The Observer Book List

 

Don Quixote1. Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes (January - June 2015) [Book #129/306]

    Also on the Norwegian, Sybervision, and My Book lists - Whenever I hear anyone reference Don Quixote, it is frequently in regards to his fighting windmills, or riding around on an old horse with a fat squire on a donkey. Well, that is pretty much the first 20-50 pages of a 1,000 page long story. Preconceptions of the story do not really encompass the true breadth and depth of it. The story is about a man who feels he has been tasked with restoring knight errantry back to Spain and dupes a simple minded farmer to accompany him (Sancho Panza). When I first started to read the story, I felt like this was the story for me. It was serialized television long before television even existed. There were even phrases like "when we last left our heroes...". It seemed perfect for me. The translation I was reading was awesome as well (the Everyman edition). It was translated into a very readable sort of Old English, with all of the poetry and songs maintaining their rhymes. I assume the context and feel of the story was maintained even though the wording needed to be changed. And my version extended the feel of the novel to the translation itself. The novel is written as if it is a Spanish translation of an older text (Arabic I believe), where my English translator even had notes added on top of his translation by an editor. It definitely gives it a story handed down through time aura about it.


The problems I have with the story started pretty early though. I felt the story started to drag on really early in the first part. Adventures seemed to take forever; there were many side stories that added little (if anything) to the overall narrative, and I just felt the pace of the story slowing down dramatically. I felt I needed to trudge through most of the middle part of the novel until hitting the second part. When I really started to enjoy the story was during the last third of the novel, when the story became self referential. The first half of the novel was apparently published earlier and characters within the second half of the story had often either read it or had heard of it. There is even parts where a real life sequel to the first book was published by a different author and the characters in the book go out of their way to prove that book to be a false sequel. It's actually pretty meta. As for the ending: it felt very, very rushed. The ending could have been placed at any point in the book and still have fit, as there was no real build up to it during the narrative. It would have been better if certain story points (mainly Dulcinea del Toboso) were even addressed during the ending instead of just dropped as if she never even mattered. Overall, I would say the story was actually quite a bit of fun when it started to pick up during the later half but an abridged version of the story may be the way to go for many people (although I personally refuse to go abridged). 

 

Pilgrim's Progress2. The Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan (December 2016) [Book #142/306]

    Also on the Sybervision list - I will start off my review of Pilgrim's Progress with my general review. This is an overly heavy-handed biblical allegory written at an elementary level. First off, almost every single character in the book is a trait that defines the character, i.e. Mr Honest, Faithful, Mr Worldly Wiseman, etc., where sometimes the traits don't even make sense based on the way the character acts. It is as if the author didn't know the definition of some of the words he used. Second, the story is written very poorly. It feels like the writer has never actually written a book before. Phrases are repeated line after line and the setup of the book doesn't make sense. It is written as if it were a play, with the characters name spelled out where they should talk, but then it has a phase like "so and so says this." for instance:

"Christian: 'Truly,' said Christian, 'I do not know.'"

Why would you call out the character that is going to speak, then write again that they are speaking? And the story is beyond hypocritical. Maybe it is because I am not a religious person, but the main character, Christian, complains about nobody listening and doing what he tells them they should do, but he doesn't do anything they tell him he should do. Do as I say not as I do? Every single character is one note, and the women characters in the second part of the story are next to useless. Why make the second part centered around Christian's wife (whom he left willingly) to just make her a useless character that needs everyone around her to do everything for her? In short this is a overly heavy-handed, misogynistic, racist, piece of garbage that I am thankful that I will never have to read again.

 

Robinson Crusoe3. Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe (September-October 2008) [Book #78/306]

    Also on the Sybervision list - While I was reading Robinson Crusoe, I definitely got a Cast Away feeling about the book. I know many people thought that Cast Away was a boring movie, and the book came across the same way. It just seemed to drag on forever. At the beginning of the novel I kept waiting, and waiting, for him to become ship wrecked, and then when he finally was, nothing exciting happened. For a book that seemed to be billed as an action-adventure novel, I got none of that through the narrative. It's not a totally bad book and I rather enjoyed the plot, I just felt it was really slow at times. I found it amusing how, no matter what Robinson did, he seemed to end up with the short end of the stick. One major problem I had with the book though, was that Defoe constantly referred to the Native Americans/Native Islanders as savages and cannibals. I can see how Crusoe might have thought of them that way at the beginning of the story but even after meeting them Defoe continued to show them eating other humans. Sorry, but cannibalism was not that widespread. This is a definite pass for me.

 

Gulliver's Travels4. Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift (2002) [Book #18/306]

    Also on the Norwegian and Sybervision lists - Gulliver's Travels is another of my "I had to read this in college" books that I need to go back to sometime when I have the chance. I read this book towards the end of my undergraduate career and getting nearer to when I started this book list in earnest. I had found the book very enjoyable that superficially was a fantasy book but in reality was a political commentary, very similar to how Pratchett writes his Discworld series. The main plot of the story follows Gulliver as he travels through many fantastical islands after he is the victim of a shipwreck. These islands includes races of tiny people, the Lilliputians, a race of giant people, a flying island, immortal people, and a race of talking horses, among others. Throughout it all he is forced to face the realities of his world when confronted with these fantasy situations. Gulliver's Travels is considered to be one of the greatest masterpieces in the English language and I look forward to revisiting it someday. 

 

Tom Jones5.Tom Jones by Henry Fielding (May - July 2008) [Book #73/306]

    Also on the Sybervision and My Book lists - I found that although Tom Jones is a rather long book (my copy was over 850 pages) I greatly enjoyed reading it. The author is more of a narrator than an impartial observer. He readily makes comments throughout the book that makes you feel like you are sitting by a fire listening to him relay the story. It was definitely a different approach than most I have read and I greatly enjoyed it. The story was exquisite. It is about a bastard, Tom, who was abandoned by his mother to be raised by a very benevolent man. Although, I did not readily agree with some of the lessons at the end of the book (like how birth makes more of a difference on who the boy is, not just his character) I still enjoyed it and the ending did bring a tear to my cheek. Throughout the story the author kept making Tom's situation worse and worse and I thought that there was no way to bring him back in a believable manner, but it worked out rather well in the end. I definitely enjoyed this book and recommend it to anyone with a few months to read it.

