Thursday, May 31, 2012

STRANGE DIPS IN POOLS FROM THE PAST

   
   To wrap up our glorious week called Summer Reading Spectacular, we're going to do something the television people used to do. That something was called reruns. Nowadays they call it replaying an old show. We still call it reruns here in the house that Philro built. So it has been. So it shall be. Vini vidi vici. Vice versa. Mea culpa. 
    Don't worry. Only the first of these two is a dip from the past. The other is an early bit of my very brief writing in the form of a review I wrote ages ago about a collection of short stories written by Harlan Ellison. 
    We begin with a great one called "The Bartender's Glass." This bit of literary analysis considers a Richard Wright novel as being invisibly influenced by a murder that occurred in St Louis, a crime which itself inspired a song popularly known as "Stagger Lee." All I can tell you is I read this to a literature class a while back and everyone clapped.


The Bartender's Glass


    Somewhere between fact and fiction lies myth, that intangible essence that influences both truth and its telling. The fact is that the St. Louis Globe Democrat of December 28, 1895, reported that on Christmas night of that year, Lee Shelton, also known as Stagger Lee, fatally wounded his friend Billy Lyons, shooting him to death with a forty-four caliber revolver because Mr. Lyons failed to return Mr. Shelton’s five-dollar Stetson hat within a reasonable amount of minutes. The fiction, as written by Richard Wright in the 1940 novel, Native Son, is that Bigger Thomas, in a panic over being discovered in a young white woman’s bedroom, murdered Mary Dalton and later executed his own girlfriend, Bessie Mears, as a way of making his escape. The myth is that Bigger Thomas was Stagger Lee, just as Stagger Lee was also Rap Brown, Bobby Seale, and Huey Newton; just as he was a young Eldridge Cleaver and a Donald DeFreeze before he kidnapped Patty Hearst; just as he was Stockley Carmichael, Malcolm X, Cassius Clay and Angela Davis; just as he sometimes turned up as the father in the Temptations’ hit song, “Papa Was a Rolling Stone,” the lead character in the movie Superfly, or as Rodney King, driving while black through the night in Los Angeles, the cops closing in. Stagger Lee is, as Bigger Thomas was, in the words of Julius Lester, “So bad that the flies wouldn’t even fly around his head in the summertime, and snow wouldn’t fall on his house in the winter.” Stagger Lee is the boxer Mike Tyson biting off an opponent’s ear. He is, as Greil Marcus admits, Johnny Cash, shooting a man in Reno just to watch him die. And he is Bigger Thomas, a man whose plight was summarized by his American Communist Party attorney when he said, “We are dealing here not with how man acts toward man, but with how a man acts when he feels that he must defend himself. . . . against the total natural world in which he lives.”
    The Stagger Lee mythology jumped out of Bill Curtis’ saloon over night. By the start of the Twentieth Century appeared in myriad murder ballads, many of which were to move from the oral tradition to the recording studio. The first published version was by John Lomax in 1910. The earliest recorded take of the song may be by Mississippi John Hurt who, in 1929, followed Stag from the executioners’ gallows down to Hell, where he ascended to the throne and established a paradise of his own. The most commercially successful version appeared thirty years hence, when singer Lloyd Price found Stagger Lee and Billy Lyons gambling late at night. This rendition is exuberant, celebratory, and offended Dick Clark so much that he refused to permit Price to appear on “American Bandstand” even with the record being Number One for four straight weeks. As of today, more than 400 versions of the story have been recorded, sufficient for the tune and legend to qualify as legitimate American culture.
    On Price’s recording, a New Orleans jubilation, there is no chorus and the only refrain is the singer urging on the bad man: “Go, Stagger Lee! Go!”
The night was clear
And the moon was yellow
And the leaves came tumbling down.
I was standing on the corner
When I heard my bulldog bark
He was barking at two men
Who were gambling in the dark.
Stagger Lee and Billy
Two men who gambled late
Stagger Lee threw a seven
Billy swore that he threw eight.
Stagger Lee told Billy
“I can’t let you go with that.
You done won all my money
And my brand new Stetson hat.”
Stagger Lee went home
And he got his forty-four
He said, “I’m going to the barroom
Just to pay that debt I owe.”
Stagger Lee went to the barroom
And he stood across that barroom floor
He said “Nobody move”
And he pulled his forty-four.
“Stagger Lee,” cried Billy
“Oh, please don’t take my life!
I got three little children
And a very sickly wife.”
Stagger Lee shot Billy
Oh he shot that poor boy so bad
That the bullet went through Billy
And broke the bartender’s glass.


