Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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April 14, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

BOOK WARS....Want to know what a bunch of British bookstore employees think are the best hundred books of the past 25 years? Then you're in luck! The list is here, dominated almost entirely by fiction. I've only read 15 of them, though I suspect I would have done better if science fiction had been more heavily represented.

I think I'll nominate The Five People You Meet in Heaven as the most cringe-inducing book to make the list, even though I haven't read it and therefore have no right to dismiss it so breezily. But I will anyway. Feel free to correct me in comments.

Kevin Drum 7:18 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (105)

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I've read 10 of them, mostly through my program to read the Telegraph's list of the top 100 novels of all time. Of those ten, I own only 2.

Posted by: don hosek on April 14, 2007 at 7:36 PM | PERMALINK

It's bad enough they didn't put Burgess' A Clockwork Orange there, but I'd definitely have found a place for his Earthly Powers. Also, no Salman Rushdie? For a bunch of Brits they generally don't seem to think much of Booker winners.

Posted by: mats on April 14, 2007 at 7:37 PM | PERMALINK

My fault on the years, yes, yes, read carefully. The Rushdie comment stands at least.

Posted by: mats on April 14, 2007 at 7:38 PM | PERMALINK

Ah, Kevin.

Not much of a list.

Pretty skewed toward the leftie material, even though there have been alot of important conservative works written over the period.

Posted by: egbert on April 14, 2007 at 7:39 PM | PERMALINK

If I had any ambition, I'd write a humor book called The Five People who Beat You in Hell.

Posted by: Stefan Jones on April 14, 2007 at 7:40 PM | PERMALINK

American Psycho? DaVinci Code? Gimme a break.

Posted by: Pat on April 14, 2007 at 7:41 PM | PERMALINK

And not a Terry Pratchett title in the lot.

Posted by: paulo on April 14, 2007 at 7:46 PM | PERMALINK

Read. Books. You're kidding, right.
I mean this is America, we don't read 'em, we burn 'em.

Egbert is on to us. He knows if we read too much we'll be unable to be conservatives.

Posted by: FitterDon on April 14, 2007 at 8:00 PM | PERMALINK

Only in an English-speaking country would a panel select a list of 100 books that includes only a dozen or so translations. How provincial we are!

Posted by: Chris Kearin on April 14, 2007 at 8:08 PM | PERMALINK

The list seems heavily slanted towards books that became movies. This isn't a list of literary merit, this is a popularity contest.

Posted by: charlie don't surf on April 14, 2007 at 8:09 PM | PERMALINK

egbert's just pissed because Ayn Rand died in 1982; the poll's starting date was an obvious leftist plot to censor her great works. The exclusion of The Turner Diaries (1978) is no less sinister.

Posted by: fyreflye on April 14, 2007 at 8:14 PM | PERMALINK

Paulo- there was a Terry Pratchet book- The color of magic. I've read only 4 of these and one of them was a comic book. (A pretty good one, but still.) Some pretty awful sounding books there, but one of the ones I have read, Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee, is really, really good.

Posted by: Matt on April 14, 2007 at 8:21 PM | PERMALINK

I haven't read The Five People You Meet in Heaven, but I can't imagine it could be anywhere near as bad as The Handmaid's Tale. That thing was really awful.

The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, on the other hand, is great fun.

Posted by: Oregonian on April 14, 2007 at 8:22 PM | PERMALINK

Two glaring exceptions:

Good Omens and A Long Way Down.

I have actually read about ten of the books on the list, and another twenty or so I have checked out at the library at one point or another...

Posted by: Blue Girl, Red State (aka G.C.) on April 14, 2007 at 8:27 PM | PERMALINK

The Lovely Bones. Is. Crap.

Posted by: Jean Arf on April 14, 2007 at 8:28 PM | PERMALINK

In the last year, the book I've enjoyed the most is "Water For Elephants". Just a wonderful novel on all levels. For thrillers, give me a Lee Child and I'm more than content.

Posted by: BAJ on April 14, 2007 at 8:29 PM | PERMALINK

Egbert is holding his breath until he turns blue because Yertle the Turtle wasn't on the list.

Posted by: Blue Girl, Red State (aka G.C.) on April 14, 2007 at 8:30 PM | PERMALINK

I have a lot of books on this list, probably because being in Europe, any bookshop selling English books has a lot of these books.

I discovered Murakami in Europe, and had never heard of him before, but I don't particularly like the two books on the list by him, I prefer Kafka on the Shore.

The Curious Incident of the Dog Barking in the Night is very well done as well.

I don't understand why the Da Vinci Code is on the list, but I never did read it. I didn't like the Life of Pi either, and neither did anyone I know, but everyone raves about it.

I read at least 3 books a week, since I don't own a television, so that allows me to go through a lot of titles. I don't see a lot of classics or older books on the list, which leads me to believe that booksellers are as trendy as the rest of us.

Posted by: Michele on April 14, 2007 at 8:42 PM | PERMALINK

Egbert has a point. The list is definitely tilted left. But I'm proud to say I've read two of the books. I always try and understand my enemy.

