My Top 100 Novels

Free old ancient books in shelf

From time to time I search the internet for lists of the top 100 novels to amuse myself, get ideas for books to read, and see if I agree. For no particular reason, I’ve created my own list (which includes a handful of short story collections). I’m not sure what this list tells about me, not much, except for the fact that I’m old. Needless to say, this list is limited to books I’ve read, so some great books are not on the list now, but could be added in the future.

1. Death in the Family

by James Agee.

A sad tale, beautifully written.

2. My Antonia

 by Willa Cather

If I could have written just one book from the past, this is it.

3. Catch- 22

by Joseph Heller

Don’t bother trying to write the ‘Great American Novel,’ Heller beat you to it.

4. Invisible Man

by Ralph Ellison

Another beautifully written, incredibly sad novel. Every high school kid should be required to read this book

5. Housekeeping 

by Marilyn Robinson. Robinson won the Pulitzer Prize for Gilead. She should have won for Housekeeping.

6. The Stranger

by Albert Camus

I read this book in high school. It haunted me for years.

7. The Great Gatsby

by F. Scott Fitzgerald

It’s pretty much a cliche to add The Great Gatsby to a top 100 list. Most cliches are cliches for a reason; they’re often true. This book is perfect from the first word to the last. That said, when I read it in high school, I hated it. Forty years later, my attitude changed.

8. Native Son

by Richard Wright

Native Son has the most powerful opening lines of any book I’ve ever read.

9. One Hundred Years of Solitude

by Gabriel García Márquez

If you asked me to describe the plot, my summary probably wouldn’t make any sense. It doesn’t matter; this is a great book. Magical Realism at its best.

10. The Night Trilogy: Night, Dawn, Day

by Elie Wiesel

I was lucky enough in my career to attend a conference where Wiesel was the keynote speaker. His speech was spellbinding. So are these three novels.

11. The Peaceable Kingdom: An American Saga 

by Jan de Hartog

The Peaceable Kingdom: An American Saga is definitely one of my favorite novels. Not sure if anyone under 50 has even heard of it.

12. Crime and Punishment 

by Fyodor Dostoevsky

Even though the reader knows early on that the protagonist has committed murder, the book is tense from beginning to end.

13. My Brilliant Friend 

by Elena Ferrante

All four Neapolitan novels by Ferrante are great. My Brilliant Friend is the best of the four. In my novel, To Alice, the name of one of the main characters, Barbara Fermonte, is a shout-out to Ferrante.

14. The Catcher in the Rye 

by J. D. Salinger

I read this book when I was 14. It is one of two books (with Separate Peace) that made me want to be a writer.

15. A Separate Peace

 by John Knowles

I read this novel when I was 19, and, like Catcher in the Rye, it made me dream of writing. I give this book a nod in my second novel, Some Things Aren’t Meant to Be.

16. American Tragedy 

by Theodore Dreiser

Great writing and very suspenseful. Also mentioned in my second novel.

17. Look Homeward, Angel 

by Thomas Wolfe

I don’t think anyone reads Wolfe anymore. Too bad. (He is a bit wordy, however.)

18. East of Eden 

by John Steinbeck

The movie, although pretty good, barely scratches the surface of the novel.

19. Bel Canto 

by Anne Patchett

Patchett is a great writer, and this is her best book. (The Dutch House is a close second.)

20. Sister Carrie 

by Theodore Dreiser

If you’ve read this far, it should be obvious that Dreiser is one of my favorite writers.

21. What We Talk About When We Talk About Love 

by Raymond Carver

The best short story collection by a single author I’ve read. Richard Russo’s short story collection, The Whore’s Child, is a close second.

22. Montana 1948 

by Larry Watson

My guess is most readers of this list have never heard of this novel. Find it; it’s A+ writing.

23. A Confederacy of Dunces 

by John Kennedy Toole

Probably the funniest book I’ve ever read.

24. Adam Bede 

by Mary Ann Evans (George Eliot)

If you read this book, check the last paragraph in chapter 55 (I think) may be the most beautiful words ever printed.  Middlemarch and The Mill on the Floss are nearly as good.

25. Risk Pool 

by Richard Russo

When I read this book, it became obvious that Russo and I had the same father. 