 

6. Clarissa by Samuel Richardson

 

7. The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne 

    Also on the Norwegian list -

 

8. Dangerous Liaisons by Pierre Choderlos De Laclos

 

Emma9. Emma by Jane Austen (October - November 2006) [Book #53/306]

    Also on the BBC list - Coming into Emma with a fairly large preconceived notion about the Austen/Bronte books of the time, I was pleasantly surprised and this book was actually better than I was expecting. Once I got passed Austen's round-about way of speaking the book rather intrigued me. The story is about a female in her early twenties among the upper class social scene of rural England. She had vowed to never marry in order to not stress her father. Instead of indulging in her own love-life, she then tries to hook up her friend Harriet. The problem comes when Emma realizes that she is really bad at playing match-maker and eventually causes more problems than if she had just left everything alone. The story wraps up very nicely in a happily-ever-after ending. My biggest complaint of the story is that the language used made the book very difficult to follow at times and Austen could have definitely used "by the bye" far less. Although I enjoyed it, I do not recommend it, especially compared to Austen's much better and more famous Pride and Prejudice

 

Frankenstein10. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley (2004) [Book #27/306]

    Also on the Sybervision list - There are many stories on this list that quickly fade from memory. Upon looking at a synopsis I can often regain what the story was about and some plot details but many are just unremarkable. Frankenstein is not one of those books. I recall this book in vivid detail, despite writing this 15 years after initially reading the book. The story is very well known by this point in our history. A doctor keeps experimenting, and eventually succeeds, in bringing someone back from the dead. Actually a lot of someones, since the monster is essentially an amalgamation of a bunch of different parts. But the story itself brings up a very unique quandary. Should humanity attempt to play God, and what happens when it occurs. It is a very short read, having read it in only two days. And the writing itself is not that great. I found the book felt "unpolished", for lack of a better word. But the concept is what keeps Frankenstein in the social conscious. Many movie adaptations lack the essential part of the book, which is that the monster is not only self aware, but a fully intelligent individual intent on discovering why he was created by his master, otherwise known as his God. The book is written as a series of journal articles, a method not commonly done back in those times, however is remarkably similar to Dracula in that way. Through this method you get inside Doctor Frankenstein's mind as he works his way through his creation. A very clever book indeed, and one that I'm sure will stick with you through time. 

 

11. Nightmare Abbey by Thomas Love Peacock

 

12. The Black Sheep by Honore De Balzac

 

13. The Charterhouse of Parma by Stendhal

 

14. The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas

    Also on the BBC list -

 

15. Sybil by Benjamin Disraeli

 

David Copperfield16. David Copperfield by Charles Dickens (January - March 2013) [Book #116/306]

    Also on the Sybervision, BBC, and My Book lists - This was one of the longer books I have read in a while and I did greatly enjoy it. I found myself wondering what was coming around every turn of the story. Although, after reading the "review" that was found at the end of my version I did notice some rather odd things about the story. Mainly, the first part of the book felt very, very different from the rest of the book. The first part was rather dark and things kept getting worse and worse for David. Once that portion was past though, the book seemed to level out and although there were some bad times, there was nothing quite like that first part. Another thing that has me confused is on the title itself. The story is named after the primary character, David, who for one doesn't go by "David" for the majority of the story. Also, the story focuses more on the supporting characters than on David himself. I felt I was watching the lives of the secondary characters pass through, rather than seeing the story change by any actions of David himself. The story itself was very well written and I was surprised that characters that seemed to be one-note characters would constantly reappear later in the story. Many of these characters did get tiresome, they eventually did redeem themselves by the end. The story itself is easy to follow and well written and I must say this was the best Dickens' story I have read. By the end of the story, I did feel that some of the character arc conclusions left a little to be desired. But overall, the story was well done and I would have to recommend people pick it up.

 

Wuthering Heights17. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte (May 2006) [Book #45/306]

  One of the 2 on all 4 of the 100 lists (Sybervision, Norwegian, BBC, and also My Book list) - Wuthering Heights ended up being a very weird book and not at all what I expected. I initially considered this to be one of those "chic lit" books but I couldn't have been more off. This is one of the most depressing books I have read yet. The book explores how Satan himself can sometimes corrupt people into being wretched human beings, but in the end sometimes they are able to pull through. Most of the story takes place as a flashback of one of the former housekeepers. It is a little confusing and not very enjoyable at first because of the erudite language Bronte used, but after a few chapters I got used to it. After the flashback it shows an orphaned child, Heathcliff, brought back to the house and is shunned by everyone. However, Heathcliff eventually takes over everything. Since most of this is known at the start of the story, it is interesting to see how everything comes about and to see how two separate families who differ in everything (intelligence, strength, and health) intermingle. This book is definitely on my must read list and it should be on yours.

 

Jane Eyre18. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte (December 2003) [Book #21/306]

    Also on the the Observer, BBC, and My Book lists - Continuing on through my grandfather's book collection I noticed there was a large number of books by Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters. And so I decided to sit down and tackle some of those books. It has been so long since I have read Jane Eyre, I feel that I can't do it justice anymore. This is another of the books I need to go back to at some point. Our title character, Jane Eyre, starts off the story at an orphanage and eventually grows up to live with the famous Mr. Rochester. I almost feel like Mr. Rochester is more of a famous character in modern day society than even Jane Eyre is herself. The book is a fun romantic novel with an air of mystery that definitely deserves another go around for me.

 

Vanity Fair19. Vanity Fair by William Thackeray (August - October 2016) [Book #139/306]

    Also on the Sybervision and My Book lists - Vanity Fair had sat on my shelf for many years because I was not in the mood for more of the 18th century "romance novels". The kind of novels that were exemplified by the Bronte sisters and Jane Austen's works. They are all right to read once, but too much of that stuff wears me down. I feel there is no real "meat" in those books, just all fluff. Vanity Fair, though, is not one of those 18th century romances. In fact, it is the quintessential opposite in which Thackeray purposely makes fun of those novels. Thackeray's main characters are often vain, selfish, petulant, and immoral. Everything you wouldn't expect from an 18th romance novel. This actually made it a pleasant reading experience. I even laughed out loud at several instances throughout the book. The book is set up as written by someone who is acquainted with the main characters and is narrating their story as a storyteller would. This goes so far as to even have the narrator frequently making reference to the fact that you are reading a book that he is retelling. In terms of story, the main character, Becky Sharp, is not a hero. She is not even likable through much of the story. The only time that she may actually be likable is when you aren't sure if she is being sincere, which I am not convinced ever happens. Although she is the main character, the plot of the story works its way through two main families (the Crawleys and the Osbornes), taking it's leave of Becky when other story lines would take precedent. The plot and time moves steadily on throughout the story with characters coming and going as needed. My main problem with the book, though is that even though the writing is very well done, the story itself is rather dull at times. At over 700 pages long, it takes a long time to work through the narrative. The story could have been trimmed up pretty easily making the pace move a bit faster. I would often get bored of reading the book and need to put it down for a few days because there was nothing drawing me to read more. However, as I moved on towards the end I felt the urge to keep reading build up. Overall, I would say that the story was enjoyable, and funny at times, if not a little bit long winded, but I recommend it nonetheless.

 

The Scarelt Letter20.The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne (2001) [Book #17/306]

    Also on the Sybervision list - This is one of those "forced to read in college" books for me. I didn't get it at the time and that makes me want to go back and see if I better understand it now. At the time I had felt that the beginning was extremely slow and that had a tendency to drive people away from the book (at least that's how I felt). However, the book does get better fairly quickly. The novel follows a woman, Hester Prynne, who committed adultery and conceived a child from the affair within Puritan society. The strict rules of this religious society forces Hester to wear a bright red "A" to announce to everyone her improprieties. The novel explores how religion plays into her life as well as the guilt and sin associated with it. This is definitely a novel I plan on revisiting someday.

 

Moby Dick21. Moby Dick by Herman Melville (August-September 1998) [Book #9/306)

    Also on the Norwegian and Sybervision lists - Moby Dick is often cited as the analogy for relentlessly pursuing your dreams, often to the detriment of everyone around you. My introduction to this book was not all that great, having been forced to read it in my senior year of high school and never fully appreciating it at the time. Besides the plot of the book, one of the things it is most known for is perhaps being one of the most famous introductory lines in all of literature: "Call me Ishmael." In general, the story is about a man while trying to take control of his fears ends up being destroyed in the process. The book reads slowly and the chapter describing whales escaped my understanding as to why it was even in the book (at least for my high school self). This is a not recommend by me but maybe this could improve with a rereading (although I don't see that ever happening). 