    A 1970 take on the tune by Pacific Gas & Electric turned up on the Quentin Tarantino half of the movie Grindhouse. And in the 2007 film Black Snake Moan, Samuel L. Jackson sings the song from the killer’s perspective. In between, the song has been interpreted, revised and reproduced by Beck, Bob Dylan, Tom Jones, Cab Calloway, Dr. John the Night-Tripper, Wilson Pickett, Charley Pride, Elvis Presley, Pat Boone, Mary Wells, the Clash, Wolfman Jack, Nick Cave, James Brown, Memphis Slim, Duke Ellington, Neil Diamond, and, of course, Snatch and the Poontangs. The saga has entered academia by being researched by Cecil Brown in the 2003 book Stagolee Shot Billy. It has gone the way of pop culture by being the subject of a long comic book by Derek McCulloch and Shepherd Hendrix. And now it is one of the subjects of this article.
    Depending on the tale, Stag gets away with the crime. It other versions he is apprehended. But always he is a black man who suffers unfortunate circumstances and does not back down. His legend is that he represents the type of African American who most disturbs white people, which is where the Bigger Thomas edition of the myth emerges. In a long essay entitled “How Bigger was Born,” Richard Wright admits to going for the wrong emotional response in his previous book, Uncle Tom’s Children.
    "When the reviews of that book began to appear, I realized that I had made an awfully na├»ve mistake. I found that I had written a book which even the bankers’ daughters could read and weep over and feel good about. I swore to myself that if I ever wrote another book, no one would weep over it."
It is likely that few tears were shed for Bigger Thomas, although the conditions that created him may have salted the oceans. In the same essay, Wright confesses that his protagonist is a composite of many Bigger Thomases.
    "The only Negroes I know of who consistently violated the Jim Crow laws of the South and got away with it. . . . Eventually, the whites who restricted their lives made them pay a terrible price. They were shot, hanged, maimed, lynched, and generally hounded until they were either dead or their spirits broken."
    As L. L. Cool J said in an early rap hit, “I keep the suckers in fear with the look on my face.” The Biggers that Wright knew swaggered and calculated their way through life, never showing worry. They defied the white power men. The only thing they dreaded was an unfree future. They were the pride of other blacks who sometimes did back down or who reluctantly did give up a bus seat to a white man. Greil Marcus, in his phenomenal book Mystery Train, samples from history.
    "There is an echo for Jimi Hendrix, a star at twenty-four and dead at twenty-seven; for young men dead in alleys or cold in the city morgue; for a million busted liquor stores and a million angry rapes. . . .It is an echo all the way back to the bullet that went through Billy and broke the bartender’s glass, a timeless image of style and death."
A bartender’s glass, as any professional drinker knows, is a mirror. It is such a glass which shows a man to himself as others may see him. It is, in that sense, a weapon. But Stagger Lee knocked off Billy and destroyed the mirror all in one motion, all in one action. Bigger Thomas suffocated Mary Dalton while the girl’s blind mother looked on, those empty eyes reflections of suppressed terror and choking rage.
     Richard Wright does nothing to glamorize or mitigate Bigger’s crimes. He does, however, show the two homicides as inevitable. Mary Dalton, the first victim, is the college-aged daughter of Bigger’s new employer. Mr. Dalton is a rich white guy who also owns the company that owns the small apartment Bigger shares with his mother, sister and brother. Mary Dalton’s boyfriend Jan is a communist. He and Mary make the point that they simply adore Bigger or at least they would prefer to if only he could see clear to letting them help him. Wright had met the type, having been himself a member of the Party while the novel was in process. Years later, he wrote a piece for the Atlantic Monthlycalled “I Tried to be a Communist,” a piece subsequently included in an anthology of disillusioned writers called The God That Failed. In this, Wright explains that while the Party organizers were thrilled to have a member of the black literati on board, none of them could secure a room for him in any Manhattan hotel.
     Stagger Lee and Bigger Thomas know that they may win, but if so the victory will be for today only. Tomorrow they will lose. They will lose the day after that. On and on they trudged with all their enormous losses punctuated by an occasional “hallelujah,” while at the end of the war they may still be standing. If they do remain afoot, it will not be because of fate, justice, or providence. It will be simply because by the end of all the battles, they will be too exhausted to remember to fall down and die. 