Posted by: Al on April 14, 2007 at 8:43 PM | PERMALINK

I think it's high time someone compiled a list of the 100 best "lists of the 100 best books."

Posted by: Alan Bostick on April 14, 2007 at 8:46 PM | PERMALINK

read (or listened to) 30

Posted by: Gore/Edwards 08 on April 14, 2007 at 8:54 PM | PERMALINK

I'll second the nomination of The Lovely Bones as wretched crap. Great concept, nicely-written, and if you only read the first 120 tear-jerking pages you'd think it a modern masterpiece. Then the plot runs completely out of gas, the writing grows tedious, and the last 50 pages are grueling to trudge through, until you finish and curse and throw the book across the room since there's no ending, no climax, and no resolution.

Posted by: Flux on April 14, 2007 at 9:03 PM | PERMALINK

The people making this list are too stupid to know that, for example, the title of the third book on it is "The Historian," not "Historian, The." Given that the list is sorted by publication date, not title, what possible reason could they have to move the leading articles to the end of each title?

I know, I know, it's a small point, but to me it's another reason to ignore the list. The primary reason, of course, is the actual contents of the list.

Posted by: Bob Munck on April 14, 2007 at 9:04 PM | PERMALINK

How the heck can a list that includes mostly depressing mainstream novels be either "left" or "right?" Oh, never mind.

As someone who reads genre novels for light entertainment and history books for serious fun, I have only read six books on the list. The DaVinci Code shouldn't be on anyone's list exact thriller fans. It is faster paced than a lot of pot-boilers, but indistinguishable otherwise from dozens of other genre novels on the shelves any given day. The history in it is occasionally cringeworthy, but not as bad as in the author's other novels. Angels & Demons is to history in novels as Dances With Wolves is to history in movies--howlingly stupid.

Someday I may have to do a little research on why people think so highly of DVC. It isn't a bad pulp novel, it just isn't all that good or orginal.


Posted by: Berken on April 14, 2007 at 9:09 PM | PERMALINK

I'm currently reading "the Wind-Up Bird Chronicle" by Murakami. It is seriously weird.

Posted by: MonkeyBoy on April 14, 2007 at 9:10 PM | PERMALINK

I read 5 of these. No J.G. Ballard? Surprising.

Posted by: coldhotel on April 14, 2007 at 9:42 PM | PERMALINK

I think I've read 12 of the books on that list.

Good Omens would be an excellent choice, better than The Color Of Magic. I also know quite a few people who think To Say Nothing Of The Dog (by Connie Willis) is simply fabulous.

I'm surprised that nothing by Neal Stephenson made it on there. The Diamond Age, Snowcrash, and Zodiac were all wonderful, I need to read Cryptonomicon.

I saw neither Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail, nor Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, nor Hell's Angels. Harrumph.

And no Jasper Fforde, that's a serious oversight.

Winter's Tale, by Mark Helprin, is very good, and that ought to placate the right-wing fruitcakes a little bit.

I just read Sewer, Gas, and Electric by Matt Ruff, and liked it very much.

For non-fiction, I like Bicycling Science, Waves and Beaches, Normal Accidents, The Code Book (the first time I understood how it was, vaguely, that Turing and the rest cracked codes in WW2). Unsafe At Any Speed by Nader is pretty good, and useful for understanding how he became as famous as he did. It's a little thick, but Game Theory and the Social Contract: Playing Fair by Ken Binmore is very interesting (the second volume, Just Playing, is even thicker). And Robert Frank, The Winner-Take-All Society, and Luxury Fever.

I don't know if it rates a "best of", but Mindless Eating by Brian Wansink (my wife went to school with him) is lots of fun, and so is On Food and Cooking by Harold McGee, and I think I have read every book that Carl Hiaasen ever wrote.

And to judge from the trolls' expository skills, it's pretty obvious why the right is underrepresented in ANY best-of list.

Posted by: dr2chase on April 14, 2007 at 9:44 PM | PERMALINK

Poisonwood Bible? Anything by Mitch Albom?

Why not just include "G is for Gumshoe" or whatever other Sue Grafton book is your favorite.

Posted by: Liberal Chris on April 14, 2007 at 9:55 PM | PERMALINK

No F. Dean Ramicone?

Color me suprised.

Posted by: mcelroy on April 14, 2007 at 10:11 PM | PERMALINK

You're all dying to know. I've read 4: Wild Swans, Love in the Time of Cholera, Unbearable Lightness of Being, and L.A. Confidential. All pretty good.

Posted by: godoggo on April 14, 2007 at 10:30 PM | PERMALINK

Since neither Infinite Jest nor Mason & Dixon is on the list, it can't be taken seriously.

The fact that I've read 23 of them probably indicates that I need to get a life. Cloud Atlas was terrific, though.

Posted by: nicteis on April 14, 2007 at 10:31 PM | PERMALINK

I've probably read 34 books on this list, and own a dozen more.