26. Olive Kitteridge 

by Elizabeth Strout

I recognize her characters. They don’t just live in Maine; they also live in Vermont.

27. Men Without Women

by Ernest Hemingway

Hemingway’s short stories are better than his novels. That said, The Sun Also Rises is really good.

28. The Grapes of Wrath

 by John Steinbeck

Steinbeck goes in and out of favor. Some critics think he’s too sentimental. I disagree.

29. The Snopes Trilogy: The Hamlet, The Town, The Mansion 

by William Faulkner

In recent years Faulkner has been kicked off several great novel lists because some critics think he was a racist. Whether he was or not, I don’t know, but what I do know is he is a great writer, probably the best American novelist.

30. The Chosen 

by Chaim Potok

This was my favorite book in high school. I haven’t reread it since then, so I don’t know if it would hold up for me now, but it was powerful then.

31. So Long, See You Tomorrow 

by William Maxwell

Maxwell is a tremendous writer. Too bad few people read his books. He deserves better.

32. Sons and Lovers 

by D. H. Lawrence

I am a big D. H. Lawrence fan, and this is my favorite book by him (Woman in Love is a close second).

33. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn 

by Betty Smith

This book has been nearly forgotten. Too bad, it’s wonderful.

34. Winesburg Ohio 

by Sherwood Anderson

Anderson is at his best.

35. The Quiet American

by Graham Greene

I am a big fan of Graham Greene, and this is my favorite book by him.

36. Les Misérables 

by Victor Hugo

Forget the musical; read the book.

37. The Hunchback of Notre Dame 

by Victor Hugo

Another great book by Hugo.

38. Lolita

by Vladimir Nabokov

Lolita is a tough book to add to the list because the topic is so disgusting. That said, it’s still a great novel.

39. Dreams of My Russian Summer 

by Andreï Makine

I stumbled across this book at the Barre, Vermont, library summer book sale. Best 50 cents I’ve ever spent.

40. Independent People 

by Halldór Kiljan Laxness

An amazing up-close view of rural Iceland. A big, bold novel.

41. Slaughterhouse-Five

by Kurt Vonnegut

Vonnegut’s best book, by far.

42. The Red and the Black 

by Stendhal

The best book I read in college. I gave it a shout-out in my second novel.

43. The Poisonwood Bible 

by Barbara Kingsolver

The editors probably should have cut the last 30 pages, but otherwise, this is an excellent read.

44. Vanity Fair 

by William Thackeray

One of the best nineteenth-century English novels.

45. Sing, Unburied, Sin 

by Jesmyn Ward

One of the newer books on my list. Ward is a great talent.

46. In the First Circle 

by Russian Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

This book fits well into the tradition of big, bold, and depressing Russian Novels.

47. A Lesson Before Dying 

by Ernest J. Gaines

A heartfelt book.

48. Don Quixote 

by Miguel de Cervantes

This is a great book, for sure, but I wasn’t prepared for how mean-spirited it is. I was expecting a Man of La Mancha, happy lark. That didn’t happen.

49. The Spy Who Came in from the Cold 

by John LeCarre

Great book and equally great movie.

50. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest 

by Ken Kesey

This is another great book and a great movie.


51. Empire of the Sun by J. G Ballard. Empire of the Sun was shortlisted for the Booker Prize. It should have won.

52. The Secret History by Donna Tartt. Toss-up between this book and The Goldfinch.

53. The Reader by Bernhard Schlink. Another great book and movie. One of the best Oprah selections, or at least from the ones I’ve read.

54. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. This book is out of favor with many critics now because it’s a white man saves Black people book. When I read it fifty or more years ago, I loved it. Would I still love it now? I’m not sure.

55. Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton. Set in the prelude to apartheid in South Africa, it follows a black village priest and a white farmer who must deal with news of a murder.

56. Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough. A bit corny, but that’s okay.

57. A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry. A classic, big, powerful novel.

58. Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein. I don’t read Sci-Fi novels very often, but I am glad I read this book. The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury is also a great Sci-Fi.

59The Optimist’s Daughter by Eudora Welty. Welty won the Pulitzer Prize for this book.  

60. The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas. A classic swashbuckler. However, the ending is much more gruesome than I had expected.

61. Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett. Hammett wrote five novels. All five are good; this one is the best of the five.

62. Years of Wonder by Geraldine Brooks. Top-notch historical novel.

63. Songs in Ordinary Time by Mary McGarry Morris. An Oprah’s Book Club selection. The setting is based on my hometown, Rutland, Vermont, which is cool. 

64. Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China by Jung Chang. This technically may not be a novel as it is the story of Chang’s family, but I’ve included it anyway.

65. Of Human Bondage by W. Somerset Maugham. Not sure if anyone still reads Maugham.

66. An American Marriage by Tayari Jones. Another top-notch Oprah’s Book Club selection.

67. Tess of the d’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy. Another good book and an excellent movie.

68. The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler. Chandler is a bit dated but still a great writer.

69. The Moviegoer by Walker Percy. It won the National Book Award. Time included the novel in its “Time 100 Best English-language Novels from 1923 to 2005.”  

70. Seize the Day by Saul Bellow. Tossup between this book and Henderson the Rain King.

71. Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka. This book is really strange and very funny, especially when the apple gets stuck in the cockroach’s gut.

72. The Color Purple by Alice Walker. A great book, a fairly decent movie.

73. Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhy. A prequel to Jane Eyre before anyone had ever heard of the word prequel. Slightly better than the original.

74. A Bend in the River by V. S. Naipaul gives a great picture of twentieth-century Africa.

75. The Complete Stories of Flannery O’Conner. I envy her writing skill.

76. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Doug Adams. To the Galaxy is the first and best of five books in the Hitchhiker’s Guide series.

77. A River Runs Through It by Norman Maclean reads like a beautiful poem.

78. The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner. Confusing at first, but the story gets clearer with each narrator.

79. Midaq Alley by Naguib Mahfouz. A story about an Egypt that I never knew.

80. Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller. This book was banned for years due to its candid sexuality. Needless to say, by today’s standards, it’s pretty tame. Very good book. (Tropic of Capricorn is just the opposite, really terrible.)

81. Moll Flanders by Daniel Defoe. One of the best nineteenth-century English novels.

82. The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown. I doubt this book would make most top 100 lists. Too bad. It’s a very fun read from beginning to end.

83. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. Another fun read. Probably not on most top 100 lists either, but it’s on mine.

84. The Hotel New Hampshire by John Irving. The World According to Garp is just as good, but I liked Hotel New Hampshire better.

85. Maurice by E. M. Forster. A tale of love in early 20th-century England. Because the lovers are both men, this book wasn’t published until after Forester’s death.

86. The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James. It was a close call between this novel and Daisy Miller.

87. The Bluest Eyes by Toni Morrison. I find some of Morrison’s books confusing, but this one I really loved.

88. Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell. Who knew Big Brother would be a private business?

89. Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson. Few books describe a place better than this book.

90. Less than Zero by Bret Easton Ellis. When he wrote this novel, Ellis was a 21-year-old college student.

91. Ragtime by E. L. Doctorow. Not exactly historical fiction, but almost. I saw the play based on the book and loved it, also.

92. The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton. Unforgettable opening lines. My third YA novel on this list.

93. Portnoy’s Complaint by Philip Roth. Perfectly weird book for a 16-year-old boy. Not sure what I would think if I reread it now, over 50 years later.

94. The Known World by Edward P. Jones. The novel examines the issues regarding the ownership of enslaved Black people by both white and Black Americans. 

95. Tinkers by Paul Harding. The novel tells the stories of George Washington Crosby, an elderly clock repairman, and his father, Howard. I love Harding’s writing style.

 96. The Norton Anthology of Contemporary Fiction edited by Cassill & Oates. Of all the short story collections featuring various authors that I’ve read, this one, by far, is the best. Just about every story is exceptional.

97. The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen. The scene where Americans and others flee Vietnam is unforgettable.

98. Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is a deep dive into life in America for an African immigrant.

99. House of Sand and Fog by Andre Dubus III is another fine novel about the immigrant experience in the US.

100. Curious George by H.R. Ray. Why is a kids’ book on this list? When I was in second grade, I read the Curious George books. Like George, I couldn’t help spilling the milk at the dinner table or, by mistake, breaking some of my father’s carpenter tools. Curious George had the same problems. I identified with him.

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