    Stagger Lee was Clarence Darrow (who was not black, but only on the outside) asking the jury in the Scopes trial to find his client guilty so that he could hurry up and appeal the decision. Stagger was W.E.B. DeBois sneering at death threats while editing the Crisis magazine for the NAACP. He was Marcus Garvey, leading the largest African American social movement of all time with his Back To Africa project. He was Elijah Muhammad shouting for a separate nation for his people. He was Huey Newton shooting back at the Oakland Police. He was James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner sassing Klansmen Kops as they were being executed. He was Abbie Hoffman (also only technically not black) during a recess in the Chicago Seven Trial, suggesting to Mayor Richard Daley that the two of them could settle their differences with a good old fashioned fist fight and save the aggravation of the court proceedings.
The motivation is irrelevant. Bigger Thomas would have understood Karl Marx perfectly when the latter said, “The road to Hell is paved with good intentions.” Motivation is nothing more or less than how a man sees himself, so Richard Wright buries us in it. Every chapter, every scene, every page and sentence reflects Bigger’s consciousness and recall. When he accidentally smothers his first victim, he perceives her not as an object of remorse or guilt or even tragedy, but rather as a hateful thing that has, through dying—the stupid bitch!—ruined his life. I must confess that the first time through this book, I was uncomfortable with this sense of detachment. Bigger’s eyes see only his own reflection from the beginning to the end. When someone he murdered dies, he interprets the incident only in terms of how it affects him. After a second reading, it dawned on me that Wright was providing an explanation, not editorializing. After Mary is dead, Bigger knows he must hide her body to avoid detection. He tries shoving her into the furnace but finds her body to be too tall. Adapting to the situation, he seeks out a hatchet and chops off her head, forcing her body into the flames. Throughout this experience Wright immerses the reader in Bigger’s conflux of emotions, a spinning gyre which has nothing to do with the character’s motivations and everything to do with his state of being, a condition which must be multiplied by the number of black people in this country who have had to sublimate conscience in order to survive. On the outside, where pure perceptions are all that exist, this is all fearless style and bravado. And in the reality of this fiction that is certainly relevant because in his world all that Bigger Thomas can claim is his ability to terrorize by mobilizing every prejudice that can possibly be used against him and then go out alone, furious and defiant, even taking credit for crimes he did not commit.
    It is no coincidence that Stagger Lee is an American, just as it is no coincidence that the first girl Bigger kills believed she was trying to help him. Popular culture is full of such confusions. In an early episode of a distinctly American television program, “Hill Street Blues,” Lieutenant Henry Goldblum, dressed in street clothes, is on his way back to the precinct after investigating the suicide of a black teenager. Goldblum is distressed by this horrible loss of life and only emerges from his despair when he is forced to pull his car over when he gets a flat tire. As the only visible white guy in this part of town, he draws a fast audience, including some young black men who mess with him. “Just a second, son,” Henry says, trying to be charming. “Don’t you ‘Just a second son’ me! I ain’t your son! Ain’t nobody here your son!” Out-numbered and terrified, he fails to discourage them and so resorts to pulling from beneath his jacket a small gun which is quick to get everyone’s attention. He promptly ignores his own flat tire and drives back to the safety of police headquarters. He seeks consolation from a black colleague who tells him that the real reason he is so upset is that the black guys hurt his feelings. And that is exactly right.
Is such a scene incongruous? Or does it not make clear that so long as our responses to social situations hinge on the colors of the participants, racism will surely remain the most personal issue which each of us must wrestle?


