Time’s 100 Best Books of All Time

October 4, 2013 ♥ Posted in: Nerd Topics, Writing by Kristina Horner

I’ve had this list saved on a page in Evernote for months; when I realized I didn’t have any ideas for today’s blog post, it seemed like just the thing to do. What are we doing exactly? We are embarrassing ourselves with how not well read we are. This is Time’s 100 Best Books of All Time. The list was compiled by Time magazine’s critics Lev Grossman and Richard Lacayo, and I’m about to show you how many I’ve actually read cover to cover.

The Adventures of Augie March
All the King’s Men
American Pastoral
An American Tragedy
Animal Farm
Appointment in Samarra
Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret 
The Assistant
At Swim-Two-Birds
The Berlin Stories
The Big Sleep
The Blind Assassin
Blood Meridian
Brideshead Revisited
The Bridge of San Luis Rey 
Call It Sleep
The Catcher in the Rye
A Clockwork Orange
The Confessions of Nat Turner
The Corrections
The Crying of Lot 49
A Dance to the Music of Time
The Day of the Locust
Death Comes for the Archbishop
A Death in the Family
The Death of the Heart
Dog Soldiers
The French Lieutenant’s Woman
The Golden Notebook
Go Tell it on the Mountain
Gone with the Wind
The Grapes of Wrath
Gravity’s Rainbow
The Great Gatsby
A Handful of Dust
The Heart is a Lonely Hunter
The Heart of the Matter
A House for Mr. Biswas
I, Claudius
Infinite Jest
Invisible Man
Light in August
The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe
Lord of the Flies
The Lord of the Rings
The Moviegoer
Lucky Jim
The Man Who Loved Children
Midnight’s Children
Mrs. Dalloway
Naked Lunch
Native Son
Never Let Me Go
On the Road
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
The Painted Bird
Pale Fire
A Passage to India
Play It As It Lays
Portnoy’s Complaint
The Power and the Glory
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie
Rabbit, Run
The Recognitions
Red Harvest
Revolutionary Road
The Sheltering Sky
Slaughterhouse Five
Snow Crash
The Sot-Weed Factor
The Sound and the Fury
The Sportswriter
The Spy Who Came in From the Cold
The Sun Also Rises
Their Eyes Were Watching God
Things Fall Apart
To Kill a Mockingbird
To the Lighthouse
Tropic of Cancer
Under the Net
Under the Volcano
White Noise
White Teeth
Wide Sargasso Sea

So… 10 out of 100. That’s terrible. And to be perfectly honest, most of those were books I read for school. There were a few titles I am so ashamed I haven’t read (The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, Slaughterhouse Five, A Clockwork Orange, 1984) that I almost didn’t post this list, but I figured it would be a good catalyst for discussion. So here is my literary shame. Also, I didn’t count the ones I have only seen the movie of (Lord of the Rings, Never Let Me Go, etc).

How many have you read on this list? Why do you think we often shy away from these classics? How important is it that we read them? Let me know in the comments!



E says:

Oh man, I’ve only read 5/100, should I be worried? I’ve shied away from a lot of those titles simply because I thought they would be too difficult for me to understand. But also growing up, I thought “classics” and “boring” were synonyms. I’m ashamed too, some of those titles shouldn’t be too difficult. I think sometimes we get caught up with all the new titles/best sellers.

I totally agree with you, especially on the “classics” and “boring” meaning the same thing. I always assume books on this list will be hard, or dated, or just a snoozefest – so I don’t even give them a try. :/

Alice says:

I’ve only read five too, so at least you’re not the only one

Rah says:

I feel like i’ve read quite a lot of books but i’ve only read five of those. And the majority of the others i’ve never even heard of. I’m not sure about this list, for the “best books of all time” it seems [[from what i do recognise]] to be very Western 20th Century.

Well, it’s the best books since 1923, when Time was first established.

Megan says:

I was wondering why Time didn’t seem to realize that books existed before the 20th century! The absence of Lewis Carroll, Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, and the Bronte sisters was astounding to me, but the post-1923 thing explains it.

