If you have not already perused Part 1 please do so. We’ll leave the light on for you.
An old friend of mine once observed that I “live in a library”, and he wasn’t wrong. My humble abode boasts about ten bookcases. Having said that, allow me to drop a truth bomb: I am a fraud…kind of. One of my favorite television shows is the 90’s sitcom Frasier, and I always admired Frasier & Niles Crane. Educated. Classy. Well-dressed. Cultured. However, the truth is that I am much closer in temperament to their father Martin…just a simple guy who prefers ball games, comfy t-shirts, and iced tea to opera, tailored suits, and fine wine. Looking at lists like the one we are perusing makes me realize that I am not particularly well-read, atleast by others’ lofty standards. I am much more inclined to enjoy a great sports biography or a cultural examination of food than most of the “great” books you’ll see mentioned here. So be it. I am at a point in my life when I am unlikely to change course, which is fine.
26 Catch-22 / Joseph Heller
A catch-22 is “is a paradoxical situation from which an individual cannot escape because of contradictory rules or limitations”, or “a problematic situation for which the only solution is denied by a circumstance inherent in the problem or by a rule”. Same thing. The term was actually coined by Heller for the book, but if you want to find out the details you’ll need to read it yourself. No spoilers here, except that the story is a satire set during WWII.
27 2666 / Roberto Bolaño
I had to look this one up, and it doesn’t sound like my cup o’ tea. If you’re more familiar with the book feel free to try & change my mind.
28 The Recognitions / William Gaddis
Another book that I’d never heard a peep about in all my years on the planet. It sounds like it’d be long & boring. No thanks.
29 The Book of the New Sun / Gene Wolfe
We’re establishing a theme…supposedly great books that I’ve never heard of in my life. I’m not saying that’s an accurate metric. The older I get the more I realize just how small & meaningless my life has been. However, this whole thing is about me & my taste in books. There’s a lot of other great sci-fi that I’d love to get to eventually, so I doubt this makes the cut.
30 The Sound & The Fury / William Faulkner
Faulkner wrote a few well-regarded novels, and I’d like to get around to them eventually.
31 V / Thomas Pynchon
My initial reaction is to recall a godawful TV miniseries from the 1980s in which a race of lizard-like aliens invade Earth & disguise themselves as humans. However, the V referenced here is the 1963 debut novel of Thomas Pynchon, who has gone on to write Gravity’s Rainbow, Inherent Vice, and a few others. I think I’d lean toward giving those other works a go, and if I really get into Pynchon perhaps I’ll circle back to his first novel.
32 Journey to the End of the Night / Louis-Ferdinand Céline
I’ve never heard of it, and after reading the description I’m not the least bit interested.
33 The Catcher in the Rye / JD Salinger
I’ve read it, but I think it was too late. If I’d read it as a 16 year old boy I may have found Holden Caulfield relatable, but as a grown man I view him as an annoying kid and perceive the book as overhyped.
34 A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man / James Joyce
Joyce has snagged another spot, but I’m not sure I am as intrigued by this book as I am the others. Maybe.
35 The Book of Disquiet / Fernando Pessoa
I read a description that called it a “masterpiece beyond comparison”, which sets the bar pretty high. I won’t dismiss it out of hand, but I’m not sure it is something I’d purposely seek out.
36 Faust / Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
I find the idea of a Faustian pact, in which a person actually sells their soul to The Devil, fascinating in a disturbing kind of way. However, since I already understand the concept do I need to spend 500 pages reading about it?? Probably not.
37 The Metamorphosis / Frank Kafka
We’ve already mentioned Kafka, and this is generally considered his masterpiece. It’s actually a short story, so I’ll give it a whirl eventually.
38 Siddhartha / Hermann Hesse
I’ve seen this book mentioned in passing thru the years but had no idea what it was about. The title is a Sanskrit word that translates to “he who has found meaning”. I have nothing against deep & profound, but I’ve got to be in just the right mood. It’s a pretty short book, so perhaps I’ll grab a copy somewhere.
39 The Master & Margarita / Mikhail Bulgakov
I only heard of this book in the past year, and since I occasionally enjoy a tasty margarita the title stuck in my mind. However, I’m pretty sure there is no tequila or lime juice involved. My research indicates it is a dark satire about Satan visiting The Soviet Union, which sounds like it might be a fun read.
40 The Lord of the Rings / JRR Tolkien
You’ve probably heard of it. Full disclosure: I’ve tried a couple of times to get thru the entire trilogy & failed. I don’t think I even watched all of the critically acclaimed movies. I really love The Hobbit though.
41 The Picture of Dorian Gray / Oscar Wilde
The Faustian Pact is back, and I am intrigued. Oscar Wilde’s personal life may be more fascinating than his books though.
42 Mason & Dixon / Thomas Pynchon
Pynchon is an American and he’s still alive, so that kind of makes him an outlier amongst all the authors listed here. I guess you’d call the book historical fiction, which is kind of in my wheelhouse.
43 The Idiot / Fyodor Dostoevsky
Dostoevsky sure seems to get a lot of love from the folks on /lit/. Have a bunch of Russians infiltrated the site?? Who knows?? At any rate, my research indicates that the story deals with the protagonist’s “most intense personal ordeals, such as epilepsy & mock execution”, and “explores moral, spiritual, & philosophical themes.” Ol’ Fyodor must’ve been lots of fun at parties, huh?? 👀
44 A Confederacy of Dunces / John Kennedy Toole
What a great title!! Are we talking about stupid people during The Civil War?? Actually, no. The story is set in 1960’s New Orleans. It won the Pulitzer Prize a decade after the depressed author had committed suicide at the age of 31. He only wrote two books in his short life, with the other one (The Neon Bible) having been completed at the age of 16 but not published until two decades after his death.
45 Pale Fire / Vladimir Nabokov
Nabokov wrote this lesser known story a few years after the success of Lolita. It’s a short book, so perhaps I’ll give it a whirl someday.
46 Slaughterhouse Five / Kurt Vonnegut
I am ashamed to admit that I’ve not read it. I own it, but that’s a whole different thing. World War II seems to be a popular setting for these “great” books, which might be part of the problem. My father was really into war movies & documentaries when I was a kid, and as you might imagine I found the subject matter quite tedious. I am much more inclined to read things related to The Civil War or The Revolutionary War. I realize that doesn’t make much sense, but it is what it is.
47 Brave New World / Aldous Huxley
Much like 1984 I feel like this is a book worthy of being reread, because decades ago I had no idea how much “fiction” would seep into my reality.
48 No Longer Human / Osamu Dazai
I’ve never heard of it, but apparently it’s a Japanese novel that “presents recurring themes in the author’s life, including suicide, social alienation, and depression”. Okay, so here’s the thing…I prefer books much the same as I do movies: uplifting, fun, delightful. I stopped watching The Oscars many years ago because it seems like the only films that critics appreciate are real downers. Is it the same thing with books?? To be considered “great” does a book need to be bleak & somber?? That’s just not how I roll.
49 Paradise Lost / John Milton
I don’t know…can’t I just read my Bible?? Y’all know how I feel about epic poems at this point. I am absolutely sure we studied it in school, or atleast parts of it. That may have to suffice.
50 Les Miserables / Victor Hugo
Titling your novel The Miserables is terribly poor marketing. While I have an affinity for historical fiction as it relates to American history I am much less interested in French history, unless it traces the origins of fries, kissing, or toast. The story has been adapted multiple times into movies & stage plays, but I don’t have any interest in those either.
We’re halfway there!! Stay tuned!!