Essentially, I find this list not a little pedantic. There are several books that should be on here which are not. I should also have included 1991's George H. W. Bush - Man of Destiny by Uriah Thinn, The Lonely Electron by F. H. Haverfavell and Aggrandizing Futtocks by Linus Ovary Battleberg.

Posted by: dingelbear on April 14, 2007 at 10:31 PM | PERMALINK

I guess books have different names in English than American. At any rate, three on the list that I read did.

Posted by: CapitalistImperialistPig on April 14, 2007 at 10:39 PM | PERMALINK

For those who don't know, and I don't see much commment here, the Daily Telgraph is the rightist rag of British politics; definitely the Conservative paper (which is way to the left of present Republicans, more like Eisenhower).

So, US wingnits note even the Maggie Thatcher UK right is not close to the US Republican base. That is an isolated, wingnit area. You have to go pretty far out there to match up.

Posted by: notthere on April 14, 2007 at 10:39 PM | PERMALINK

Nothing by Thomas Pynchon, Kurt Vonnegut, Jarred Diamond, Robert Caro . . . Some good books, but a lot of recent quality literature is missing. A lot of pulp fiction is better than the pulp fiction on this list, including novels by Caleb Carr, Tony Hillerman and Elmore Leonard. Many books listed represent authors who have much better work to their credit.

Posted by: DevilDog on April 14, 2007 at 10:44 PM | PERMALINK

I guess books have different names in English than American....

Posted by: CapitalistImperialistPig on April 14, 2007 at 10:39 PM | PERMALINK

Book titles? Movie titles? Didn't you know? Goes back a ways. All marketing. Maximising.

Posted by: notther on April 14, 2007 at 10:44 PM | PERMALINK

One comment - The God Delusion, #1 on the list (due to publishing date, of course) is the one major Dawkins title not carried in my friendly local corporate megastore. I was there tonight and remarked on it.

Posted by: jimBOB on April 14, 2007 at 10:44 PM | PERMALINK

If you want to get an idea about real British literature appreciation today I would go to The Times Literary Supplement or The Guardian/Observer rather than this. Or the literary prize circuit for current acclaim.

Posted by: notthere on April 14, 2007 at 10:50 PM | PERMALINK

Oooh, jimBOB, if that's a fact you have no fear of naming them. I guess I'm really interested as to who would not even stock a contraversial but major seller.

Where does that decision not to stock come from? What company, what state, and, if you like, what county or town? Wow!

Posted by: notthere on April 14, 2007 at 10:55 PM | PERMALINK

This totally worthless list goes a long way towards explaining why I hardly buy books from ordinary bookshops any more.

I have read 20 of the 100, including 2 I could not finish: some were quite good, particularly Possession by Byatt and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime. Colfer and Harry Potter are OK, but there are others at least as good out there (e.g. Stroud"s Bartimeus trilogy, to say nothing of older children's classics.)

Most of the others are the kind of pretentious pseudo-serious crap books that nowadays crowd out any really interesting new stuff, as well as older treasures. Alas, even used book stores mostly stock this sort of book nowadays, and no wonder, who wants to keep them around after their bestseller phase is over? As for allowing any kind of judgment on gender ("men write better books"), once you see the list includes the Da Vinci Code, any further discussion of this claim in this context becomes superfluous. A stupid article based on a stupid list.

Posted by: Bookworm on April 14, 2007 at 11:09 PM | PERMALINK

"A Brief History of Time" is by Stephen Hawking not Stephen Hawkings.

Be that as it may, I doubt Al or Egbert have read it-- it's too far to the left.

Posted by: Dave Howard on April 14, 2007 at 11:12 PM | PERMALINK

I'll second the nomination of The Lovely Bones as wretched crap

Third! Also, re The Five People You Meet In Heaven I'm with Keven.

But mostly I wanted to mention that while Mitchell's The Cloud Atlas isn't really genre SF, it would appeal to any SF reader whose tastes go beyond dwagon dew or space opera.

Posted by: thersites on April 14, 2007 at 11:20 PM | PERMALINK

Yeah, it's a list from the "Torygraph" -- definitely not a left-wing publication, but truly, on the American political spectrum such as it is today, I suppose they fall on the moderate conservative side.

I read maybe 3-4 of these books . . . but I spend most of my time, for better or worse, reading things that are about 300 years old.

However, in the list's defense, it doesn't claim to present the "best of" the last *25* years (some people are complaining that books that I believe were published much earlier than this time range are not on the list -- like "Fear and Loathing"). The list claims to present the "most important" books of the last 25 years. A book need not be good to be important. Like the "Da Vinci Code" is certainly not good, but I think one could semi-plausible arguments that is/was "important" in some way, shape or form, if only for generating a still inexplicable media phenomenon. We could discuss further the difference between "best" and "most important," I suppose, but I don't think they are necessarily the same thing . . .