 

Madame Bovary22. Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert (April 2010) [Book #88/306]

     Also on the Sybervision, Zane, Norwegian, and My Book lists - The first thing I noticed while reading Madame Bovary was how well is flowed. One idea flowed into another, most of it without a break or pause. Seemingly unconnected thoughts were put together seamlessly in a string of narrative that I could only hope to replicate. I loved reading this book, especially after The Canterbury Tales, since the language was so much easier to follow and I'm not trying to decipher what the author is saying, I'm just enjoying the words. I did have some problems with the book though. The first being the very weak female characters, especially the main character. She seemed mostly to be reacting to events in her life and not being proactive in any of her choices. Nothing she did was really in response to what she wanted and more in response to what someone else wanted. And her child was the most useless of characters, almost inconsequential for 99% of the story. So, even though it did have some weak points, it was a marvelously written story and I would definitely recommend this as a must read.

 

The Woman in White23. The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins (July-August 2007) [Book #62/306]

    Also on the BBC and My Book lists - Of all of the books that I have read across these 100 greatest books lists, the genera that is by far one of the least represented is the mystery. Luckily we get an excellent taste of mystery in The Woman in White. The story focuses on a mysterious woman who recently escaped from an asylum. Through the story she crosses paths with the main character, Walter Hartright, and she ends up being intertwined with the plot of several different characters throughout the story despite not always being present in the story. Since this is a mystery I will not give away any of the more interesting plot points (potentially ruining it for people) but I will say that it is a love story and it all turns out well in the end. I recommended this book to anyone who wants to have a fun sit-down with a book, since it is very easy to read, flows naturally, and is enthralling from the get go. The climax seems to come a bit early, but even though the narrative slows down afterwards, it never stops. Overall it is very entertaining and a must read in my opinion.

 

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland24. Alice's Adventures In Wonderland by Lewis Carroll (August 2010) [Book #94/306]

    Also on the BBC and My Book lists - In one word, this book was "bizarre". This is the first time I have read Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, but I have seen both the Disney and Tim Burton versions, and both of them made more sense than this book. As my friend put it, that must have been some good opium he was on when he wrote this. The story jumps around randomly and it goes from one situation seemingly into an entirely different situation with no rhyme or reason to why. But when you think about it, it makes sense. This is a story about a dream. But it is also a story as described by a child. So you have a dream where things have a habit of just happening in the words of a child who often will jump around and make up things that don't really make any sense, all woven into this magical land where nothing makes sense and things just happen. Although I was greatly dumbstruck at first, the story began to grow on me. Nothing really happened in the story by the end but aren't most dreams like that. At one point, you just wake up. The book is very well written. It just flowed as I read it, with each sentence and each section flowing into the next. Although you knew the situations didn't fit together the narrative was never jarring between different parts. The sentences weren't choppy and it made for a rather enjoyable read to see what would happen next. So I will place this on my to read list, mostly due to the fun that reading the book could instill on a child or an adult who wonders what it is like to think like a child.

 

Little Women25. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott (May - December 2011) [Book #101/306]

    Also on the Sybervision and the BBC lists - Typically when Little Women is mentioned, it is often regarded (at least in my mind) as a little girls/ chick lit novel. I had tended to stay away from this book for that very reason and it might have worked out for the better. The way I read it was very slowly, about 10 pages or so a night, to my daughter, over most of the year. In this way I had a chance to grow with the characters as they were growing and watch my daughter grow as well. I become connected to them in a way that doesn't usually happen to me and when one of them died, I really felt the loss. This book was one of the better books I have read in a while and although it would probably still be considered a chick-lit novel, I found the characters very engaging and the writing to be far superior to many books written for the same age-level. As the characters got older, the language in the book also seemed to be getting older, to the point that at the end I didn't know what several of the words even meant, or how to pronounce them. In the end, I would recommend this  book, especially as a family read-time book. I had a great time reading it to my daughter and I could feel many families would enjoy a similar experience.

 

26. The Way We Live Now by Anthony Trollope

 

Anna Karenina27. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy (December 2008 - January 2009) [Book #80/306]

    The only one on all 5 lists (Norwegian, Sybervision, BBC, and Zane) - Being the only book on all 5 of my Greatest Books lists, I had high hopes for it. And to start off, I thought this was one of the most well written stories I have ever read. Tolstoy just flows with descriptions that make you feel you understand everything that is going on. The characters are extremely well developed and even though they are Russian (which has a tendency to jump around with names a bit) it is still easy to follow who is who. I enjoyed several of the references to early communist culture (the book takes place about 30 years before the communist revolution) and several of the characters' personality polarities and themes that are emphasized in the book (religious vs non-religious, upper vs lower class, etc.). However, I did have some problems with the book. The story felt like two separate stories going on at the same time. The "main" one should be the one with Anna but I got the feeling that for the most part the main story was the one that centered around Levin, who supposedly represented Tolstoy himself. The Anna story itself felt enjoyable and well written, focusing around her leaving her husband for another man, of which that relationship slowly dissolves over the length of the book as well. While the story with Levin, although in parts were very good, I felt was very political and sometimes unimportant to anything. The whole last section (after the Anna story line was wrapped up) felt forced and out of place, leaving me wishing that the book would just end. All in all, I very much enjoyed the first half of the novel but the second half seemed to drag on a bit. I am not going to recommend this on my list and personally would not consider this the greatest book ever. But being that it is on so many book lists it probably should be one that you read.

 

28. Daniel Deronda by George Eliot

 

The Brothers Karamazov29.The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor M Dostoyevsky (July - September 2006) [Book #52/306]

    On the Norwegian and the Sybervision lists - After reading Crime and Punishment I became a big fan of Dostoyevsky, an I found that this book read a lot like Crime and Punishment, which is the reason why I liked it so much. I probably would put this on my personal must read list but Crime and Punishment is already on the list and I thought that Crime and Punishment was a much better book. Overall I though the book was extremely well written, but long (~800 pages) and I did not fully understand the point of the epilogue. A good translation can make or break a story and I have found over time that Russian literature has a tendency to translate very well into English. The Brothers Karamazov is about 3 (maybe 4) brothers all from the same father but different mothers. All of them have widely varied personalities ranging from borderline psychotic to deeply religious to the non-religious academic. The story culminates in a murder that we as the reader know the brother did not commit but he is put on trial for. I like the way the story was written, with us knowing more than the people in the trial and the ending for the most part made sense; again except for the epilogue. So if you are in the mood for a long but relatively uncomplicated read, I recommend this one.

 

The Portrait of a Lady30. The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James (2005) [Book #42/306]

    Also on the Sybervision list - The Portrait of a Lady, and Henry James in general, fall into my unmemorable category. Neither of the two stories that I have read of his on my lists I can recall at all. The Portrait of a Lady follows an American woman, Isabel Archer, who moved to Europe and ends up having to adapt from the free thinking American way of life to the more rigid thinking of England at the time. This follows the main theme of the novel, which is the mixing of the old and the new, with often disastrous consequences for the old way of life. Overall, the story is well written with an easy flow to it, however unremarkable it may be. I enjoyed reading at the time but after many years I cannot recall the plot off the top of my head at all.

