Top 100 Talking Points

On July 21, 1998, the Radcliffe Publishing Course compiled and released its own list of the century’s top 100 novels, at the request of the Modern Library editorial board.

  • Which books would you omit and which would you add to our list? What is your top ten, or top one hundred?
  • Any list of “best novels” is open to debate. What do you think should be the criteria for judging the best novels of the century? What makes a book one of the best?
  • A majority of the writers on the list are Americans. In what ways does this reflect a twentieth-century literary balance of power? How does the racial composition of the list reflect these issues?
  • If books of all languages had been considered, which other great novels might have made the list? What might the linguistic composition of the list look like? Predict a top ten list of books of all languages. And predict a top ten list of the best books of all time.
  • How do you think the novel will have changed a hundred years from now? Do you think novels will be read on paper then, or will all books be electronic? Will this fundamentally change the experience of reading a novel?
  • Novelists go in and out of fashion and many of these books were what today would be called quite unsuccessful. Are literary and commercial success incompatible?
  • Is it possible to compare books as different as Ulysses, The Great Gatsby, and Brave New World? Are there any features that unite these three books? More widely, are there any literary features that unite the best books as a whole? How would you compare one of the books on the list to your favorite book that did not make the list?
  • There are eight women novelists represented on the list. Which other women novelists might have been included? Would there be more women novelists on a list compiled from books published in the nineteenth century? From a list of books published in the last fifty years?

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