A Really Long List With Annotations

This comes from Marie. You’re supposed to bold which of these 100 canonical books you’ve read. I’ve added comments. I couldn’t help myself.

Here’s what I’m wondering — does it count if you’ve seen the movie, or if you’ve seen the movie and it wasn’t by Disney? What if the movie had songs in it? What if the movie had Daniel Day Lewis in it? You can see the trouble here.

Also, in this list I lay bare certain reading prejudices, some of which I didn’t even know I had. Please don’t think less of me because of it.

In fact, do this yourself and tell me you don’t have your own prejudices and don’t feel the strong urge to explain that the reason you haven’t read, say, The Stranger, is because it was never made into a movie with Daniel Day Lewis.

Achebe, Chinua – Things Fall Apart
Agee, James – A Death in the Family (I read the other one — the one with pictures, the one with Walker Evans)
Austen, Jane – Pride and Prejudice
Baldwin, James – Go Tell It on the Mountain — ok here’s one I need to read.
Beckett, Samuel – Waiting for Godot
Bellow, Saul – The Adventures of Augie March
Brontë, Charlotte – Jane Eyre
Brontë, Emily – Wuthering Heights

Camus, Albert – The Stranger (I believe this is about the plague. Of course I didn’t read it.)
Cather, Willa – Death Comes for the Archbishop (I re-read this recently on a trip to the southwest and loved it even more the second time.)
Chaucer, Geoffrey – The Canterbury Tales — in college, and then I had to memorize the prologue, which comes in handy when there’s a lull in conversation
Chekhov, Anton – The Cherry Orchard
Chopin, Kate – The Awakening
Conrad, Joseph – Heart of Darkness

Cooper, James Fenimore – The Last of the Mohicans — surely the movie counts? Let me just say three words: Daniel Day Lewis. (Okay one more: shirtless.)
Crane, Stephen – The Red Badge of Courage — I probably have read this, because it’s the kind of thing you have to read at some point if you’re a student but honestly I can’t remember a thing about it.
Dante – Inferno
de Cervantes, Miguel – Don Quixote
Defoe, Daniel – Robinson Crusoe
Dickens, Charles – A Tale of Two Cities
Dostoyevsky, Fyodor – Crime and Punishment — I did, however, see an intense movie version of this when I was in my twenties and inclined to be depressed and it was awful. I think it’s time to revisit this one though. I’m a lot cheerier than I used to be. I think I could even read all of Native Son on a good day.
Douglass, Frederick – Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass
Dreiser, Theodore – An American Tragedy — I think Sister Carrie is THE Dreiser book, but that’s just my, you know, opinion. I love Sister Carrie and don’t want to read any more Dreiser and ruin my admiration for him by finding out why it is that one critic described him as a guy who wrote like a person who didn’t have a native language. ouch.
Dumas, Alexandre – The Three Musketeers
Eliot, George – The Mill on the Floss

Ellison, Ralph – Invisible Man
Emerson, Ralph Waldo – Selected Essays
Faulkner, William – As I Lay Dying
Faulkner, William – The Sound and the Fury — Couldn’t read this, and don’t know why. I’ve tried the first ten pages at least five times. But I loved Absalom, Absalom. Maybe you have a Faulkner limit and mine is two.
Fielding, Henry – Tom Jones — movie! (Wasn’t it a movie? You know, with Ryan O’Neal when he was gorgeous and filmed by candlelight?)
Fitzgerald, F. Scott – The Great Gatsby
Flaubert, Gustave – Madame Bovary

Ford, Ford Madox – The Good Soldier (I keep thinking this will be good, but then I always put it back on the shelf…)
Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von – Faust
Golding, William – Lord of the Flies
Hardy, Thomas – Tess of the d’Urbervilles
Hawthorne, Nathaniel – The Scarlet Letter
Heller, Joseph – Catch 22
Hemingway, Ernest – A Farewell to Arms
Homer – The Iliad
Homer – The Odyssey
Hugo, Victor – The Hunchback of Notre Dame — the movie! I saw the movie! okay. it had songs in it. Yes, it was a cartoon. Perhaps that should not count.
Hurston, Zora Neale – Their Eyes Were Watching God
Huxley, Aldous – Brave New World — this is fiction? I always thought it was a travel memoir or some kind of long essay.
Ibsen, Henrik – A Doll’s House
James, Henry – The Portrait of a Lady
James, Henry – The Turn of the Screw
Joyce, James – A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

Kafka, Franz – The Metamorphosis — I mean, I do know what it’s about. But it’s never interested me. Did anyone ever make a movie of this?

