Obooki’s Favourite 53 Novels

Just before I began this blog, back in 2008 – or maybe I’d already just started it – I listed my favourite 50 novels on some book-themed forum. I thought it was about time to update the list with the books I’ve read in the intervening years. I’ve tried, not entirely successfully, to displace books to get back to the original number limit.

As usual, there are 2 criteria I’m going by in compiling this list:

  1. how much I enjoyed reading them
  2. how pleasant my memory of them remains

It’s only one book per author – and you can safely assume, if I’ve nominated an obscure work over a renowned favourite, that’s because I haven’t read the more famous book. – Technically, I’ve still not finished Ulysses – but it might as well be there, I’ll get round to it soon enough. – Demoted books at the bottom, but don’t think too badly of them (Things, by Perec, I’ve only removed because I’m going to try and compile a similar list for novellas and short stories [defined as anything less than 100 pages], and I’ll put it on that instead).

It’s in alphabetical order of author.

Favourite 53 Novels

  • Mario de Andrade, Macunaima
  • Ivo Andric, The Bridge on the Drina
  • Honoré de Balzac, The Wild Ass’s Skin
  • Anna Banti, Artemisia
  • John Barth, Chimera
  • Samuel Beckett, More Pricks Than Kicks
  • Andrei Bely, Petersburg
  • Emmanuel Bove, My Friends
  • Emily Bronte, Wuthering Heights
  • Mikhail Bulgakov, The Master and Marguerita
  • Anthony Burgess, Earthly Powers
  • Elias Canetti, The Play of the Eyes
  • Karel Capek, War with the Newts
  • Alejo Carpentier, Explosion in a Cathedral
  • Ermanno Cavazzoni, The Voice of the Moon
  • Something by Colette (it doesn’t really matter what)
  • Wilkie Collins, The Woman in White
  • Grazia Deledda, La Madre
  • Charles Dickens, The Pickwick Papers
  • Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Eternal Husband
  • George Eliot, Silas Marner
  • William Faulker, The Mansion
  • Max Frisch, I’m Not Stiller
  • Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, The Sorrows of Young Werther
  • Witold Gombrowicz, Pornografia
  • Alasdair Gray, 1982 Janine
  • Knut Hamsun, Mysteries
  • Thomas Hardy, Tess of the d’Urbervilles
  • Jaroslav Hasek, The Good Soldier Svejk
  • Henry James, The Ambassadors
  • James Joyce, Ulysses
  • Laszlo Krasznahorkai, The Melancholy of Resistance
  • Giuseppe di Lampedusa, The Leopard
  • Mikhail Lermontov, A Hero of Our Time
  • Doris Lessing, Under My Skin
  • Wyndham Lewis, Tarr
  • Andrei Makine, Le Testament Francais
  • Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Love in the Time of Cholera
  • Guy de Maupassant, A Woman’s Life
  • Herman Melville, Pierre
  • Yukio Mishima, Spring Snow
  • George Moore, Confessions of a Young Man
  • Vladimir Nabokov, The Gift
  • Juan Carlos Onetti, Body Snatcher
  • Abbe Prevost, Manon Lescaut
  • Eca de Queiroz, Cousin Basilio
  • Gregor von Rezzori, Memoirs of an Anti-Semite
  • John Steinbeck, Tortilla Flat
  • Laurence Sterne, Tristram Shandy
  • Robert Walser, Institute Benjamenta (a.k.a. Jacob von Gunten)
  • Edith Warton, The House of Mirth
  • Virginia Woolf, Orlando
  • Emile Zola, Germinal

Books Removed

  • Italo Calvino, Marcovaldo
  • Miguel Delibes, The Prince Dethroned
  • Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Double
  • F Scott Fitzgerald, Tender is the Night
  • Henry Green, Party-Going
  • Hermann Hesse, Peter Camenzind
  • Halldor Laxness, The Fish Can Sing
  • Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird
  • Eduardo Mendoza, The Truth about the Savolta Case
  • Georges Perec, Things
  • Budd Schulberg, What Makes Sammy Run?
  • Laurence Sterne, A Sentimental Journey
  • Tarjei Vesaas, The Boat in the Evening

Others Considered from 2008-2012

  • Ernst Weiss, The Aristocrat
  • Paolo Volponi, Last Act in Urbino
  • Alain Robbe-Grillet, Repetition
  • Robert Musil, Young Törless
  • Anna Kavan, Ice
  • Hjalmar Soderberg, Doctor Glas
  • Jean Cocteau, Les Enfants Terribles
  • Mircea Eliade, The Old Man and the Bureaucrats
  • Antonio Lobo Antunes, The Return of the Caravels
  • Claude Simon, The Trolley
  • William Faulkner, Pylon / Sartoris

19 thoughts on “Obooki’s Favourite 53 Novels

  1. *sigh* I’ve read 12 of 53, 14 of 64 if you include the “Others Considered,” and some of them so long ago that I could scarcely tell you what they were about. Just add all the rest to the wall and hand me my cask of Amontillado.

  2. Ah well, if you put up 53 of your own, no doubt I’d have read only 12. – I only have to look around my shelves to see how many more potential books there are to add in, if only I could get around to them.

  3. Very interesting list. I must get the Bely down from the shelf. I anticipate a Big Book Bout between it and Musil as to which doorstop I will commit weeks (if not months) of reading life to.

