I picked up “The Novel 100” by Daniel S. Burt published in 2004 at a sale. I mention the date because there is a 2010 revised edition and I have not seen it, so I must stick with his 2004 list. He ranks the greatest 100 novels of all time. Like any writer of a list written by someone with integrity, Burt has the good sense to invite disagreement, going as far to say in his introduction ” If you disagree violently with some of my choices, I shall be pleased.” I advise to not get violent.
I am not going to list all 100, but stick to his top ten and give my thoughts along the way.
- Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes. Burt claims it is the second best-selling book in history. Flaubert wrote in 1852 that “What is prodigious about Don Quixote is the absence of art. . .” Flaubert is a bit enamored here. Cervantes clearly has written an artistic book. Flaubert’s comments reminds me of the novelist and Beowulf scholar, John Gardner who told our college English class that Treasure Island (not on top 100, but Honorable Mention) was not fiction, but something else entirely, though he could not articulate exactly what he meant. I read Don Quixote decades ago and have forgotten most of it. Certainly deserves top 100, but . . Free Kindle edition here.
- War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy. I recall seeing a hardback edition in my home when growing up. I don’t think anyone in the household had read it. It was thick and intimidating for me, so I stuck to The Hardy Boys. There is a free Kindle edition here. I just clicked the fun button, so will put it in my reading list, but there are 296 books ahead of it. Must do some weeding soon.
- Ulysses by James Joyce. A formerly banned book makes the list. I have a vague memory of either reading a few pages of it in College or actually trying to read it, can’t recall which, but once again a free Kindle edition. It is, I am told, a difficult read, but I believe I can handle it having much reading experience since college. While it has received much praise, D.H. Lawrence, H.G. Wells, and Virginia Woolf thought the book essentially garbage. So it must be good, being controversial and all.
- In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust. This is now the preferred title to Remembrances of Things Past., at least according to Burt. I had no idea until now, so am at a loss to know who made this decision. Keep in mind it is seven volumes. Should make good winter reading. If you begin reading this after Ulysses you are a brave soul as you risk mind and memory. A 99 cent Kindle edition is worth a try
- The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky. Another book I have not read and the second Russian to make the list. Sigmund Freud said the book is ” the most significant novel ever written.” If you trust Freud then a free illustrated Kindle edition with one click. I love clicking for free books, especially classics, and I have some catching up to do. I have read Crime and Punishment though, so I get some points.
- Moby Dick by Herman Melville. Time for a bit of a rant. I tried twice to read this book and both times got to a long non-fictional account of whaling that broke up the narrative flow, and I grew bored, then irritated, then gave up. A not needed sidebar and Melville, I believe, was getting paid by the word. Aha! I loved Melville’s short story Bartelby, but I guess I am not into whaling. But Amazon does offer a free Kindle edition.
- Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert. I read this, like Don Quixote, decades ago. I would like to read it again because I recall nothing. Burt said the book has elements that make it perhaps the first “modern novel” but I think I read it because I heard there were some sex scenes. Were there? Or was that in the movie? No matter. If I read it again it will be for literary value. If there are some sex scenes, so much the better. Literary Free Kindle Edition.
- Middlemarch by George Eliot. For those who do not know this was the pen name for Mary Ann Evans. Full disclosure, I have not read the book. Most people prefer two of her other novels Adam Bede or The Mill on the Floss, neither of which I have read. I have read Jane Austen and the Bronte’s in College, so considering my now growing list of unread novels, Eliot will not get into my reading list. Nothing personal mind you. Could not find free book, but there is an illustrated Kindle for 99 cents.
- Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann. I have read other works by Mann, but not Magic Mountain. Once again I can not offer my opinion, not that it would matter anyway. Burt says, ” it “is the great philosophical novel of the 20th century.” I found a study guide for the book, but no Kindle edition. Don’t know why.
- The Tale of the Genji by Murasaki Shikibu. This is the most interesting and intriguing book on the list. In western tradition the novel is traced back to Don Quixote in the 16th century, but Tale of the Genji was written in China in the 11th century. It was written by a woman, one that little is known about, but according to Burt, “With its realistic social setting, individualized characters, and psychological richness, the Genji is deservedly considered unprecedented and the first great novel. I could not find a free edition despite it written a millennium ago and while there are Kindle versions ranging up to 20.99 their is a 99 cent Kindle edition. If this book is everything they say it is, it moves up the line in my reading bin.
Of the top ten I have read only two books, failed at one (Moby Dick) and tasted a bit of few others. Not good for a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature. But I have read 32 of the top 100. That makes me a .320 hitter, pretty good for baseball.
None of my following books made a any list, but did get some good reviews.