What are the best English and American novels of the 20th century?


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What are the best English and American novels of the 20th century?

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Editado: Jul 31, 2016, 8:22 am

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Feb 24, 2013, 3:02 am

Narrowing down to three would be a tall order, but Anthony Burgess's list might help: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ninety-nine_Novels

For what it's worth, my personal choice (today) might be:-

One Hundred Years of Solitude
Pedro Páramo
The Grapes of Wrath

Borges would be amongst them if you included short stories.

Animal Farm
To the Lighthouse
A Glastonbury Romance

Ulysses would be in there if you were to include Ireland.

Editado: Feb 24, 2013, 6:37 am

I'm going to replicate several that others have posted. Do bear in mind, though, that 'best' is entirely subjective. It really is impossible to narrow these books down to only three of each so I've cheated by giving you two lists in each category so that you can consider either or both. I could easily have made at least twice as many lists and was also very tempted to fill at least one of the US listsjust with books by John Steinbeck.

(List 1)
Captain Corelli's Mandolin
The Crimson Petal and the White
A Passage to India

(List 2)
The Go-Between
The Remains of the Day
The Other Hand (by Chris Cleave)

(list 1)
The Grapes of Wrath
To Kill A Mockingbird
A Prayer for Owen Meany

(List 2)
The Secret History
We Need to Talk About Kevin
The Color Purple

(List 1)
The Deptford Trilogy (Canada)
Sophie's World (Norway)
Little Infamies (Greece)

(List 2)
Life of Pi (Canada)
The Athenian Murders (Spain)
As If I am Not There by Slavenka Drakulic (Croatia)

Editado: Jul 31, 2016, 8:22 am

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Feb 25, 2013, 1:54 pm

Well, echoing concerns that it will be very subjective, here's some of my favorites (not necessarily "the best" according to critics or other readers):

1. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
2. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
3. Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison

1. Watchmen by Alan Moore -- published & set in the U.S. but by a U.K. author so I'm counting it under U.K.
2. The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro -- not necessarily my favorite by Ishiguro but the ones I prefer are from the 21st century. This is probably his best known novel though, and it won prestigious awards.
3. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams - to lighten up your reading a little as the rest of these are pretty dark. Also, it is a frequently referenced in pop culture so it's worth reading if only to get all those "inside" jokes.

Editado: Feb 25, 2013, 2:41 pm

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Editado: Feb 25, 2013, 3:02 pm

The Americans:
The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison

Honorable Mention: Seize The Day by Saul Bellow (novella, not a novel)

The English:
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
1984 by George Orwell
Lord of the Flies by William Golding

Honorable Mention: Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh

Editado: Jul 31, 2016, 8:22 am

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Feb 25, 2013, 9:26 pm

>9 Samantha_kathy: Indeed, I frequently don't agree with the critics (hence why I don't even bother watching the Academy Awards with everyone else).

Yes, I've noticed several of us already mentioned The Remains of the Day. And now that deniro's added The Great Gatsby, my first reaction was 'I should have had that one on my list!'


Editado: Mar 11, 2013, 9:11 am

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Editado: Feb 25, 2013, 10:19 pm

These choices are fairly conventional, but:


Nineteen Eighty Four by George Orwell
Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad (pub. 1899)
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley


The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov (a Russian-American)
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

One Hundred Years of Solitude, although neither American or British, has my vote for the best novel of the 20th Century.

The Modern Library list of the '100 Best Novels' of the 20th Century is not bad. There are a few I disagree with-- and some which I don't think anyone reads anymore. Zuleika Dobson, for example. But still, the best list I've seen so far.


ETA: The board's list, I mean. The reader's list is crap (all Ayn Rand and L. Ron Hubbard)

Editado: Mar 11, 2013, 9:11 am

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Editado: Mar 11, 2013, 9:12 am

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Feb 28, 2013, 7:46 am

Three is an impossibly short shortlist. What makes it harder is that there are probably several million British and American 20th century novels that I haven't read, and hundreds more that I've read with pleasure but which don't immediately spring to mind. Almost all the books listed above would be good choices for me as well (I might take a different book by the same author in some cases, and there are a few, especially in Deniro's post 14 that I don't know at all). I'll try to keep it as personal as I can and also avoid books that are already mentioned above, just to widen the discussion a bit. Otherwise I probably wouldn't get any further into the century than Woolf, Waugh and Forster.

South Riding by Winifred Holtby
The Bell by Iris Murdoch
Nights at the circus by Angela Carter

— I picked South Riding because it's a wonderful, entertaining epic that builds on all the ideas developed by the ivory-tower modernists you read at school (like Woolf and Forster) and brings them down to earth with a bump. From the thirties I could equally well have picked Novel on yellow paper, or something by Henry Green. I'm pretty sure that Iris Murdoch will be the British writer of the mid-20th century with the biggest lasting influence on other writers, long after the Amises and Sillitoes are forgotten; Angela Carter because she brings in an element of mad subversiveness that it very British but missing from the other two, and because she wrote so brilliantly.