    See? that was fun, wasn't it? Sure! Now, to really wrap things up here once and for all--and to all a good night--we present for the first time on PhilroPost a review I wrote of Harlan Ellison's collection Strange Wine. Don't worry. there isn't much of it.

    When the need is for writing that merges the visceral and the intellectual, that lets you dream and turns those dreams against you, and when you want to engulf yourself in one of Ellsion's two best collections (the other being Love Ain't Nothing But Sex Misspelled), then Strange Wine is the place to hang your mind.
    If any collection proves that H.E.'s grasp exceeds the realm of science fiction, this is unquestionably that collection. His worlds expand into fantasies previously unimagined, and yet his plots are only the beginning. Ultimately, his skill in understanding the most secret needs of his readership--and giving it to them without a trace of smile--is the man's true genius. Quite simply, Strange Wine is literature of a high order, one of the great books of the post WWII era.




PHILROPOST'S LIST OF THE MOST SATISFYING BOOKS

    The weather person, aka meteorologist, announced this morning that the Phoenix forecast will be sunny and a blistering 110F today, so summer is kicking its happy way into the smoggy and urban skies of another season of brush fires and cook-outs. What better time to get down with our own bad selves and review some of our favorite reading material? 
    The order in which these books are listed will be that in which they have occurred to us, which I suppose is not quite arbitrary but rather beyond our meager abilities to quantify. That said, we present a mix of hardback and soft cover, fiction and non, anthologies and straight-throughs, as well as anything else between the covers, except Aunt Elsie, and she hasn't pulled herself outta bed in months. I think she's probably thirsty.


Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung, by Lester Bangs. Edited by Greil Marcus. 
   People who never knew Lester's writings from Creem, Rolling Stone, The Village Voice and elsewhere often ask what this book is about. I usually reply that it's about four hundred pages. Either they get that joke or they don't. Then I try to explain that this book is proof positive that something as superficially disposable as record reviews cannot only be superior in many cases to the works they critique, but can stand alone as art themselves, however unlikely that may seem. 
    Editor Greil Marcus waded through rivers of writing to select the best, from lengthy understandings of Iggy and the Stooges to racism in new wave, from a brilliant analysis of his journey with The Clash to what I suppose you might call a comparison-contrast of The Troggs to James Taylor, one which the former Mr. Carly Simon loses, as in badly.
    Yet it is not necessary for the reader to have the slightest a priori idea about any of these so-called artists. All that is required is passion, something in short supply in Bangs' time, just as in today's. If you happen to care about art, that helps, too. Mostly, though, all you need is to love to have a fine time and this book will send you reeling.
Lester Bangs


The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, by L. Frank Baum. The author, who was born in New York State, claimed that the title for his mythical city came from his filing cabinet which was labeled O-Z. I don't buy that, even if he really did say it. If you lower each letter in the abbreviation for his home state from NY to OZ, you get the name in question. The same thing happened in 2001 when the HAL computer was changed from IBM. anyway. . . 
    The book is a masterpiece. Indeed, it was so popular at the start of the 20th century that it spawned thirteen sequels, none of which were quite as cool as the original, but all of which still deserve a peak. 
L Frank Baum


Notes From Underground, by Fyodor Dostoevsky. 
   This is almost no one else's favorite FD book and that's just fine with me. It is, however, pretty certainly the first existentialist novel, or novella, if that makes it easier. I'll admit, you probably won't be too certain what's going on until you get about halfway through this short novel. All the same, if you love to gripe out of a sense of everything in your world being completely bugfuck, then this book will instill spasms of delight. 


