23 September 2013

My top 105 most enjoyable novels by men

Auster, Baldwin, Benson, Bram
Collins, Cunningham, Durrell, Forster
I had so much fun making my list of my favorite novels by women, that I decided to make one of novels by men. As I did with the women's list, I included all the novels that ranked at least an eight on my ten-point rating scale. I was surprised to see that my male list was 25 books longer than my female list. Perhaps it shouldn't have been such a big surprise given the ways of the publishing world and society in general, but I thought my list would be skewed a little more to the female side. As it is, of the 185 novels that I ranked an eight or above, 43% were written by women. That is almost (but not quite) in line with the general population distribution.

Were the men given special treatment?
As I went through my books read list I was surprised at how often the male authors seem to have benefited from being rated when I was a decade younger and felt like the grand works of old men deserved higher marks than my enjoyment level would have allowed. At the time I was really trying to plow through the Modern Library list which was stuffed with white men. While some of them were truly spectacular reads, I still feel like I gave them higher marks because their literary importance, rightly or wrongly, had been codified in the Modern Library list. To make up for that, as I went through my spreadsheet for this list I downgraded 20 books that I know in my heart I didn't like that much and so they don't appear on this list.

Committee of one redux (with similar caveats galore)
As with the women's list, I didn't try and consider any sort of literary importance. I decided that I would simply list my favorite books by men. To do so I looked to my spreadsheet of books that I have read since 1994, sorted them by rating, and then removed all the women. Keep the following in mind as you peruse the list:
  • I removed anything that wasn't a novel. *With the exception of Thad Carhart's The Piano Shop on the Left Bank. I love this piece of non-fiction so much I refused to exclude it here. Although, in retrospect, I should have then not excluded 84, Charing Cross Road, or Anne Fadiman's Ex Libris both of which I find so delightful they make my head spin. Unlike those two, however, the Carhart is much less known by bookish types, so I feel the need to sing its praise here.
  • Besides separating them into three broad categories, they are otherwise listed in alpha order by author. Thus #1 does not necessarily equate to being my all time favorite book etc.
  • These are books I enjoyed--who am I to rank anything according to literary merit?
  • My rankings are a reflection of how I felt when I read the book. I realized as I compiled the list that my feelings have changed somewhat.
  • Being a committee of one, the list is most impacted by the fact that it only relies on the 1,000 or so books I have read since 1994. 
An odd thing happened when figuring out my favorites
I pretty much used math to figure out who my favorite female authors are. The more books on the list, the more likely they were to be considered one of my favorites. There ended up being 16 of them. For some reason this doesn't feel as genuine with the men. For instance, there are some that appear multiple times on this list, but I have a hard time considering them a favorite. However, as I thought about it, I realized that the same could be said for my women's list, but for some reason it didn't bother me. Anyhoo, my favorites boil down to these 17: Auster, Balwdin, Benson, Bram, Collins, Cunningham, Durell, Forster, Hesse, Just, Leavitt, Lewis, Maugham, Shute, Trollope, Waugh, and Wolfe. 

Hesse, Just, Leavitt, Lewis
Maugham, Shute, Trollope, Waugh, Wolfe

Books achieving a 10 (All time favorite)
1. Bennett, Alan - The Uncommon Reader
2. Brown, Todd - Entries from a Hot Pink Notebook
3. Carhart, Thad - The Piano Shop on the Left Bank*
4. Ford, Robert - The Student Conductor
5. Forster, E.M. - A Room with a View
6. Forster, E.M. - Howard's End
7. Gallico, Paul - Flowers for Mrs. Harris
8. Irving, John - A Prayer for Owen Meany
9. London, Jack - Martin Eden
10. McEwan, Ian - On Chesil Beach
11. Ross, Sinclair - As for Me and My House
12. Shute, Nevil - In the Wet
13. Trillin, Calvin - Tepper Isn't Going Out
14. Waugh, Evelyn - Brideshead Revisted
15. Wilde, Oscar - The Picture of Dorian Gray
16. Williams, John - Stoner

