The List of Books


We awarded points for each selection – 10 points for a first place pick, nine points for a second place pick, and so on. Then we totaled up all the points and ranked them accordingly. Here are all the books ordered by the number of points each earned. In the parentheses are the initials of the authors that selected them and the points earned. Click on their initials to see their list. 

The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner (1929). A modernist classic of Old South decay, this novel circles the travails of the Compson family from four different narrative perspectives. All are haunted by the figure of Caddy, the only daughter, whom Faulkner described as “a beautiful and tragic little girl.” Surrounding the trials of the family itself are the usual Faulkner suspects: alcoholism, suicide, racism, religion, money, and violence both seen and unseen. In the experimental style of the book, Quentin Compson summarizes the confused honor and tragedy that Faulkner relentlessly evokes: “theres a curse on us its not our fault is it our fault.”

Total Points: 72

(LKA 3) (RB 7) (JLB 10) (GDG 8) (KH 10) (AH 5) (DMe 5) (SM 7) (JCO 8) (RRash 2) (SY 7)

Emma by Jane Austen (1816). The story of Miss Woodhouse—busybody, know-it-all, and general relationship enthusiast—is a comedy of manners deftly laced with social criticism. The charm largely inheres in Emma’s imperfections: her slightly spoiled maneuverings, her highly fallible matchmaking, her inability to know her own heart. Emma teeters from lovable one moment to tiresome and self-centered the next. In writing her story, Austen found an ideal venue for her note-perfect, never-equaled archness.

Total Points: 69 (SCraw 8) (CS 10) (EDon 8) (MD 9) (AFilip 2) (KJF 5) (GG 9) (AG 2) (DLod 6) (BAM 1) (JR 9)

Absalom, Absalom! by William Faulkner (1936). Weaving mythic tales of biblical urgency with the experimental techniques of high modernism, Faulkner bridged the past and future. This is the story of Thomas Sutpen, a rough-hewn striver who came to Mississippi in 1833 with a gang of wild slaves from Haiti to build a dynasty. Almost in reach, his dream is undone by plagues of biblical (and Faulknerian) proportions: racism, incest, war, fratricide, pride, and jealousy. Through the use of multiple narrators, Faulkner turns this gripping Yoknapatawpha saga into a profound and dazzling meditation on truth, memory, history, and literature itself.

Total Points: 68 (PCap 1) (JF 5) (JGil 7) (AG 5) (JH 4) (AHas 7) (AHud 2) (HaJ 5) (EM 3) (RASH 5) (LDR 8) (LShriv 9) (LS 7)

The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri (1321). Dante’s poetic trilogy traces the journey of a man’s soul from darkness (The Inferno) to the revelation of divine light (Paradiso) while providing commentary and gossip about the politics and prominent families of Florence. Led in his pilgrimage through the underworld and purgatory by the Greek poet, Virgil, Dante is escorted into paradise by his early beloved, Beatrice, while learning that, in order to ascend, he must be transformed.

Total Points: 66 (CB 10) (PCap 8) (MD 5) (AHud 8) (EM 8) (RM 10) (RP 7) (VV 10)

Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne (1759–67). Sterne promises the “life and opinions” of his protagonist. Yet halfway through the fourth volume of nine, we are still in the first day of the hero’s life thanks to marvelous digressions and what the narrator calls “unforeseen stoppages”—detailing the quirky habits of his eccentric family members and their friends. This broken narrative is unified by Sterne’s comic touch, which shimmers in this thoroughly entertaining novel that harks back to Don Quixote and foreshadows Ulysses.

Total Points: 65 (PA 1) (PC 9) (JE 4) (PE 10) (ALK 6) (JL 2) (DLod 3) (TM 9) (JR 4) (RM 7) (LDR 3) (GS 7)

Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë (1847). The author’s only novel, published a year before her death, centers on the doomed love between Heathcliff, a tormented orphan, and Catherine Earnshaw, his benefactor’s vain and willful daughter. Passion brings them together, but class differences, and the bitterness it inspires, keeps them apart and continues to take its toll on the next generation. Wuthering Heights tells you why they say that love hurts.