Hillary says:

5. I’m worse off than you. Recently realized how I hadn’t read many classics, that’s when I read lord of the flies. I think for me, I have a hard time reading a classic because it evokes the feelings if being told to read something for school. When I want to read for pleasure I want something fun, and don’t want to have to either analyze things or read language that isn’t used any more. Also, I think sometimes I focus more on the quantity of books I’ve read instead of the quality

That’s a very good point. Even being long out of school, I still mentally consider a lot of these books to be “school” books that I “should” read, rather than interesting works of literature on their own.

Brittany says:

Don’t feel bad, Kristina! I’m ashamed to say I’ve only read six all the way through. I think it’s important to read them if they sound like they’re interesting to you, but I don’t think you should feel ashamed if the books you’re reading are not on the list but you still value them. If it were up to me, some modern books and series would be on the list because of their impact on society (I mean, millions of children were influenced to be readers because of Harry Potter). I suppose it is important in a way to enrich your mind, but in no way should you feel ashamed for not having read them.

This is definitely encouraging. And yes, Harry Potter should totally be on that list. AMAZING LITERATURE or not, I think it’s one of the most important book series of the last century for what it’s done for inspiring children to read.

Stanley says:

I love the Harry Potter series, but this is a best books of all time list and although I love the series, they are not technically great. This is similar to loving fun movies and understanding why there is no Oscar talk about them for best picture.

Kristen says:

I’ve only read Animal Farm… But I’m only 13, I’ve still got time!!! Out of the ones you’ve read, Kristina, which do you suggest I read next?

Stanley says:

Lord of the Flies would probably be a good one for you. If you really enjoyed Animal Farm, though, 1984 might not be too far in the future. It is one of my favorites.

Emmy says:

8. And is it awful that so many of these I haven’t even heard of? And there are several I wish I had read but I haven’t.

Eva says:

I’ve only read 6 of these, but as far as I can see these are only books from English/American authors, right? I’ve read a lot of the books that are considered classics in my country, so I’m not going to feel too bad about having only read a tiny amount of books on this list.

Cassidy says:

Well this post thoroughly embarrassed me. I’ve only read one of these, and it was for a school project. I dont recognize even half of them :/
Probably. Should read more classics

Leah says:

To be honest though, some of them are hard. *The Sound and the Fury* is the most difficult book I’ve ever read. I’m on the same page though, even with a Lit degree I’m sitting at about 12-ish.

With the amount of literature out there right now though, it’s difficult to establish a list that’s relevant, current, detailed… There are so many books that are important for different reasons that I feel like it’s not a matter of having read the “classics,” it’s a matter of enjoying what you read and encouraging others to read, and to find something that they are passionate about.

I like that. I still think there is definitely something to be said about having read or at least understanding what the “greats” are, the people who used certain techniques first, etc – to be able to appreciate those who emulate or were inspired by those that came before, but in general it’s really just important that people are reading.

Jenna says:



Animal Farm
Brideshead Revisited
The Catcher in the Rye
Death Comes for the Archbishop
The Great Gatsby
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
The Lord of the Rings
The Power and the Glory
To Kill a Mockingbird

Nine. And I consider myself tolerably well read for an average American. Though not nearly as well read as I’d like to be. 🙂

The thing about these lists is that they’re so… particular to whomever designs them. These appear to be modern classic novels by a pretty strict definition, most of them–Tolkien and Lewis being notable exceptions–belonging to the oft-cynical strain that focuses in on the sex/tragedy/irony triple-crown. It’s not my thing, to be honest, though I absolutely loved Brideshead Revisited and The Power and the Glory.

Not having read most of this list doesn’t necessarily mean shying away from the classics, seeing as how this list is solely English-language-from-1923-onward. For myself, I love some Austen and Bronte and Dickens and Tolstoy and Twain and and and… But I won’t go anywhere near A Clockwork Orange or Lord of the Flies (horror and violence really mess me up), and Animal Farm made me cry so hard that I’m a bit afraid of 1984. Steinbeck utterly horrified me with The Red Pony, so I’ve also been afraid of The Grapes of Wrath, though that’s one I should buck up and read anyway.

All that said, I got a kick out of the Time post; Lacayo and Grossman seem pretty self-aware about their fallibility and the potential for argument over inclusion of this book/author versus that one.