Posted by: tis pitty on April 14, 2007 at 11:21 PM | PERMALINK

What's really surprising are the number of books by Ian M. Banks and Margaret Atwood. Most people wouldn't even know these folks even wrote books. I still have trouble with a list which purportedly covers the last 100 years and seems to have books which go back only about 30. I'm a boomer and even I think that such a list would seem a little self-referential. Maybe it's supposed to be a Seinfeld episode wannabe?

Posted by: PrahaPartizan on April 14, 2007 at 11:25 PM | PERMALINK

Gotta say, I'm happy to see Watchmen on there. Graphic Novels don't usually get that sort of recognition, even if they deserve it (as Watchmen does).

Posted by: JoeF on April 14, 2007 at 11:28 PM | PERMALINK

The choice of fantasy/science fiction is really bizarre. Feist's Magician? Sure, it is entertaining fluff, but not a major work. How can you have that, but not have Dan Simmon's Hyperion?

At least they had Neuromancer. The list would have been a total sham without that.

Posted by: Walker on April 14, 2007 at 11:50 PM | PERMALINK

I've read 29 of them. It strikes me as a fairly standard "book club" kinda list. Lots of well written bestsellers & various Booker Prize winners, not much genre or non-fiction.

But what the hell was that plagiarised dreck The Da Vinci Code doing in there? (Unlike Pat 7:41 pm I regard American Psycho highly & Joan Didion agrees with me). Speaking of whom, where was Didion's Year of Magical Thinking? Where was Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections & Don DeLillo's Underworld?

Posted by: DanJoaquinOz on April 14, 2007 at 11:56 PM | PERMALINK

mats -- "no Salman Rushdie? For a bunch of Brits they generally don't seem to think much of Booker winners."

Couldn't agree more. Middlesex is the poor man's Midnight's Children -- which, by the by, was named Booker's Booker on the 25th anniversary of the award.

nicteis -- "Cloud Atlas was terrific, though."

Indeed! I'm looking forward to his next.

Posted by: chaunceyatrest on April 15, 2007 at 12:01 AM | PERMALINK

notthere

It was just a Barnes and Noble. It's possible they usually have it and were just sold out, though it seemed odd to me that they had most of his other stuff stocked and not that. I'm sure they'd order it for me if I asked.

This is in the St. Louis area, buckle on the bible belt.

Posted by: jimBOB on April 15, 2007 at 12:06 AM | PERMALINK

"I still have trouble with a list which purportedly covers the last 100 years and seems to have books which go back only about 30"

Umm, not to beat the dead horse, but, as mentioned above, and in the headline of the article, the list only covers the last 25 years. Might be why the books are so new . . .??

Further, if the right-wing trolls here had actually read the article in the Torygraph, they would see that while the titles might seem *liberal* (whatever that means re: fiction), the "hook" of the story seems to be some good old conservative feminist bashing that should be near and dear to their hearts (in Britain, after all, the press doesn't try too hard to appear "objective"). According to the writer this list should interest us because:

"Unfashionable though it may sound, men write better books than women . . . the men outnumber women writers by a staggering 66 to 27."

What that proves, I don't know, but that's what the Torygraph thinks is important about this list. Why right-wingers would complain about this angle, beats me . . .

Posted by: tis pitty on April 15, 2007 at 12:07 AM | PERMALINK

Hey Walker - Totally agree with you about Dan Simmons' Hyperion, that entire series & Dan Simmons overall. He kicks some serious speculative ass. Great writer, serious thinker, fierce storyteller. Greg Bear ain't bad either...

Posted by: DanJoaquinOz on April 15, 2007 at 12:10 AM | PERMALINK

Oh nevermind, I take back my "defense" of the list-- it's "top 100 favourites" not "most important." I'm as guilty of sloppy reading as anyone else (still "favourite" doesn't necessarily imply literary merit, but whatever).

Posted by: tis pitty on April 15, 2007 at 12:17 AM | PERMALINK

jimBOB, thanks for the reply. Now I have to check my local B&N.

PrahaPartizan -- Thanks for the reminder. Saw Margaret Atwood interviewed. Probably one of the most clear thinking and concisely spoken people I have ever heard. Be out tomorrow to buy a book and read something of hers. I am a SO factual reader normally.

Anybody with any recommendations on a first time approach to Atwood?

Posted by: notthere on April 15, 2007 at 12:31 AM | PERMALINK

Anybody with any recommendations on a first time approach to Atwood?

Penelopiad is a nice alternate take on Odysseus, if you like that sort of thing but I've never read anything bad of hers. Oryx and Crake was where I started.

My local big chain store shelved Penelopiad under Mythology.

Posted by: thersites on April 15, 2007 at 12:45 AM | PERMALINK

Quick count has me at about a dozen or so from the list. More of a Sci-fi Fantasy guy here, so I won't pretend my tastes are high-brow, but I've been an inveterate reader since age 10.

Happy I saw "A Fine Balance" on the list, which I just loved. Read a couple others by Mistry which I just totally enjoyed, also.

Must agree with the post upthread about "Cryptonomicon" by Neal Stephenson - one of the funniest books I've ever read, even though I'm sure I missed most of the math jokes.