Total Points: 63 (DG 10) (JH 8) (AH 10) (SHust 10) (TK 10) (SMK 7) (CL 1) (PM 7)

Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison (1952). This modernist novel follows the bizarre, often surreal adventures of an unnamed narrator, a black man, whose identity becomes a battleground in racially divided America. Expected to be submissive and obedient in the South, he must decipher the often contradictory rules whites set for a black man’s behavior. Traveling north to Harlem, he meets white leaders intent on controlling and manipulating him. Desperate to seize control of his life, he imitates Dostoevsky’s underground man, escaping down a manhole where he vows to remain until he can define himself. The book’s famous last line, “Who knows, but that on the lower frequencies I speak for you,” suggests how it transcends race to tell a universal story of the quest for self-determination.

Total Points: 54 (SA 10) (CB 2) (BMC 6) (JC 5) (ED 7) (JE 5) (PE 7) (HK 3) (LL 3) (PShreve 5) (AW 1)

Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf (1925). This masterpiece of concision and interior monologue recounts events in the life of Clarissa Dalloway, a delicate, upper-class London wife and mother, as she prepares for a party at her home on a single day in June 1923. In a parallel subsidiary plot, a shell-shocked World War I veteran Clarissa encounters spirals into suicide rather than submit to soul-stealing experimental psycho­ therapy. The novel explores questions of time, memory, love, class, and life choices through Woolf’s intricate melding of points of view and powerful use of flashback.

Total Points: 54 (RFD 3) (KJF 3) (DG 1) (MGri 3) (LG 9) (EH 9) (TK 4) (LMill 9) (AO 3) (VV 6) (SV 4)

The Bible.

Appreciation of the Bible by Andrew Hudgins

The Bible is both a holy book and a work of supreme fiction; those of us who read it both ways are doubly blessed. One does not need to believe in God to hear the majesty of the story that begins, “In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.” A great story itself, the Bible is also the source of great stories, by geniuses from Dante to Dostoevsky, Faulkner to Thomas Mann, and the poetry of the Psalms echoes through great poetry from William Blake to Walt Whitman to T. S. Eliot.

One does not have to believe Jesus is the Son of God to understand that his parables are penetrating works of fiction that embody complex truths about human nature. One need not believe Adam and Eve existed to see Genesis is, whatever else it is, a philosophically sophisticated and psychologically acute story about people’s innate response to authority, even loving authority. And it is perfectly possible to believe Moses and King David are fictional, and yet find true to life the Bible’s stories of these flawed men who succeed greatly, if only partially, while failing God time and again.

And what of Jesus—a god entering history as a man and living as a mortal? True or not true, “the greatest story ever told,” in the majesty of its telling and the power of its message, has taught an entire culture how to think about love, suffering, and transcendence, and it has fundamentally colored the language by which we talk about everything.

Total Points: 50 (AHud 10) (HK 10) (EM 10) (RPow 1) (RP 9) (JSalt 10) 

Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov (1962). “It is the commentator who has the last word,” claims Charles Kinbote in this novel masquerading as literary criticism. The text of the book includes a 999-line poem by the murdered American poet John Shade and a line-by-line commentary by Kinbote, a scholar from the country of Zembla. Nabokov even provides an index to this playful, provocative story of poetry, interpretation, identity, and madness, which is full to bursting with allusions, tricks, and the author’s inimitable wordplay.

Total Points: 49 (MC 9) (MGait 8) (MGri 10) (DL 7) (APhil 7) (VV 8)

Blood Meridian: Or the Evening Redness in the West by Cormac McCarthy (1985). D. H. Lawrence famously remarked that the archetypal American hero was a stoic, a loner, and a killer. Cormac McCarthy’s tale of the formation and dissolution of a band of scalp hunters in northern Mexico in the late 1840s embodies that dire maxim. Led by a soldier named Glanton and a mysterious, hairless, moral monstrosity known as the “Judge,” these freebooters wipe out Indians, Mexicans, and each other amidst a landscape of such sublime desolation one feels it leaching into their very souls.

Total Points: 48 (MSB 8) (TBiss 7) (DAD 5) (BH 6) (SK 1) (MM 1) (GP 3) (BW 9) (IWelsh 8)

 

The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James (1881). James’s Portrait is of that superior creature Isabel Archer, an assured American girl who is determined to forge her destiny in the drawing rooms of Europe. To this end, she weds the older and more cultivated Gilbert Osmond, and eventually finds that she is less the author of her fate than she thought. Throughout, James gives us a combination of careful psychological refraction and truly diabolical plotting. The result is a book at once chilling and glorious.

