Monday, July 8, 2013

Entertainment Weekly’s 100 Greatest Novels Ever

I am an engineer and a lover of lists. I always love to read different lists of top books and have discussed various lists on Laura’s Reviews in the past. I was more than a little bit excited to get my Entertainment Weekly magazine this week with the “100 Greatest Novels ever.” I had many problems with the list overall, which seems to be the case for anyone trying to agree on what exactly the 100 greatest novels should be. First of all, I would expect Entertainment Weekly to pick the 100 greatest novels and to include books that have entertained people throughout the ages. Upon reading the list, I found that the selections were really rather random. I would be interested in a list that readers put together or to know how this list was put together at EW (they must have heard my pleas as they now have their rationale posted here

The list had really random additions like only four children's books (Harry Potter, Charlotte's Web, The Hobbit, and Are You There God It's Me Margaret), which I would not consider the best of all children's books. I love Charlotte’s Web, but would I consider it the 10th greatest novel ever written, and also the greatest children’s book ever written? Quite simply, no. But ask me about Little House on the Prairie (not on the list), and I might have a different answer. I think the children’s books should have been a different list or should have been chosen with more care and placed differently. Alice in Wonderland, The Wind in the Willows, Peter Pan, Little Women, Anne of Green Gables, etc. were all missing from the list. I also thought Are you There God It’s Me Margaret was a strange addition to the list. I feel it is not even Blume's best work and it felt dated when I read it back in the late 1980's. Does anyone else feel the same? I had an interesting Facebook discussion recently about children’s books and I mean to write a future post about this subject!

Anna Karenina should not be the number one greatest novel ever written in my eyes. Top ten, yes, number one, no. I read this wonderful novel about ten years ago with my Milwaukee book club. We all enjoyed it, but also agreed that Tolstoy veered off topic and rambled quite a bit. EW even mentions this with “There are novels on this list that are more perfectly engineered (No.2 and No. 3, for instance.) And there are definitely more books that devote fewer pages to agrarianism (No.2 – No.100).” I would have picked number two or three for my top pick, The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald or Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. I agree they are perfectly engineered novels, but they also strike a cord within in me that has made me read them many times in my lifetime. Both novels continue to have great impacts on our culture. I also would have included To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee in the top ten, or top three.

I was happy to see Willa Cather in the top ten with My Antonia, but I feel that Death Comes for the Archbishop is her masterpiece. There were MANY omissions from this list. Where is Steinbeck, Orwell, or Bradbury? Where is Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier? Thackery’s Vanity Fair? Where is the Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien? If we are going to include modern day classics, what about Atonement by Ian McEwan or any of Khaled Hosseini's novels? Where is I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou, one of the best books I've ever read? If we are going to include Sci-Fi, what about Dune by Frank Herbert? What about historical fiction? Bringing up the Bodies feels like it was slapped on there. What about Katherine by Anya Seton or The Greatest Knight by Elizabeth Chadwick? I could go on.

Some overrated books are on this list, most glaringly, The Corrections. The Corrections is a true turd of a book, literally. It has a talking turd in it. The best thing about this book seems to be that the author shunned Oprah and made a big to do. I read the book ten years ago expecting great things and just found a depressing book that literally had a taking turd. I wanted to throw it by the end. Why does this stinker keep appearing on best of lists? I have read so many other books that are much more deserving. Am I the only one that feels this book is truly overrated? I also hated the first Rabbit book by John Updike. It was truly depressing and didn’t really speak to me at all.

There were also books that I frankly had never heard of on this list: #30 Blindness by Jose Saramago, #33 Maus by Art Spiegelman, #35 A Personal Matter by Kenzaburo Oe, #38, The Regeneration Trilogy by Pat Barker, #40 A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth, #47 The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami, #50 Snow by Orhan Pamuk, #54 Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain, #55 A Fine Balance by Rohinton, #69 Money by Martin Amis, #76 The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing, #78 A House for Mr. Biswas by V.S. Naipaul, #84 Clockers by Richard Price, #91 The Leopard by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, #92 The Glass Bead Game by Hermann Hesse, #96 If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler by Italo Calvino. As an obsessive reader, I found this to be disturbing. How can there be so many great books that I’ve never even heard of? Has anyone else read or heard of these novels? Should I be adding them onto my giant “to-read” list?

