- Books, Literature, and Writing
100 + Novels to read before you Die
Greatest Novels ever written
What is the Novel? - A long Narrative in prose - The genre was created in the 16th/17th century to clarify the difference between history and fiction. A novel must be Fictional and it must have a narrative. They have become one of the most important and popular art forms. The Novel is where we can learn risk-free about life, where we can have wonderful adventure, visit exotic places or times long ago - fall in love and have a passionate affair without moving from a chair in our homes, in bed, in a café, on a train or on a plane.
The novel has attracted some of the world's greatest writers and they have left behind them a rich legacy in English or other languages.
Starting a list of 100 Novels that you should read before you die is an impossible task because there are of course more than 100 first class novels and any choice is of necessity a personal one. One person told me that there are about 1000 books that 'must' be read - not all novels of course but a daunting task.
What I have tried to do here is pick the very best books as a core and then added others which I have enjoyed greatly. Just because its impossible is not a reason for not trying anyway so here goes - I hope I can rely on your help on the quest.
Now please note that I am not commanding you to read these great books. This is my personal journey but I do invite you to tag along - maybe we could have a chat about them sometime. I just feel that if you have not read Dickens you cannot realise the squalor the working classes in England were subjected to during Victorian times while the rich lived in relative luxury. Without Tolstoy you would not be able to look into life in Russia before the revolution and without James Joyce you would never be able to understand the soul of an Irishman from Dublin like me.
One thing that excites me is reading a book like Jane Eyre and although it was written in the early 19th Century it has much to teach about life, love, forgiveness and morality. With great humour and joy the story unfolds on the pages transporting me from my bed or chair to a magic world where everything comes out right in the end for those who deserve it - most times anyway.
The Need to Read
Sadly I came to reading quite late - I needed glasses and I was ten before my parents realised - its good to have someone else to blame. I learned to read OK but I just never saw the point outside comics of course. In the study of English and many other subjects you have to read and I did what I had to do. I was 18 before I realised what I was missing in not reading a book just for itself. For some reason I picked up Moby Dick. The story was exciting but the writing style was a bit old-fashioned. I persevered and that grew into a strong passion for the classics especially Dickens, Jane Austen, Tolstoy and many others. Another secret - I read two main types of books Classic and really good Novels punctuated by Crime Fiction - A Literary sandwich. Ian Rankin or Michael Connolly give me great pleasure - so my 100 best books will have a smattering of Crime. However as I have read more classics the place crime books play in my life has shrunk but I still enjoy the sandwich.
As I have progressed through the classics I have found a new objective - to try to see if there is at least one great novel from each year from the early 19th Century to today. I have made an important discovery on my journey. There are more than 100 novels that you should read before you die. Eureka! well not really - anyone will tell you that. But how many are there? I don't know - but I will let you know. On this page I have a listing of the 'Classics' I have read so far 119 with a list of 23 more to read. I suspect that the list is much longer and in this case its the journey that's important I suspect not the arrival.
Moby Dick was the first book I read that I did not have to read at school. I took the book down the pier in Dun Laoghaire where the boats leave for England near Dublin and sat in the sun and the wind and read about Captain Ahab. I had left school and I was getting ready to go to University wondering what my life had in store - What a time that was - a true rights of passage - I knew then that reading would be important to me.
Can you List the 100 Novels to read before you Die?
Is it right to make a list of the Novels you must read before you die
Here are my '100'
I started this journey determined that I would find the 100 classic novels that make up one of the pillars of our culture. I was prepared that I would have to sacrifice some of my favourite books from the list for the sake of purity. As I got to 100 books in my list I made a vital discovery - there are far more than 100 novels that we should read before we die if we are to have a full and true human experience - So all Limits are off. Some people may think there is too much Dickens or some other authors in the list but the books are here because they are classics and all of them tell us something important. I would love your comments on this - how many have you read and what books would you recommend for the list. Please help me in the search for more recent Classics
At the beginning of 2015 I have felt the need to record monthly on the books I have read and some of my thoughts on them.
