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Meme: 20th-Century Literature

What follows is the 50 best English-Language books of the 20th Century, as compiled by Brian Kunde. The full list has 223 entries, along with information on how the rankings were compiled, but I have chosen (for brevity) to include only the top 50 contenders.

Mark the ones you've read in bold. My own assessment is that I'm woefully derelict in my reading.


Rank Author Title Date
1 Fitzgerald, F. Scott Great Gatsby, The 1925
2 Orwell, George Nineteen Eighty Four 1949
3 Heller, Joseph Catch 22 1961
4 Steinbeck, John Grapes of Wrath, The 1939
5 Nabokov, Vladimir Lolita 1955
6 Joyce, James Ulysses 1922
7 Orwell, George Animal Farm 1945
8 Golding, William Lord of the Flies 1954
9 Salinger, J. D. Catcher in the Rye, The 1951
10 Vonnegut, Kurt, Jr. Slaughterhouse Five 1969
11 Huxley, Aldous Brave New World 1932
12 Ellison, Ralph Invisible Man 1952
13 Faulkner, William Sound and the Fury, The 1929
14 Lee, Harper To Kill a Mockingbird 1960
15 Joyce, James Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, A 1916
16 Walker, Alice Color Purple, The 1982
17 Morrison, Toni Beloved 1987
18 Hemingway, Ernest Sun Also Rises, The 1926
19 Wright, Richard Native Son 1940
20 Mitchell, Margaret Gone With the Wind 1936
21 Kerouac, Jack On the Road 1957
22 Woolf, Virginia To the Lighthouse 1927
23 Tolkien, J. R. R. Lord of the Rings 1956
24 White, E. B. Charlotte's Web 1952
25 Wharton, Edith Age of Innocence, The 1920
26 Hemingway, Ernest Farewell to Arms, A 1929
27 Cather, Willa My Antonia 1918
28 Hurston, Zora Neale Their Eyes Were Watching God 1937
29 Hemingway, Ernest Old Man and the Sea, The 1952
30 Du Maurier, Daphne Rebecca 1938
31 Burgess, Anthony Clockwork Orange, A 1962
32 London, Jack Call of the Wild, The 1903
33 Buck, Pearl S. Good Earth, The 1931
34 Irving, John World According to Garp, The 1978
35 Wharton, Edith Ethan Frome 1911
36 Tolkien, J. R. R. Hobbit, The 1937
37 Kesey, Ken One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest 1962
38 Bradbury, Ray Fahrenheit 451 1952
39 Atwood, Margaret Handmaid's Tale, The 1986
40 Faulkner, William As I Lay Dying 1930
41 Heinlein, Robert A. Stranger in a Strange Land 1961
42 Fitzgerald, F. Scott Tender is the Night 1934
43 Milne, A. A. Winnie the Pooh 1926
44 Forster, E. M. Passage to India, A 1924
45 Steinbeck, John Of Mice and Men 1937
46 Warren, Robert Penn All the King's Men 1946
47 Forster, E. M. Howard's End 1910
48 Lawrence, D. H. Sons and Lovers 1913
49 Baldwin, James Go Tell It on the Mountain 1953
50 Lawrence, D. H. Lady Chatterley's Lover 1928

[Edit: Added two I had forgotten about. They made us read Baldwin as a pre-College entrance requirement, but I didn't have the focus to get through it, so it doesn't count.]


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Comments

fearciuil
Jul. 31st, 2010 05:01 am (UTC)
You've read more of them than I have....
secoh
Jul. 31st, 2010 07:57 am (UTC)
I think the list leaves a lot to be desired, and the ones I have read from it are probably about the same as yours.

I forgot to mention I finally finished the book you sent! Thanks for sending that :D
Wish I'd read his stuff when I was younger...
ccdesan
Jul. 31st, 2010 01:30 pm (UTC)
No way of objectively classifying "best" anything when it comes to art or literature, but this fellow was fairly clear about what criteria he used to determine rankings. Obvioiusly - as with film - there is a lot of stuff out there that is absolutely stellar but never appears on the radar of 95% of the populace. Glad you finished Heinlein's little offering - I always wanted a sequel about 8 years later, with the now-mated Kip and Patricia going off to further galactic adventures and raising hordes of supergenius kids...
oceansedge
Aug. 1st, 2010 05:27 pm (UTC)
Oooooo speaking of books ... have either of you read Life of Pi? (my current favourite gift to friends *grins*)
ccdesan
Aug. 1st, 2010 08:05 pm (UTC)
Never heard of it. Having looked it up, I am now captivated, and must read it. Always something new to learn among my circle of friends!

oceansedge
Aug. 2nd, 2010 04:15 am (UTC)
it is a lovely lovely book - lyrically written with a bone dry wit - highly recommend reading it with a large glass of ice cold lemonade handy.
deckardcanine
Jul. 31st, 2010 02:44 pm (UTC)
I've read 10 in full but seen several more as movies, so I feel little obligation to check them out. I also read parts of Lolita and Brave New World before deciding that while they were well-written, I wasn't going to get much more out of them.