Books achieving a 9 (Loved it)
17. Auster, Paul - The Brooklyn Follies
18. Baldwin, James - Another Country
19. Baldwin, James - Giovanni's Room
20. Baldwin, James - Go Tell it on the Mountain
21. Banks, Iain - The Wasp Factory
22. Barnes, Julian - The Sense of an Ending
23. Benson, E.F. - So far all of his novels that I have read
24. Boll, Heinrich - The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum
25. Carey, Edward - Observatory Mansions
26. Carr, J.L. - A Month in the Country
27. Chatwin, Bruce - On the Black Hill
28. Coetzee, J.M. - Disgrace
29. Collins, Wilkie - The Woman in White
30. Crichton, Michael - The Andromeda Strain
31. Dickey, James - Deliverance
32. Dreiser, Theodore - An American Tragedy
33. Dumas, Alexandre - The Three Musketeers
34. Duplechan, Larry - Blackbird
35. Fearing, Kenneth - The Big Clock
36. Ferris, Joshua - Then We Came to the End
37. Fitzgerald, F. Scott - Tender is the Night
38. Flaubert, Gustave - A Simple Heart
39. Forster, E.M. - A Passage to India
40. Frayn, Michael - The Trick of It
41. Greene, Graham - The End of the Affair
42. Greene, Graham - Travels with My Aunt
43. Hemingway, Ernest - The Sun Also Rises
44. Hesse, Hermann - Pretty much all of his novels (except Steppenwolf)
45. Huxley, Aldous - Brave New World
46. Isherwood, Christopher - A Meeting By the River
47. Jenkins, Herbert - Patricia Brent, Spinster
48. Joyce, James - The Dead
49. Koestler, Arthur - Darkness at Noon
50. Lamb, Wally - She's Come Undone
51. Lebrecht, Norman - The Song of Names
52. Lewis, Sinclair - All of his novels
53. Lodge, David - Changing Places
54. London, Jack - The Call of the Wild
55. Maugham, W. Somerset - Most of his novels
56. McEwan, Ian - Sweet Tooth
57. Nabokov, Vladimir - Lolita
58. O'Brien, Darcy - A Way of Life, Like Any Other
59. Peck, Richard - London Holiday
60. Priestly, J.B. - Angel Pavement
61. Selvadurai, Shyam - Funny Boy
62. Sherriff, R.C. - A Fortnight in September
63. Sherriff, R.C. - The Hopkins Manuscript
64. Shute, Nevil - The rest of his novels not listed above
65. Soehnlein, K.M. - The World of Normal Boys
66. Stegner, Wallace - Crossing to Safety
67. Steinbeck, John - The Grapes of Wrath
68. Stephenson, Neal - Cryptonomicon
69. Uhlman, Fred - Reunion
70. Vonnegut, Kurt - Slaughterhouse Five
71. White, Edmund - Hotel de Dream
72. Wolff, Tobias - Old School

Books achieving an 8 (Really liked it)
73. Auster, Paul - Sunset Park
74. Baldwin, James - The rest of his novels not listed above
75. Bowles, Paul - The Sheltering Sky
76. Bram, Christopher - Surprising Myself
77. Constant, Benjamin - Adolphe
78. Cunningham, Michael - Most of his novels
79. Doctorow, E.L. - Ragtime
80. Durrell, Lawrence - All four of the Alexandria Quartet
81. Fforde, Jasper - The Eyre Affair
82. Findley, Timothy - Most of his novels
83. Forster, E.M. - Where Angels Fear to Tread
84. Gide, Andre - Strait is the Gate
85. Gide, Andre - The Counterfeiters
86. Gide, Andre - The Immoralist
87. Hemingway, Ernest - The Old Man and the Sea
88. Hoeg, Peter - Smilla's Sense of Snow
89. Howells, William Dean - The Rise of Silas Lapham
90. Huxley, Aldous - Point Counter Point
91. Just, Ward - All of his novels
92. Leavitt, David - Most of his novels
93. Mackail, Denis - Greenery Street
94. MacLaverty, Bernard - Grace Notes
95. Mawer, Simon - The Glass Room
96. Miller, Merle - The Warm Feeling
97. Orwell, George - Burmese Days
98. Remarque, Erich Maria - All Quiet on the Western Front
99. Sinclair, Upton - The Jungle
100. Stegner, Wallace - Angle of Repose
101. Trollope, Anthony - All of his novels so far
102. Waugh, Evelyn - The rest of his novels not listed above
103. Wenzel, Kurt - Lit Life
104. Williams, Conrad - The Concert Pianist
105. Wolfe, Tom - All of his post-1960s novels


  1. Three cheers for James Baldwin!

    There are so many good books on this list...and so many I still need to read.

  2. Loads of great books on both lists. It must have taken ages to compile these! I'm tempted to look at my own lists - but maybe just the 9s and 10s. :)

  3. Andre Gide? That is not an author you hear much about! I read Straight is the Gate for a college French class, but honestly remember nothing except the title in French and English.

  4. Again, so much overlap... I really need to read Nevil Shute.

  5. I had to google a few of these, which I feel is a failure for 'stuffed...white men' as well as for me personally. *grins* Although I have no stats to prove it, my feeling is that I need to work on my American writers a lot. We're so much more exposed to the British canon in Oz as young readers, and it's hard to know how to break that bond sometimes.

  6. That's quite a list, and I'm so glad you included the Carhart title - you are correct that he needs to be more known. I'm in a similar boat to Vicki - it's the American authors that I haven't read as much. (Don't have an explanation for that, though.)

  7. What a wonderful list! A lot of my favorites (Gide, Maugham, et. al.), but also a few gems with which I am unfamiliar. More to look forward to.

  8. Heather: I need to do some James Baldwin rereading. It has been many years since I read anything by him.

    Gaskella: Thanks to my spread sheet with my numbered ratings it was actually very easy to compile them.

    Ruthiella: I remember very little except that I enjoyed them and found them very "new to me" at the time.

    JoAnn: Knowing you, Pied Piper might be the best place to start with Shute.

    Vicki: Brits and Americans are easy to come by here, Canadians oddly much less so, and Aussies almost non existent.

    Susan: One of these days I hope Simon and I tackle Am Lit on The Readers. He is understandably nervous about that.

    James: It was fun and a bit surprising to see the results.


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