February 2015 - Over the past month or so I have I have read Balzac's The Black Sheep, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, Gone Girl and 2001 a Space Odyssey. I really enjoyed all of these books and consider them all classics for my list.
March 2015 I have just read Milan Kundera's The unbearable Lightness of Being which undoubtedly is one of the top 100 books I have ever read. It forces you to rethink some of your deepest convictions and gives an insight into living in a paranoid society such in Prague after the Russian invasion in 1968.
April 2015 I cannot bring myself to cut one of the books that I have in my 100 to make new for one more. So we have to move to the 100 + books you should read before you die. I have decided also to review the ones I have cut recently now that the pretend 100 barrier has been breached. I have now returned to the List Lady Chatterley's Lover and 4 other books that I found very hard to cut at the time. I have now read three on my kindle.
May 2015 - My present read is The Thirty Nine Steps - well written boys own adventure - It fits well I suppose with my latest crime fiction - Sycamore row by John Grisham - I enjoyed this read .
June 2015 I must try harder to identify more recent classics. I have only 13 books in the list since 2000 - there must be more since 2000 surely.
July 2015 - Its very hard to spot modern classics. You can back a great author but that doesn't always work. You certainly have to read it. You can listen to what other people say. But! its not foolproof will Gone Girl and The buried Giant stand the test of time? I have just completed Hardy's Return of the Native - It has so much. A passionate affair - misunderstandings - tragedy - Even Hardy struggled how to finish it And no it does not have a happy ending for those who deserve it most.
August 2015 - I have just completed 2010 - Odyssey Two - what a fantastic novel - through the magic of Arthur C. Clarke it sheds such a light on our origins. In the past month I have also read Master and Margarita - more light then a thrilling Connelly - a good summer of reading so far.
5th Sept 2015 I picked up the Ice House by Minette Walters at my local Tenovus Charity Shop as a trial for a new crime writer. I almost gave up on the first page as I thought I had wandered into a romantic novel. This turned into a can't put it down sensitive classic crime novel - you can't always tell a book by its first page. Not on the 100 list but a good read. Another crime novel I read was very interesting. It was written before mobile phones dominated everything - no smartphones. Just radios. DNA took several days and contact with police in other countries took days. Wednesday's Child by Peter Robinson was quite cool although the ending was a little anti-climax because you know who did it and its more of an adventure story. I am looking for the ultimate story where you don't know until the end and then its a real shock. However, WC was good
5th October The frantic pace of my reading has continued - frantic at least for me. I read a second Minette Walters book The Echo and read three classics - Zola's L'Assommoir from 1877, Joseph Conrad's 1899 Heart of Darkness AND HG Wells' War of the Worlds. It was weird reading Heart of Darkness in one week and seeing last night the whole way through - Apocalypse Now with the same story and deep meanings.
Things slowed down in the reading department once I got back to University. There is always so much to do on new projects there. There is still the last few minutes before going asleep - great to read and change the balance of your mind from what you need to do to the other life of a good novel. I have also hit a bit of early wakefulness. 6 am or so when reading is fantastic. I have wanted to read Catch 22 for years and it was on my list of must reads. I found it tough to get started but once you got to know Yossarian you understand the ridiculous nature of bureaucratic behaviour - It drips of cynicism towards the system.
Having finished Catch 22 I started on The Last of the Mohicans - reading the birth of the US mythology about the brave backwoodsman and thing like his oh so understanding attitude to the tradition his Indian friends had of taking scalps (when it was whites that started it) was too much for me. I flicked through the second half of the book and I would never recommend it as one of the 100 great novels - no thank you!
Its been so long since I have come in here. Finishing UNI this year was traumatic and with other things happening wiped out my wish to read anything let alone write on it. Gradually though I found that I fancied a good read but I had to re-start light. John Connolly and others of that kind. There were a couple of classics though and I am on the way with two others - not quite at the same time. I found an old copy of Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith in 2008. Chilling stuff though. A beautiful read followed 'The dog who Dared to Dream' It was simply beautiful. It would be lovely to meet Sun-Mi Hwang. Glorious simple lovely writing and a clear classic.