 

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn31. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain (1996ish) [Book #3/306]

    Also on the Norwegian, Zane, and the Sybervision lists - Huckleberry Finn is one of the many novels on this list which I had read as a result of a high school assignment. I actually had to read it a couple of times for school and I have since come to love the book. It is a rather contentious book because of the language used in the book, specifically the "N" word used so prolifically throughout, however I feel that is one of the reasons it should be read. The book forces people to look at where we were as a country, where we are now, and how far we still have to go. The main plot revolves around a childhood adventure story, where Huck runs away from home getting into all sorts of trouble along the way. He travels on his trip with escaped slave Jim, whom Huck goes from seeing just as a slave to eventually seeing him as a person and a friend. This book is a must read, if only because people try to ban it. 

 

Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde32. Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson (February 2016) [Book #134/306]

     As with many stories I have read, this one was an odd one. I assume most people are familiar with the premise of the story but if not, I wouldn't read this review as I will spoil it. That being said, the premise of the story is that Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde are the same person, transformed through chemical concoctions of the doctor's creation. This is what I knew going into the story. However, the story is set up as a mystery. Who is this Mr. Hyde? And what is his relation to our dear friend Dr. Jekyll? Reading the story, it felt like a second read through, where I already knew the ending and I was just reading it this time to catch up on the details I missed. A very weird feeling, considering I have never read the book before. Overall, the story was alright. It is written as an autobiographical account from a lawyer friend of Dr. Jekyll's who witnessed the whole thing. The prose is fairly straight forward, except for the last chapter, which was "written" by Dr. Jekyll and gets rather wordy for my liking. It is very short, taking me only a few hours to read, however nothing really ever grabbed my attention. I was rather interested in how the "big reveal" progressed through the story and seeing the groundwork laid down for it was fascination. But overall, I would say that if you wanted to read it, it wouldn't take very long and you may find it interesting, but I wouldn't go out of my way to find it, as it feels that pop-culture has ruined any surprises that were built into the story.

 

33. Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome

 

The Picture of Dorian Gray34.The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde (July 2009) [Book #86/306]

    Also on the Sybervision and My Book lists - The Picture of Dorian Gray is a rather enjoyable book about a man who (unintentionally) sells his soul so that he may remain the Adonis that he is forever. Dorian Gray starts out pretty naive until he is told by a painter that he is the most beautiful person he has ever seen. After the portrait that he paints is complete, Dorian sees it and realizes that the painter is correct. At the same time he meets another man, Lord Henry, who says that it is a pity that he will lose his beauty at such a young age, prompting Dorian to sell his soul to maintain his current appearance.. Since that time Lord Henry had steadily corrupted Dorian, acting as a Satan character, leading him down a dark path. Fantastic book. The ending is perfect and unexpected. I recommend it to anyone interested in a fairly short, enjoyable read. Wilde does go off on some tangents at times and some of Lord Henry's speeches are difficult to follow, but enjoyable nonetheless.

 

35. The Diary of a Nobody by George Grossmith

 

36. Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy

 

37. The Riddle of the Sands by Erskine Childers

 

The Call of the Wild38. The Call of the Wild by Jack London (September 2005) [Book #41/306]

    Also on the Sybervision and My Book lists - When you think about one of Jack London's Alaskan dog books, you would likely think about White Fang, I assume due to the popularity of the movie a few years ago. However, before White Fang was published, London published the much shorter The Call of the Wild. To start off I must say that this book was fantastic and I highly recommend it to anyone, especially dog lovers. It is gripping and intense, so much so that it makes you want to read more. And to top it all off, its short, only about 80 pages. I was able to read it in about 2 days without trying very hard. It is about a dog, Buck, who was kidnapped from California and taken to Alaska to be a sled dog. The book is entirely through the dogs perspective but it does not have any of the cheesy "dog voices". Not once do you hear what they are saying but you get how he is feeling, especially among his interactions with other dogs and humans. Again I highly recommend, you won't be disappointed.

 

39. Nostromo by Joseph Conrad 

    Also on the Norwegian list -

 

The Wind in the Willows40.The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame (October - November 2010) [Book #96/306]

    Also on the BBC list - This is not what I was expecting when I started it. At first I was expecting a kiddy story about a bunch of animals. Well, there was a bunch of animals, but it definitely was not kiddy. The story was very well written, not shying away from the larger, more adult, words when appropriate. The story at times seemed to be about random misadventures of a group of animals, but through the story you can grasp a common thread going through four of them. My main problem with the story is that I felt unfulfilled afterwards. A character like Mole really grew from the beginning of the story, where he was rather naive, to the end, where he was able to stand up for himself and help lead a revolt. Although, a counterpoint to that is the character of Toad, who did not grow at all and actually seemed to devolve through the progress of the story. All through the story I was waiting for him to get his just desserts in the end, however it never came. Even his supposed humbling at the end seemed fake; like he didn't actually feel any remorse over what he had done. So in regards to the Toad story arc, I can't really recommend this book because it was a real disappointment when all was said and done.

 

41. In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust

    Also on the Zane list -

 

42. The Rainbow by D. H. Lawrence

 

43. The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford

 

44. The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan

 

Ulysses45. Ulysses by James Joyce (March-April 2007) [Book #58/306]

    Also on the Norwegian and BBC lists - Although Ulysses is often listed as one of the best books of the 20th Century, I have some definite problems with it. My primary problem with Ulysses is it is written in an odd style, where no two chapters are similar in vocabulary, style, or even concept. Some examples include one chapter written like a play, one with newspaper type headlines, and one that illustrates the evolution of the English language over time. The story itself is based off of the Odyssey set in modern day (early 19th century) Ireland, where the author uses various quirks of language and format style to illustrate several different portions of the story. Had I read this book in a class where they could explain the information to me, I feel like this would have been a much better book, but I didn't. I did have to look up several descriptions of the book chapters online to figure out what was going on and after that the book became much better, but it is still a very difficult book to read. When reading it by yourself some of the sections are completely unintelligible, although the parts I did get I could tell where this book was groundbreaking for its time. After all is said and done though, I'm just not able to recommend this book to anyone anytime soon.

 

46.  Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf 

    Also on the Norwegian list -

 

47. A Passage to India by E. M. Forster

 

The Great Gatsby48. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (1996?) [Book #4/306]

    Also on the Sybervision, Zane, and BBC lists - Along with a host of other significant stories of the early 1900's, The Great Gatsby finds itself as another mandatory school read. And like many of those books, this is one I need to go back to some day to truly understand the details that I likely missed as a high school student. The book follows the life of a man in the 1920's, who created his fortune (a member of the nouveau riche) while living around people who inherited theirs. These separate worlds clash during the Roaring 20's when people accustomed to "the old ways" must learn to adapt to the new ways that are up and coming. However, Gatsby's excesses may be a bit more than even the most liberal of people could withstand (at the time). A novel about religion, poverty to wealthy, love, and a whole host of other themes interwoven into the fabric of the quintessential 1920's American story.

