INTERESTING STUFF – 23 August 2014

Elders Reading for Pleasure II

It wasn't planned, but apparently this has become book week at Time Goes By. Yesterday, we featured the poetry of Dorothy Trogdon and Wednesday's report on a list of 100 best novels chosen by two male journalists led to requests in the comments for a list written by a woman.

As serendipity would have it, on that very day one of my regular newsletter subscriptions supplied such a list compiled by University of California professor Sandra M. Gilbert.

Probably because academics can't help themselves, Ms. Gilbert carries on at excessive length about the definition of the word best, on the question of ranking writers and on second-guessing herself even before she presents her list.

In Gilbert's defense, the entire exercise of creating her list is in response to yet another recent 100 best American novels list from an architect, David Handlin, whose disquisition on the definitions of the individual words of his title, 100 Best American Novels, is mind-numbing – or maybe that's just me.

Personally, I don't think these lists are worth arguing much about - there are so many good books in the world but "good" in this context can't be anything but subjective. I enjoy perusing the lists and I usually am reminded of a few I mean to get around to reading.

Today's list differs from Wednesday's in at least three ways: there are many more titles from the mid- and late-19th century, more titles by women writers and none are ranked in order of merit. Personal opinion: there are more on this list that are not deserving.)

So here is Sandra M. Gilbert's list. You can read her entire article here.

Oh, wait, one more thing. On Wednesday, Peter Tibbles pointed out that the 100 list was actually only 99. As if to makeup for that omission, Gilbert's list comes in at 101.

  1. Susanna Rowson, Charlotte Temple (1791)
  2. Lydia Maria Child, Hobomok (1824)
  3. Susan Warner, The Wide, Wide World (1850)
  4. Fanny Fern (Sara Willis Parton), Ruth Hall (1855)
  5. Harriet E. Wilson, Our Nig (1859)
  6. Rebecca Harding Davis, Life in the Iron Mills (1861)
  7. Harriet Jacobs, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (1861)
  8. Elizabeth Drew Stoddard, The Morgesons (1862)
  9. Louisa May Alcott, Work (1873)
  10. Elizabeth Stuart Phelps Ward, The Story of Avis (1877)

  11. William Dean Howells, A Modern Instance (1882)
  12. Sarah Orne Jewett, A Country Doctor (1884)
  13. E.D.E.N. Southworth, The Hidden Hand (1888)
  14. L. Frank Baum, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900)
  15. Jack London, The Call of the Wild (1903)
  16. Upton Sinclair, The Jungle (1906)
  17. Gertrude Stein, Three Lives (1909)
  18. Edith Wharton, Ethan Frome (1911)
  19. Mary Austin, A Woman of Genius (1912)
  20. Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Herland (1915)

  21. Edith Wharton, Summer (1917)
  22. E. E. Cummings, The Enormous Room (1922)
  23. Jean Toomer, Cane (1923)
  24. William Carlos Williams, The Great American Novel (1923)
  25. Willa Cather, The Professor’s House (1925)
  26. Theodore Dreiser, An American Tragedy (1925)
  27. Ellen Glasgow, Barren Ground (1925)
  28. Anita Loos, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1925)
  29. Gertrude Stein, The Making of Americans (1925)
  30. Anzia Yezierska, Bread Givers (1925)

  31. Edna Ferber, Show Boat (1926)
  32. Nella Larsen, Quicksand (1928)
  33. Thomas Wolfe, Look Homeward, Angel (1929)
  34. Dashiell Hammett, The Maltese Falcon (1930)
  35. Ellen Glasgow, The Sheltered Life (1932)
  36. Nathanael West, Miss Lonelyhearts (1933)
  37. Henry Roth, Call It Sleep (1934)
  38. Margaret Mitchell, Gone with the Wind (1936)
  39. Pietro di Donato, Christ in Concrete (1939)
  40. Katherine Anne Porter, Pale Horse, Pale Rider (1939)

  41. Jane Bowles, Two Serious Ladies (1943)
  42. William Saroyan, The Human Comedy (1943)
  43. Joel Townsley Rogers, The Red Right Hand (1945)
  44. Anne Petry, The Street (1946)
  45. Jean Stafford, The Mountain Lion (1947)
  46. Truman Capote, Other Voices, Other Rooms (1948)
  47. Carson McCullers, The Ballad of the Sad Café (1951)
  48. J. D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye (1951)
  49. Conrad Aiken, Ushant (1952)
  50. E. B. White, Charlotte’s Web (1952)

  51. Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451 (1953)
  52. Gwendolyn Brooks, Maud Martha (1953)
  53. Randall Jarrell, Pictures from an Institution (1954)
  54. Patricia Highsmith, The Talented Mr. Ripley (1955)
  55. James Baldwin, Giovanni’s Room (1956)
  56. Shirley Jackson, The Haunting of Hill House (1959)
  57. Paule Marshall, Brown Girl, Brownstones (1959)
  58. Philip Roth, Goodbye, Columbus (1959)
  59. H.D., Bid Me to Live (1960)
  60. Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird (1960)

  61. Robert A. Heinlein, Stranger in a Strange Land (1961)
  62. Tillie Olsen, Tell Me a Riddle (1961)
  63. Katherine Anne Porter, Ship of Fools (1962)
  64. Mary McCarthy, The Group (1963)
  65. Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar (1963)
  66. Frank Herbert, Dune (1965)
  67. May Sarton, Mrs. Stevens Hears the Mermaids Singing (1965)
  68. Richard Fariña, Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up to Me (1966)
  69. Bernard Malamud, The Fixer (1966)
  70. Samuel R. Delany, The Einstein Intersection (1967)