Native Son, by Richard Wright. 
   The author wrote that he was determined that no banker's daughters would be caught weeping over the protagonist in any more of his novels. Well, he got that down just right. Bigger Thomas responds to his existence and his existence responds back by spitting in his face. This is one of the most disturbing books you'll ever read.
Richard Wright


A Thousand Acres, by Jane Smiley. 
    King Lear, redone and improved upon, contemporaneity par excellence and lamented by the author. Her best book by miles.
Jane Smiley


The Dream of a Common Language, by Adrienne Rich. 
   Wherein the poet proves, once again, that poetry can be fierce and tender at the same time. People hate it when I say this, but there are lots of people I would rather see dead than Ms. Rich.
Adrienne Rich


Trout Fishing in America, by Richard Brautigan. 
    Sometimes this is the greatest book ever written. Other times it is pure drivel. My opinion never changes. The book's contents, however, do. The notion that the act of trout fishing in America can itself become personified is either the most wonderful idea anyone ever had or else it's the insanity of too much reefer. However, any writing this tight can't be an accident. Can it?
Richard Brautigan


JFK: The Book of the Film, by Oliver Stone and Zachary Sklar. 
    The movie itself is one of the best treatments of a modern malaise ever done. The book of the movie is possibly even better in that it is completely annotated, with, on occasion, lengthy discussions about various points in the history of the thinking and research on the greatest unsolved mystery of the twentieth century. Anyone who wants to learn to write "cinematically" needs this book.


The Snows of Kilimanjaro and Other Stories, by Ernest Hemingway. 
    The great man's novels have held up less well than his frequently brilliant short stories, mostly because the stories have some semblance of plot or character development. "The Killers" could still be a great movie and the title piece is probably the most jarring short in the English language.
Ernest Hemingway


Macbeth, by William Shakespeare. 
    Not all great plays can withstand the migration from the written page to the stage and back again. This story, in the hands of whoever actually wrote it (and I choose to believe in the Bard), is so packed with deliberate contradictions that the reader/viewer cannot make reasonable interpretations of his or her own reality, just like things actually are in the world. 


And now without further commentary, as fast as they come, are the rest.
The Female Man, by Joanna Russ. 
Shatterday, by Harlan Ellison.
Miami and the Siege of Chicago, by Norman Mailer.
Mystery Train, by Greil Marcus. 
The Pursuit of Loneliness, by Philip Slater.
The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald.
Gilead, by Marilynne Robinson.
Adventures in the Screen Trade, by William Goldman.
For Keeps: Thirty years at the Movies, by Pauline Kael. 
Sweet Thursday, John Steinbeck. 

BEST NOVELS IN, LIKE, FOREVER

    
    In keeping with our sudden literary swing, we bring you a few lists. Everyone likes lists, don't they? Sure, everyone except the people who hate them. 
    We begin with the UK Guardian's List of the 100 greatest novels of all time. You may notice a certain slant toward English and English translations here. For fun, we add a few comments of our own, in those few cases where we've actually read the book in question.


UK Guardian List

1. Don Quixote Miguel De Cervantes
The story of the gentle knight and his servant Sancho Panza has entranced readers for centuries. 
No particular problem with this being number one. Read it in college. Never felt the need to read it again.
2. Pilgrim's Progress John Bunyan
The one with the Slough of Despond and Vanity Fair. 