 

49. The Trial by Franz Kafka 

    Also on the Norwegian list -

 

Men Without Women50. Men Without Women by Ernest Hemingway (December 2019) [Book #162/306]

        Before coming into this book, I had been a big fan of Hemingway's longer works. This is mainly because they were the first real "literature" I had ever attempted to read on my own, including A Farewell to Arms and For Whom the Bell Tolls. However, I haven't read one of his books in a long time. Men Without Women was the last book of his on any of my lists that I had still left to read and I was confused at first. Apparently, this is a short story collection, and a rather short one at that. I hadn't even realized he had short story collections. In total, the book barely is more than 100 pages long and is comprised of 14 short stories, with two being over 20 pages, making most of the remaining stories 5 to 10 pages long at most. The stories were all written before his longer, more well known works, but most of the stories still seemed to hold the Hemingway style that I had grown to love. His writing style is beyond compare. He is able to draw you into a story very quickly and keep you there with just the beauty of his prose. But since these are some of his earlier works they do feel a bit rougher than his later, more polished works. Within the book, the longer stories are some of the best ones, like "The Undefeated" and "Fifty Grand". His stories clearly are based around situations he knows, like boxing and bull fighting, but I had come to realize something about Hemingway while reading through these stories, as well as reading about the background behind the book. As you can see, the book is titled Men Without Women, and that "without women" part is plainly clear to me now. As I read elsewhere, Hemingway is a great writer, however his focal characters are generally men, and white men at that. Besides white men though, he doesn't do the characters any justice, and in this short story collection, he often just leaves out any, or all, other characters all together. He is also racist and dismissive, and even in one instance it appears homophobic, but the moral of that one story seemed hazy in the end. Overall, I like Hemingway's writing, but I feel these short stories did not age well with the times. I could do without the clearly racist language and undertones, even if they were minor parts of the books, they were still glaring by their inclusion.  

 

51. Journey to the End of the Night by Louis-Ferdinand Celine 

    Also on the Norwegian list -

 

52. As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner

 

Brave New World53. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley (August 2019) [Book #157/306]

    Also on the BBC and My Book lists - Brave New World can be pictured as the original dystopian-future novel. Written in 1931, Brave New World envisions a world 600 years in the future where the principles of Henry Ford, of the Model T fame, have been taken to the extreme with human beings being produced on assembly lines and natural birth almost all but eliminated. It is definitely a unique view on the future I had not anticipated. Having seen many dystopian movies and read other dystopian novels this was interesting to go back and look at what the future looked like from a 1930's perspective. The "advanced" technology is exactly as you would envision 1930's "advanced" technology to be, kind of steam-punkish, not the technology of today. And it is less technologically advanced as more biologically advanced. In this future they have perfected making a society were nobody wants more in their station of life, by making sure people manufactured for their particular station. This means that many people are dumbed-down to feel better in more menial tasks and some are allowed to excel beyond these menial tasks. The story shows us how a kid who grew up in the "savage lands", a reservation exempt from this "utopia", would feel in such a land and how this utopia. Although referred to by the derogatory term of "Savage", I believe Huxley's point was to portray him as one of us thrust into this "utopia" of sorts and how we would feel in such a world. I would say my only major gripes with the novel was his depiction of women, who were essentially relegated to being sex-hungry, mindless, pieces of meat added as something for the main character to "deal" with, not as characters in their own right. But other than that the story was intriguing, wholly engrossing, and flowed nicely. I breezed through the novel much quicker than I was ever anticipating. I would definitely place this on my recommend list.

 

Scoop54. Scoop by Evelyn Waugh (July-August 2019) [Book #155/306]

     Scoop was not what I was expecting, however I was pleasantly surprised. The story is set up like a 1930's/1940's comedy movie with several people having the same last name getting all shuffled together in different circumstances. The main part of the story dealt with a naturalist/country bumpkin being employed as a war correspondent in the fictional country of Ishmaelia. The country was embroiled in unrest, and had been plagued by an influx of reporters. The story, though was surprisingly funny. I laughed out loud at several points in the story and in general greatly enjoyed it. My only issue with the story was the racism that seemed to be spread throughout the story. It definitely felt like a period piece including the racism of the time, but I had hoped for more. The country of  Ishmaelia was located somewhere within northern Africa and felt like a caricature of an African country instead of a legitimate location. Even though I enjoyed the book, it didn't really feel like a "great work of literature". It felt like pulp fiction that one reads and then forgets about. Overall, I would say that the story was enjoyable but forgettable.  

 

55. USA by John Dos Passos

 

The Big Sleep56. The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler (October 2019) [Book #160/306]

    The Big Sleep returns me to the detective noir genra, taking place during the Great Depression with a detective named Philip Marlowe. The feel of the novel was very similar to The Maltese Falcon, however Hammett has something that Chandler lacks. In The Big Sleep I never felt this overwhelming urge to drive on through the novel like I did with The Maltese Falcon. I definitely had the voice-over effect in my head though. Marlowe was narrating the entire story, and that part was enjoyable, with his random quips being generally pretty funny. However, I had a problem with the general premise of the story. This is likely because of my time compared to civilization back then, but it still irked me and I would likely have put the book down never to be picked up again if it weren't for this list. The story begins with Marlowe being asked to find out information on an extortion racket. This later gets expanded upon with multiple murders, fights, and the sneaking around that you would expect from a good detective thriller. However, the overall misogynistic and anti-homosexual context of the story was too much for me to bear. The women in the story were either hyper-sexualized, dumb as rocks, or pointless. The attitude towards the gay characters made them out to be seen as less than dirt who didn't deserve any justice that they may need or want, and it made me angry and sick while reading. So overall, while I could have seen that this novel may have once had a place in history, that is where it now belongs, in the dustbins of history.

 

57. The Pursuit Of Love by Nancy Mitford

 

58. The Plague by Albert Camus

 

198459. 1984 by George Orwell (February-March 2007) [Book #57/306]

    Also on the Norwegian, BBC, and My Book lists -Out of the four 100 Greatest Books lists, there are only a few books that appear on more than two lists. 1984 is one out of the few on multiple lists and I can understand why. 1984 is a very powerful novel dealing with possible totalitarian future society and how one might survive in such a society. The only problem I really had with this book was the utter hopelessness of it. Through every page, every paragraph of the book, you had this hope that everything may be ok and that everything turn out right in the world again. Unfortunately, after all is said and done, you knew that it wouldn't. Although this is a fascinating book to read it is very depressing but I must say that it is a definite must read, if only to warn people just might be possible. Because, well, you never know.

 

Molloy, Malone Dies, and The Unnamable60. Malone Dies by Samuel Beckett (July-August 2008) [Book #77/306]

    The entire Trilogy is also on the Norwegian list - Even though only Malone Dies is on this list, and is the best of the three, I am reviewing the entire trilogy. The trilogy of Molloy, Malone Dies, and The Unnamable at first reminded me of Ulysses, which if anyone has noticed, I despised. But Beckett soon broke away from the incessant ramblings that plagued that novel and gave two really good stories, Molloy and Malone Dies. The novels were written with all the emotion removed and in a rather cryptic way that keeps the reader guessing as you read on. One of the interesting things about Molloy is that as you read through the second half of the story, it begins to feel as if you are getting the prelude to the first half. Malone Dies at first seemed to be completely disjointed from the first novel but reading through it you get the feeling the story may be about the character of Molloy and the book is just a continuation of the first novel. In the third novel, The Unnamable, Beckett returns to the rambling speech that is full of run-on sentences saying nothing. If it was not for the last novel I might recommend this series, but The Unnamable killed it for me. Unfortunately, you need to read all three to get the entire story. So although I somewhat enjoyed parts of it, I can not recommend this as a novel series to be read.