Three lives by Gertrude Stein
Go, tell it on the mountain by James Baldwin
Dancer from the dance by Andrew Holleran

I had more trouble with the Americans: there are simply so many I haven't read. Baldwin and Stein are writers (not really novelists, but they wrote very good novels) who do wonderful, unexpected things with words; I didn't want to pick Toni Morrison, though I like her writing a lot, because everyone knows about her. Dancer is an odd choice, because I've often said that it's overrated, but it's a key book in defining the moment that gay writing started to be a part of the literary mainstream. And Holleran does have a way with words, as well as the rare virtue of only writing one book every ten years.

Editado: Jul 31, 2016, 8:22 am

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Feb 28, 2013, 8:14 am

#12 One Hundred Years of Solitude, although neither American or British

This should link to García Márquez -100% American and a candidate for the great American novelist.

Feb 28, 2013, 8:18 am

#15 Eeeek! How could I possibly forget South Riding?

Mar 1, 2013, 12:30 am

>17 chrisharpe: When I said Gabriel Garcia Marquez was "not American" I meant that he's not from the United States. He's Colombian.

Mar 1, 2013, 1:08 am

I hate to limit it to three,
but Iʻm willing to say:

of Aldous Huxley: either
Island or After Many a Summer

of Joseph Conrad Either
Under Western Eyes
or Heart of Darkness

Caradoc Evans
Nothing to Pay

U. S.

John Updike: The Centaur (and the "Rabbit" tetralogy is almost as good.)

George V. Higgins:
The Diggerʻs Game

Walter Van Tilburg Clark
The Ox Bow Incident

THis is something more than just a "personal favorites" list, but falls
short of being really a list of "THE Best".

Mar 1, 2013, 5:33 am

#20 Just to be pedantic, although Conrad was eventually granted British nationality, I'd have trouble really thinking of him as a British writer.

Mar 1, 2013, 5:28 pm

As others have already said, subjective, today's favourites and I hate to limit it to three, but:

The Blue Flower by Penelope Fitzgerald
A Room with a View by E M Forster
Waterland by Graham Swift

The Member of the Wedding by Carson McCullers
What We Talk About When We Talk About Love by Raymond Carver
and much lighter
Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin

Mar 1, 2013, 8:34 pm

Re #22 -

Sorry to rain on the parade... but the Carver - good as the stories are - is certainly not a novel; and it might even be argued that the Maupin is more of a 'fix-up' than a true novel, too.

Mar 1, 2013, 9:47 pm

>21 Booksloth: Since Joseph Conrad wrote most of his novels in English, while he was living in Britain, it's not unreasonable to call him a 'British writer' or maybe an 'Anglo-Polish' writer.

It is interesting how many writers have chosen to live abroad, often while writing about the home they've left behind. This includes almost every Irish author I know of, as well as the 'Lost Generation' of American and British writers in Paris, and many writers from the Third World.

Mar 2, 2013, 4:38 am

#24 Anglo-Polish for sure ;-)

Editado: Mar 2, 2013, 7:56 am

(In no particular order)


Donna Tartt The Secret History
John Steinbeck The Grapes Of Wrath
Joseph Heller Catch 22


George Orwell 1984
Jane Gardam The Queen of the Tambourine
William Golding Lord of the Flies

Tomorrow of course, those lists will be entirely different! And don't forget 'foreigners' either, for example :

All Quiet On The Western Front
The House of Spirits

And don't get seduced by hype! I found that Captain Corelli's Mandolin was one of the most boring novels I ever read. Everyone's read it? I wonder how many of them actually LIKED it?

Editado: Jul 31, 2016, 8:22 am

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Mar 2, 2013, 10:21 am

#26 Sorry to mess with your preconceptions, Tid, but I love Captain Corelli's Mandolin as do many people I know, and reread it regularly every year or two. Just because you dislike something it doesn't mean everyone who likes it is wrong. Unusually, perhaps, most of the hype surrounding this particular book was generated by word of mouth via readers who had loved it, not by publishers or promoters, so you would have to be particularly contrary to take that as the sign of an unpopular book.

Mar 2, 2013, 12:36 pm

I'm another big fan of the novel, Captain Corelli's Mandolin, which I also reread regularly.

I loved the film, too, although I think that they are very different; not surprisingly, the book has a literary and contemplative frame. The film is not and is "broader" in appeal, but with breathtaking cinematography.

BTW, I understand that, in promoting a film, they sometimes begin a "word-of-mouth" campaign. And I think that it can distort the nature of the book.

Editado: Mar 11, 2013, 9:12 am

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Editado: Mar 4, 2013, 7:10 pm

On 20, 21, 24 --- Conrad

Yes, I also have trouble thinking of him as British, but I don't think of him as Polish either. Perhaps "European" or "Continental" would best describe him. But in some ways he seems "more British than the the British". I can't
imagine a lifelong Pole (or any lifelong European nationality)
writing a line like "I had not yet had a proper tiffin."
I get the feeling that he may not have LIKED the British
culture, but he LOVED it.

Mar 2, 2013, 3:53 pm

28, 29

Most of the people I know who have read it, think the same (or similar) to me about Captain Corelli's Mandolin. We had been told about the 'word of mouth' phenomenon, but this didn't help us enjoy it any better. Anyway, I don't want to start a huge argument over something that is just a subjective matter of taste.

I've not actually seen the movie, but even those who enjoyed the book said it was something of a turkey so it's NOT #1 on my list of 'must see's!

Editado: Mar 25, 2013, 5:21 pm

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