Posted by: steveconga on April 15, 2007 at 12:52 AM | PERMALINK

Having actually read The Five People Who You Meet In Heaven, I'd say it's not actively awful, but also not remotely worth including on any "most important" list. (I read it because I was attending a family gathering, and a copy was lying around. I read through it in a couple of hours; it's not exactly deep..)

Posted by: Geoduck on April 15, 2007 at 12:54 AM | PERMALINK

Silence of the Lambs is on the list? It's one of the worst books I've ever read.

Posted by: eriks on April 15, 2007 at 1:30 AM | PERMALINK

Thanks, thersites. I'll start there.

I wasn't thinking.

This program might be of real interest. It is germane to the thread.

"Midmorning" program, 4th April, 2007, 10 a.m.

It's a 50 minute entertaining listen and, to be noted, of the 100 greatest reads he had to draw from a total of about 600 odd from 120 authors' picks. So no one is going to agree on any one list!

(These numbers are from memory so find out the truth for yourself.)

Posted by: notthere on April 15, 2007 at 1:41 AM | PERMALINK

My favorite on that list is "A Prayer for Owen Meany". Just a quick quote from that one:

"THE ONLY WAY YOU CAN GET AMERICANS TO NOTICE ANYTHING IS TO TAX THEM OR DRAFT THEM OR KILL THEM." "IF YOU ABOLISH THE DRAFT, MOST AMERICANS WILL SIMPLY STOP CARING ABOUT WHAT WE'RE DOING IN OTHER PARTS OF THE WORLD."

Posted by: Doc at the Radar Station on April 15, 2007 at 1:47 AM | PERMALINK

Why would anyone read any fiction written AFTER 1982 anyway?

Posted by: Orson on April 15, 2007 at 3:14 AM | PERMALINK

"I guess books have different names in English than American. At any rate, three on the list that I read did."

"Miss Smilla's Feeling For Snow" UK

is

"Smila's Sense of Snow." US

America wins hands down.

Posted by: Boronx on April 15, 2007 at 3:16 AM | PERMALINK

Egbert is holding his breath until he turns blue because Yertle the Turtle wasn't on the list.

Hey...don't be hatin' on Yertle the Turtle. That book got me through 1968.

I was five.

Posted by: Winda Warren Terra on April 15, 2007 at 3:19 AM | PERMALINK

I can't believe there's no Rushdie. And though I'm glad to see Gibson in there, Neuromancer wouldn't have been my choice.

Posted by: mrgumby2u on April 15, 2007 at 3:21 AM | PERMALINK

17. Although if you count seeing the movies, maybe 25.

Posted by: sal on April 15, 2007 at 7:33 AM | PERMALINK

Oh, and what about Confederancy of Dunces? Or is that pre - 1982? That's in my top ten of all time.

Posted by: sal on April 15, 2007 at 7:41 AM | PERMALINK

Let me try my previous post, shorn of hyperlinks, since the moderators seem to dislike them so:

I've read about half the books on the list, and one thing that surprises me is that there aren't a lot of people here who've read more. I don't read anywhere near as much as I'd like to (I have a job, a family, stuff like that), and I spend at least some of my free time watching television. On the other hand, I comb through the book recommendation lists from Powells, and I always put a bunch of new books on my Christmas and birthday lists.

I'll fifth or sixth the unhappiness with The Lovely Bones, but I'll defend The Handmaid's Tale. The Unbearable Lightness of Being is simply great, and I can't recommend the Ian McEwan books strongly enough. I just finished re-reading Atonement; the book had me climbing the walls for the first third, then falling in love with the author's dexterity for most of the rest of the story, and I started reading it again only a week after I finished it the first time.

Some of the choices were surprising, but not bad. I doubt that Pears' An Instance of the Fingerpost is a better historical fiction than his The Dream of Scipio, but it's a bold and clever take on the whole "Rashomon" thing. Memoirs of a Geisha really doesn't stand up to a second reading, but Middlesex does. It's nice to see that Anglo-Indians are well represented (Rushdie's absence notwithstanding), but I wonder if something like Manil Suri's The Death of Vishnu got left out because the author is an American. I'm guessing that putting the Murakami and Irving books on the same list might be some kind of literary inside joke. And if you're going to have any academic themed literature at all, where's David Lodge? In fact, if you've read Lodge, you have to chuckle every time a "what have you read and what have you not read" discussion starts!

I'm not sure why Kevin feels S/F got short shrift. Neuromancer and Watchmen certainly qualify, Pullman writes S/F for kids, and Fatherland came out at a time when that kind of alternate history was really seen as akin to S/F. And since Bill Bryson is on there for the fans of travel writing, and James Elroy for the hard-boiled, light literature is well-represented.

What would I add? Novel: Roddy Doyle's Barrytown novels or Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha. Genre fiction: Henning Mankell's Before The Frost. In translation: Jose Saramago's Blindness. Poetry: Donald Hall's Without. Goofy: Tom Robbins' Jitterbug Perfume.