Total Points: 48 (KA 6) (PC 2) (SCraw 3) (GG 10) (VM 3) (JMEND 3) (CM 8) (JR 7) (DWall 6)

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (1960). Tomboy Scout and her brother Jem are the children of the profoundly decent widower Atticus Finch, a small-town Alabama lawyer defending a black man accused of raping a white woman. Although Tom Robinson’s trial is the centerpiece of this Pulitzer Prize–winning novel—raising profound questions of race and conscience—this is, at heart, a tale about the fears and mysteries of growing up, as the children learn about bravery, empathy, and societal expectations through a series of evocative set pieces that conjure the Depression-era South.

Total Points: 48 (CB 5) (JBud 7) (PCle 7) (MCon 8) (SMK 8) (RG 4) (AMS 1) (SV 8)

Bleak House by Charles Dickens (1853). Dickens is best known for his immense plots that trace every corner of Victorian society, and Bleak House fulfills that expectation to perfection. The plot braids the sentimental tale of an orphan unaware of her scandalous parentage with an ironic and bitterly funny satire of a lawsuit that appears to entail all of London. In doing so, the novel encompasses more than any other Dickens novel, shows the author’s mature skills, and is the only Victorian novel to include an incident of human spontaneous combustion.

Total Points: 47 (AB 6) (MGait 7) (MGri 9) (JHUMP 5) (SK 5) (IR 5) (BU 8) (AWald 2)

Persuasion by Jane Austen (1817). Eight years ago, Anne Elliot was persuaded by a friend to break off her engagement to a handsome naval officer because he lacked wealth and name. Now twenty-seven, her romantic prospects a dim memory, she encounters him once again, only now he is a grand success. Can she rekindle his love?

Total Points: 47 (KA 10) (JBarn 8) (MG 2) (EH 5) (SHust 6) (VM 4) (APat 2) (AWald 10)

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck (1939). A powerful portrait of Depression-era America, this gritty social novel follows the Joad family as they flee their farm in the Oklahoma dust bowl for the promised land of California. While limping across a crippled land, Ma and Pa Joad, their pregnant daughter Rose of Sharon, and their recently paroled son Tom sleep in ramshackle Hoovervilles filled with other refugees and encounter hardship, death, and deceit. While vividly capturing the plight of a nation, Steinbeck renders people who have lost everything but their dignity.

Total Points: 46 (SA 2) (PCle 1) (KH 1) (KK 1) (WL 3) (MMCPH 10) (GP 8) (BU 4) (SV 10) (TW 6)

The Trial by Franz Kafka (1925). The Trial is not just a book, but a cultural icon; Kafka is not just a writer but a mindset—“Kafkaesque.” Here, Everyman Josef K is persecuted by a mysterious and sadistic Law, which has condemned him in advance for a crime of which he knows nothing. Modern anxieties are given near-archetypal form in this parable that seems both to foretell the totalitarian societies to come and to mourn our alienation from a terrible Old Testament God.

Total Points: 45 (ED 2) (JF 8) (LG 5) (JL 9) (BM 7) (DMe 6) (JS 8)

The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer (1380s?). Not so much a single poem as a gathering of voices ranging from bawdy to pious, this captivating work presents a panoramic view of medieval England. Vivid, direct, and often irresistibly funny, the tales are told by pilgrims making their way to Canterbury to visit the shrine of Saint Thomas Beckett. Each night another member of the party—a knight, a scholar, a miller—tells a story, and tale by tale, a portrait emerges of the diversity and delight of human possibility.

Total Points: 43 (RB 5) (CE 8) (AHud 7) (DLod 8) (EM 7) (FC 8)

Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad (1899). In a novella with prose as lush and brooding as its jungle setting, Phillip Marlowe travels to the Belgian Congo to pilot a trading company’s steamship. There he witnesses the brutality of colonial exploitation, epitomized by Kurtz, an enigmatic white ivory trader. To understand evil, Marlowe seeks out Kurtz, whom he finds amongst the natives, dying. After Kurtz laments his own depravity through his final, anguished words—“The horror! The horror!”—Marlowe must decide what to tell his widow back home.

