100 Novels (+ Poetry) that we’re not reading because we watch 2 hours of TV a day.

Via Waylon Lewis
on Feb 20, 2009
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reading book tv

UPDATE: I’ve added in a few notes on books I’ve read, and liked or disliked. Feel free to add your 2 cents in Comments section, below.

I used to read a ton. I used to be a nerd. I used to be well-educated, and half that education was self-education—me in a chair in a park on the couch in the tub reading, reading, reading and learning and enjoying and adjusting the book 555 times in my hands, trying to get comfortable. I still got the big ol’personal living room library to prove it—at least what I haven’t lent or given away (which is the same thing).

Then, four months ago or so, I got my first big TV, and cable for the first time—largely inspired by Planet Green. And while I’ve enjoyed watching basketball, again, and Conan O’Brien, and Jon Stewart & Colbert…well most of ’em I could watch online. So I’m finally thinking of saving myself a couple hundy a month and going back to having a life, reading, and going out instead of hunkering down with my tired self and my dog Redford and enjoying a little TV R&R each night.

All that said, there’s plenty of good stuff on TV—if you’re disciplined. If you have Tivo and/or Netflix, even easier to not-waste-your-precious-short-human-life channel surfing.

Anyways. Without further adieu, a list of amazing (and a few overrated) books that you better consider reading before you get too old and too blind.

The Radcliffe Publishing Course’s Top 100 Novels & Nonfiction Books of the 20th Century:

On July 21, 1998, the Radcliffe Publishing Course compiled and released its own list of the century’s top 100 novels, at the request of the Modern Library editorial board.

1. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (top writer at top of his game)
2. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger  (every boy/girl should read)
3. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck (couldn’t get thru it)
4. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (don’t remember)
The Color Purple by Alice Walker (didn’t love the style)
6. Ulysses by James Joyce (didn’t love style; reading Joyce is like having to listen to your crazy uncle)
7. Beloved by Toni Morrison (didn’t love style)
8. The Lord of the Flies by William Golding (dark, depressing, great)
9. 1984 by George Orwell (amazingly, haven’t read)
The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner (didn’t love style)
11. Lolita by Vladmir Nabokov (read but don’t remember)
12. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck (didn’t love)
13. Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White (love)
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce (boo)
15. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller (couldn’t get thru it)
16. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley (amazingly, haven’t read)
17. Animal Farm by George Orwell (love)
18. The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway (This would be in my top 10)
19. As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner (boo)
A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway (great)
21. Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad (dark, depressing, didn’t love)
22. Winnie-the-Pooh by A.A. Milne (love, love, also love illustrations)
23. Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston (don’t remember much about it)
24. Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison (boo, rated highly based on content, not style)
25. Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison�
26. Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
27. Native Son by Richard Wright (boo, rated highly on social importance and content, not style)
28. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey (couldn’t get thru it)
29. Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut (couldn’t get thru it)
30. For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway (solid)
31. On the Road by Jack Kerouac (in my top 10)
32. The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway (beautiful)
33. The Call of the Wild by Jack London (fun, great, solid)
34. To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf (boo on style)
35. Portrait of a Lady by Henry James (don’t remember much)
36. Go Tell it on the Mountain by James Baldwin (gorgeous writing)
37. The World According to Garp by John Irving (couldn’t get thru it)
38. All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren (don’t remember)
39. A Room with a View by E.M. Forster (don’t remember, movie is an all-time fave)
40. The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien (love, the world he creates is so complete and detailed)
Schindler’s List by Thomas Keneally (saw movie, loved it)
42. The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton
43. The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand
44. Finnegans Wake by James Joyce
45. The Jungle by Upton Sinclair�
Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf 
47. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum�
48. Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D.H. Lawrence�
49. A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
50. The Awakening by Kate Chopin�
51. My Antonia by Willa Cather (love this, read several times, an all-time fave)
52. Howards End by E.M. Forster
53. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote (couldn’t get thru it)
54. Franny and Zooey by J.D. Salinger�
55. The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie�
56. Jazz by Toni Morrison
57. Sophie’s Choice by William Styron
58. Absalom, Absalom! by William Faulkner
A Passage to India by E.M. Forster
60. Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton�
A Good Man Is Hard to Find by Flannery O’Connor
62. Tender Is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald (okay)
63. Orlando by Virginia Woolf
64. Sons and Lovers by D.H. Lawrence (at the time was scandalous, couldn’t get thru it)
65. Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe (couldn’t get thru)
66. Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut (couldn’t get thru)
67. A Separate Peace by John Knowles�
Light in August by William Faulkner (boo on style)
69. The Wings of the Dove by Henry James
70. Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe�
71. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
72. A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams (got bored)
73. Naked Lunch by William S. Burroughs
74. Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh
75. Women in Love by D.H. Lawrence (couldn’t get thru)
76. Look Homeward, Angel by Thomas Wolfe (couldn’t get thru, style boo)
77. In Our Time by Ernest Hemingway
78. The Autobiography of Alice B. Tokias by Gertrude Stein
79. The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett (awesome, fun, I don’t know about top 100 though)
80. The Naked and the Dead by Norman Mailer (couldn’t get thru)
81. Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys�
82. White Noise by Don DeLillo
83. O Pioneers! by Willa Cather�
84. Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller�
85. The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells
86. Lord Jim by Joseph Conrad�
87. The Bostonians by Henry James
88. An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser�
89. Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather�
90. The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame�
91. This Side of Paradise by F. Scott Fitzgerald (rough first novel, but loved it)
92. Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand
93. The French Lieutenant’s Woman by John Fowles
94. Babbitt by Sinclair Lewis�
95. Kim by Rudyard Kipling
96. The Beautiful and the Damned by F. Scott Fitzgerald (couldn’t get thru, and I loove Fitz)
97. Rabbit, Run by John Updike (didn’t dig)
98. Where Angels Fear to Tread by E.M. Forster
99. Main Street by Sinclair Lewis�
Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie 