I'll add Menand's The Metaphysical Club. I love that book!

Posted by: keith on April 15, 2007 at 8:22 AM | PERMALINK

Someone asked about which ATwood book to read--If you only read one, it should be Handmaid's Tale....very powerful.

The book I was most glad to see there--was one by Jeanette Winterston. I think she's an amazing writer and not that well known.

Life of Pi--also an excellent book if you haven't read it.

Posted by: C on April 15, 2007 at 8:27 AM | PERMALINK

To add to my already-too-long note, where the heck is Alice Munro? Unless short story collections don't count as "books", shouldn't the English-speaking world's greatest writer of short fiction have been represented??

Posted by: keith on April 15, 2007 at 8:37 AM | PERMALINK

No Cormac McCarthy (too dark, too American)? Or Patrick O' Brian (too many to choose from)? He wrote "Far Side of the World" after 82. I concur on Lightness of Being. The list needs to be looked at as a list of what bookstore employees think are great, not what is great. The two are related but not the same.

Posted by: BookWorm on April 15, 2007 at 9:00 AM | PERMALINK

Anybody with any recommendations on a first time approach to Atwood?

I think that The Blind Assassin is worthwhile and representative. You might start with the short story collections instead of novels, though; her three most recent (those I've read) are solid.

I've read about a third of the list entries, and I've read at least something by most of the authors. It was interesting to see the mix of best-sellers with more literary books. Not to mention the kids' books. There are several books on the list that I don't think are very good, but it's all a matter of taste. . .

Posted by: RSA on April 15, 2007 at 9:17 AM | PERMALINK

It's strange that the both the Harry Potter and Discworld novels are both the first one, when they've improved somewhat since the first. (I'm not a HP fan, but I AM a huge Pratchett fan, and to be honest, his best is his latest, Thud!).

No Rushdie is not really that surprising, at least to me. This is about favorites, and Rushdie is a hard read.

No Snow Crash, on the other hand? Yeah, the story ends poorly (but doesn't everything by Stephenson?), but it's a very interesting read.

Posted by: Karmakin on April 15, 2007 at 9:43 AM | PERMALINK

I don't think much of their list. A lot of light-weight 'best seller list' ephemera there.

Roughly on a par with the 'Staff Recommendations' shelf at my local B&N, where there's a whole table currently devoted to 'The Secret', another to Sudoku, and only one novel by Balzac ('Cousin Bette').

(Of which I have read 19 - and I hate having to include Dan Brown's ridiculously awful 'DaVinci Code', I wanted to throw the thing straight into the trash but it was like being unable to look away from a train wreck.)

Do I get extra credit for having read the whole of Terry Prachette's Discworld series - I'm rereading and up to 'The Fifth Elephant'?

Posted by: MsNThrope on April 15, 2007 at 10:17 AM | PERMALINK

"Left wing"? Please.

They chose "The English Patient" over "Anil's Ghost" which is an elemental mistake.

"The God of Small Things" is a lovely, lovely book. And "Hawksmoor" is dread-full. A really terrifying read.


Posted by: Jeffrey Davis on April 15, 2007 at 10:29 AM | PERMALINK

Boronx,

We won on Smila's Sense of Snow, but lost on HP and the Philosopher's Stone. I'm not too impressed with the title Northern Lights, though.

One cool thing about "best 100" lists is that anybody can make their own. Mine would include everything by Jared Diamond and Steven Weinberg, for example.

Posted by: CapitalistImperialistPig on April 15, 2007 at 10:37 AM | PERMALINK

Why the fuck is Da Vinci Code on there...?

It's so... so... it's just fucking trash okay?

Posted by: MNPundit on April 15, 2007 at 10:38 AM | PERMALINK

..."The English Patient" over "Anil's Ghost"...mistake.

Absolutely. But then Anil's Ghost wasn't a movie with like cute actors and stuff.

Posted by: thersites on April 15, 2007 at 11:20 AM | PERMALINK

Well....I've read 36.1 of these books. (I can't seem to get past the first 10 pages of Kavalier and Clay). I'm not sure what that says about me. I've never set foot in an English bookstore - which only means I've never set foot in England, since bookstores are the first place I go when I travel. I think it just means my reading tastes are fairly mainstream.

Some of these I found overrated ('The Lovely Bones', 'Da Vinci Code'), but some of my all time favorites are on here ('A Suitable Boy', 'Love in the Time of Cholera', 'A Short History of Nearly Everything'). I would highly recommend these.

What's missing? Taylor Branch's trilogy of American civil rights movement histories, most notably 'Parting the Waters', which is to me the very best book of the last 25 years. I'm sure an American bookseller's list would include the that one, at least. Also, where is Toni Morrison?

For a Brit list, I would have liked to one of the books from Neal Stephenson's 'The Baroque Cycle', the collective 3500 pages of which absorbed me for the better part of last year. Get started with 'Quicksilver' for a great ride through political, economic, scientific, and technological history - with pirates and Sir Isaac Newton. To put in a plug for independent bookstores everywhere, I found 'Quicksilver' on the shelf at The Tattered Cover in Denver. I had never heard of it, but there it was, and being a sucker for a book with a map in the endpapers, I picked it up and read nothing but Neal Stephenson for the next 8 months.