3. Robinson Crusoe Daniel Defoe 
The Guardian claims this as the "first English novel." Not so. Moll Flanders would be my choice. However, this is the first novel I ever read, though not for pleasure.
4. Gulliver's Travels Jonathan Swift 
A wonderful satire that still works for all ages, despite the savagery of Swift's vision. 
5. Tom Jones Henry Fielding 
The adventures of a high-spirited orphan boy: an unbeatable plot and a lot of sex ending in a blissful marriage. 
6. Clarissa Samuel Richardson
One of the longest novels in the English language, but unputdownable. 
7. Tristram Shandy Laurence Sterne 
One of the first bestsellers, dismissed by Dr Johnson as too fashionable for its own good. 
Drove me crazy in college, it turns out this stream of consciousness novel is a genuine hoot when you are allowed to just sit back and enjoy it.
8. Dangerous Liaisons Pierre Choderlos De Laclos 
An epistolary novel and a handbook for seducers: foppish, French, and ferocious. 
9. Emma Jane Austen
Near impossible choice between this and Pride and Prejudice. But Emma never fails to fascinate and annoy. 
10. Frankenstein Mary Shelley 
Inspired by spending too much time with Shelley and Byron. 
Much better than all but the first movie it inspired.
11. Nightmare Abbey Thomas Love Peacock
A classic miniature: a brilliant satire on the Romantic novel. 
12. The Black Sheep Honore De Balzac 
Two rivals fight for the love of a femme fatale. Wrongly overlooked. 
13. The Charterhouse of Parma Stendhal
Penetrating and compelling chronicle of life in an Italian court in post-Napoleonic France.
14. The Count of Monte Cristo Alexandre Dumas 
A revenge thriller also set in France after Bonaparte: a masterpiece of adventure writing. 
15. Sybil Benjamin Disraeli 
Apart from Churchill, no other British political figure shows literary genius.
16. David Copperfield Charles Dickens
This highly autobiographical novel is the one its author liked best. 
17. Wuthering Heights Emily Bronte 
Catherine Earnshaw and Heathcliff have passed into the language. Impossible to ignore. 
18. Jane Eyre Charlotte Bronte 
Obsessive emotional grip and haunting narrative.
19. Vanity Fair William Makepeace Thackeray 
The improving tale of Becky Sharp. 
20. The Scarlet Letter Nathaniel Hawthorne 
A classic investigation of the American mind. 
21. Moby-Dick Herman Melville
'Call me Ishmael' is one of the most famous opening sentences of any novel. 
This one scares away many readers. Actually, again, if it's approached for pleasure, it works just fine, despite all the technical detail.
22. Madame Bovary Gustave Flaubert 
You could summarise this as a story of adultery in provincial France, and miss the point entirely. 
23. The Woman in White Wilkie Collins 
Gripping mystery novel of concealed identity, abduction, fraud and mental cruelty. 
24. Alice's Adventures In Wonderland Lewis Carroll 
A story written for the nine-year-old daughter of an Oxford don that still baffles most kids. 
Writers love this because we tend to love playing with language. A geat place to start.
25. Little Women Louisa M. Alcott 
Victorian bestseller about a New England family of girls. 
26. The Way We Live Now Anthony Trollope 
A majestic assault on the corruption of late Victorian England. 
27. Anna Karenina Leo Tolstoy 
The supreme novel of the married woman's passion for a younger man. 
28. Daniel Deronda George Eliot 
A passion and an exotic grandeur that is strange and unsettling.
29. The Brothers Karamazov Fyodor Dostoevsky 
Mystical tragedy by the author of Crime and Punishment. 
My own choice would have been Notes From Underground. 
30. The Portrait of a Lady Henry James 
The story of Isabel Archer shows James at his witty and polished best.
31. Huckleberry Finn Mark Twain 
Twain was a humorist, but this picture of Mississippi life is profoundly moral and still incredibly influential.
The first American novel, according to Hemingway, who wrote a few of his own. 
32. Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde Robert Louis Stevenson 
A brilliantly suggestive, resonant study of human duality by a natural storyteller. 
If you can forget that this is supposed to be scary and just lie back and enjoy it, you'll have a great time.
33. Three Men in a Boat Jerome K. Jerome 
