A Hundred Books

Here are the one hundred books I consider to be my ‘key’ titles. They are not intended as recommendations as such, although in many cases I would in fact recommend them. I imagine many of the works here will be already familiar to most people reading this. The uniqueness lies only in the totality, the existence of one title thought of as special in the context of all the others of similar specialness, memorable in a life full of fairly disorganized and impulsive reading.

I have read them all, and they remain permanently on my shelves, but I have not read all of them all the way through. (I have read closely only a handful of Shakespeare’s Sonnets, for one example.) In most cases the book as a whole has had an impact on me, but in at least two instances what I remember most profoundly is an image from a single sentence, and in one other case it was a painted illustration that moved me — I only identified the work the painting was based on many years later. But of course several are here because I have read and re-read them many times (Alice in Wonderland was a constant favourite throughout my early childhood).

Speaking of Shakespeare, I have seen Hamlet performed four or maybe five times, but I have never read the play as a text. I can recall few lines from it, and accurately quote none of it, but when I hear the words spoken I am filled with a happy recognition.

The books are in alphabetical order by author — this is a way of slightly covering my tracks. Putting them in chronological order would be difficult and only approximate anyway, and even then would be far too revealing of how easy it is to be sucked into a series of like books, one after the other. The most recently discovered author on this list is the Chilean writer Roberto Bolaño.

But alphabetization of the authors produces its own oddness. There is Enid Blyton cheek by jowl with J G Ballard. And George Orwell and Beatrix Potter lie next to each other, even though three decades separate them. (I’m not saying which one came first.)

This particular listomania was brought on by Nina Allan, who has published her own list and talked me into doing mine. The whole thing was ultimately provoked by the current BBC-TV series, 100 Novels that Shaped our World. I do not claim world-shaping impact on me from these titles, nor are all of them novels, but they form part of the silent context from which one views the world and reacts to it.

  1. Penguin SF Ed. Brian Aldiss
  2. Non-Stop Brian Aldiss
  3. New Maps of Hell Kingsley Amis
  4. The Green Man Kingsley Amis
  5. The Four-Dimensional Nightmare J G Ballard
  6. Vermilion Sands J G Ballard
  7. The Twins at St Clare’s Enid Blyton
  8. The Castle of Adventure Enid Blyton
  9. The Mountain of Adventure Enid Blyton
  10. 2666 Roberto Bolaño
  11. Last Evenings on Earth Roberto Bolaño
  12. Don’t Point that Thing at Me Kyril Bonfiglioli
  13. Fictions Jorge Luis Borges
  14. The Sheltering Sky Paul Bowles
  15. The Silver Locusts Ray Bradbury
  16. The Naked Island Russell Braddon
  17. The Dam Busters Paul Brickhill
  18. Project Jupiter Fredric Brown
  19. What Mad Universe Fredric Brown
  20. Rogue Moon Algis Budrys
  21. Dark Avenues Ivan Bunin
  22. The People’s War Angus Calder
  23. That Summer in Paris Morley Callaghan
  24. The Outsider Albert Camus
  25. Alice in Wonderland Lewis Carroll
  26. No Moon Tonight Don Charlwood
  27. Bomber Pilot Leonard Cheshire
  28. The World in Winter John Christopher
  29. The Second World War Winston S Churchill
  30. The City and the Stars Arthur C Clarke
  31. Mariners of Space Erroll Collins
  32. Enemies of Promise Cyril Connolly
  33. Fifth Business Robertson Davies
  34. Complete Holmes Stories Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
  35. Nickel and Dimed Barbara Ehrenreich
  36. Who Killed Hanratty? Paul Foot
  37. Modern English Usage H W Fowler
  38. The French Lieutenant’s Woman John Fowles
  39. The Magus John Fowles
  40. Diaries Joseph Goebbels
  41. Adventures in the Screen Trade William Goldman
  42. The Killing of Julia Wallace Jonathan Goodman
  43. Good-Bye to All That Robert Graves
  44. A Sort of Life Graham Greene
  45. The Quiet American Graham Greene
  46. The Door into Summer Robert A Heinlein
  47. Catch 22 Joseph Heller
  48. A Moveable Feast Ernest Hemingway
  49. Hiroshima John Hersey
  50. Pictorial History of the War Walter Hutchinson
  51. Biggles and the Cruise of the Condor W E Johns
  52. Dubliners James Joyce
  53. Ice Anna Kavan
  54. A History of Warfare John Keegan
  55. Fame Daniel Kehlmann
  56. 10 Rillington Place Ludovic Kennedy
  57. Jack the Ripper – The Final Solution Stephen Knight
  58. Steps Jerzy Kosinski
  59. The Painted Bird Jerzy Kosinski
  60. Changing Places David Lodge
  61. Small World David Lodge
  62. The False Inspector Dew Peter Lovesey
  63. High Tide Mark Lynas
  64. Revolution in the Head Ian MacDonald
  65. Calculated Risk Charles Eric Maine
  66. The Caltraps of Time David I Masson
  67. Owning Up George Melly
  68. The Cruel Sea Nicholas Monsarrat
  69. Pax Britannica James Morris
  70. Song of the Sky Guy Murchie
  71. A Severed Head Iris Murdoch
  72. Collected Stories Vladimir Nabokov
  73. Collected Essays George Orwell
  74. Nineteen Eighty-Four George Orwell
  75. The Tale of Samuel Whiskers Beatrix Potter
  76. Invisibility Steve Richards
  77. Pavane Keith Roberts
  78. The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat Oliver Sacks
  79. Collected Sonnets William Shakespeare
  80. Hamlet William Shakespeare
  81. Pilgrimage to Earth Robert Sheckley
  82. Frankenstein Mary Shelley
  83. Larry’s Party Carol Shields
  84. Mary Swann Carol Shields
  85. On the Beach Nevil Shute
  86. Loitering with Intent Muriel Spark
  87. The Autobiography of Alice B Toklas Gertrude Stein
  88. Earth Abides George R Stewart
  89. Dracula Bram Stoker
  90. The Murder of Rudolf Hess Hugh Thomas
  91. Battle Cry Leon M Uris
  92. No Night is Too Long Barbara Vine
  93. Twins Peter Watson
  94. The War of the Worlds H G Wells
  95. The Time Machine H G Wells
  96. Uncharted Seas Dennis Wheatley
  97. Disappearances William Wiser
  98. The Crazy Years William Wiser
  99. The Day of the Triffids John Wyndham
  100. The Kraken Wakes John Wyndham

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