Total Points: 42 (LKA 10) (PCap 2) (PM 9) (DM 8) (SO’N 6) (RW 7)

Macbeth by William Shakespeare (1606). The shortest of Shakespeare’s tragedies, Macbeth runs along at breakneck speed, elevating Macbeth from Thane of Glamis to Thane of Cawdor to King of Scotland in two brief acts. It explores the psychology of ambition, abetted by supernatural forces, as Macbeth and his wife— one of the few successful marriages in the Shakespearean canon— engineer the murder of King Duncan and Macbeth’s usurpation of the Scottish throne. The pleasures of kingship are rare and brief, however, as the past comes to haunt the future, in ways obscurely prophesied by three witches, and Macbeth is brought down with a terrible swiftness matched only by the speed of his ascent.

Total Points: 41 (PCap 7) (RFD 6) (BM 9) (SO’N 9) (RRash 10)

The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford (1915). A novel made seminally modernist through an unreliable narration that is part cubist, part Freudian, it tells the story of the prissy and rather thick John Dowell and his wife Florence who repeatedly meet British soldier Edward Ashburnham and his wife over the years at various upper-crust European spas. Dowell’s blindness to Edward and Florence’s hidden-in-plain-sight affair finally lifts, but his class solidarity with the man he calls a “good soldier” endures—a tension that creates an exquisite portrait of denial and the death throes of Edwardian gentility.

Total Points: 41 (JBarn 4) (MG 10) (DL 8) (CN 9) (TP 6) (APat 4)

Beloved by Toni Morrison (1987). It’s a choice no mother should have to make. In 1856, escaped slave Margaret Garner decided to kill her infant daughter rather than return her to slavery. Her desperate act created a national sensation. Where Garner’s true-life drama ends, Beloved begins. In this Pulitzer Prize–winning novel, the murdered child, Beloved, returns from the grave years later to haunt her mother Sethe. Aided by her daughter Denver and lover Paul D, Sethe confronts the all-consuming guilt precipitated by the ghostly embodiment of her dead child. Rendered in poetic language, Beloved is a stunning indictment of slavery “full of baby’s venom.”

Total Points: 40 (SA 1) (BMC 7) (JC 2) (ED 5) (DAD 10) (DG 4) (DH 3) (AH 6) (HK 2)

The Oresteia by Aeschylus (458 b.c.e.). Before Freud there was Aeschylus, who revealed the mind’s darkest impulses through this trilogy of plays mapping the mad round of retaliations that bring down the royal house of Atreus. In the first play, the Greek King Agamemnon— who sacrificed his daughter Iphigenia to appease the gods before setting sail for the Trojan War— and his slave, Cassandra, are slain by his wife, Clytemnestra. In the second play, Clytemnestra is slain by her son, Orestes (egged on by his sister Electra to avenge their father’s murder). In the final play, Orestes is freed from the Furies (or the curse) because, unlike the other characters— who search for scapegoats— he admits his own culpability, ending the cycle of violence through personal responsibility.

Total Points: 40 (PCap 10) (JMEND 10) (BU 10) (AW 10)

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce (1916). In this semiautobiographical novel, hero Stephen Dedalus rejects the world of his youth—Ireland in its provincialism, nationalism, Catholicism, and sexual guilt—for art. From its stream of consciousness technique to its descriptions of expatriate life in Paris, Portrait inspired nearly all the touchstones of twentieth-century modernism, the most important of which is the artist as a misunderstood god.

Total Points: 38 (DAJ 6) (JGil 5) (GG 3) (TK 5) (BAM 7) (ST 10) (SV 2)

The Stranger by Albert Camus (1942). The opening lines—“Mother died today. Or, maybe, yesterday. I can’t be sure”—epitomize Camus’s celebrated notions of “the absurd.” His narrator, Meursault, a wretched little Algerian clerk sentenced to death for the murder, feels nothing: no remorse, love, guilt, grief, or hope. But he’s not a sociopath; he’s just honest. An embodiment of existential philosophy, he believes in no higher power and accepts that we are born only to die. Our only choice is to act “as if” life has meaning and thereby gain some freedom.

Total Points: 38 (SCraw 2) (ED 9) (DG 9) (BH 8) (KH 2) (JH 1) (HJ 7)