One of the funniest English books ever written. 
34. The Picture of Dorian Gray Oscar Wilde
A coded and epigrammatic melodrama inspired by his own tortured homosexuality.
35. The Diary of a Nobody George Grossmith 
This classic of Victorian suburbia will always be renowned for the character of Mr Pooter. 
36. Jude the Obscure Thomas Hardy 
Its savage bleakness makes it one of the first twentieth-century novels. 
The story goes that Hardy was so pissed at this book's poor reception, he laid off writing for a while. The public can be stupid as this is his best book by miles. 
37. The Riddle of the Sands Erskine Childers
A prewar invasion-scare spy thriller by a writer later shot for his part in the Irish republican rising. 
38. The Call of the Wild Jack London
The story of a dog who joins a pack of wolves after his master's death. 
39. Nostromo Joseph Conrad 
Conrad's masterpiece: a tale of money, love and revolutionary politics. 
40. The Wind in the Willows Kenneth Grahame 
This children's classic was inspired by bedtime stories for Grahame's son. 
41. In Search of Lost Time Marcel Proust 
An unforgettable portrait of Paris in the belle epoque. Probably the longest novel on this list. 
42. The Rainbow D. H. Lawrence 
Novels seized by the police, like this one, have a special afterlife. 
43. The Good Soldier Ford Madox Ford 
This account of the adulterous lives of two Edwardian couples is a classic of unreliable narration.
44. The Thirty-Nine Steps John Buchan 
A classic adventure story for boys, jammed with action, violence and suspense. 
45. Ulysses James Joyce 
Also pursued by the British police, this is a novel more discussed than read. 
I have never met anyone outside the Firesign Theatre who has finished reading this.
46. Mrs Dalloway Virginia Woolf 
Secures Woolf's position as one of the great twentieth-century English novelists. 
47. A Passage to India E. M. Forster
The great novel of the British Raj, it remains a brilliant study of empire.
48. The Great Gatsby F. Scott Fitzgerald 
The quintessential Jazz Age novel.
This would be my personal second favorite. First? The Wizard of Oz!
49. The Trial Franz Kafka 
The enigmatic story of Joseph K. 
50. Men Without Women Ernest Hemingway 
He is remembered for his novels, but it was the short stories that first attracted notice. 
51. Journey to the End of the Night Louis-Ferdinand Celine 
The experiences of an unattractive slum doctor during the Great War: a masterpiece of linguistic innovation.
52. As I Lay Dying William Faulkner 
A strange black comedy by an American master. 
Put me down for The Sound and the Fury.
53. Brave New World Aldous Huxley 
Dystopian fantasy about the world of the seventh century AF (after Ford). 
I agree this belongs on the list. But not quite this high.
54. Scoop Evelyn Waugh 
The supreme Fleet Street novel.
55. USA John Dos Passos 
An extraordinary trilogy that uses a variety of narrative devices to express the story of America. 
56. The Big Sleep Raymond Chandler 
Introducing Philip Marlowe: cool, sharp, handsome - and bitterly alone. 
Greatest detective writer of all time. The Long Goodbye would be my choice.
57. The Pursuit Of Love Nancy Mitford 
An exquisite comedy of manners with countless fans. 
58. The Plague Albert Camus 
A mysterious plague sweeps through the Algerian town of Oran.
Agreed. 
59. Nineteen Eighty-Four George Orwell 
This tale of one man's struggle against totalitarianism has been appropriated the world over. 
Absolutely essential after the Bush reign of terror.
60. Malone Dies Samuel Beckett 
Part of a trilogy of astonishing monologues in the black comic voice of the author of Waiting for Godot. 
61. Catcher in the Rye J.D. Salinger 
A week in the life of Holden Caulfield. A cult novel that still mesmerises. 
Strikes me even now as a bit overrated, although good for a teenage angst attack.
62. Wise Blood Flannery O'Connor 
A disturbing novel of religious extremism set in the Deep South.
63. Charlotte's Web E. B. White 
How Wilbur the pig was saved by the literary genius of a friendly spider. 
64. The Lord Of The Rings J. R. R. Tolkien
Enough said! 
65. Lucky Jim Kingsley Amis 
An astonishing debut: the painfully funny English novel of the Fifties.
66. Lord of the Flies William Golding 