  71. N. Scott Momaday, House Made of Dawn (1968)
  72. Ursula K. Le Guin, The Left Hand of Darkness (1969)
  73. Joyce Carol Oates, them (1969)
  74. Alice Walker, The Third Life of Grange Copeland (1970)
  75. Ishmael Reed, Mumbo Jumbo (1972)
  76. Eudora Welty, The Optimist’s Daughter (1972)
  77. Tony Hillerman, Dance Hall of the Dead (1973)
  78. Erica Jong, Fear of Flying (1973)
  79. Toni Morrison, Sula (1973)
  80. Diane Johnson, The Shadow Knows (1974)

  81. Alison Lurie, The War Between the Tates (1974)
  82. E. L. Doctorow, Ragtime (1975)
  83. Maxine Hong Kingston, The Woman Warrior (1975)
  84. Bharati Mukherjee, Wife (1975)
  85. Joanna Russ, The Female Man (1975)
  86. Leslie Marmon Silko, Ceremony (1977)
  87. Meridel Le Sueur, The Girl (1978)
  88. Helen Barolini, Umbertina (1979)
  89. Octavia E. Butler, Kindred (1979)
  90. Toni Cade Bambara, The Salt Eaters (1980)

  91. Tina de Rosa, Paper Fish (1980)
  92. Joyce Carol Oates, A Bloodsmoor Romance (1982)
  93. Anne Tyler, Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant (1982)
  94. Alice Walker, The Color Purple (1982)
  95. Edmund White, A Boy’s Own Story (1982)
  96. Paula Gunn Allen, The Woman Who Owned the Shadows (1983)
  97. Cynthia Ozick, The Cannibal Galaxy (1983)
  98. Sandra Cisneros, The House on Mango Street (1984)
  99. Louise Erdrich, Love Medicine (1984)
  100. Jamaica Kincaid, Annie John (1985)

  101. Toni Morrison, Beloved (1987)

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Dan Gogerty: Crossing the Bridge


Alrighty, I love these lists, and this time my comment shouldn't have a MIT typo like yesterday.

MIT was supposed to be "it."

These tablets are more jumpy than catfish on a dance floor.

Thanks, Ronni.

Love reading.

Maybe book lists separated into genres work better, or perhaps ones that list 25 rather than 100. I read favored author's opinions (via interview), when provided in the NYT Book section, for suggestions. And these lists usually serve to remind me of those I've wanted, but forgotten, to try.

Needing to allow myself more reading time, and needing to lessen TV vegging, this second list (by a woman) is looking extremely inviting. Thanks.

No need to pay any attention to her list. I'd rather see people here adding their own ideas.

Your notes are wonderful, as usual. :)

I find that "Book Lust," and "More Book Lust" by Nancy Pearl are just as inviting, and the lists are accompanied by well balanced commentary.

I was happy to see "To Kill A Mockingbird" and "Gone With The Wind" on this list.

I do think that one person's opinion of a book will differ greatly with what someone else thinks. You are right, Ronni, it is subjective.

I'm with Shelley. I'd much rather see the top ten of your readers!

I have my own list by author. Right now I am working my way through Ivan Doig and Paul Therous's 1975 book "The Great Railway Bazaar by Train through Asia." A fascinating narrative. Farther down are the classics I missed along the way. Never read "On the Road."

Loved this list. Especially because it doesn't start with "Ulysses" , which I've started about 6 times and won't live long enough to try again. But the fact that there are so many wonderful books is one of life's joys.

That would be Ivan Doig's novels and Paul...bad editing on my part.

Glad to see many titles that I've read and enjoyed.

I'll now see what else might spark my interest from this list and then off to the library.


So good to see a list with many women and also people of color! Something that ignores the "cannon" -- there are a few from that traditionally academic list I would add because they're among my favorite American novels but this is a valuable list. Thanks for printing it.

A list compiled by a woman is online at
-alistofreadingtheworld- and is probably more than any of us can do. Writers from EVERY country by men, women, all races. I have, sadly, read but a fraction of them.

heh. i misread. i thought the request the other day was for the 100 best novels written by women. which list i would still like to see, by the way.

After wading through three lists of "bests" I have decided that lists just piss people off. I managed to tick off 41 of Gilbert's list and 57 of Handlin's, but I'm still not satisfied. I think, though, that Gilbert intended to "suggest additions" rather than to compete with Handlin, so it's not a matter of who got it more right. It took me awhile to realize that these were both lists of best American novels rather than novels in English and I think there were too many of those novels you encounter only in esoteric college English courses, but would never read if given a choice.

I'm glad Gilbert added two Joyce Carol Oates novels but maybe there should have been more given Oates' stupendous output. She also put another Toni Morrison on her list, but a Nobel prize winning author perhaps deserves more. And Harper Lee ("Mockingbird") finally got recognized.

I don't understand Handlin's reluctance to include more Nabokov, since his best work (to me) was done as an American. And why oh why does no one include Jonathan Franzen? Is it a snob thing because he went on Oprah? He made clear his reluctance and obviously did it ironically.

I'm also once again going to stand up for gay writers even though Gilbert's list included Edmund White. I think these scholars need to break out of their hetero-centric shells and look at the many novelists, such as Dale Peck, who write brilliantly from a gay perspective. In any case, there are just too many good books to attempt to confine them in 100-book lists of best American, best English language, best translations, best books by women, etc.

So, where's Hemingway?

I remember reading at least twice as many on this list as on the previous list - not a huge percentage on either one. Many in this list were made into movies; but, I only counted the ones that I remembered actually reading.

Thanks for the listing, Ronni.

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