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Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Notes on Amazon's 100 books

Amazon put out a list of 100 books to read in a lifetime, with the possibility of voting on selections on Goodreads. Lately, I've become rather disenchanted with lists like these. Just over a week ago I started to read the books I had not yet read on another list and was the opposite of impressed. So I may not rush out to get the 15 or so books I haven't yet read on the list right away.

I noticed that there is some bias toward relatively recent works (nothing earlier than Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice in contradistinction to The Guardian's list of 100 greatest novels, which includes works like Robinson Crusoe and Clarissa) as well as quite a bit of children's and YA literature.

The children's literature includes excellent choices:
Goodnight Moon (which I know by heart)
Where the Wild Things Are
A Wrinkle in Time
The Little Prince
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, though I prefer Mathilda in some ways
Alice in Wonderland
A Series of Unfortunate Events
The Golden Compass was engrossing, but the series does peter out, and I believe I gave up on the third book of the trilogy.
With respect to The Phantom Tollbooth, I've seen it recommended elsewhere and so started reading it fairly recently. While it certainly packs whimsy and some charm, I didn't feel compelled to finish it, and I really do tend to finish the books I start.

Noticeably absent here: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.

Not much surprise in YA selections like:
 Harry Potter 
Hunger Games,
The Fault in Our Stars
The Percy Jackson books I haven't read, but my daughter in the target age group really enjoyed them.
Lord of the Rings

We get some typical high school reading selections that have become canonized, though, perhaps not quite as great as their reputations like
The Great Gatsby (see
Catcher in the Rye

But I agree that every teen should read
 Fahrenheit 451
To Kill a Mockingbird

Other excellent choices include:
Man's Search for Meaning  (I blogged about it here)
The Stranger
Ellison's Invisible Man
One suggestion I'd have for great novels that raise serious societal issues is One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.

I was struck by seeing a special category for The Handmaid's Tale as speculative feminist fiction. I know that the novel has been the subject of debate over categorization. Is it science fiction or not? Another interesting thing about it is that it has both made the banned and required reading lists of schools. The inspiration for this novel, 1984,  is on the list, though I don't see the alternative dystopian vision, which offers quit a few parallels to , Brave New World.
Fahrenheit 451

Interesting choices in the novel category include:
The Age of Innocence, though I also like The House of Mirth
Of Human Bondage, the author is a master writer, though his far from happy stories would not be everyone's cup of tea. Speaking of which, why nothing by Hardy, like Tess of the D'Ubervilles  or Jude the Obscure? 
Yes, I have a bias for 19th century English novels, and I would definitely add on at least:
Wuthering Heights
Jane Eyre
and from the US: Huckleberry Finn 

One other addition I'd make to what I consider recent literature is The Princess Bride.

I'd love to hear what other people think should have been added to or omitted from the list.


  1. I found A Series of Unfortunate Events disappointing. A much better book (though more comparable to Alice in Wonderland) is The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making.

    1. Hi, uriyo, thanks for the comment and the suggestion. The title alone sounds fascinating, and I will look for it.
      The Series of Unfortunate Events did have a rather flat ending, but I remember feeling compelled enough to read through the entire series. I wonder if it was a kind of forerunner to the tendency to dystopian works I see tends to dominates popular YA literature today. A lot of them are also series, though most stop at 3 or 5 books.