I am so busy with UNI that reading outside the course has been difficult. I read Hard Times at last - I would not say one of Dickens' best but a good read nevertheless. The odd moment I'm filling in with my first Robert Harris - Archangel. Could just about be true in Russia I guess.
The gap in my entries here has been due to the time necessary to finish my degree which became very intense once I got into the New Year. The good news I have started reading again almost voraciously since I finished the degree in June 2017 - I earned a 2:1 Division 1 which allows me to say I have an Honours Degree - so I should feel that all the effort was worth while - I have to live with the fact that I did not get a First which is what I wanted.
Since I finished the Degree I have read The Brothers Karamazov, The Sum of All Fears and A troubled Man a real feast all in just 1 and a half months. The Brothers Karamazov was on my reading list for years - In my art studies I learned that it was embedded in the existentialist philosophy which meant that sooner or later I had to read it. There was everything in the book - an insight to the thinking of the intelligentsia of late 19th Century Russians - but a crime story with a vicious twist at the end. I told my Russian dentist that I was reading a book by one of her countrymen - she was quite aggressively dismissive about him but that did not deter me. I'm glad I read it but I could never reread it.
The Sum of all Fears was a very different book. It is a classic of the Thriller Genre - not a real classic but it was a book I could not put down - I almost wore my eyes out trying to finish it. I probably won't pick up another Clancy but I was glad I read this one. I was impressed about the amount of research that Clancy has done to write this - stuff I wish now I did not know. Compelling reading but I feel that I did not really get close enough to the characters so it was somewhat superficial really while being compelling stuff. If anyone really protests I will take this book out of the list
Henning Mankell wrote The Troubled Man in the same year Hillary Mantel wrote Wolf Hall similar names but my God Different Books - from a different Planet. I feel that Mankell was really writing a Biography of me as I read I felt he had looked into my head and described some of the feelings I have about my own life and inevitable Death. If anyone would like to approach me they could not do better than first read this book. I would certainly not tell them which parts were spot-on.
I am about to start Margaret Atwood's Handmaid's Tale which I think I started and abandoned before. I intend to take the time to do it justice - talk to you at the other end in a month or so.
August 2017 - I have to say I found A Handmaid's Tale a compelling read. Nothing would surprise me about the US under Trump where the philosophy of misinformation - lies - in public life reached new highs or lows. The last paragraph seemed to suggest that the social experiment was a failure - but even that was probably just a lie or a version of the truth.
Girl on a Train was just a fill in - I'm not sure anyone will remember it in a year let alone a hundred years. Still its a kind of notable book for 2015
I am now enjoying three very different books overlapped which I hope to finish this month - But I have just completed 'On Her Majesty's Secret Service' It has Bond falling in love but it also has a lot of his attitude to the use of women. I can't agree with his attitudes but the book carries the weight of history with it - it speaks of a time and a great if misguided author. It has stood the test of Time but should not really be in the same list as Cat's Cradle, Master and Margarita or Catch 22 as far as the writing. However all part of Life's Rich Tapestry.- I have now reached 131 Novels read since I started this Journey of reading and self-discovery. I wonder if its time to re-read the most important of these books but there are still so many to read the first time that I have decided to push on. I saw mention of Trollope (Anthony) and realised I had never read one of his books - a sad oversight. But which one to read? The decision was easy because the next bookshop I came across only had one - The Warden. What a lovely story and what writing. Old yet young - insightful and witty and great read. It turns out he wrote the book while he resided in Donnybrook to the south of Dublin - near where I used to live. I used to catch a bus there on my way home from school every day.
