My Top 40 Reading Recommendations

There was a bit of movement in my Top 40 List so I thought it might again be time to bring it out of the shadows and force other readers to stop and consider where I am off base or perhaps where they might even agree with me. Actually, as time goes by and more titles are added to my reading inventory, I find that the Top 40 List gets less and less controversial. Even so, I was just arguing with myself about a couple of titles as I pasted the list in this post. It’s all very fluid. What’s in your Top 40 List?

My Top 40 Reading Recommendations

Don Quixote
  1. Ulysses — James Joyce
  2. À La Recherche du temps perdu — Marcel Proust
  3. The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy — Laurence Sterne
  4. Don Quixote — Miguel de Cervantes
  5. Madame Bovary — Gustave Flaubert
  6. The Brothers Karamazov — Fyodor Dostoevsky
  7. Anna Karenina — Leo Tolstoy
  8. The Faerie Queene — Edmund Spenser
  9. Finnegans Wake — James Joyce
  10. Waiting For Godot — Samuel Beckett
  11. Our Lady of the Flowers — Jean Genet
  12. Under the Volcano — Malcolm Lowry
  13. The Last Temptation of Christ — Nikos Kazantzakis
  14. The Cairo Trilogy — Naguib Mahfouz [Palace Walk, Palace of Desire, Sugar Street]
  15. La Vie mode d’emploi — Georges Perec
  16. Bouvard et Pécuchet — Gustave Flaubert
  17. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man — James Joyce
  18. The Magic Mountain — Thomas Mann
  19. JR — William Gaddis
  20. Crime and Punishment — Fyodor Dostoevsky
  21. Le Voyeur — Alain Robbe-Grillet
  22. The Temple of the Golden Pavilion — Yukio Mishima
  23. The Makioka Sisters — Junichero Tanizaki
  24. Absalom, Absalom! — William Faulkner
  25. To the Lighthouse — Virginia Woolf
  26. Lolita — Vladimir Nabokov
  27. Middlemarch — George Eliot
  28. Moby Dick — Herman Melville
  29. The Leopard — Giuseppe di Lampedusa
  30. A Dance to the Music of Time — Anthony Powell
  31. Mulligan Stew — Gilbert Sorrentino
  32. Naked Lunch — William S. Burroughs
  33. The Good Soldier — Ford Madox Ford
  34. The Awakening Land — Conrad Richter
  35. The Alexandria Quartet — Lawrence Durrell
  36. Clarissa — Samuel Richardson
  37. Europe Central — William Vollmann
  38. The Tin Drum — Günter Grass
  39. The Adventures of Augie March — Saul Bellow
  40. East of Eden — John Steinbeck

14 thoughts on “My Top 40 Reading Recommendations

  1. The two book recommendation is a good one. I´m gonna try that. It can work too with short stories, and read them complete in both languages.

    I´m reading Pnin right now, and Anna Karenina is mentioned a lot. I think that will be my next book, too bad I don´t know any Russian haha.


  2. Hey, Mike. It´s David, again.

    I see that some of the titles in the list were written in french. Did you read them in the original language??

    I study french for quite a while but never have an opportunity to “use” it. I´m thinking that maybe reading short stories can do it for me. It takes me a long time reading a novel in spanish or english, I dont wanna try that with french.

    Do you have any recommendations? I read that Flaubert used a uncomplicated style, but was more of a novelist.


    1. The quick answer is “yes,” I read in French and also in Spanish; however, it takes a great deal of effort. I am a long-time proponent of reading novels and stories from all over the world (my daughter has her PhD in Comparative Literature and reads French fluently) but more often I read in translation to avoid getting too bogged down.

      But my daughter is adamant: You can only say you read a work if you read it in the original language.

      Here’s a trick: get two copies of the book, one in the original language and the other in a GOOD translation. Then read the translation but make regular use of the original to gain a more accurate sense of what the author wrote. Do this for a passage that catches your fancy or maybe just read a chapter here and there in the original language (remember, it will be somewhat faster since you have the translation to help you).

      As a recommendation, I have been told that Dumas writes a very approachable French and is excellent to start out with (you have read Les Trois Mousquetaires, right?). My alternate recommendation is to get Proust’s great work in the original French (there is even a one volume edition) and plow through the hundreds (thousands?) of pages: if you get through Proust, you will be proficient in reading French and ready for anything.

      Flaubert is far greater than Dumas but his text is so meticulously constructed that unless you are rather fluent in the language, you might miss the subtlety. Eventually, Flaubert should be your final exam: he is the best.


      1. Don crossed my mind as the most likely but his mustachio looked like a carrot and those wind-mill blades looked like little sandwich cookies.


      2. The picture is a composite of images from Don Quixote (Don is not his first name) thus the mustache is also the lance carried by the Knight.


      3. Yes, I know Don is not his first hame – it’s like Don Juan or Don Corleone? Sir? Boss?

        I found a larger image and that’s really quite a kick – there are even little faces in the eyebrows.

        I have no significant quibbles with your list – maybe replace that East of Eden thing with Underworld. (heh)


      4. The face in the eyebrow to the right is the head of the knight, wearing the Golden Helmet of Mambrino, with the windmill in the background. The other face is Sancho riding on his burro just behind the knight on Rosinante.


  3. Lolita is certainly one of the greatest novels in any language but I probably should reserve my opinion of its position in the Nabokov bibliography until I read Ada, which has been languishing on my shelf for years.

    You can see a reasonably accurate list of the Nabokov books I have read by peeking into the Inventory pages under “N.” For that matter, you can see what I have read and what is still lurking on my bookshelves just by poking around the website.

    It’s always good to share our experiences in reading .. just keep an open mind and continue to read voraciously.


  4. I´m reading Lolita right now, for the first time. Its great, more than I expected. Nabokov is a first rate writer. Have you read other books by him? Do you think Lolita is his finest?


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