I've read 37 of the books on the list, have 11 on my bookshelf ready to read, and 12 of the rest of the books I haven't read, I've read other works by the author. One (The Sound and the Fury) I've tried to read more than once and can't seem to ever finish, even though I love Faulkner's short stories. This is rather low numbers for me on a best of list. How do others do?

Well, I could go on all day. I would love to hear what others have to say.

The complete list (,,20712079_20711847,00.html):

1. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

2. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

3. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

4. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

5. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

6. My Antonia by Willa Cather

7. The Harry Potter Series

8. The Rabbit quartet by John Updike

9. Beloved by Toni Morrison

10. Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White

11. Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolfe

12. The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner

13. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

14. Crime and Punishment by Fyoder Dostoevsky

15. Ragtime by E.L. Doctorow

16. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

17. The Road by Cormac McCarthy

18. Moby-Dick by Herman Melville

19. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

20. Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurty

21. An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser

22. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

23. The Brothers Karamazov by Fyoder Dostoevsky

24. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce

25. Bleak House by Charles Dickens

26. Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison

27. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle

28. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

29. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

30. Native Son by Richard Wright

31. Blindness by Jose Saramago

32. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

33. Maus by Art Spiegelman

34. The World According to Garp by John Irving

35. A Personal Matter by Kenzaburo Oe

36. Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand

37. The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway

38. The Regeneration Trilogy by Pat Barker

39. Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

40. A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth

41. Go Tell It on the Mountain by James Baldwin

42. The Stand by Stephen King

43. A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole

44. His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman

45. The Color Purple by Alice Walker

46. The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton

47. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami

48. The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith

49. Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

50. Snow by Orhan Pamuk

51. The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen

52. Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison

53. Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

54. Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain

55. A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry

56. Sophie’s Choice by William Styron

57. The Children of Men by P.D. James

58. Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie

59. Dracula by Bram Stoker

60. Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

61. Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Gracia Marquez

62. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

63. Portnoy’s Complaint by Philip Roth

64. Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace

65. Herzog by Saul Bellow

66. Howards End by E.M. Forster

67. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon

68. Middlemarch by George Eliot

69. Money by Martin Amis

70. Neuromancer by William Gibson

71. The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

72. The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro

73. The Spy Who Came in From the Cold by John le Carre

74. Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier

75. Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert

76. The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing

77. Tom Jones by Henry Fielding

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

79. Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel

80. Swann’s Way by Marcel Proust

81. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

82. Disgrace by J.J. Coetzee

83. The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields

84. Clockers by Richard Price

85. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

86. A Home at the End of the World by Michael Cunningham

87. White Teeth by Zadie Smith

88. The Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe

89. Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne

90. The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers

91. The Leopard by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa

92. The Glass Bead Game by Hermann Hesse

93. Bastard out of Carolina by Dorothy Allison

94. The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins

95. The Poisonwood Bible

96. If on a Winter’s Night a Travelor by Italo Calvino

97. The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler

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

99. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

100. The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan


  1. So many I haven't heard of either. I've only read 15! Great discussion. It does seem pretty random about what makes a list. Maybe how daring or bold it goes? Thanks for sharing this!

  2. Good heavens! I've read only about 1/3 of these, the classics.

  3. I'm glad to hear it's not just me. Daring and bold may be why they picked some of these books - that is a good theory! My sister keeps telling me I need to make my own list of top 100 books. This is inspiring me!

  4. I did appreciate that they tried to include different genres such as science fiction, but would have liked to see more women's fiction included.