With thanks for the tip to this blog.


About Waylon Lewis

Waylon Lewis, founder of elephant magazine, now elephantjournal.com & host of Walk the Talk Show with Waylon Lewis, is a 1st generation American Buddhist “Dharma Brat." Voted #1 in U.S. on twitter for #green two years running, Changemaker & Eco Ambassador by Treehugger, Green Hero by Discovery’s Planet Green, Best (!) Shameless Self-Promoter at Westword's Web Awards, Prominent Buddhist by Shambhala Sun, & 100 Most Influential People in Health & Fitness 2011 by "Greatist", Waylon is a mediocre climber, lazy yogi, 365-day bicycle commuter & best friend to Redford (his rescue hound). His aim: to bring the good news re: "the mindful life" beyond the choir & to all those who didn't know they gave a care. elephantjournal.com | His first book, Things I would like to do with You, is now available.


34 Responses to “100 Novels (+ Poetry) that we’re not reading because we watch 2 hours of TV a day.”

  1. silverkeys says:

    Hello – I’m flattered that you were inspired by my blog post! Please do keep promoting this list of books! However, do you think you could please remove the parenthetical comments I’d made from the list as it appears on your blog? I feel a little weird about having them disassociated from their original context. Thanks. ^_^

  2. silverkeys says:

    re: your response. ^_^ Thanks, I appreciate it. You’re of course welcome to keep the actual list of titles, as I didn’t make it up; as long as my commentary is removed, that’s fine. Thanks again for being so flexible!

  3. Heather says:

    Beloved by Toni Morrison definitely makes my personal top 5 list, though I really hate Henry Miller.

    Some more contemporary selections that I’d add to the list:

    The God of Small Things, by Arundhati Roy
    Everything is Illuminated, by Jonathan Safran Foer
    Graceland, by Chris Abani

  4. sean says:

    elmer gantry, sinclair lewis a must read if youve ever questioned religion

  5. sean says:

    tobacco road was one of my favs as well

  6. Dan says:

    How can you not understand a John Steinbeck novel? And you seem to have an inclination to not understand/ like Faulkner, however I assure you that his weird style of writing that you are so critical of is what makes him so unique. try finding sparknotes or another aid to help you get through The Sound and the Fury and if you dont think that Faulkner is a genius after understanding the novel you are crazy.

  7. I like Faulkner's short stories, but I read As I Lay Dying hated it. Not only did I hate it, but my entire "classics bookclub" hated it and we were a group of educated classics reading women. I really think Faukner's novels are overrated.