You’re right, too, that it’s worth considering why we avoid these. I’ve avoided many of them on the idea that the tragedy of the story would totally outweigh any power and hope the author deigned to work therein, and in the case of most of the ones I’ve read off this list, the opposite has been true. I loved most of the aforementioned, and the only one I half regret is The Catcher in the Rye, which was… not what I was expecting. I thought it would be about baseball. Hey, I was young. 😉

Although they can be enlightening, at the end of the day I don’t think it matters that much whether we read them or not. At least as of right now, I think I’m in the mindset of Alaska from Looking for Alaska in that I collect all these books on my shelves and on my to-read list, but life is ultimately more important to live than books are to read. And there will be time when I’m older and slower that I can read more of the books that I don’t find time to right now:) And if there’s not time, well then it’s not the end of the world that I didn’t read them.

Amanda says:

I’ve also only read 10 of them, but another 23 are on my to-read list! A few of them I even own but haven’t gotten to yet.

Christine Ee says:

I’ve read 13 which is pretty okay actually. But from what I’ve seen in the comment section, it seems people are quite reluctant to pick up these books because of the ‘school’ connotations.

But living in Australia, I was never forced to read any of these books. I guess curiosity has made me gravitate to books that are labelled ‘classics’??

Tani says:

I’m really REALLY surprised that Snow Crash is on there. It’s a cyberpunk novel that I only read because it’s my geeky dad’s favorite. Seems a weird juxtaposition with all the literary greats there.

21! But that’s after just completing an MA in 20th century literature, so, I still feel a bit underread. Honestly, though, I think one problem with the ‘greatest books of all time’ format is that less-well-known books by the same authors get so little press. For example, I’ve read Lolita and Pale Fire, but Pnin is my favorite Nabokov book by far. Or, I liked Never Let Me Go much less that Ishiguro’s other book, The Remains of the Day. So I’d say, better than trying to make it through the entire list, try out a few books, see which you like, and then check out those authors’ other works! It will also make you sound extremely well-read at parties when you mention how underrated some obscure F. Scott Fitzgerald book is 🙂

Sally says:

I’m sorry but that list is totally bullshit, don’t let it make you feel bad. (Also, I’ve only read twelve of those books and I feel NO GUILT, screw you Time.com) The books seem very American-centric (I have a feeling getting some British literary critics would have made this list look VERY different) and I have no idea why “The Best Books of All Time” where chosen to be books after 1923 (seriously, that is not “All Time”).

It seems absolutely ridiculous to me that a list of the the best books ever would not have any Jane Austen or Charlotte Bronte, for example. Also, War and Peace has been called the greatest novel of all time and Moby Dick the greatest English novel of all time. So. Nope. Stupid list.

Sam says:

I never liked Things Fall Apart or Lord of the Flies. Maybe I read them too young, and don’t get me wrong, the symbolism in the pieces did not escape me, but in any case I don’t feel like either could be counted as one of the best books ever written. Sometimes I feel as though there is a feeling of obligation to include the books that are widely considered as classics on such lists, whether or not they are actually enjoyed. But then again, I guess that enough people have to enjoy them for them to be considered classics. I don’t know. That’s just my opinion 😛

Jaime says:

Of all of these books, I have only read Animal Farm, The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, and The Lord of the Rings trilogy. I’m not all that embarrassed or ashamed about it, though, because there’s a bigger problem here. The most amazing books I’ve ever read aren’t even on this list, and they’re so much better than Animal Farm (which I also had to read in school). I wonder who decides what the criteria is that makes a book one of the Best. Is there a baseline book that all books must be compared to, in order to be on the list? Not only have I not read 97 of these books, I am 99% uninterested in reading any of them (except for Gone With the Wind). I didn’t even want to read Animal Farm, and while I thought it was decent I certainly didn’t consider it one of the best books I’d ever read. I thought The Butterfly Revolution, which I read a few years later, was much better.

My list would include Pride & Prejudice, Atlas Shrugged and We The Living by Ayn Rand, and other books that make me FEEL something. I can’t imagine many of these books compare with the works of Juliet Marillier, or John Green’s The Fault In Our Stars, where the author takes you away to another world or another person’s life and you literally feel for them, cry for them, and love them.

I guess what I was trying to say with all of this is that you shouldn’t feel you need to read the majority of these books because a few people at Time Magazine consider them to be The Greats. You should make your own list of Greats, and judge the books you read based on your interest in them and their ability to captivate you.

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