 

Catcher in the Rye61. Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger (1996ish?) [Book #6/306]

    Also on the BBC list - The Catcher in the Rye seems to have been relegated to "cult" status stemming from the obsessive love of the book that Mark David Chapman had for the book. Chapman is well known as being the murderer of the beloved John Lennon. Whether the book deserves this cult status is up for debate but I personally don't understand it. The book is a rather depressing novel about a 16 year-old adolescent, just kicked out of prep school, and learning to deal with the adult world of "phonies." It's a very well written book and really enjoyable to read. However, it has been a long time since I have read the book, so I will place this on my must reread list to hopefully be able to solve this cult classic mystery for myself.

 

62. Wise Blood by Flannery O'Connor

 

Charlotte's Web63. Charlotte's Web by E. B. White (August 2010) [Book #93/306]

    This story goes way back for me. I remember growing up and watching the cartoon but I don't believe I ever read the book outright. I read it this time with my daughter and I realized that I would prefer to stick with the cartoon. The sentence structure is often very difficult to read and, I don't know about other books, but reading this out-loud I noticed a ton of "said so and so" after someone said something. This type of writing can get rather tiring after a while and really destroys the flow of a good book. Also, this book reminded me of why I like the Dahl books; it was because of the language. Dahl has a habit of using large words in context, words that you wouldn't usually find in a children's book. In Charlotte's Web, White also uses some large words but it is immediately followed by "I don't know what that means, what does that mean?". That is great for teaching children new words, but I prefer the other method. If you use the word in context well enough, you don't have to explain the meaning. So all in all, it is a touching story, and I did tear up a little at the end, but I wouldn't really recommend this to other people to read.

 

Lord of the Rings64. The Lord Of The Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien (January - February 2005) [Book #35/306]

   Also on the Observer and My Book lists - Following The Hobbit, I dove headfirst into the tome that was The Lord of the Rings. Although it is often listed as a trilogy of books, my book list treats it as a singular novel, and really that was what it was meant to be. Looking at the detail that Tolkien puts into this world, it is absolutely incredible. For a book that took ten years to write, you can tell. The story is so in depth and the languages that were created so complete that you can almost feel like this is an actual world. Word of advice, I recommend that you read it like I did. Read The Hobbit first, then expand into this book because The Hobbit flows into this book. Also, watching the movies after reading these books gave me so much more insight that upon first viewing I missed. The characterization in these novels is some of the best I have ever read. I love stories that tie back into a whole wider universe. This novel alone had urged me on to explore all of the Tolkien stories tied together, from The Silmarillion to the Lost Stories. If you don't like fantasy novels this might not be for you, but it is dead center of my alley. Overall, the book is fantastic, you just need to read it to appreciate it. Definitely on my must read list.

 

65. Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis

 

66. Lord of the Flies by William Golding

    Also on the BBC list -

 

67. The Quiet American by Graham Greene

 

68. On the Road by Jack Kerouac

    Also on the BBC list -

 

Lolita69. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov (January - February 2011) [Book #98/306]

    Also on the Norwegian and the Zane lists - This was a rather odd book for me. At first I thought the book would never, ever, make it on to my Must Read List because of the semi-pornographic nature of the book. But it was worse than that, it made me feel awkward because it is all about a man who has a sexual interest in pre-pubescent girls (around the age of 12-14). So all the while I am reading this, I feel like I am going to get in trouble for child pornography. By once you get past the initial portion of the book things got really interesting. The second half of the book I found to be by far the better half. It focused more on the mental anguish of the main character as he pursues his Lolita, both knowing that he has and will destroy her life, but also not being able to control himself. It is a perfect view into self-destructive behavior. The main plot point of the story is similar to another book I had read, An American Tragedy, which focused on a person in jail and you basically found out how he ended up there. But there is a difference in Lolita, where the story is a first person narrative of basically how he ended up in jail. And throughout the story you assume how he ended there but as you progress you realize you were wrong and it really is for something different. The story was rather riveting in this aspect and I did enjoy the second half of the story immensely. So, all in all, I can't recommend this story due to the awkward feeling first half (which I imagine is almost impossible to get through for some people) but I did enjoy it and would recommend it for those who could get past that point.

 

The Tin Drum70.The Tin Drum by Günter Grass (February-March 2020) [Book #163/306]

    Also on the Norwegian list - Upon initially starting The Tin Drum, I had a couple of friends tell me that they really enjoyed the book, so I was looking forward to it. However, the first third of the book was very difficult for me to get into. It could have been the translation, having initially been written in German, but the text didn't really give me much problems. Especially towards the latter 2/3rds of the book. It was the context of the book that I had issues with. The book is essentially a slight supernatural/fantasy book following along a man named Oscar and his family as they grow up through World War 2 in Poland and Germany, although, the war barely plays a backdrop to the book. The story is really about Oscar and his unique abilities, of which there are a few notable ones. The main ability of his that is the namesake of the book was his relentless drumming from the age of 3 onward. The presence or absence of the drum played a pivotal role throughout the story and was essentially how Oscar was able to communicate with other people at times. Although, the most notable is that Oscar decided to stop growing (for the majority of the book) when he was three years old. He wasn't really a "little person" per se, because he never looked any older than a three year old. And although he was a self described genius, he often would act like a three year old at random times throughout the book. After a while this made Oscar not become the "hero" of the story, but a rather self-centered jackass, with less than noble morals. This all made him a not terribly likable character, performing various murders and rapes throughout the book. The prose of the novel was beautifully written but it did not allow for a smooth reading experience, forcing me as the reader, to take my time and read through it carefully. This resulted in being able to only read the book for short snippets of time, because otherwise I would get tired of trying to keep up with it. I actually think this book would be much better as an audiobook, reducing the mental concentration required. Overall, I would say that the story became entertaining, but was frequently frustrating, and I don't think I can recommend this but some people would probably enjoy it.

 

Things Fall Apart71. Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe (April 2018) [Book #147/306]

    Also on the Norwegian and My Book list - Before ever reading this book, I was enamored by the title. Things Fall Apart is a truly fantastic title because it encompasses a whole lot of information with only three words. The story is also incredibly short, taking me less than a week to read with my version (the Everyman's Library hardcover) only having 180 pages. For the book itself I am terribly conflicted on how I feel. The first half of the book deals with the main character, Okonkwo, who lives within a tribal village in Africa. This story is his story, and we get to see life primarily from his point of view. My first problem though, is that he is a horribly unlikable character, however this could easily be a cultural thing. Within the story we witness Okonkwo's life from his perspective, where he routinely beats his wife and children and usually it is no big deal. There are times where he does get in trouble for it, but mostly because he does it during a sacred time, not that he actually did it. He also murders a kid early in the story, where it is implied he will see retribution in some form, but it never happens. Looking at Okonkwo's culture in general, it is presented as horribly machismo. If you're not a "man" then essentially you are weak and not worth the ground you will be buried in. I would visualize it as toxic masculinity at its worst, at least from Okonkwo's perspective. However, as you read more and more into the story the reader really gets into their society. It makes sense. And a lot of the things that happen, you as the reader, can go along with and understand. The first half sets up Okonkwo's life and culture and then something happens, which I'm still not terribly sure how it happened, but Okonkwo is exiled for seven years for manslaughter (essentially). And it is at this time that things start to "fall apart". And here is where it really starts to get interesting. I was under the impression while reading the first half, that this story would focus entirely on this African tribe but shortly into the second half of the story we are introduced to the 'white man', whom not many, if any, of the tribe have ever seen before. The white man ends up bringing his church with him and slowly lures people away from their culture, to the point that local tribesmen are doing things that are horrific to their former beliefs.


