Amazon Knows Good Books?

CaterpillarSnooping around I discovered that Amazon has published its very own list of the top 100 books you must read before ordering anything from Powell’s. Of course, it is a true saying that top 100 lists are like assholes: everyone has one. One of the recent lists that made a lot of press is the Modern Library Top 100. This list, it has been noted, tends to favor authors published by Modern Library or Random House and shows a preference for old dead white men. Flawed, for sure, but still a good list to follow if you’re out to read the top novels in English.

Interestingly, Amazon sells books. Is it possible that their list of the top 100 books might encourage reading certain titles that are easily ordered from Amazon, especially when most of the books are available for the Amazon Kindle and ordering your copy is only a click away? Actually, the correct question, sadly,  is: Would you be surprised if it didn’t? Let’s see; here is the list:

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I haven’t read all those?

I was idly checking a few of the Top 100 type lists on this site and began to note the titles I should consider reading (and many I am embarrassed to admit I haven’t read yet). I started a pen and paper list on a 3×5 card but soon ran out of room so I returned to the computer to create a more extensive list. I transcribed all the titles from the major lists that I hadn’t read to date. But then I looked at some of the entries and made an executive decision about some of the texts I knew I would never read (Ayn Rand for instance) and pared a small number of titles from the list.

So these are the books experts tell us we should read yet I have not read them. I don’t know if the list is valuable to others but I am including it in this post since I have apparently overtaxed the WordPress menu system. Maybe I’ll add a link to this page on the WebLog to make it easier to reference and possibly keep up to date.

The Top Recommended Books I Have Yet To Read (103)

Dream of the Red Chamber
The Princess of Cleves
Lucky Jim – Kingsley Amis
Money – Martin Amis
Alcools – Guillaume Apollinaire
Aurelien – Louis Aragon
The Origins of Totalitarianism – Hannah Arendt
The Theatre and its Double – Antonin Artaud
The Bottle Factory Outing – Beryl Bainbridge
Writing Degree Zero — Roland Barthes
The Second Sex – Simone de Beauvoir
The Adventures of Augie March – Saul Bellow
Herzog – Saul Bellow
Petersburg — Andrei Bely
The Old Wives’ Tale – Arnold Bennett
Under the Sun of Satan – Georges Bernanos
Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret – Judy Blume
The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui – Bertolt Brecht
The Sleepwalkers — Hermann Broch
The Thirty-Nine Steps — John Buchan
The Master and Margarita – Mikhail Bulgakov
Pilgrim’s Progress – John Bunyan
Second Thoughts – Michel Butor
The Tartar Steppe – Dino Buzzati
Oscar And Lucinda – Peter Carey
Furor and Mystery – René Char
No Orchids For Miss Blandish – James Hadley Chase
Falconer – John Cheever
The Riddle of the Sands – Erskine Childers
Cold Nights — Pa Chin
The Murder of Roger Ackroyd – Agatha Christie
The Satin Slipper – Paul Claudel
Les Vrilles de la vigne (French) – Colette
The Woman in White – Wilkie Collins
Nostromo: A Tale of the Seaboard – Joseph Conrad
The BFG – Roald Dahl
Ubik – Philip K. Dick
Play It As It Lays – Joan Didion
Sybil – Benjamin Disraeli
The USA Trilogy – John Dos Passos
The Count of Monte Cristo – Alexandre Dumas
Daniel Deronda — George Eliot
L. A. Confidential – James Ellroy
Capital of Pain – Paul Éluard
Absalom, Absalom! – William Faulkner
The Sportswriter – Richard Ford
The Order of Things – Michel Foucault
The French Lieutenant’s Woman – John Fowles
The Diary of a Young Girl – Anne Frank
Gaston – André Franquin
Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality – Sigmund Freud
The Death of Artemio Cruz — Carlos Fuentes
The Recognitions – William Gaddis
Neuromancer – William Gibson
Oblomov — Ivan Goncharov
The Opposing Shore – Julien Gracq
Lanark – Alasdair Gray
The Heart of the Matter – Graham Greene
The Good Soldier Švejk — Jaroslav Hašek
In Our Time – Ernest Hemingway
Les Misérables — Victor Hugo
The Bald Soprano – Eugène Ionesco
The Berlin Stories – Christopher Isherwood
Blake and Mortimer – Edgar P. Jacobs
The Ambassadors – Henry James
The Bostonians – Henry James
The Golden Bowl – Henry James
Portrait of a Lady – Henry James
The Wings of the Dove – Henry James
Snow Country — Yasunari Kawabata
Schindler’s List – Thomas Keneally
A Separate Peace — John Knowles
The Book of Laughter and Forgetting – Milan Kundera
The Joke – Milan Kundera
Écrits – Jacques Lacan
The Wonderful Adventures of Nils – Selma Lagerlö
The Spy Who Came in From the Cold – John le Carre
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy — John Le Carre
Women in Love – D.H. Lawrence
The Interrogation – J. M. G. Le Clézio
A Hero of Our Time — Mikhail Lermontov
The Golden Notebook – Doris Lessing
If This Is a Man – Primo Levi
The Periodic Table – Primo Levi
Tristes Tropiques – Claude Lévi-Strauss
Martin Eden – Jack London
Gypsy Ballads – Federico García Lorca
Dom Casmurro — Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis
The Executioner’s Song – Norman Mailer
The Betrothed — Alessandro Manzoni
Of Human Bondage – W. Somerset Maugham
Thérèse Desqueyroux – François Mauriac
The Rosy Crucifixion – Henry Miller
Gone With the Wind – Margaret Mitchell
The Pursuit Of Love – Nancy Mitford
Watchmen – Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons
Contempt – Alberto Moravia
Cities of Salt — Abdelrahman Munif
The Man Without Qualities – Robert Musil
Doctor Zhivago — Boris Pasternak
Nightmare Abbey – Thomas Love Peacock
Amers – Saint-John Perse
Ballad of the Salt Sea – Hugo Pratt
Paroles – Jacques Prévert
Northern Lights [The Golden Compass] – Philip Pullman
Journal, 1887–1910 – Jules Renard
The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge – Rainer Maria Rilke
Housekeeping – Marilynne Robinson
Call It Sleep – Henry Roth
Haroun and the Sea of Stories – Salman Rushdie
Satanic Verses – Salman Rushdie
Being and Nothingness – Jean-Paul Sartre
Tropisms – Nathalie Sarraute
Waverley — Walter Scott
The Strange Case of Peter the Lett – Georges Simenon
The Jungle – Upton Sinclair
The Gulag Archipelago – Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
White Teeth – Zadie Smith
The Man Who Loved Children – Christina Stead
Angle of Repose – Wallace Stegner
The Charterhouse of Parma – Stendhal
The Confessions of Nat Turner – William Styron
Some Prefer Nettles — Jun’ichirō Tanizaki
The Magnificent Ambersons – Booth Tarkington
Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont – Elizabeth Taylor
Friday – Michel Tournier
The Last Chronicle of Barset – Anthony Trollope
The Way We Live Now – Anthony Trollope
Asterix the Gaul – René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo
Le Silence de la mer – Vercors
Froth on the Daydream – Boris Vian
Infinite Jest – David Foster Wallace
Native Son – Richard Wright
Revolutionary Road – Richard Yates
Germinal— Emile Zola
Confusion of Feelings – Stefan Zweig