These lists are fun to look at and talk about, just to remember some good books, but I don't get too steamed about them. Not when Dick Cheney is currently spinning lies on 'Face the Nation'.Good to have a book list to look at to keep my blood pressure down.

Posted by: Dawn on April 15, 2007 at 11:23 AM | PERMALINK

Just need to add that Neal Stephenson's writing is lively and very funny. Think Nick Hornby writing historical fiction, rather than that guy who does the other currently popular Brit historical fiction 'Kings of Tara' stuff...

Posted by: Dawn on April 15, 2007 at 11:44 AM | PERMALINK

>>For a Brit list, I would have liked to one of the books from Neal Stephenson's 'The Baroque Cycle', the collective 3500 pages of which absorbed me for the better part of last year. Get started with 'Quicksilver' for a great ride through political, economic, scientific, and technological history - with pirates and Sir Isaac Newton. - Dawn

Absolutely. It's delicious and outrageous. Have to concur with 'A Suitable Boy'. Truly a marvel.

Posted by: MsNThrope on April 15, 2007 at 11:51 AM | PERMALINK

No Snow Crash, on the other hand?

It doesn't read nearly as well as it did in the mid-90's. I was blown away when I first read it. Still a great book, and yes the ending sucks.

Still think he needs a *slightly* more aggressive editor. ;) Stephenson's ego probably prevents any editor from doing what they really should. Maybe they fear his hobby of shooting off big, BIG guns. ;)

Posted by: Simp on April 15, 2007 at 12:19 PM | PERMALINK

I had to set "Longitude" down when I saw that the author was unable to articulate the problem mariners had.

Posted by: Hedley Lamarr on April 15, 2007 at 12:40 PM | PERMALINK

"Anybody with any recommendations on a first time approach to Atwood?"

Try "Surfacing" which I believe was an early novel. It is also short, (which I guess is a virtue), yet quite intense. One thing to remember about Atwood is that she is particularly interested in how women position themselves both within and outside of their relationships. She is a masterful writer and able to portray both narratively and through the choice, use of words (i.e. writing) this position of constant navigation and negotiation. I believe her point is that women are constantly both within their relationships and outside of them, and that this experience is inherently a female experience -- both of society and of the self, and that it exacts a cost.

"Saw Margaret Atwood interviewed. Probably one of the most clear thinking and concisely spoken people I have ever heard."

I've heard Atwood read, saw her Moyers interview, and agree with you wholeheartedly. She is one of the most generous and thoughtful human voices out there.

Further recommend: "The Handmaid's Tale," "Alias Grace," "Cat's Eye," and I would also recommend her poetry. I should note that my husband found "Life Before Man" almost unbearably depressing.

Posted by: BirdsAreOff on April 15, 2007 at 12:48 PM | PERMALINK

British bookstore employees? I'll pass.

Posted by: JHM on April 15, 2007 at 1:01 PM | PERMALINK

I have to admit that I was a bit surprised to see that I have read more on that list than I would have thought--about 10. However, I was more surprised that almost everyone of those books that has been made into movies, I have seen the movies. Some of the mysteries that were not made into blockbuster movies were made into movies I have seen on BBCAmerica on Mystery Monday. I didn't count them as on an early Sunday, my math skills are limited--especially on income tax day.

Posted by: Mazurka on April 15, 2007 at 1:14 PM | PERMALINK

I'll 32nd the notion that this is a shite list. But since I haven't seen anyone hating on Bill Bryson yet, let me also add: I really wish I could have back the hours of my life stolen by Bill Bryson. Leaden prose and lazy observation do not a great travel writer make.

Posted by: Jeebus on April 15, 2007 at 3:24 PM | PERMALINK

21/100. No Vonnegut? How about that period piece, THE ABORTION, by Richard Brautigan?

Posted by: biosparite on April 15, 2007 at 3:52 PM | PERMALINK

I did better than Kevin, but only because I have read all of the children's books on the list (my kids are the right age) and all of the Margaret Attwood books. Worst book on the list that I have read: The Time Travellers Wife. Ugh.

Colour of Magic isn't the Pratchett book I would have picked, but I'm glad he is on there.

Posted by: Emma Anne on April 15, 2007 at 4:11 PM | PERMALINK

1) Atwood's best book IMO is Cat's Eye. I'd start there. A Handmaid's Tale, Oryx and Crake, The Robber Bride, and Alias Grace are all very good (haven't read The Blind Assassin).

2) Some of you need to lighten up. Lists like this are just for fun, so no need to get outraged that the Da Vinci Code is on it (and it is a fun, if stupid, book).

3) I'd add The Satanic Verses, Maus, Lives of the Monster Dogs, The Baroque Cycle, Snow Crash, Titan, Peter the Great (by Massie), the Mars Trilogy by KS Robinson, Years of Rice and Salt by KS Robinson, V for Vendetta, and...well, that's all I can think of off the top of my head.