And this is where I am conflicted. On the one hand, I don't like the main character as a person. But on the other hand the church here is much worse. They basically condemn these people to death in many instances because the church obviously knows better. Not all of the church people are bad, but the good one in the story goes away and much worse people take his place. The reader can easily see that it is the church that basically dismantles this tribe's culture and society. You feel for these people and when 'everything falls apart', it's heartbreaking. The writing style of this book is actually fantastic. It is incredibly easy to read, which is remarkable since it was written in English, the author's second language. It does take a little while to get used to the names of the people, since many of them are written in similar styles, so piecing them apart to discern who is who takes some time. But I caught on fairly quickly. It's similar to Russian writing in this way. Overall, should you read this? A definite yes (I think). It's not a feel good story by any means, but it is an important one. It is a story about the death of a rich African culture, where the reader truly feels that culture, and watches it slip away from them. Where some of the people stand up to fight this change, and they are the ones who are quickly put down, leaving only this new system behind. Heartbreaking to say the least, but important to understand. 

 

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie72. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark (June 2019) [Book #152/306]

    I went into The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie knowing absolutely nothing about the book or the author. All I knew was that it was fairly short at 125 pages. So I dived headfirst over a camping trip and was able to finish it over the weekend. The book takes place during the Great Depression at a women's school where one of the teachers, a Miss Jean Brodie, has a rather unique method of education. She likes to tell stories about her past and use them to influence a select set of girls within her class of middle school age girls. Miss Brodie keeps telling the girls that she is in the "prime" of her life (hence the title) and that she is fully able to mold the girls into proper adults. The story is interestingly laid out, with the narration of the story bouncing around each of the "Brodie set" (the girls she is influencing), both in the story "present" as well as in their future, long after school is over. But the narration also dances around the girls heads, like if they are having daydreams, it flows with part of the story. It's a story that I could get behind ... in theory. However there were several factors of the story that irked me. The author repeated herself on many points, many, many times. She would say the same thing about the girls repeatedly. And while I can see that as a useful tool so that the reader could distinguish between the girls, it got old very quickly. The story is not that long that you need to repeat the same part 5, 6, or 7 times. Also the main girl, Sandy, I rather hated. I feel like she was written so the reader didn't like her, but it makes for a tiresome book when you don't like the main character at all. The molding of the girls was rather interesting, though. I liked how the story evolved in that sense, how the girls changed throughout the story due to Miss Brodie's influence, and how that influence could be seen as a helpful or harmful thing. While reading the story it also felt like the part about it being set in the 1930's was not at all relevant to the plot, but it winds up being a major factor in the end of the story. An interesting story indeed. So overall, I'd say that this book was good in concept but left me with a bad taste in my mouth in execution.  

 

To Kill a Mockingbird73. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (October - November 2015) [Book #132/306]

    Also on the Sybervision, BBC, and My Book lists - Typically, when I am reading one of the books on this list, I am usually thinking of what I am going to say as a review, at least during the last quarter of the book. However, for To Kill a Mockingbird, I had to wait a couple of days until after I finished the book. I had burned through it so quickly, and I'm still having a hard time putting together by thoughts. The book follows the life of a young girl, Scout Finch, living during the depression in a small town in Alabama. As is true with most children, she is inquisitive and playful and the book follows her through her games and exploration of the world around her. She has a mysterious neighbor, who the children are bent on tormenting, even though they have never seen him. An interesting story point that does come to fruition by the end of the story. The main point of the book however is regarded as background material throughout the first portion of the book. This story element, like many in the book, slowly reveals itself through the natural course of storytelling. Scout's father, Atticus, is a lawyer and is charged with defending an African American man accused of raping another man's daughter. How the story manifests itself through the eyes of Scout is truly remarkable. Several times throughout the book I felt myself well up at the sheer impact of the story. I'm not sure if it is because I am father of a young girl and I can place myself in Atticus's shoes at times, or not. But this is truly an emotional novel about race relations during the Great Depression, and how far we had to go at the time. The writing couldn't have been easier to follow, and the descriptions were truly outstanding. Harper Lee's descriptions would often flow through the story, not being placed at any particular point, but would appear as natural eddies in the narrative.This resulted in me flying through the novel, reading half of it in one day.  This novel has easily ascended to become one of my favorite books of all time, well within my Top 5 favorites.

 

74. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

    Also on the BBC list -

 

75. Herzog by Saul Bellow

 

One Hundred Years of Solitude76. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (June-July 2019) [Book #153/306]

    Also on the Norwegian, BBC, and My Book lists - I found myself constantly comparing One Hundred Years of Solitude to Marquez's other work on the list that I read almost 12 years ago, Love in the Time of Cholera. You can definitely get a feeling for Marquez's style between the two books. I have to say though, that between the two, Love in the Time of Cholera was a much easier book to get in to, but One Hundred Years of Solitude was the more impactful. To sum it up One Hundred Years of Solitude was fascinating, horrifying, hilarious, depressing, intriguing, and by the end, I couldn't put it down. The story is about a fictional South American town named Macondo that was founded by the couple José Arcadio Buendía and Úrsula Buendía. Within the story we follow the development of the Buendía family, and despite how large or small the town gets, eventually turning into a thriving metropolis, we never really feel that because of the focus on this family. However, the family mirrors the effects of the town; as the town grows, so does the family, as the town shrinks, so does the family. One of the first things we learn about the family though is that there are issues with the family, specifically incest, which comes up again and again, which is one of those things that is rather horrifying in the story. The story, though, is about cycles, and how everything changes, yet everything stays the same. 


One of the hardest parts of the story to get through was the names of the characters. The story was written where time kind of bounced all over. Even the first sentence of the book begins with an illusion to what would happen halfway through the narrative. But the names of the characters were all either identical or very, very similar, making keeping track of who was who extremely difficult at times. By the end I still couldn't remember who was who's daughter/grandmother/aunt. But it works in the context of the story. The Buendía family is constantly making the same mistakes, constantly rehashing the same issues, through several generations, and by renaming their kids after either the patriarch José Arcadio or Aureliano (I believe there was at least 22 Aurelianos mentioned by the end of the story), it got to be rather confusing. This was not an easy book to read because of that. I could only read about 20 pages a night because I kept having to go back and rereading to figure out who was who as time slowly marched on through the story, bouncing back and forth as it went. The chapter breaks generally covered a different person within the generations as they progressed through life as well. So by the time I got to the end of the story, I immediately wanted to jump back to the beginning to see how it all tied together. This is a definite reread story, to catch all the hints about later parts of the story in the earlier sections. It is a story about time, where time doesn't seem to be happening. It is a fascinating tale and a definite one on my must read list, but it is work to get through, if you want to get everything out of it.