Don Quixote - Cervantes - 1605 - Madman or genius in La Mancha
Robinson Crusoe - Daniel Defoe - 1719 - Marooned among savages**
Tom Jones - Henry Fielding - 1749 - Hilarious comic farce with a tender true heart
Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen - 1811 - Love stumbles to the right answer
Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen - 1813 -Beautiful, sad, comic love story**
Northanger Abbey - Jane Austen - 1817- Catherine from the poor side of the family
Persuasion - Jane Austen - 1818 - Love and Marriage against the system**
Frankenstein - 1818 - Mary Shelley - Right and Wrong in the science of Life
Old Goriot - Balzac - 1834 - Actions and motives
Pickwick Papers - Charles Dickens - 1837 - An early Rotary Club?**
Middlemarch -George Eliot - 1837 - 1830's provincial life of the classes**
Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens -1838 - Can I have some more
Nicholas Nickleby - Charles Dickens - 1839 - Cruel treatment of a young relation**
The Old Curiosity Shop - Charles Dickens - 1841 - Little Nell's London Adventures**
Barnaby Rudge - Charles Dickens - 1841 - Anti-Catholic Riots threaten a rural community
The Black Sheep (La Rabouilleus) - Balzac -- 1842 - Two Brothers and the family fortunes
A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens - 1843 - Scrooge has a Christmas to remember
The Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas - 1846 - Triumph over adversity
Dombey and Son - Charles Dickens - 1846 - A Father's Love for his son
Vanity Fair - W.M. Thackeray - 1847 - A peek behind Victorian real Victorian life**
Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte - 1847 - One girl rises above her station
Wuthering Heights - Emile Bronte - 1847 - How much evil can one man do
David Copperfield - Charles Dickens - 1850 - One Boy's story**
Moby Dick - Herman Melville 1851 - Captain Ahab is obsessed by Moby Dick**
Bleak House - Charles Dickens - 1853 - Struggle in the courts for Inheritance**
Hard Times - Charles Dickens - 1854 - Rich and poor must act differently it seems
The Warden - Anthony Trollope - 1855 - Quaint and witty a slice of clerical life and times at Barchester (Winchester)
Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert - 1856 - Love and despair in 19th Century France
Little Dorrit - Charles Dickens - 1857 - The Marshalsea Story of Love
Tale of two cities - Charles Dickens - 1859 - two cities divided by history
Great Expectations - Charles Dickens - 1861 - The victory of true love
Les Miserables - Victor Hugo - 1862 - good vs evil and love in revolutionary France
Crime and Punishment - Dostoyevsky - 1866 - Into the mind of a killer and the police
War and Peace - Tolstoy - 1869 - To Moscow and Back epic**
Under the Greenwood Tree - Thomas Hardy - 1872 - Rustic Idyll of English Folk**
Around the world in 80 Days - Jules Verne - 1873 - Technology and luck to the Limit
Far from the Madding Crowd - Thomas Hardy - 1874 - Who said a shepherd's life is dull
L'Assommoir - Zola - 1877 - Poverty, drunkenness and death
Anna Karenenin - Tolstoy - 1878 - Love does not always win
The Return of the Native - Thomas Hardy - 1878 - Love and tragedy at the world's end
The Brothers Karamazov - Fyodor Dostoyevsky - 1880 - Love, Jealousy, Anger, Murder - A existentialist classic.
Treasure Island - Robert Louis Stevenson - 1883 - A Great Adventure**
King Salomon's Mines H. Rider Haggard - 1885 - A great Boy's own adventure
The Woodlanders - Thomas Hardy 1886 - Love and Life in the woods**
Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde - Robert Louis Stevenson - 1886 - Releasing the evil within
The Mayor of Casterbridge - Thomas Hardy - 1886 - Your Lies will find you out
Three Men in a boat - 1889 - Jerome K. Jerome - A Jolly Tale of Clerks on a the river
The Picture of Dorian Grey- 1890- Oscar Wilde - A study of good and bad in ourselves
Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Arthur Conan Doyle - 1891 - Logic can defeat evil**
Tess of the D'Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy - 1891 - Epic story of Love, betrayal and loss**
Jude the Obscure - Thomas Hardy - 1895 - Jude dreams of being a scholar and life**
The Lady with the Little Dog (+other stories) - Anton Chekov - 1896 - Russian Tales
A Study in Scarlet - Arthur Conan Doyle - 1897 - First Sherlock Holmes
Dracula - Bram Stoker - 1897 - What would have happened if Dracula had won?
