greatest hits

 

  1. Odyssey, Homer (c. 500 BC)
  2. Oedipus, Sophocles (c. 429 BC)
  3. The Republic, Plato (c. 400 BC)
  4. Old Testment: Genesis, Job, Psalms, Ecclesiastes (c. 400 BC)
  5. Metamorphoses, Ovid (c. 8)
  6. New Testament: Matt, Mark, Luke, John, Revelation (c. 100)
  7. Divine Comedy, Dante (c. 1320)
  8. Canterbury Tales, Chaucer (1380-90)
  9. The Prince, Machiavelli (1532)
  10. Dr. Faustus, Christopher Marlowe (c. 1588)
  11. King Lear, Shakespeare (c. 1605)
  12. Don Quixote, Cervantes (1605, 1615)
  13. Paradise Lost, Milton (1667)
  14. Gulliver's Travels, Johnathan Swift (1726-27)
  15. Essay on Man, Alexander Pope (1733)
  16. Dangerous Liasons, Laclos (1782)
  17. Songs of Innocence & Experience, Blake (1794)
  18. Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Coleridge (1798)
  19. Frankenstein, Mary Shelley (1817)
  20. Faust, Goethe (1790-1831)
  21. The Red and the Black, Stendhal (1830)
  22. Pere Goriot, Balzac (1835)
  23. "Fall of the House of Usher," E. A. Poe (1839)
  24. "Ulysses," Tennyson (1842)
  25. Moby Dick, Melville (1851)
  26. Walden, Henry Thoreau (1854)
  27. Madame Bovary, Flaubert (1857)
  28. Flowers of Evil, Baudelaire (1857)
  29. Great Expectations, Dickens (1860-61)
  30. Notes from Underground, Dostoevsky (1864)
  31. Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy (1875-77)
  32. A Doll's House, Henrik Ibsen (1879)
  33. Portrait of a Lady, Henry James (1881)
  34. Thus Spake Zarathustra, Nietzsche (1883-91)
  35. Huck Finn, Mark Twain (1884)
  36. Against Nature, Huysmans (1884)
  37. Germinal, Zola (1885)
  38. Tess of the D'urbervilles, Thomas Hardy (1891)
  39. Time Machine, H. G. Wells (1895)
  40. "The Open Boat," Stephen Crane (1897)
  41. Sister Carrie, Theodore Dreiser (1900)
  42. Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad (1902)
  43. Death in Venice, Thomas Mann (1912)
  44. Calligrammes, Apollinaire (1913-16)
  45. Swann's Way, Marcel Proust (1913)
  46. The Metamorphosis, Franz Kafka (1915)
  47. "Out, Out—," Robert Frost (1916)
  48. "In a Station at the Metro," Pound (1916)
  49. Six Characters in Search of an Author, Luigi Pirandello (1921)
  50. "Miss Furr & Miss Skeene," Gertrude Stein (1922)
  51. Ulysses, James Joyce (1922)
  52. The Waste Land, T.S. Eliot (1922)
  53. "The Emperor of Ice-Cream," Stevens (1923)
  54. "O sweet spontaneous," e.e. cummings (1923)
  55. "The Red Wheel Barrow," W. C. Williams (1923)
  56. "Leda and the Swan," William Butler Yeats (1924)
  57. Mrs. Dalloway, Virginia Woolf (1925)
  58. The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald (1925)
  59. The Sun Also Rises, Hemingway (1926)
  60. The Sound & the Fury, William Faulkner (1929)
  61. As I Lay Dying, William Faulkner (1930)
  62. Nausea, Jean-Paul Sartre (1938)
  63. Day of the Locust, Nathaneal West (1939)
  64. Our Lady of the Flowers, Jean Genet (1943)
  65. Ficciones, Jorge Luis Borges (1945)
  66. The Plague, Albert Camus (1947)
  67. 1984, George Orwell
  68. The Trilogy, Samuel Beckett (1947-50)
  69. Waiting for Godot, Samuel Beckett (1952)
  70. Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov (1955)
  71. "A Good Man is Hard to Find," Flannery O'Connor (1955)
  72. Howl, Allen Ginsberg (1956)
  73. Jealousy, Alain Robbe-Grillet (1957)
  74. Naked Lunch, William Burroughs (1959)
  75. Aura, Carlos Fuentes (1962)
  76. Hopscotch, Julio Cortázar (1963)
  77. The Crying of Lot 49, Thomas Pynchon (1966)
  78. Snow White, Donald Barthelme (1967)
  79. One Hundred Years of Solitude, Gabriel García Márquez (1967)
  80. Lost in the Funhouse, John Barth (1968)
  81. Slaughterhouse Five, Kurt Vonnegut (1968)
  82. His Master's Voice, Stanislaw Lem (1968)
  83. Pricksongs & Descants, Robert Coover (1969)
  84. The Goalie's Anxiety at the Penalty Kick, Peter Handke (1970)
  85. Double or Nothing, Raymond Federman (1971)
  86. Crash, J. G. Ballard (1973)
  87. Gravity's Rainbow, Thomas Pynchon (1973)
  88. Dhalgren, Samuel R. Delany (1974)
  89. Blood & Guts in High School, Kathy Acker (1978)
  90. If on a Winter's Night a Traveler, Italo Calvino (1979)
  91. Mulligan Stew, Gilbert Sorrentino (1979)
  92. Waiting for the Barbarians, J. M. Coetzee (1980)
  93. Geek Love, Kathryn Dunn (1983)
  94. Flaubert's Parrot, Julian Barnes (1984)
  95. Neuromancer, William Gibson (1984)
  96. White Noise, Don DeLillo (1985)
  97. The Watchmen, Gibbons & Moore (1986-87)
  98. Wittgenstein's Misstress, David Markson (1988)
  99. Infinite Jest, David Foster Wallace (1996)
  100. House of Leaves, Mark Danielewski (2000)
  101. Cloud Atlas, David Mitchell (2004)

 

Shortly after I began teaching in 1980, students began asking me for suggestions for further readings in the major works of Western civilization. What texts, they asked, should they experience in order both to help them form an educated background in literature and begin to contextualize more recent alternative fiction. By way of an answer, I put together the following.

Such a list, of course, is bound to be both incomplete and filled with a number of implicit judgments and decisions, and is therefore hardly meant to be definitive. Rather, I hope it simply suggests some engaging starting points; nudges serious readers to pick up a few texts they might not have thought about picking up before, or just haven't had an excuse to pick up yet; opens a space for conversation about what comprises a "masterpiece"; and underscores the fact that reading is always a beginning, never a end.

While other readers probably would have suggested other texts, I really don't think you can wrong with these; certainly they've all had an enormous influence on my own fiction.

Oh, and what about my own definition of a "masterpiece"? Well, immediately granting the cultural and aesthetic relativism inherent in such a misleadingly "objective" (and obviously masculine) term, I might suggest that such a text is an aesthetically pleasing imaginative gesture that continues to reveal intriguing insights to us about itself, ourselves, and the pluriverse we inhabit. It makes us feel and think deeply about the nature of existence, makes us wonder about our lives and worlds, stimulates us to challenge our conventional sssumptions about the way the big things work, about the way art works, and (to hearken back to Gertrude Stein on the subject) releases us from the perceptual vises in which our dull heads tend to be locked.

Plus, it keeps us coming back, and it rewards us for our returns every time.