Schoolboys become savages: a bleak vision of human nature. 
67. The Quiet American Graham Greene 
Prophetic novel set in 1950s Vietnam.
Greatest Vietnam novel ever!
68 On the Road Jack Kerouac 
The Beat Generation bible.
I've read everything published by Kerouac and while this is probably his best, I can't say it all endures.
69. Lolita Vladimir Nabokov 
Humbert Humbert's obsession with Lolita is a tour de force of style and narrative. 
70. The Tin Drum Gunter Grass 
Hugely influential, Rabelaisian novel of Hitler's Germany. 
71. Things Fall Apart Chinua Achebe 
Nigeria at the beginning of colonialism. A classic of African literature. 
72. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie Muriel Spark 
A writer who made her debut in The Observer - and her prose is like cut glass. 
73. To Kill A Mockingbird Harper Lee
Scout, a six-year-old girl, narrates an enthralling story of racial prejudice in the Deep South.
74. Catch-22 Joseph Heller
'[He] would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn't, but if he was sane he had to fly them. If he flew them he was crazy and didn't have to; if he didn't want to he was sane and had to.' 
If you can forget you ever heard of the Mike Nichols film, this is worth being here. 
75. Herzog Saul Bellow
Adultery and nervous breakdown in Chicago. 
76. One Hundred Years of Solitude Gabriel Garcia Marquez 
A postmodern masterpiece. 
77. Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont Elizabeth Taylor 
A haunting, understated study of old age. 
78. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy John Le Carre 
A thrilling elegy for post-imperial Britain. 
Second best detective-suspense writer ever. 
79. Song of Solomon Toni Morrison 
The definitive novelist of the African-American experience.
One of the best. Absolutely.
80. The Bottle Factory Outing Beryl Bainbridge 
Macabre comedy of provincial life. 
81. The Executioner's Song Norman Mailer 
This quasi-documentary account of the life and death of Gary Gilmore is possibly his masterpiece. 
Great novel; lame movie.
82. If on a Winter's Night a Traveller Italo Calvino
A strange, compelling story about the pleasures of reading. 
83. A Bend in the River V. S. Naipaul 
The finest living writer of English prose. This is his masterpiece: edgily reminiscent of Heart of Darkness. 
84. Waiting for the Barbarians J.M. Coetzee 
Bleak but haunting allegory of apartheid by the Nobel prizewinner. 
85. Housekeeping Marilynne Robinson
Haunting, poetic story, drowned in water and light, about three generations of women. 
86. Lanark Alasdair Gray
Seething vision of Glasgow. A Scottish classic. 
87. The New York Trilogy Paul Auster 
Dazzling metaphysical thriller set in the Manhattan of the 1970s. 
88. The BFG Roald Dahl 
A bestseller by the most popular postwar writer for children of all ages. 
89. The Periodic Table Primo Levi 
A prose poem about the delights of chemistry. 
90. Money Martin Amis
The novel that bags Amis's place on any list. 
91. An Artist of the Floating World Kazuo Ishiguro 
A collaborator from prewar Japan reluctantly discloses his betrayal of friends and family.
92. Oscar And Lucinda Peter Carey 
A great contemporary love story set in nineteenth-century Australia by double Booker prizewinner. 
93. The Book of Laughter and Forgetting Milan Kundera 
Inspired by the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, this is a magical fusion of history, autobiography and ideas. 
94. Haroun and the Sea af Stories Salman Rushdie
In this entrancing story Rushdie plays with the idea of narrative itself. 
95. La Confidential James Ellroy 
Three LAPD detectives are brought face to face with the secrets of their corrupt and violent careers. 
96. Wise Children Angela Carter
A theatrical extravaganza by a brilliant exponent of magic realism. 
97. Atonement Ian McEwan 
Acclaimed short-story writer achieves a contemporary classic of mesmerising narrative conviction. 
98. Northern Lights Philip Pullman 
Lyra's quest weaves fantasy, horror and the play of ideas into a truly great contemporary children's book. 
99. American Pastoral Philip Roth 
For years, Roth was famous for Portnoy's Complaint . Recently, he has enjoyed an extraordinary revival.
This should be far higher on the list. Top Ten. 

100. Austerlitz W. G. Sebald