    Have just started volume 2 of Von Rezzori’s trilogy. It’s quite different to Memoirs of an Anti-Semite but none the less engaging for that.

  4. Nice list. As with Seraillon, I’ve not read the majority of them, but a few would certainly feature in my own list. I’m intrigued by the absence of Don Quixote, however.

    I’m also interested in the downgrading of To Kill a Mockingbird. I enjoyed the book a lot when I read it for my GCSE, but, without having re-read it, I’m utterly convinced that I would now hate it.

  5. LH: Well, Bely isn’t that long – only a bit hard-going at times. Is the Rezzori part of a trilogy? I wasn’t aware. I’ve read Snows of Yesteryear as well, which was also good (a memoir, but everything of his so far has bordered on memoir). – I’ve counted memoirs in in the list; I don’t see there’s much difference on the whole.

    CN: Don Quixote I’ve not read. It was a toss-up between that and Anna Karenina for my holiday reading in January, but I figured Don Quixote would be too episodic in nature – I think I’d prefer to read it over a longer period. – There’s no Tolstoy either, I notice. And there are certainly some big authors not on the list who I definitely had read.

    To Kill a Mockingbird I’m beginning to forget, I suppose; it seemed good at the time, but I think I was probably searching about for 50 books for the original list.

  6. This is a good idea. I hope to read a lot of your list someday.

    I fear if I made my own, it would be so conventional as to be useless.

  7. NYRB are describing the Rezzori books as a trilogy (Ermine in Czernopol is the thrid). But whether he formally conceived of them as such I don’t know. I agree about memoir – see also McGahern’s entire output.

    I haven’t read Don Quixote either – at least, I’ve read bits of it, adding up to a small part of the total. I have the impression that the second part is extremely dull and repetitive, so that in part justifies my continued non-reading of it.

  8. No no – the second part is the best part! It’s Part I that becomes dull and repetitive as Cervantes moves towards the end and runs out of material.

  9. LH: Yes, it’s time to drag out that big book I have by Rezzori, from somewhere at the bottom of my bookshelf. I haven’t read any for a while.

    AR: I find my own list to be tiresomely conventional. I’m going to stick it up on the sidebar, along with the more ambitious short story and novella project, and see if I can one day get to 100 books.

  10. Tom – am happy to be corrected in my ignorance of the book. I could envisage picking it up again and reading it in a “ruthless” manner, ie skipping large chunks, which as a conscientious youth I would never have done.

  11. I don’t remember finding any of Don Quixote dull. It could have been half as long again and I wouldn’t have minded. I read the Jervas translation, which has the reputation of being stiff, but which I found very enjoyable.

  12. Fascinating list. The ones I’ve read are good enough to make me want to read a lot more but there are just so many books.
    Interested to see George Moore here. I may chase that down. I always thought he was of peripheral value but this is the third recommendation I’ve had for him in the past few months.
    By the way, I loved the Smollet translation of Don Q.
    I always find it hard to stop at 100 when I start this kind of list. I’m not ruthless enough.

  13. George Moore as a memoirist is very different to him as a novelist. I much prefer the memoirist: he’s a bit more carefree stylistically – a bit more Proustian, perhaps, or Joycean – at least, insofar as one can be when one precedes them.

  14. Interesting list. I’ve only read 7 of them but really, La peau de chagrin and Manon Lescaut? I need to try this one again.

  15. Perhaps they read better in English. – I’m not much of a Balzac fan, so, La Peau de Chagrin being an unBalzacian Balzac novel, I was quite taken with it. Manon Lescaut seemed like a fine yarn at the time.

    I’ve been meaning to make a comment on your blog about Under the Volcano, but perhaps it’s too late now. I didn’t write much about it here either, but there were a lot of things I had to say.

  16. La peau de chagrin is not my favorite Balzac at all. Have you tried Lettres de deux jeunes mariées? It’s different from Le Père Goriot, for example. You might like it.
    It’s never too late to leave a comment about Under the Volcano, I’d love to read your thoughts. Such an overwhelming book.

  17. Sorry, that comment got caught up in the spam filter somewhere.

    I might try Lettres de deux jeunes mariées. Balzac seems to have written quite a few unBalzacian works really.

    Hmm, my thoughts on Under the Volcano aren’t entirely positive. It’s not to say there aren’t fine passages in it – there are. But what about that long silly section about Hugh becoming a sailor? What was he thinking? – In my edition, there’s a letter at the beginning from Lowry to his publisher, who has just rejected it, where Lowry defends his book (and that section in particular) from the views of the reader, who also thought it was rather silly.

    And the ending? I knew it was coming, but felt it was a bit of a letdown.

  18. I’ve read Pornografia and I really can’t remember a damn thing about it. I read it over 30 years ago but I read the Good Soldier Svejk 35 years ago and I can remember that quite clearly.

    Strange as I can also remember all of the others I have read that are on your list.

    Don Quixote has some extremely long and dull detours which even the translators advise you to skip – I only discovered that after I’d finished the story and then read the introduction.

  19. I thought I had pretty much the same recollection (or lack thereof) of the two books, but thinking for a moment I do remember more of Pornografia than I thought (it’s about two older men manipulating the emotions of a boy and a girl, as a break from the second world war), and I probably recollect less of Svejk. Maybe it’s because the central conceit of Svejk is such a good idea that you think you remember more about it than you do.

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