Our Great List: A Work in Progress

August 20, 2012: To read an introduction to this project, click here.

August 20, 2012 (by Bethany): In no particular order and with no attempt to make this a conclusive list, here are some of my nominations for relatively recent books that might someday make the list:

Flannery O’Connor, Collected Stories

Alice Munro, The Beggar Maid

William Styron, Sophie’s Choice

John Irving, The World According to Garp and A Prayer for Owen Meany

Rohinton Mistry, A Fine Balance

Zadie Smith, On Beauty

J.M. Coetzee, Disgrace

Don DeLillo, White Noise

Jon Krakauer, Into the Wild

Tom Wolfe, The Right Stuff

Toni Morrison, Song of Solomon and Beloved

Kathryn Stockett, The Help

Colson Whitehead, Sag Harbor

Wallace Stegner, Crossing to Safety

Ken Kesey, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

Saul Bellow, Henderson the Rain King

James Dickey, Deliverance

J.D. Salinger, Franny and Zooey

Abraham Verghese, Cutting for Stone

Tim O’Brien, The Things They Carried

E.L. Doctorow, The Book of Daniel

Mary Doria Russell The Sparrow and Children of God and Dreamers of the Day

Philip Roth, Operation Shylock

Barbara Kingsolver, The Poisonwood Bible

Bryce Courtenay, The Power of One

Pearl Abraham, American Taliban

Walter M. Miller, Jr., A Canticle for Liebowitz

Larry Watson, Montana 1948

Ben Fountain, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk

Chaim Potok, The Chosen and My Name is Asher Lev and In the Beginning


Oh, and Jill – what SHOULD we do about genre? Do we lump everything together, or do we create separate lists for different genres?

August 20, 2012 (by Bethany): Some List-related links:

The BBC’s Big Read

Germany’s Big Read

Hungary’s Big Read

Bulgaria’s Big Read

The Modern Library’s Top 100 English-Language Novels of the 20th Century (includes the Modern Library’s “Reader’s List” of 20th Century English-Language Novels – created in response to Complaints of Elitism and Profit-Motive after the list above was published)

The Modern Library’s Top 100 English-Language Nonfiction Books of the 20th Century (includes the Modern Library’s “Reader’s List” of 20th Century English-Language Nonfiction Books – ditto)

The List of all Nobel Laureates in Literature

The List of All Pulitzer Prize Winners and Finalists in Fiction

The List of All Pulitzer Prize Winners and Finalists in Nonfiction

The List of All Pulitzer Prize Winners and Finalists in History

The List of All Pulitzer Prize Winners and Finalists in Poetry

The List of All Pulitzer Prize Winners and Finalists in Drama

The List of All Pulitzer Prize Winners and Finalists in Biography and Autobiography

August 20, 2012 (by Bethany): Hey Jill – what about children’s literature? Does it get its own list, get mixed in with the adult books, or left out altogether?

August 20, 2012 (Jill): 

This is my “shelf” from www.goodreads.com called “Book Loves of My Life.”  These are the books I love most in the world (less the ones that were written prior to ~1960, but there weren’t a ton of those, surprisingly).  They’re in alphabetical order, because that’s easy.  Please bear in mind that these books were not chosen entirely for their literary merits.  Such A Pretty Fat is a wonderful memoir, but is certainly not of the same caliber as Middlesex.  But they both resonated with me, and have recommended them to others.

The House of the Spirits, Isabel Allende

In the Time of the Butterflies, Julia Alvarez

One Good Turn, Kate Atkinson

The Blind Assassin, Margaret Atwood

Cat’s Eye, Margaret Atwood

The Mists of Avalon, Marion Zimmer Bradley

The Lords of Discipline, Pat Conroy

Love Medicine, Louise Erdrich

Middlesex, Jeffrey Eugenides

The Eyre Affair, Jasper Fforde

A Handbook to Luck, Cristina García

The Known World, Edward P. Jones

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Ken Kesey*

Great House, Nicole Krauss

An Acceptable Time, Madeline L’Engle

Such a Pretty Fat, Jen Lancaster

To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee

Tales of the City, Armistead Maupin

Beloved, Toni Morrison*

The Time Traveler’s Wife, Audrey Niffeneger

The Rapture of Canaan, Sheri Reynolds

Interview with the Vampire, Anne Rice

The Queen of the Damned, Anne Rice

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, J.K. Rowling

The Sparrow, Mary Doria Russell*

The Lovely Bones, Alice Sebold

And the Band Played On: Politics, People, and the AIDS Epidemic, Randy Shilts

The Map of Love, Ahdaf Soueif

The Joy Luck Club, Amy Tan

Cutting for Stone, Abraham Verghese*

*Books that made Bethany’s preliminary list as well as my list.