Most that I have read were assigned in school and not much fun. The greatness of The Great Gatsby, which was #2 on an older list, largely escapes me. If you ever read, I suggest looking out for Freudian imagery -- or not, depending on your taste.
torakiyoshi
Aug. 1st, 2010 01:24 am (UTC)
See the addendum to my comment below. It's true of many of the books on that list, too.

-=TK
torakiyoshi
Aug. 1st, 2010 01:21 am (UTC)
But you've read other things, right? I think we do ourselves a great disservice when we complain that people don't all read the same things. Sure, some of these books are incredible (I loved Lord of the Flies, for example), but that does not mean they're the only books in the store. If they were, I'd stop shopping at that bookstore. Besides which, there's no non-fiction on this list. One who reads NF books is certainly expanding his mind greatly, even though the books may not be the most incredible ever.

And there are also books I think should be on there that are sorely lacking, for example, Alexandr Solzhenitsyn's One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, and at least one of the following: Anne Frank's The Diary of a Young Girl, Elie Wiesel's trilogy, Night, Dawn and Dusk, or perhaps Tadeusz Boroski's This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen. Even some books which might cause some... dissent in the ranks, like State and Revolution by V. I. Lenin, or something to expand one's world view like Sun Tzu's Art of War, Lao Tze's Tao Teh Ching or the veda's Baghavad Gita should be read by people who wish to be intelligent thinkers.

So don't feel bad that you haven't read everything on this list. I'm sure you're an avid reader, just don't get caught up in their standards of what's important to read.

-=TK
torakiyoshi
Aug. 1st, 2010 01:24 am (UTC)
Oh, yeah, I almost forgot: Memoirs of a Geisha, by Arthur Golden is an enlightening look into the Asian mindset of the early twentieth century. Anyone who watches the movie and doesn't read the book has done themselves a severe disservice. (Moorcat and I listened to it last year on our way to AC. If you want, I can send you a disk of the MP3s. PM me your address.)

-=TK

Edited at 2010-08-01 01:27 am (UTC)
torakiyoshi
Aug. 1st, 2010 01:27 am (UTC)
PS #2: What's so great about Catcher in the Rye? I tried, but couldn't get through it. It's poorly written at best is about all I can say. It seems that its primary redeeming quality is that it has been banned in so many places. Big whoop. I probably wouldn't miss it.

-=TK
deckardcanine
Aug. 1st, 2010 03:20 am (UTC)
Maybe you have to be a teen or a teen sympathizer. I was a little younger than Holden when I read and loved it. At the same time, I was unsure what to make of it as a story -- credible, but not much happening for the most part.
torakiyoshi
Aug. 2nd, 2010 01:57 am (UTC)
Yeah. Every story must have a conflict to be interesting. This story's conflict is, "I'm a bratty kid!" Um, yeah.

But I was referencing you to the addendum re: Memoirs. ;)

-=TK

Edited at 2010-08-02 01:59 am (UTC)
oceansedge
Aug. 1st, 2010 05:25 pm (UTC)
I still hate Catcher in the Rye and think it a dreadful bit of literature - frankly if it's for the teen angst thing - The Outsiders does it better.
ccdesan
Aug. 1st, 2010 08:07 pm (UTC)
Salinger's work is definitely not for everyone. I read it twice, once in High School (required) and once later, to see if I had missed anything. I hadn't.

As opposed to Mayor of Casterbridge, which I also read twice - once, as before, in High School, and hated it, and once in college, when I was perhaps more intellectually ready for Hardy's brand of irony, and absolutely loved it.

There is so much phenomenal literature out there, much of it in the form of essays and short stories, which are woefully overlooked in all the list of notable works.
oceansedge
Aug. 2nd, 2010 04:18 am (UTC)
it seemed to me that Catcher in the Rye - gained a reputation (or notoriety) when it was published for being 'avant guarde' - it wasn't good literature - it just dared to be brash and loud and vulgar - thus supposedly speaking for it's generation.

that was true of a lot of literature, art, music of the period.... some of which was good, most of which were dreck.
dhlawrence
Aug. 2nd, 2010 12:21 am (UTC)
You're better off than me--I haven't read any of them. My father read The Hobbit and LotR to me when I was about six or seven but I didn't have the attention span for them.

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