  8. SPLINTER says:

    I know it may sound generic, but I compare everyone to Hemingway, please don't get offended. Two books I have read that I highly recommend are Cross Creek Marjorie Rawlings and Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole. Child of God by Cormac McCarthy was also very good, but extremely demented.

  9. Proust says:

    I think someone needs a lesson about the difference between an American novel and a British or Irish novel are.

    Orwell, Joyce, Waugh, Forster, Woolf, Adams and so many others on this list were citizens of the British Empire. And wrote and published their works in England before anywhere else. That doesn't meet the criteria of being an American novel in a pretty definitive way.

  10. Joyce says:

    Thank you for posting this list, however, I DON'T thank you to add your boos in parentheses. Those books represent lasting works of literature that have spoken to the generations; they are the legacies of the great writers of a bygone era. Who do you think you are to spit upon the legacy, no, the pure essence of thought of another person, especially one who is so well-respected. Yes, people are entitled to their opinions, but do not forget that many people before you have established the values of certain writers, who–at least–deserve not to be "booed" upon remembrance.

    Sorry about the tirade. Just try to appreciate the classics. 🙂

  11. rachel says:

    How do you read in the Tub without getting the book wet bc that sounds lovely, but I'm a little clumsy…?

  12. pamela says:

    "boos in parantheses" = free speech, just as you spoke freely in your tirade

  13. joe says:

    Good thing you liked Baldwin…cause his beothers and sisters were definitely NOT to your liking… And yes, its a shame an AMERICAN list had to lose so much space to Irish and British writers, what non-sense, except that Radcliffe wasn't compiling an American list, so its the original headline that needs to be changed–and I think yo must watch too much TV to not be able able to get through the longer, more challenging novels on this list, but like the bumper-sticker says, "BLOW UP YOU TV" I know I don't watch it….

  14. […] I know, I left out a lot of great ones, either because I haven’t read them, because I have read them and I didn’t love them, because I arbitrarily decided to limit this list to ten, or because I read them but temporarily forgot about them.  So put your own lists in the comments!  Other lists of great novels from U.S. and other writers are here and here. […]

  15. Emily says:

    And your biography is quite unprofessionally written.

  16. Should i link as much as this, through my own webpage? I'm likely to gather as many sources of information and facts as i am able.

  17. TonyCrac says:

    You're my hero. I was thinking exactly the same thing. He should sit quietly in the corner with crayons and a coloring book, while the adults read novels.

  18. If you were in repertory theater, you would be a spear carrier. And then you would have three lines. And then, maybe you would get a supporting role. And maybe, way out there within the distance, there would be a lead role for you. Whereas, in the event you were on a soap, you get to play falling in love, you get to play falling off a cliff, you get to play all of these different things. Every day, they’re coming at you. You are able to do a year of rep inside of three months.

  19. Matt says:

    Hey, I was just going to comment on this…thanks for beating me to the punch!

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  22. aaronnell171 says:

    Fantastic points altogether, you simply received a new reader. What may you recommend about your put up that you just made some days in the past? Any positive?

  23. […] you’re making more time for books in 2012, here’s a list to get you started. Ten was too few…52 was too much. Here are 26 […]

  24. English Major says:

    I stopped reading your list when you said that you couldn't get "thru" Grapes of Wrath… …… ………… ….. seriously?

  25. Tiresias says:

    How could you not finish Slaughterhouse five? Any why are you hating on Faulkner so much? Why hate on Steinbeck too? Do you even like books?

    Also, please learn to spell.

  26. Poetry says:

    I will immediately grasp your rss as I can’t in finding your e-mail subscription hyperlink or e-newsletter service. Do you have any? Please permit me realize so that I may subscribe. Thanks.

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  28. John Valdez says:

    NOT A SINGLE TITLE by a Latina/Latino writer.

  29. elephantjournal says:

    Hi, John! We’d love to hear some suggestions! Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez is a personal favorite. Cheers, Sara (ed)

  30. Amy S. Gibbs says:

    Your description of reading Joyce is spot on. I cracked up at the comment.

  31. Kelly says:

    I can’t believe there is not a single book by Paulo Coelho on here. He is life changing and should be required high school reading.

  32. Mojack says:

    I would like to add I know why the caged bird sings….. Anybody agree?