Posted by: flora on April 15, 2007 at 4:11 PM | PERMALINK

And note the list is books published since 1982 - I see some complaints of missing classics.

Posted by: Emma Anne on April 15, 2007 at 4:14 PM | PERMALINK

A Prayer for Owen Meany; thanks Doc at the radar station,great book.
Sometimes people who work in a commercial bookstore like Waterstone's reflect what volume can do to a sense of importance. Had they met about a half dozen of the commenters and spent some forced labor time with them,they might be re-educated enough to reflect "important" books instead of what lots of people actually buy to read. Several commenters here reflect the superciliousness most usually noted in upper class twits. Congratulations.

Posted by: TJM on April 15, 2007 at 4:25 PM | PERMALINK

MsN: Yes, extra credit for reading all of Terry Pratchett (since I have also). Now I am listening to the audio books. They are even funnier read in an English accent. I think the best one is Night Watch, myself.

On Margaret Atwood: since this is a political crowd, I'd recommend Handmaid's Tale.

Posted by: Emma Anne on April 15, 2007 at 4:26 PM | PERMALINK


Egbert is holding his breath until he turns blue because
Yertle the Turtle wasn't on the list.

Yertle the Turtle isn't exactly conservative and neither was Dr. Seuss. Check out Dr. Seuss Goes to War sometime.

Posted by: Jeff R. on April 15, 2007 at 6:15 PM | PERMALINK

I just plucked a children's book title from the mists of time - it was an indictment of egbert's reading skills level, not the politics of Dr. Seuss.

Posted by: Blue Girl, Red State (aka G.C.) on April 15, 2007 at 6:35 PM | PERMALINK

I've read 20 of them but books published in the last 25 years isn't exactly a roster of really fine literature. There are just a lot of books being written and published that are ok at best. If you go to 100 best books in the last 50 years, you 'll get some really impressive books.

Posted by: carolyn on April 15, 2007 at 6:39 PM | PERMALINK

Hey, egbert, are you heading to Iraq yet?

I understand they have a lot of great right-wing material there, much of it in Arabic, of course. But an intellectual like you should have no problem picking that up.

Posted by: Kenji on April 15, 2007 at 7:01 PM | PERMALINK

Any list that has dreck like Harry Potter on it with seminal works like Gibson's /Neuromancer/ cannot be taken seriously. Seriously.

Posted by: Disputo on April 15, 2007 at 8:33 PM | PERMALINK

Any list that has dreck like Harry Potter on it with seminal works like Gibson's /Neuromancer/ cannot be taken seriously. Seriously.

Um, what?

Posted by: flora on April 15, 2007 at 8:45 PM | PERMALINK

I've read 15 too -- and seen the movie version of others like Silence of the Lambs.

I am resisting the Da Vinci Code. When something gets too popular, I find I don't want to read/watch it. Almost sure to be pure dreck if it pleases too many people! I'm sure I have missed some good stuff along the way, but there it is...

Posted by: Teresa on April 15, 2007 at 9:46 PM | PERMALINK

I think the best one is Night Watch, myself.
Posted by: Emma Anne

I'm leaning toward 'The Truth' as 'best' and the Rincewinds are among the funniest stuff this side of P. G. Wodehouse or James Thurber.

I'm a big fan of The Luggage.

Posted by: MsNThrope on April 16, 2007 at 8:08 AM | PERMALINK

"I'm surprised that nothing by Neal Stephenson made it on there. The Diamond Age, Snowcrash, and Zodiac were all wonderful, I need to read Cryptonomicon."

yes, you do. it's very, very good. As has been pointed out, time has not been kind to "Snow Crash".

Ian McEwan belongs in there twice-- for "Black Dogs" and "The Innocent". "Enduring Love" is mediocre.

yeah, there's a lot of fluff on there, but there are some good novels too. "Wind-up Bird Chronicle" is Murakami's best; "Norwegian Wood" his most personal (and by the far the most popular of his works in Japan-- the one that made him a star). "Kafka..." merely ok.

Hugely overrated: Bret Easton Ellis, William Gibson (awful, horrendous prose),

But no Tibor Fischer??? Come on, chappies. He's about the best you've got. Read everything he's written, starting with "The Thought Gang" or "The Collector Collector".

DAWN. Stick with Kav and Clay. Seriously.

what else...Eugenides. "Middlesex" is good; "Virgin Suicides" much better.

Posted by: shams on April 16, 2007 at 7:04 PM | PERMALINK

Funny you should say "no Tibor Fischer???" shams because I was thinking "What, no Martin Amis?"

Well, Money is on there, but what about London Fields.

And for a British list to have no Julian Barnes - now that's a sin.

Also, no Hanif Kureishi?

Glad to see Margaret Atwood made it though. I never understand the vitriolic criticism of Handmaid's Tale though. Unless it's coming from conservatives? I grew up in fundamentalist Christianity and that book rings all too true.

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