Kingston, Maxine Hong – The Woman Warrior
Lee, Harper – To Kill a Mockingbird
Lewis, Sinclair – Babbitt — I don’t like strident realist fiction. I know, I know. How do I know if Sinclair Lewis writes strident realist fiction if I haven’t read it? Wasn’t he responsible for that really, really long movie that Daniel Day Lewis was just in (see Last of the Mohicans above for other sort of unreadable books that made good Daniel Day Lewis films.)
London, Jack – The Call of the Wild
Mann, Thomas – The Magic Mountain — do the first twenty pages count? I was afraid I’d be stuck in the sanitarium forever if I didn’t make a run for it right then.
Marquez, Gabriel García – One Hundred Years of Solitude
Melville, Herman – Bartleby the Scrivener — people love this. I have never been able to get past the first page. It depresses me.
Melville, Herman – Moby Dick
Miller, Arthur – The Crucible

Morrison, Toni – Beloved
O’Connor, Flannery – A Good Man is Hard to Find
O’Neill, Eugene – Long Day’s Journey into Night
Orwell, George – Animal Farm
Pasternak, Boris – Doctor Zhivago — the movie, I love the movie!
Plath, Sylvia – The Bell Jar
Poe, Edgar Allan – Selected Tales

Proust, Marcel – Swann’s Way
Pynchon, Thomas – The Crying of Lot 49 – no way. I do not like Thomas Pynchon. I don’t know why. Maybe it is because I am afraid there will be no plot and a lot of Symbols.
Remarque, Erich Maria – All Quiet on the Western Front — this I must read. Rostand, Edmond – Cyrano de Bergerac — movie! With Daryl Hannah and Steve Martin, remember that one?
Roth, Henry – Call It Sleep — I keep seeing things about Henry Roth. DIdn’t he wait fifty years between novels?
Salinger, J.D. – The Catcher in the Rye
Shakespeare, William – Hamlet
Shakespeare, William – Macbeth
Shakespeare, William – A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Shakespeare, William – Romeo and Juliet
Shaw, George Bernard – Pygmalion – movie! I could have danced all night!
Shelley, Mary – Frankenstein
Silko, Leslie Marmon – Ceremony
Solzhenitsyn, Alexander – One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich — is this any good? It looks so… long. But then he is Russian and long is his job.
Sophocles – Antigone
Sophocles – Oedipus Rex

Steinbeck, John – The Grapes of Wrath
Stevenson, Robert Louis – Treasure Island — yes, I know, the movie doesn’t count, because it was, yes, by disney.
Stowe, Harriet Beecher – Uncle Tom’s Cabin — does the King & I count?
Swift, Jonathan – Gulliver’s Travels
Thackeray, William – Vanity Fair
Thoreau, Henry David – Walden
Tolstoy, Leo – War and Peace
Turgenev, Ivan – Fathers and Sons
Twain, Mark – The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
Voltaire – Candide

Vonnegut, Kurt Jr. – Slaughterhouse-Five — I do need to read this. But I avoid it, along with Catch 22 because I am afraid it will be ironic and not entertaining.
Walker, Alice – The Color Purple — I happen to have an autographed first edition of this book. It is autographed in purple. I did not see the movie, which looked awful.
Wharton, Edith – The House of Mirth
Welty, Eudora – Collected Stories (Not all of them — nobody reads every single one of the collected stories of anybody unless they wrote, you know, six stories.)
Whitman, Walt – Leaves of Grass (could someone please explain to me why Leaves of Grass is on this list? I mean, these are mostly novels and plays and Homer. Last time I looked, Leaves of Grass was a super long poem. Okay, some of Shakespeare is poetry, and Dante too. But if poems are okay to include, then this list would look a lot different.)
Wilde, Oscar – The Picture of Dorian Gray

Williams, Tennessee – The Glass Menagerie
Woolf, Virginia – To the Lighthouse
Wright, Richard – Native Son (Okay, I quit when Bigger Thomas stuffed the body into the incinerator.)