War of the Worlds - H G Wells -1890 - Invasion from Mars
Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad -1899 - Journey to the dark Heart of Africa
The Riddle of the Sands - Erskine Childers - 1903 - Sailing adventure on the brink of War
Room with a view - EM Forster - 1908 - suppressing Edwardian culture vs young woman
Sons and Lovers - D.H. Lawrence - 1913 - a Mothers love and demands on her sons**
The Dubliners - James Joyce - 1914 - Short Stories about lives in Dublin
The Thirty Nine Steps -1915 - John Buchan
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man - James Joyce - 1916 - Coming of Age**
Ulysses - James Joyce - 1922 - a day in the life and mind of Dublin folk
Women in Love - D.H. Lawrence - 1921 - a search for a complete life
A Passage to India - E.M.Forster - 1924 - English manners in India**
The Great Gadsby - Scott Fitzgerald - 1925 - A Depressing little tale of little folk
Lady Chatterley's Lover - D.H. Lawerence - 1928 - Love crashing through Social Barriers
The Murder at the Vicarage - Agatha Christie - 1930 - Its all in the timing
Tropic of Cancer - Henry Miller - 1934 - A real American Abroad
A Handful of Dust - Evelyn Waugh - 1934 - At once comic and Grim
The Hobbit - J.R.R. Tolkien - 1937 - What went before - an unexpected Adventure
Rebecca - Daphne du Maurier - 1938 - A tragic love story among the old rich
How Green was my Valley - Richard Llewellyn - 1939 - Struggle and Love in the Valleys
Grapes of Wrath - Steinbeck - 1939 - Cruel beautiful world**
The Big Sleep - Raymond Chandler - 1939 - Gritty Stuff in 1930s America
The Power and the Glory - Graham Green - 1940 - Revolution in Mexico
For Whom the Bell Tolls - Hemingway - 1941 - Comrades and love in war torn Spain**
Animal Farm - George Orwell - 1945 - The Pigs take over and everything is fine!!
1984 - George Orwell - 1949 - Do you really Love Big Brother?
The Lord of the Rings - J.R.R Tolkien - 1949 - Epic Fantasy Tale
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe - C.S.Lewis - 1950 - Good vs evil in Narnia
Catcher in the Rye -J.D.. Salinger - 1951 - Teenage problems and rebellion**
Lord of the Flies - William Golding - 1954 - Young boys left on an Island alone
Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov - 1955 - Controversial, troubling and classic
From Russia with Love - Ian Fleming - 1957 - Spies and Love on the Orient Express
To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee - 1960 - Race Trial of the Century**
Crime Passionnel - Jean-Paul Sartre - 1961 - Vengeance and Honour
Catch 22 - Joseph Heller - 1961 - Some home truths about a bombing War
A Clockwork Orange - Anthony Burgess -1962 - rights of passage but OMG
Cat's Cradle - Hurt Vonnegut - 1963 - The end of Life as we know it
On Her Majesty's Secret Service - 1963 - More Bond Action and Love
Stoner - John Williams - 1965 - A simple, stunning, inspiring life and death
Master and Margarita - Bulgakov - 1967 - The Devil visits Moscow - 'a true story'
2001 a Space Odyssey- Arthur C Clarke -1968 - The real meaning of Life as we don't know it
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy - Le Carre - 1974 - Smiley tracks down the mole
Of Mice and Men - 1979 - John Steinbeck - Real life migrants in the States?
