that’s ok. I’ll be reading with a purpose!

  2. jrdeleeuw says:

    I will not be joining you in reading thru them… I think it’d take me 100 years at the rate I read books these days :p But I love your writing, and it’s interesting to read your take on the books you read! I must say that I was surprised how much I loved reading Jane Eyre. I’m sure there’s more books on this list that I wouldn’t necessarily pick myself, but are great reads nonetheless.

  3. tanyaschutte says:

    What an ambitious endeavour! I don’t think I’ll be joining you in reading all of them, but I’d certainly like to try read a few! Maybe some of the best reviews 🙂 Good luck!

  4. megancita says:

    Goodness, I’ve only read 26 of these, & like to consider myself well read. I love your reviews Arenda, & consider this an excellent undertaking! All the very best, love, Megs
    PS you have inspired me to continue reading Dante’s Inferno!

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