Well that was fun.


31 thoughts on “A Really Long List With Annotations

  1. “I will find you!”

    If the movie has Mr. Day-Lewis in it, I say it totally counts.

    I actually think I did read Last of the Mohicans, after the movie, but it’s so tied up in my mind with the movie that I’m not altogether sure.

    Nice! Wish I had the time to add annotations…

  2. Marie — I had to look that up. That is the theme song to the Last of the Mohicans. It is in languages other than English. I am so impressed that’s in your head. All I can remember is DDL running with his hair streaming behind him. He was probably carrying a club of some kind but he was no dorf.

  3. Wow. What an undertaking just to get through this list! But fun. And yes your tastes are revealed. Just a side note: the link to your “tin” post is faulty — or at least it’s faulty from google reader at the moment. Nothing but error messages.

  4. Oh TJ, THAT showed up on your google reader? Oops. I was posting a photo of my lunch on the tiffintin.net blog, which is my recent guilty pleasure. I posted it here for about ten seconds before I deleted it.

  5. I thought DDLewis was hot in “A Room with a View.” Come on, when he screws up a simple kiss with Helena Bonham-Carter, he’s just too cute.

    And I’m so, so, SO glad that Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God is considered canonical!

  6. Okay, the incinerator bit was tough…but I do love Native Son. And I loved Babbitt and Bartleby…oh, and Pynchon. Otherwise we agree on everything. There. Now I don’t have to do my own list! Thanks!

  7. I won’t do this on my blog because I did another list like this a few days ago (with really smart@ss responses — couldn’t help myself). But I did take a personal inventory of this list: read 51, if you counted movies where I didn’t read the book, add another 7; saw 8 of the plays performed, and saw 5 (!) of these as an opera. Does that show biases? Other than the operas, I’d say that it indicates that I have a few degrees in English and that that education was very canonical! Although I think that some of these aren’t really in the cannon, you know the one that everybody talks about but despises. The operas — well that could show that I have a certain preference for the opera, or that I am married to a opera aficiando. BTW, I had read all of those works before I saw the operatic adaptation (Goethe, Shakespeare, Sophocles).

  8. “The Stranger” is not about the plague, it’s about a stranger. Camus’ “The Plague”, on the other hand, is about a plague. Also, it’s really good, better than “Stranger” – my favorite character wants to be a novelist but spends all his time writing the first sentance over and over.

    (I only know this because The Modern Library published beautiful versions of both in the 60s. I have one but not the other.)

  9. Your comments are hilarious! And your reading prejudices entirely endearing. Oh and if you ever get to see the French movie version of Cyrano de Bergerac with Gerard Depardieu, DO. It’s absolutely heart breaking. Actually, just thinking about it makes me wonder whether a cheap copy is available online…

  10. That sounds good, litlove. I like Gerard Depardieu. And I’m going to check on that cheap online copy too — or maybe netflix.

    Thank you Ella. An dnow I am thinking I will read the Plague, because of that one sentence. I have re-written the first sentence of my novel so many times that I can no longer understand any of the words. (By the way — did you go check on the “reading” page up above? All those ML editions are making my office look so nice and me look so… smart!)

    Cam, Your list is great — I want to enter that guessing contest a couple of times, because I’m not sure I got it right the first time. Opera! I hadn’t even thought of that. How fun. Also, I think it would be fun to go through this list and count how many of these books have been made into or were the inspiration for or are contained within a movie. I’m going to bet that a huge number of them have been.

    Dear Fiona, One reason I confess my prejudices is to get rid of them. I can see I have a little reading to do this summer.

    Hi Mari — I’d forgotten he was even in that. Maybe I should netflix it and let the boys watch it in between episodes of Monk, which is their current obsession. And I am so with you on Their Eyes. Great, great book. In fact, if you do a search for it on the “search” link on my blog, you’ll find a discussion of it along with a recipe for tea cakes. MMMM.