2010 Odyssey Two - Arthur C. Clarke - 1982 - Voyage to the Origins of Life
Captain Corelli's Mandolin - Louis de Bernieres - 1984 - A Greek tragedy and love story
The Unbearable Lightness of Being - Milan Kundera - 1984 - This will wake you up**
Contact - Carl Sagan- 1985 - making contact - hold onto your seats.**
Remains of the Day - Kazuo Ishiguro - 1989 - What's left when we abandon Love**
The Sum of all Fears - Tom Clancy - 1991 - How close to a nuclear war can we dare to go before we ban all Nuclear Weapons
The English Patient - Michael Ondaatje - 1992 - Love on the edge of War**
Birdsong - Sebastian Faulks - 1993 - One man's life, love and war**
The Reader - Bernhard Schlink - 1994 - Love, reading and war trials**
Handmaid's Tale Margaret Atwood - 1996 - Social Experiment that forgot Love
The God of Small Things - Arundhati Roy - 1997 - Small holes in the Universe**
A Certain Justice - PD James - 1997 - Regina vs Ashe and death**
Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden - 1997 - A young girls story as a Geisha**
Rights of Passage trilogy - William Golding - 1998 - Finding oneself on board ship**
Chocolat - Joanne Harris - 1999 - Love and Chocolate in a French town
Girl with a Pearl Earring - Tracey Chevallier - 1999 - historical Novel of old Amsterdam**
The Blind Assassin - Margaret Atwood - 2000 - unfolding a mysterious death**
The Constant Gardner - le Carre - 2001 - Torrid affair against background business evil**
Atonement - Ian McEwan - 2001 - Regrets**
The Hero's walk - Anita Rau Badami - 2001 - Life in India**
The Life of Pi - Yann Martel - 2001 - Afloat with a strange crew
Pompeii - Robert Harris - 2003 - Lives and Deaths in Pompeii
The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown - 2003 - Skulldugery at the Vatican
The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini - 2003 - Human drama in the turmoil of Afghanistan
Vernon God Little - DBC Pierre - 2003 - Comedy in the face of Death**
The Sea - John Banville.- 2005 - Love and Loss
Never Let Me Go : Kazuo Ishiguro - 2005 - What are we here for?**
Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Trilogy - Stieg Larsson - 2006 - Search for Truth
A Thousand Splendid Suns - Khaled Hosseni - 2007 - A Muslim girl's unfair fate**
Child 44 - Tom Rob Smith - 2008 - Chilling story about the realities of life in Russia
The Troubled Man - Henning Mankell - 2009 - A struggle with encroaching old age and for the truth
Wolf Hall Trilogy - Hilary Mantel - 2009 - The rise and fall of Thomas Cromwell
Gone Girl - Gillian Flynn - 2012 Modern Marriage in a dysfunctional world
The Dog who Dared to Dream - Sun-Mi Hwang - 2012 - Read it and weep
The Buried Giant - Kazuo Ishiguro -2015 - A haunting tale - Is that where my memories are
Girl on a Train - Paula Hawkins - 2015 - I preferred the Agatha Christie Version
The next Classics I want to read
There are 22 books in the list below which I have come to feel are classics of the Novel - I have just expanded the list thanks to an old list prepared by the BBC containing 200 books in a BIG READ project - Every now and then someone offers me a new book to add to the list. My Russian Dentist felt that Master and Margarita should be included. I ordered it at my bookstore and I must say enjoyed it very much indeed. Initially I thought that if I read all of these I would have to redraft the Title of the hub. However, I have come to feel that its the idea of the title rather than its literal meaning that was important.
Others in the to read list are
The Pillars of the Earth
A Town like Alice
On the Road
East of Eden
The Colour Purple
All Quiet on the Western Front
The Far Pavilions
The way we live now 1875 Trollope
Of Human Bondage 1915 Somerset Maugham
To the Lighthouse 1927 Virginia Woolf
The sound and the fury 1929 Faulkner
Brave new world 1932 Huxley
Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons - 1932 - Parody of Country life *
Darkness at Noon - 1940 - Arthur Koestler
Slaughterhouse five 1969 Kurt Vonnegut
The bend in the river - 1979 - V.S. Naipaul
Angela's Ashes - Frank Mc Court - 1993 - a Memoir*
Things Fall Apart Chinua Achebe.
The Handmaids Tale - Margaret Atwood
Great Books by Charles Dickens - Painting the devide between rich and poor
Without Dickens we would have had only dry statistics about how people lived in London and other cities during the Industrial Revolution. His work shows the humanity of the poor but also the intolerable difference between the Rich and Poor.
I found an old copy of Oliver Twist in a Charity shop - It had almost unreadable small print. When I found this was a magical story I went and bought a new copy - sheer Pleasure