 

77. Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont by Elizabeth Taylor

 

78. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy by John Le Carre

 

Song of Solomon79. Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison (December 2007 - January 2008) [Book #70/306]

   Also on My Book list - I rather enjoyed Song of Solomon, however I am not sure if it should go on my personal must read list. It is rather vulgar through most of the story but it tells a very good tale. The story is partly about a black man living in an intolerant society. I read comments elsewhere that this is a work about living as a black person during the early 20th century, but I do not feel that is the primary story being told.  The deeper story is about a man learning about his roots (his people) and learning that family is more important than anything else. The flow of the story carries it along at a great pace and you never know what might happen next, but it all works in the end. Alright, I will put this on my list but with a warning: the story has very harsh language, however it is used with a purpose and fits into the story very well.

 

80. The Bottle Factory Outing by Beryl Bainbridge

 

81. The Executioner's Song by Norman Mailer

 

If on a winter's night a traveler82. If on a winter's night a traveler by Italo Calvino (May 2020) [Book #164/306]

    If on a winter's night a traveler has to be one of the most unique books I have ever read, especially on this list. When thinking about how to categorize the book, I found it very difficult to place it within any category, however if push came to shove I would say that this is a mystery. The mystery for the story is that the main character, often just called the Reader, is trying to find the conclusion of story that he started reading but was missing from the book. During the process he discovers another Reader, whom he teams up with and they end up trying to hunt down the missing text together, only to come across a whole host of uncompleted books. The weird part about the story, is that at times the book is written as if it were talking to us, the audience. But at other times the author treats the book as a book, with the characters acting as one would normally act within a book. It's weird. Chapter one of the book started off so unexpectedly that I had to check a few times to make sure I wasn't reading an introduction:

"You are about to begin reading Italo Calvino's new novel, If on a winter's night a traveler. Relax. Concentrate. Dispel every other thought. Let the world around you fade...."

But after some flipping around the book I soon discovered that, yes, this is indeed how the book is going to go. I thought it was going to be a rather meta reading into the book, when it ends up shifting topics part of the way through, and eventually morphs into that mystery I mentioned. Although it does play with the meta part quite frequently, delving into what you are reading and treating the story as if that is what the Reader is discovering about the book he is hunting for. It feels almost as if this book were written for authors, and that authors would be the ones to get the greatest enjoyment out of it. But otherwise the text was extremely easy to read, at least in the translation I was using. I found I was able to read this book for longer periods of time and at a much faster pace than I am with many of the books on this list. The book was also fairly short, only about 250 pages. So, all in all, a definite recommend, especially for the unconventional nature of the story.

 

83. A Bend in the River by V. S. Naipaul

 

84. Waiting for the Barbarians by J.M. Coetzee

 

85. Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson

 

86. Lanark by Alasdair Gray

 

87. The New York Trilogy by Paul Auster

 

The BFG88. The BFG by Roald Dahl (November 2008) [Book #79/306]

    Also on the BBC list - The BFG is a children's book about a little girl who discovers a Big Friendly Giant (AKA the BFG). Along with the BFG, there are other giants who are not so friendly, well, because they eat people. The plot of the story is that the little girl convinces the BFG to take the bad giants down. I found this to be a rather gruesome story for a child but ended up being a perfect children's book. My main gripe, and this is a general gripe with Dahl, was that the made-up words got to be a bit tiresome after a while. The story has clear cut morality issues and includes a heroine who is just your everyday kid. It is a good story for kids that parents do not need to be too worried about, despite the gruesomeness. Overall, the book was enjoyable, but it was just not my cup of tea.

 

The Periodic Table89. The Periodic Table by Primo Levi (September, 2019) [Book #158/306]

    Also on My Book list - Starting out this book was an enigma for me. I initially assumed it had something to do with the formation of the Periodic Table. Then upon reading a general book description I was immediately expecting an autobiographical account of a Holocaust survivor similar to Elie Wiesel's Night. This was nothing of the sort. I think Levi best sums up the book in his own words towards the end of the book:

"...I was in search of events, mine and those of others ... to see if I could convey to the layman the strong and bitter flavor of our trade (as chemists).... I was more interested in the stories of the solitary chemistry, unarmed and on foot ... who confronted matter without aids, with their brains and hands, reason and imagination." 

That is in essence what the book was about. It was a series of stories, some of them assumed to be autobiographical, and some of them clearly not, all within a framing story of a different element. Each chapter was laid out with the title of that element and the story that followed had something to do with it. Levi was a Holocaust survivor, however his trials during his time in the camps were largely left out of the book. He mentions them as being memoir-ed in other works of his so they were skipped over here. It was like a series of bedtime stories, with a thread that worked it's way through the whole book. More often than not, I hate short stories. But this book didn't work in that way. It worked as a narrative. His various other stories, outside of his autobiography, added heart and soul and a realness to the book by sometimes being a bit fantastical in themselves. The book was surprisingly funny and upbeat, despite the dire circumstances at times, but it was also moving and sentimental. You don't find out much about Levi's personal life, except in relation to the elemental story he is telling at the particular moment. The best part of the book had to be the Chromium chapter, which was surprising and hilarious, and a pretty much self contained story within the greater narrative. Overall, I would say this was a fantastic, engrossing read. The only weak part was the first chapter which felt like a drudge to get through with all of Levi's relatives ever listed out, who never reappeared in the story at all. But once you get past that part the rest was smooth sailing.

 

90. Money by Martin Amis

 

91. An Artist of the Floating World by Kazuo Ishiguro

 

92. Oscar And Lucinda by Peter Carey

 

93. The Book of Laughter and Forgetting by Milan Kundera

 

94. Haroun and the Sea of Stories by Salman Rushdie

 

95. LA Confidential by James Ellroy

 

96. Wise Children by Angela Carter

 

97. Atonement by Ian McEwan

 

His Dark Materials98. Northern Lights (AKA The Golden Compass - Book 1 in His Dark Materials) by Philip Pullman (June - July 2006) [Book #448/306]

     The entire trilogy is also on the BBC and My Book lists - This the review for the entire trilogy where this is the first book (under the UK title). His Dark Materials has quickly become one of my favorite stories of all time. The series is absolutely enthralling, not letting me put it down for a moment. And it is one of the few series I have returned to time and time again. The story can be considered a cross between The Chronicles of Narnia and The Lord of the Rings, where the world building is a bit less in-depth than LotR and much less preachy than Narnia. I find it a cross between the two stories that takes the best of both worlds. The story is about parallel universes, where the primary character, Lira, is a kid with a physical manifestation of her soul literally on her sleeve; or running all around as the case may be. Lira starts out being a very young kid with little worldly experience, who, over the course of the story, grows into the hero the story needs. I have often heard criticism that this series is like the "atheist's bible" or some nonsense like that, and I find that surprising as this book is actually very spiritual. It is very anti-organized religion though and that could be a bit off-putting to some. I found the story to be a well-written and fast-paced read (about 1000 pages in 2 weeks), where in the end all the plot lines got wrapped up neatly. Although, I do disagree with how it ended, but looking back on the story there was really no other way it could have gone. This is obviously a must read for me and one I have often recommended to a lot of people.

 

99. American Pastoral by Philip Roth

 

100. Austerlitz by W. G. Sebald