  11. I’ve never blogged before, but I’ve read great books all of my life and have never found anyone to discuss them with; this privation gets lonesome. I’ve read most of the books that you’ve read, so this blog attracted my attention enough to respond. I’ve also read a number of excellent books not on your list. As to my tastes, I’m fairly old fashioned; I’ve read all fourteen of Dickens’ completed novels, all of Tolstoy’s novels and most of his great short novels, ten novels by Faulkner, who is worth the effort, even though often, as in The Sound and the Fury, obscure, Austen’s six best novels, Hardy’s five best, Cather’s five best (in my opinion), Camus’ best novels, including The Fall, The Plague and The Stranger (multiple times, I loved this novel when I was in high school, the older translation), Dostoevsky’s (forgive my poor spelling)Brothers K, Crime & Punishment, Demons (or Devils), Notes from the Underground, a lot of Anton Chekhov’s longer stories, about two dozen Shakespear plays, Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist . . ., Ulysses, some of the Dubliners (including The Dead), Moby Dick (four times b/c although it’s greatly flawed, as are most longer masterpieces, it’s funny as hell, often powerful, beautifully descriptive, like Dickens,and,at times, conveys an incomparable sense of grandeur), Billy Budd, Bartleby the Scrivner (keep at it, I enjoyed it), Proust’s Swann’s Way, Hemmingway, Fitzgerald (only Gatsby, short stories), Conrad, Borges, Bellow, Carson McCullers, Tenn. Williams, Sophocles’ Oedipus trilogy, Aeschylus’ Orestia trilogy, & Prometheus Bound, Euripides, The Decameron (that’s a wildly wicked funny book), some other Russian writers, Lermontov’s A Hero for Our Time, Alex S.’s One Day in the Life of Ivan D., Pasternaks’ Dr. Zhivago, Quiet Flows the Don, Pushkin poetry & short stories, Turgenev’s Fathers and Children, three Mann short novels, several B. Brecht plays, four Steinback novels, etc., etc., also other plays & a lot of poetry which I often don’t understand, but I just as often love. Most of the books I’ve read & loved were written before WWII, although I’ve read several modern novelists, including Roth, Percy Walker, Arthur Miller, Delillo [sic], Beckett, Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian, but I don’t usually enjoy them as much; I also do not enjoy Pynchon.

    Anyway, I don’t know how to connect with people to discuss books; is this the method used? Do I blog to find good readers?

    P.S. You know already I suppose that Daniel Day Lewis’ father was a famous Brit. poet & that Daniel Day married Arthur Miller’s daughter. I’d like to see how well their offspring write.

    Please let me know and advise.



  12. Oh for god’s sake, I can’t forget Mark Twain,Kathy A. Porter short stories, Oscar Wilde and D. H. Lawrence.

  13. Ishmael! You have come to exactly the right neighborhood. There are tons & tons of great blogs where really smart, very nice people talk about what they’re reading, what they’re about to read, what they’ve read. To the right of this post is a list of “readers and writers” — poke around. I’m going to guess that in a day or two you will find several like-minded people. How great is that?

    You don’t have to have a blog to participate in the conversation. Most people seem to, but that might be because at some point many people discover they have a lot to say, and they want to do that in a sustained way.

    I love your list and your encouragement to keep at it. I will.

    As for DDL — yes, I did know that they both have those big fathers. We recently read Cecil Day Lewis’s children’s book, the something or other wars, which was a delight. And it will be interesting to see what the children end up doing.

    But mostly, I’m excited about seeing what YOU’LL be doing — looking forward to it very much, Lily

  14. it might have been fun for you, but…

    you haven’t read “the sound and the fury”? or pynchon (though “v.” should have been on the list, not “lot 49.”). or camus, the killer whale? i mean, you gotta read “the stranger.”

    if you hadn’t read “invisible man,” i might have never been able to come back to this blog, you know.

    that said, i’m not one to talk. i probably have read just half of the books above. maybe.

  15. Interesting list, and I loved your comments! I thought I didn’t like Pynchon either, but I did like Lot 49 — and it’s short! I’m scared of his longer books. I finished The Sound and the Fury, but I can’t say I understood it … and I loved Absalom, Absalom too.

