Something to Argue About! The Ten Greatest Novels of All Time?

I ran across this short video recently and thought bloggers here might find it worth pondering. It is a kind of hasty overview of these great works, a little daffy at points, but in aggregate, it is a selection worth considering. The list has actually inspired me to re-read Anna Karenina and a few of the other titles mentioned, great books I haven’t even thought about in some time.

What do you think? Do you agree with the uppity choices?  What would you add? 🙂

About Margaret Jean Langstaff

A lifelong critical reader with literary tastes, a novelist, short story writer, essayist, book critic, and professional book editor for many years. A consultant to publishers and authors, providing manuscript critiques and a full range of editorial services. A friend and supporter of all other readers and writers. A collector of signed modern first editions. Animal lover and tree hugger.
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20 Responses to Something to Argue About! The Ten Greatest Novels of All Time?

  1. Joshua Long says:

    The Sun Also Rises is still my favorite novel & Ulysses is conspicuously missing. I can imagine why. I’m not familiar enough with some of those choices to say they shouldn’t be there. Good video, thanks for sharing.

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    • You know, I think both of those should be included. The impact and lasting influence of Ulysses on the literary world was and is profound. Inaugurated some big changes in lit; and The Sun Also Rises is a greater masterpiece than some of the titles on the list. The list was more of a middlebrow popularity contest than a serious consideration of lasting literary value. But, as Flannery O’Connor once said, “Art isn’t for everybody,” because most people think it’s “hard,” and they don’t want to think deeply when they read (if ever–haha). Maybe they’re smarter than I am for that and get fewer headaches 🙂 I’m sure they sleep better

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      • Joshua Long says:

        I think you may be onto something 🙂 I’m reading The Sun Also Rises for the 3rd or 4th time, and I made it through the first chapter of Ulysses again not too long ago (it’s really good), so far I think I prefer Joyce’s dialogue, but when Hemingway (he drifts a bit) is on, it doesn’t get much better.

        I say lose the Proust and put Ulysses in its place, that’s just too much for me, I can see how they both seem inaccessible, but what I’ve read of Ulysses is great and usually pretty funny. I still go back to the parts I like, and sometimes i just open it up and start reading.

        I also say drop Anna K. and put The Sun Also Rises or The Old Man & The Sea at the top. The layers of meaning Hemingway hides under such straightforward prose makes him no. 1 in my book. There’s so much I didn’t notice until I read it over again.

        That list was heavy on Russian novels, are you sure this isn’t propaganda? 😉

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        • Adulation of Russian novels has been an intellectual trend among the liberal literati since the 30s. No accounting for taste. Proust is another trend. Such a weird little man, strange life and habits, rattled on interminably about every freaking detail his eye alighted upon. Neurasthenic. The sheer size of his masterpiece makes it a mountain like Everest that certain types like to brag about having read. I’ve never been able to get through it; lovely prose sometimes, but I eventually drown in the trivia that interests him, and his overwrought sensibilities finally turn me off. I’m with you on Hemingway and Joyce. Hemingway didn’t make the cut, I’m guessing, because his prose is muscular, straightforward, and very American. Moreover, he’s manly, a sportsman, tough; pale faced, socially awkward literary critics may feel inferior to him, who knows? They like a weak, frail Proustian type who can barely get out of bed and quivers at the sight of an autumn leaf. As for Ulysses, it was so hot in literary circles for so long, I’m guessing some think it’s cool to dub it passe’ and exclude it as some sort of snub. Most people still can’t read it and don’t want to. It’s still inaccessible and it’s no “To Kill a Mockingbird” in the popular mind. Haha. I’ve just offended some book critics and shot myself in the foot with those remarks.

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  2. SD Gates says:

    It’s interesting there are no novels more recently written than 1984. That’s rather curious. So nothing worthy of recognition has been written since then?

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  3. bowmanauthor says:

    It actually looks like the criteria for this top-ten list was controversial literature … sexual, of course, but also prejudicial … SHOCK value! I know only a few of those would make my top-ten list. Where is Tale of Two Cities (no Dickens at all, except Honorable Mention?), Gone With the Wind, Jane Eyre, Diary of Anne Frank? Glad to see Middlemarch, 1984, Lord of The Rings, and Moby Dick mentioned, and Anna Karenina is one of my favorites. I agree wholeheartedly with Ulysses mentioned above. The biggest omission in my mind and the book I’ve read the most times is Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, even though I don’t care for any of the other books Rand wrote.

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    • Well, any list like this is bound to be controversial–only ten titles? It is, as well, I think, uninformed, and reveals the superficial reading of the compilers of the list. There are thousands of great “classics” that have endured, and that continue to be read and discussed because of their lasting value as art of surpassing beauty and perennial meaning to humankind. It was a bold, brash act to advance this tiny list and label it the greatest novels of all time. It was bound to raise the hackles of the well-read, but no doubt also inspired non-readers’ curiosity. Maybe it even motivated a few of them to read one or two of the books just to see what all the fuss was about 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • bowmanauthor says:

        I can see you reacted to the video and list just as I did … very biased, prejudiced, and compiled with the movies in mind more than the book themselves. Your comment, though, about “non-readers” is a good point. Anything to initiate our youth or uniformed to history and the beauty of words written eloquently and intellectually is a big plus! The classics are classics because of the message, the ground-breaking presentation, and perfection, or close to it, in structure. That is why we study the classics and learn from them.

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  4. D.G.Kaye says:

    Great video Margaret. It certainly took me back to some of those great reads. I thought I may have seen Gone with the Wind in there; although there’s only so many they could fit in from so many wonderful classics. I’m looking forward to receiving my pre-order sequel, or should I say the book written before Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, Go Set a Watchman. Will you be reading that? 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Not sure yet. I read To Kill a Mockingbird when I was just a kid–and straight through. I couldn’t put it down. I’m “over booked” right now, buried in book editorial work for clients with Margaret Langstaff Editorial, so time is an issue. Also don’t want to break the spell of that early treasured memory of reading To Kill a Mockingbird; the other book might be a disappointment. Why did she wait so long to publish it? Definitely will sample it, though, then decide 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • D.G.Kaye says:

        I’m with you on buried in work. I too felt as though I didn’t want to ruin my memory of To Kill a Mockingbird, but curiousity has gotten the best of me. There’s been much hype about it in the media because of the mystery about why now? There are a few theories which I wrote about a few months ago. Nonetheless, I’ll read it, but most likely not until the fall. I’ll be sure to let you know my feeling on it. 🙂

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  5. I agree with some, but not all. Different opinions are great though. It would be a very boring world if we all thought the same and loved the same things. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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