I tend to read books that in some measure make contact with my life and the issues that are central to my thinking now. For the most part, they inevitably tend to be contemporary works of literary fiction.
Since this is the time of the year for resolutions and since I rarely make any, I am going for the first time in a long while to make one—to read more of the classics. And since I have newly arrived in the world of literature, it is clear that I have a lot of catching up to do. At this point in my life, it has become a race against the clock.
Where to begin? Several years ago the Guardian published a list of the top 100 books of all time. The list was based on the selections of 100 “noted writers” from fifty-four countries. Here is the unranked list arranged alphabetically by author. How many have you read?
Chinua Achebe, Nigeria, (b. 1930), Things Fall Apart
Hans Christian Andersen, Denmark, (1805-1875), Fairy Tales and Stories
Jane Austen, England, (1775-1817), Pride and Prejudice
Honore de Balzac, France, (1799-1850), Old Goriot
Samuel Beckett, Ireland, (1906-1989), Trilogy: Molloy, Malone Dies, The Unnamable
Giovanni Boccaccio, Italy, (1313-1375), Decameron
Jorge Luis Borges, Argentina, (1899-1986), Collected Fictions
Emily Bronte, England, (1818-1848), Wuthering Heights
Albert Camus, France, (1913-1960), The Stranger
Paul Celan, Romania/France, (1920-1970), Poems.
Louis-Ferdinand Celine, France, (1894-1961), Journey to the End of the Night
Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, Spain, (1547-1616), Don Quixote
Geoffrey Chaucer, England, (1340-1400), Canterbury Tales
Anton P Chekhov, Russia, (1860-1904), Selected Stories
Joseph Conrad, England,(1857-1924), Nostromo
Dante Alighieri, Italy, (1265-1321), The Divine Comedy
Charles Dickens, England, (1812-1870), Great Expectations
Denis Diderot, France, (1713-1784), Jacques the Fatalist and His Master
Alfred Doblin, Germany, (1878-1957), Berlin Alexanderplatz
Fyodor M Dostoyevsky, Russia, (1821-1881), Crime and Punishment; The Idiot; The Possessed; The Brothers Karamazov
George Eliot, England, (1819-1880), Middlemarch
Ralph Ellison, United States, (1914-1994), Invisible Man
Euripides, Greece, (c 480-406 BC), Medea
William Faulkner, United States, (1897-1962), Absalom, Absalom; The Sound and the Fury
Gustave Flaubert, France, (1821-1880), Madame Bovary; A Sentimental Education
Federico Garcia Lorca, Spain, (1898-1936), Gypsy Ballads
Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Colombia, (b. 1928), One Hundred Years of Solitude; Love in the Time of Cholera
Gilgamesh, Mesopotamia (c 1800 BC).
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Germany, (1749-1832), Faust
Nikolai Gogol, Russia, (1809-1852), Dead Souls
Gunter Grass, Germany, (b.1927), The Tin Drum
Joao Guimaraes Rosa, Brazil, (1880-1967), The Devil to Pay in the Backlands
Knut Hamsun, Norway, (1859-1952), Hunger.
Ernest Hemingway, United States, (1899-1961), The Old Man and the Sea
Homer, Greece, (c 700 BC), The Iliad and The Odyssey
Henrik Ibsen, Norway (1828-1906), A Doll's House
The Book of Job, Israel. (600-400 BC).
James Joyce, Ireland, (1882-1941), Ulysses
Franz Kafka, Bohemia, (1883-1924), The Complete Stories; The Trial; The Castle Bohemia
Kalidasa, India, (c. 400), The Recognition of Sakuntala
Yasunari Kawabata, Japan, (1899-1972), The Sound of the Mountain
Nikos Kazantzakis, Greece, (1883-1957), Zorba the Greek
DH Lawrence, England, (1885-1930), Sons and Lovers
Halldor K Laxness, Iceland, (1902-1998), Independent People
Giacomo Leopardi, Italy, (1798-1837), Complete Poems
Doris Lessing, England, (b.1919), The Golden Notebook
Astrid Lindgren, Sweden, (1907-2002), Pippi Longstocking
Lu Xun, China, (1881-1936), Diary of a Madman and Other Stories
Mahabharata, India, (c 500 BC).
Naguib Mahfouz, Egypt, (b. 1911), Children of Gebelawi
Thomas Mann, Germany, (1875-1955), Buddenbrook; The Magic Mountain
Herman Melville, United States, (1819-1891), Moby Dick
Michel de Montaigne, France, (1533-1592), Essays.
Elsa Morante, Italy, (1918-1985), History
Toni Morrison, United States, (b. 1931), Beloved
Shikibu Murasaki, Japan, (N/A), The Tale of Genji Genji
Robert Musil, Austria, (1880-1942), The Man Without Qualities
Vladimir Nabokov, Russia/United States, (1899-1977), Lolita
Njaals Saga, Iceland, (c 1300).
George Orwell, England, (1903-1950), 1984
Ovid, Italy, (c 43 BC), Metamorphoses
Fernando Pessoa, Portugal, (1888-1935), The Book of Disquiet
Edgar Allan Poe, United States, (1809-1849), The Complete Tales
Marcel Proust, France, (1871-1922), Remembrance of Things Past
Francois Rabelais, France, (1495-1553), Gargantua and Pantagruel
Juan Rulfo, Mexico, (1918-1986), Pedro Paramo
Jalal ad-din Rumi, Afghanistan, (1207-1273), Mathnawi
Salman Rushdie, India/Britain, (b. 1947), Midnight's Children
Sheikh Musharrif ud-din Sadi, Iran, (c 1200-1292), The Orchard
Tayeb Salih, Sudan, (b. 1929), Season of Migration to the North
Jose Saramago, Portugal, (b. 1922), Blindness
William Shakespeare, England, (1564-1616), Hamlet; King Lear; Othello
Sophocles, Greece, (496-406 BC), Oedipus the King
Stendhal, France, (1783-1842), The Red and the Black
Laurence Sterne, Ireland, (1713-1768), The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy
Italo Svevo, Italy, (1861-1928), Confessions of Zeno
Jonathan Swift, Ireland, (1667-1745), Gulliver's Travels
Leo Tolstoy, Russia, (1828-1910), War and Peace; Anna Karenina; The Death of Ivan Ilyich and Other Stories
Thousand and One Nights, India/Iran/Iraq/Egypt, (700-1500).
Mark Twain, United States, (1835-1910), The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
Valmiki, India, (c 300 BC), Ramayana
Virgil, Italy, (70-19 BC), The Aeneid
Walt Whitman, United States, (1819-1892), Leaves of Grass
Virginia Woolf, England, (1882-1941), Mrs. Dalloway; To the Lighthouse
Marguerite Yourcenar, France, (1903-1987), Memoirs of Hadrian
In response to these selections, the Guardian published another set the year after, this time a ranked list at http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2003/oct/12/features.fiction. Two other lists are at http://www.randomhouse.com/modernlibrary/100bestnovels.html and I am sure there are a good many more.