  16. Hey Dorothy — That’s so good to hear. If you’re going to read a book by someone you think you might not like, shorter is definitely better than longer.

    Bookfraud, dude, I’m sorry to have slipped from my formerly high position in your eyes. But then, I had no idea you hadn’t read all these books. I guess we’re even, down here in the mud of underachieving.

  17. I have to second Gerard Depardieu’s Cyrano — an utterly unforgettable performance, and when he speaks the final words, “Panache!”, it’s just devastating. I read the book as a direct result of this movie. Excellent.

  18. Oh my, where did THIS list come from? Now, HERE’S a list, unlike all those others that I keep depressing myself over, because it seems I’ve read so little, that makes me feel like maybe I have spent some time reading (or at least spent a lot of time reading when I was in college). Oh, and movie versions with Daniel Day Lewis count (they count double when he isn’t wearing a shirt). And I loathed Bartleby, which people keep telling me is a terrible thing to do, so I’m glad to find someone else who didn’t love it. And finally: I haven’t a clue why Leaves of Grass is here.

  19. Yay for lists that are good for the ego. I thought the same as you — a lot of these were things you had to read if you were an English major. Not that that was a bad thing, of course.

    Panache! I think we have to watch it this summer.

  20. You and I have read the same books, with just a few exchanges. (I haven’t read Fathers and Sons, or Things Fall Apart, or Mill on the Floss, but I have read Crying of Lot 49, Treasure Island, and Crime and Punishment. Don’t read Crying of… except under duress. The others are worth it. Read Treasure Island outloud to your kids, no kidding. Crime and Punishment is great. Read it on the plane during a long exhausting trip. You’ll love it.

  21. Rhian, Great recommendations! Thanks. Fathers & Sons is fabulous. Things Fall Apart is short and well worth reading. Mill on the Floss? Not my favorite Eliot novel. Middlemarch is such a good read. Mill on the Floss not as much.

    Hey Melissa, I’m thinking you can definitely count the big fat maybes and also you can count every one where you’ve seen the movie or already know the plot so that makes you up by about 25 books on this list, possibly more. If you want to start somewhere, I’d read something like Pride & Prejudice (and make sure you get the movie with Colin Firth in it), Jane Eyre or Their Eyes Were Watching God. All fabulous. There’s some effort involved, but it won’t hurt!

  22. Thank you for welcoming me on board, Lily. I strongly agree with your recommendation of Middlemarch. I beleive it’s one of the century’s best written novels, although not always an easy read. Currently, I’m reading Balzac’s Pere Goriot (Burton Raffel, translator) and Chesterton’s The Man Who Was Thursday. I really enjoyed the latters Tremendous Trifles, short, humorously serious essays, but I’m enjoying Pere far more than Thursday. The character and place descriptions are beautifully phrased and seem spot on. For example, early in the novel, Balzac’s narrator describes young Rastignac’s state of mind: “his heart filled with those foolish , aching hopes that swirl young men’s lives into such states of noble sentiment: they never stop to mesure the obstacles in their path, or to estimate the dangers, because all they can see is success, their imaginations casting over their entire existences the bright glow of poetry. Accordingly, they are plunged into sadness or even misery by the failure of projects that lived and breathed only in their wild desire; all that saves our society and its social life is their timidity and ignorance.”

    I don’t know how psychologically accurate this generalization concerning youth is, but I feel it’s a wonderfully written sentence whether or not it’s true. I’m now at that point in the novel where cynical, cunning, experienced Vautrin is schooling Eugene on imperfect human nature, society and how to succeed in making fast fortunes in Paris; here’s V. on the hapless, law abiding poor: “. . . those poor peons, and they’re all over the place, who never really get paid for all they do: they’re what I call the lay brothers of God’s Order of the Rundown Shoes. There’s a kind of virtue in being that stupid, but it’s the virtue of poverty. If God decides to play a bad joke on us, and stay away when the Last Judgment comes, oh, I can just see their faces!” I believe in this character that B. created; that he speaks just like this [not, obviously, that I agree with him].

