Top Ten Books of the 20th Century - Jason's List

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Books linked to more information have at one time been, or are currently, in the top ten.

Andrew's List

  1. The Cider House Rules, John Irving
  2. Catch-22, Joseph Heller
  3. Love in the Time of Cholera, Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  4. To Kill a Mocking Bird, Harper Lee
  5. The Magus, John Fowles
  6. The World According to Garp, John Irving
  7. The Right Stuff, Tom Wolfe
  8. Even Cowgirls Get the Blues, Tom Robbins
  9. Abraham Lincoln, Carl Sandburg
  10. Bonfire of the Vanities, Tom Wolfe


One has to look at the sentinel events of the 20th century, and then distill out which books somehow capture the spirit, the pathos, the drama, the craziness of those times. Then, one must also transcend time and look at those books that, like the works of Shakespeare, are timeless. Love in the Time of Cholera is timeless, and, even in translation, is achingly beautiful. The Cider House Rules achieves, within one coherent story, a interweaving of themes of abortion, parental abandonment, incest, racial injustice, World War II--who went, who stayed, who survived, who survived with what intact, addiction, love, death, apples, overwhelming loss, and above all, the grace of the human soul. It is the best best of the 20th century, and the only book ever, ever written by a non-medical doctor about medicine (I am an anesthesiologist, as was Dr. Larch) that does not offend the sensibilities of a real doctor. needs no comments. It is the yin to the yang of Dalton Trumbo's Johnny Got His Gun. This book is probably number eleven on my list, or the next one after The Great Gatsby. To Kill a Mockingbird is the only book in my list by a woman, and I searched my soul of this one. I do not think there is a 20th century book in which the characters (Atticus Finch, Scout, Boo Radley) and the sense of time and place (the segregated South in the hot summertime) are more deeply etched into the psyche of the human race, although the film with Gregory Peck has obscured the contribution of the book itself, because the film is so good. It is the best book-to-film of the 20th century. The Magus is a major work because of its timeliness (the consciousness altering days of the late 60's), and it themes of altered perceptions of reality, complicity with Nazism and other forms of terrorism, and the sensuality and sexuality of ancient Greek mythology and modern Greek mythology (Lesbos, beautiful naked people on beautiful island beaches--debt free, HIV immune).! Also, the central character was initially a woman, modeled on Mrs. Haversham in Dicken's Great Expectations. The Magus in the book was a man, thus foreshadowing the age on androgeny that is upon us.

The World According to Garp is, oh my God, my second John Irving book. What is it about this story teller?? This guy who keeps telling us about wrestling and bears, over and over?? Each time I read this book, I cry. Irving is a man who writes about a woman, Jenny Fields, the way I would want to be written about if I was a woman, which I am not, who had had sex with a comatose aviator, which I did not, in order to conceive Garp, which Irving did. The Right Stuff is about America and the Space Program, and Gone with the Wind is about the Civil War. I think this book documents a ccrucial moment in American hisory, a moment when what we could achieve (Kennedy's Man on the Moon by the End of the Decade) clashed in a way that ripped at the very soul of America with the war in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos.

"THE" book on Vietnam, the one that lets Americans come to terms with the terrorism of Napalm and the close-up-and-in-person slaughter of "old men, women, children, babies, chickens...anything that moved" by American soldiers led by Rusty Calley who now runs a fewelry store in south Georgia. this book as not yet been written. The national shame is too great. It is like the autobiography of a "reformed" pediophile...when has there been enough time for those who were raped to recover enough to read about being butt fucked by a 200 pound 35 year old at the age of 8??

The opening paragraphs of Cowgirls are as poetic, metaphysical, whimsical, and I-write-better-than-Richard-Brautigan-and-I can-have-sex-with-any-young-girl (not child)-I-want as I am aware of. Once read, the imagry remains. Check your leg then next time it matters. Carl Sandburg read his poetry at Kennedy's first inauguration. It was a bright, bitter cold day, and the wind whipped his wispy white hair. If your were not alive that day, if you do not have that memory, along with the address a few years later by Marti n Luther King speaking from the Lincoln Memorial, " I Have A Dream"--then there is an essence, a single moment that encapulates decades past and decades to come, a bend in the river than can only be truly known decades later, long after the last flood...Anyway, centuries from now, if the nation survives as America, and if the world survives, Lincoln will be the President who will eclipse all others, for he will remain the one who "freed the slaves". Until that moment, this nation sanctioned the most barbarous and savage terrorism imagineable--kidnapping, wretching parent from child, husband from wife, and then selling the remains as property, to be whipped, raped, sold, resold and discarded when used up. It is still the black scourge upon the soul of America, and flags of the Confederacy still proclaim the glory of the days when a nigger was still as nigger, and could be hung for even thinking about having sex with a white woman, much less touching her pure and sanctified! body.

Bonfire of the Vanities, because it captures an era, as well or better than Gatsby, and also because it touches on the themes of artist, homosexuality, being different, and the value of friendship based up power and status. In this, it returns to the relm of timelessness. In truth, it tied with Gatsy for number ten, but F. Scott is dead, and Tom is alive and still dressing like a character from The Great Gatsby. Both books are indespensible in terms of 20th centrury literature. Sorry Faulker (he wrote about southerners without using the language of the south-- to write of southern males and not use the word "pussy" is too be deaf, deaf, deaf. Ernest H., you were really, really good, and disgustingly self absorbed, and egocentric, and, in the end, you were a pussy. Gore Vidal, your homosexual tiffs with William F. Buckley were pathetic, not the stuff of great literature. Wm Shakespeare was not a whiner. Zen and the Art...give me a wrench...too many hippie wish-I-had-been filling out lists, maybe??

In terms of women, The Diary of Ann Frank is a major work. In terms of forgotten, try Benjamin the first it, and understand why this man spoke to 100 million moms over his lifetime, and was still growing spiritually at the age of 80. Peyton Place by Grace M. A whole generation of baby boomers learned to read and masturbate at the same time reading this woman writer.

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Top Ten Books of the 20th Century | Featured Books | SCUBA Diving Books

April 2000