Harvard Bookstore Elite

I added a Top 100 List published by the Harvard Bookstore. One might expect a venerable list of the classics with those fluffy modern entertainments that mar so many other lists being relegated to the BC Bookstore. But when you review the list, surprisingly it appears to have more fluff than the average Top 100 list. I believe part of this is because the list is a compilation of favorites, possibly wiggled around a bit by sales data with a decided undergraduate slant. How else do you explain some of the entries?

The first question I had was The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle but since I was one of the few that considered Murakami’s novel severely lacking, I’ll let it stand as a matter of difference of opinion. For the most part we’re rolling along with Virginia Woolf, Vladimir Nabokov, Charlotte Brontë, Dante Alighieri, Homer, Dostoevsky, and all the usual suspects but tucked in between the safe titles are some real clunkers.

Anna Karenina is in the 26th position but A Prayer for Owen Meany is number 20 … John Irving:  the world’s most overrated author with his most despicable novel even being included on a list with Tolstoy is an insult. Anna Karenina even is forced to give way for Harry Potter. We may be seeing the end of civilization starting at the Harvard Bookstore.

There are many titles on this list that do not belong and certainly cannot be considered Top 100 literature:  Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder, His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson, Shadow & Claw by Gene Wolfe, Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry, Little, Big by John Crowley, etc. But then as you scan the list realize that there is no Ulysses, no Remembrance of Past Things, no Man without Qualities, no Brothers Karamozov, … far too many excellent titles missing and certainly not made up for by including Gilead by Marilynne Robinson. The only Shakespeare on the list is Hamlet; where is King Lear or The Tempest?

A sad list for some but others might be interested in the recommendations of the venerable Harvard Bookstore.