    Here’s V. again, a few sentences before: “There are fifty thousand young fellows facing the same problem: how to make a fortune and make it fast. You’re just one among many. So think how hard you’ll have to try, and what a desparate fight it will be. You’ll all have to eat each other , like spiders in a chamber pot, because there aren’t fifty thousand fortunes available. So how do you manage, eh? Simple. Either by a burst of genius, or by being a clever crook.” And so on.

    Anyway, I’m thoroughly enjoying it. I’m uncertain whether it’s okay to qoute a novel, but I just want to show a sample of what I like about the book. I’m not even certain that I’ve got the right blog; should I have written this on your next posted blog? Please play the role of Herbert to my Pip and kindly point out any deficiency of blog manners when they arise (just finished rereading Great Expectations, one of the best opening pages in lit.).

    I also agree with Pride & Prejudice being a good starting place, or The Ballad of the Sad Cafe; it’s short, gothically funny and it conjures up a mythic Southern town with spellbinding language.

  23. Ishmael, These are wonderful and interesting thoughts. I’ve never read Pere Goriot, and it sounds wonderful — I’m putting it on my list. As for blog manners, you have committed no breach by posting here! I do have a suggestion though — you’re a wonderful writer and obviously think a lot about books. You need to set up a blog — it’s very, very easy to do and it’s totally free. (If I could do it, it’s easy.) You just go to wordpress.com and let them talk you through it. Email me if it doesn’t make sense. And I’m going to guess you’ll come up with a wonderful name. That way, you can write about the subject YOU choose, when you choose. I can guarantee I’ll be a requent visitor. I’m sure others will be too.

    Let me know what happens, okay? And thank you for coming over here — I love hearing what you’re reading and what you think about it and hope you continue to leave many comments!

  24. Actually, I’m willing to go on the record as saying that I think any film starring Mr. Day Lewis actually counts as reading War and Peace.

  25. The prologue to Canterbury Tales? by heart? My spouse can do it, too, in middle english, and OMG, it’s impressive. Maybe you guys went to school together…nah. I’m gonna have another look at it, though. You are correct: it’s a great conversation thing – stops people right in their tracks – maybe because no one knows stuff by heart anymore (except song lyrics perhaps).

    The best part of the list was the laughter – your comments were great and apropos. (My French teacher is rolling in her grave with your comment on the The Stranger (L’Etranger! she would shout at us with her Ameri-French accent.) If you pursue it, do read it, don’t watch a movie or theatrical presentation of it. The guy I saw performing it was the opposite of Daniel DL. But oh, could he speak French!

  26. It’s funny, oh, (and welcome!) but I think when you’re 18 you can memorize anything. My son just memorized Tennyson’s Ulysses which is really long, but he, like everyone his age, has one of those sponge-for-brains. Now, I have trouble remembering pretty much anything that needs to be remembered. Where I went to college (at Yale) every English major had to memorize the prologue. I think it’s true at a lot of other places too. I wish I knew more things by heart, though.

    Oh good, Emma. That means I’ve read War & Peace many, many times.

  27. The Daniel Day-Lewis movie, “There Will Be Blood,” was based on the novel “Oil!” by Upton Sinclair, NOT Sinclair Lewis. The two are often confused. Do you really find Babbitt strident? You might try Main Street. If you liked Sister Carrie you’d love Main Street. But certainly don’t blame an overlong Paul Thomas Anderson film on Sinclair Lewis, who had nothing to do with it. By the way, the film had very little to do with Upton Sinclair’s novel as well.

  28. Katherine, That’s such a great suggestion! I’ll give Main Street a try. (Strident, by the way, is a guess, based on a hunch, based on several paragraphs. Not fair, I know. As with most quick conclusions, this one sounds due to be revisited.) Upton Sinclair! Good grief. Isn’t it amazing, the way things get all jumbled up in your head? I’m so glad you stopped by and I hope you don’t mind that I googled you and if you are the woman who wrote that story about welding, well, those two paragraphs available on the web are very good! (And if you’re not, that’s okay too. You’ve set me straight on Sinclair Lewis, so you rock regardless.)

  29. Busted!
    You rock too! Please try Main Street–we’ll have a nice chat about it. (Part of my dissertation is on Sister Carrie and Main Street, so I would appreciate the discussion.) Send me an email sometime.

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