August 22, 2012 (Bethany): So if you’ve read the comments below you’ll know that Jill and I have decided to divide up the last 50ish years by odds and evens and investigate which books by Nobel Laureates might make it onto our list. This is a huge task, I know – but after all, we have all of our time in Purgatory to complete it, and that ought to be enough, right?

Right now I’m scrambling to finish a number of books and reviews before PAT CONROY MONTH! begins. And once we’re into September, I don’t expect to have a whole lot of time for Great List research. But in October I plan to investigate two recent Nobel Laureates from the even years: Mario Vargas Llosa (2010) and Naguib Mahfouz (1988). These are both authors that I’ve wanted to read for a long time. I also want to read at least two books by Iris Murdoch in October, since she’s an author who might deserve to make it onto our list and has intrigued me for a long time.

Also, I want to add V.S. Napaul’s A Bend in the River, Norman Rush’s Mating and Mortals, and John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces to my overall recommendation list.

August 23, 2012 (Bethany): I just found out that this exists. While betting on the Nobel Prize for Literature interests me exactly not at all, this is actually a good resource for learning about new authors from around the world who might deserve to make our list.

September 2, 2012 (Jill): Here’s a list of authors whose new books I will always buy in hardcover, no matter what, in no particular order.  Pat Conroy, Kate Atkinson, Margaret Atwood, Isabel Allende, Jen Lancaster, Kim Harrison, Jeffrey Eugenides, Anne Rice, Louise Erdrich, Lisa Lutz, Christopher Moore, JK Rowling, Jasper Fforde, Deborah Harkness.

19 Responses to Our Great List: A Work in Progress

  1. badkitty1016 says:

    RE children’s lit or no: I say we start with everything and organize as we go. I’m going to add some stuff now too.

  2. lfpbe says:

    I have to add more too. And then I guess we have to at least make an attempt to read the titles on one another’s lists that we haven’t yet read. This could interfere with PAT CONROY MONTH!…

  3. lfpbe says:

    Agreed. When one is the intellectual conscience of a nation, one must learn to prioritize.

  4. lfpbe says:

    Jill – what do you think about this: as far as looking at some of the Nobel Laureates and other prize winners, what if we divide up the years into odds and evens and each take charge of one set? So if I have the odd years, I would scan through the award recipients and finalists in those years, read whatever I think might end up being listworthy, and so forth. Obviously this is a process that will take forever, but you can’t rush a great list.

    • badkitty1016 says:

      Sure sounds good. We’re never going to finish this list, are we? 🙂 Hopefully I own some of them.

      • lfpbe says:

        Of course we’ll finish it – in Purgatory! Do you care if you get the odds or the evens? I have a slight preference for the evens but will be happy with either. I also think it would be fun if we allow ourselves to swap – so if I have the evens but I don’t like one of the writers, I can swap with you for one of yours. There really ought to be Nobel Laureate trading cards, don’t you think?

      • badkitty1016 says:

        I like evens too. But I will take odds because it’s your idea.

      • lfpbe says:

        Are you sure? I don’t mind odds.

      • badkitty1016 says:

        No, odds are fine. I have this stupid dislike of odd numbers that predates literacy. It will be good for me.

    • lfpbe says:

      OK – but let me know if you want to swap any authors

  5. lfpbe says:

    Oh, and also – did you see that someone found our blog using the search terms “dumb book house of the spirits”? Hahaha! I don’t think I ever called it a dumb book, but maybe I did.

    • badkitty1016 says:

      I think you might have used the word dumb in a post. That’s funny though. I always forget about it. I need to look at the search terms thing more often.

  6. Anita says:

    Just found the beginnings of your list. I started with Bethany’s and then started scrolling around and thinking about what I would put on it. I chose Margaret Atwood, The Blind Assassin, and was delighted to find it on Jill’s list. At first I was afraid that I would have not read any of the books, but now I feel that maybe I underestimated my reading history. Maybe I am not a hopeless science person. That said, I admit that I am skimming past sections in John Steinbeck’s writing that are probably the ones I would have had to write an essay on for an English class. I just want to get back to the story…

  7. marvelg says:

    I’ve read lots of the BBC Big Read books…. A few years ago, Jeff said that he could get through the Pulitzer list before I did. I won, because I was the only one who read any of them (I read one. Ha).

  8. badkitty1016 says:

    I can’t believe there’s betting on who will win the next Nobel Prize! Hilarious!

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