Be Best

I spent the morning thinking about the listing of my top 40 recommendations. I don’t see any reason to make any major changes at this time but I realize that there are so many texts that I have yet to read, many of which might be contenders for the top 40.

Several years back I had yet to read George Eliot’s Middlemarch and suggested that I would probably place it in the top forty based on the comments and suggestions of others. I have since then read Middlemarch and, although I did not revere the novel to the extent of its praise, Middlemarch did in fact push its way into the list.

Then for a while I was considering David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest. That too made the list after I read it, but just barely. Today I probably would use William Gaddis’s novel The Recognitions.

One thing I noticed was that for a “best” list it was also useful as a “biggest” or “most challenging” list despite several shorter, less complex novels being represented.

Why is that?

What novels would you expect to make the list if and when I finally get around to reading them … or should I put then at the top of my next reading list immediately?

Top 40 Reading Suggestions

  1. Ulysses — James Joyce
  2. Madame Bovary — Gustave Flaubert
  3. À La Recherche du temps perdu — Marcel Proust
  4. The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy — Laurence Sterne
  5. Don Quixote — Miguel de Cervantes
  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
  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 Makioka Sisters — Junichero Tanizaki
  23. Absalom, Absalom! — William Faulkner
  24. To the Lighthouse — Virginia Woolf
  25. Lolita — Vladimir Nabokov
  26. The Sea of Fertility — Yukio Mishima
  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. Infinite Jest — David Foster Wallace

3 thoughts on “Be Best

    1. Ah, but the real question is whether there are any you definitely disagree with (that you have read, of course).

      I notice that War and Peace is missing from my list. Although I would rank it considerably lower than Anna Karenina, it probably should be there—I’m thinking somewhere around Moby Dick and threatening Infinite Jest for inclusion.

      If I think further, a top 40 list is possibly too limiting. Lots of good stuff out there and more every year.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Well I never made it through War and Peace (2 attempts).

        I can only count nine on your list which I’ve read and maybe 2-3 others that I might (or probably) read years ago. Apparently they wouldn’t be on my top 40 list or I’d remember them better.

        I didn’t care a lot for Tristram Shandy but can’t argue with it’s inclusion. There were parts I really liked but it wasn’t really my cup of tea.

        If I had a George Eliot novel on my list, I’d knock off Middlemarch for sure and probably include Silas Marner.

        Moby Dick was a wash-out for me once they got off the ship. Oh, well, c’est la vie.


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