Reading Challenge: Le Monde’s 100 Books of the Century

In 1999 French paper Le Monde asked its readers for the best books of the twentieth century, based on the criteria “Quels livres sont restés dans votre mémoire?”/”Which books have stayed in your memory?”

In looking at the list I was struck by how different it was to similar type lists in the English-speaking press that crop up at various times.  The other lists I’ve seen all seem to just re-work the same titles in different orders.  Of course there are some here that feature on the other lists (I guess there’s just no escaping LOTR or Midnight’s Children) but I was impressed with the broader scope of Le Monde’s list, and how it really did cover the last century, when these lists often seem biased towards the publishing sensations most recent to the compilation date.  It was the most wide ranging in terms of genre, taking in novels, plays, children’s books and essays.

I was also struck by how few I’d read.  Normally I can feel quite smug about lists like this, but here I am at the starting point of a paltry 22.  So I decided to set myself the challenge of reading my way through Le Monde’s 100 Books of the Century.  I won’t succeed, there are some here I know I’ll struggle to finish, but I’ll have fun trying and it will encourage me to be less parochial in my reading choices.

The books are listed below in order, with date of publication in brackets and original language they were published in (I’ll be reading them all in English translation).  Bold indicates books I’ve read, I’ll link the titles to my discussion of them as I go along (in keeping with the ethos of this blog I’ll only be writing about the books I enjoy, the ones I recommend). Numbers 9, 36, and 44 I’ve already blogged about, so although they are linked, the post doesn’t reference Le Monde’s list.

Which ones have you read?  Which would you recommend?  

Total read: 31

1. The Stranger/The Outsider – Albert Camus (1942) French

2. In Search of Lost Time/Remembrance of Things Past -Marcel Proust (1913–1927) French

3. The Trial – Franz Kafka (1925) German

4. The Little Prince- Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (1943) French

5. Man’s Fate – André Malraux (1933) French

6. Journey to the End of the Night – Louis-Ferdinand Céline (1932) French

7. The Grapes of Wrath -John Steinbeck (1939) English

8. For Whom the Bell Tolls – Ernest Hemingway (1940) English

9. Le Grand Meaulnes – Alain-Fournier (1913) French

10. Froth on the Daydream – Boris Vian (1947) French

11. The Second Sex – Simone de Beauvoir (1949) French

12. Waiting for Godot -Samuel Beckett (1952) French

13. Being and Nothingness – Jean-Paul Sartre (1943) French

14. The Name of the Rose – Umberto Eco (1980) Italian

15. The Gulag Archipelago – Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (1973) Russian

16. Paroles – Jacques Prévert (1946) French

17. Alcools – Guillaume Apollinaire (1913) French

18. The Blue Lotus – Hergé (1936) French

19. The Diary of a Young Girl – Anne Frank (1947) Dutch

20. Tristes Tropiques – Claude Lévi-Strauss (1955) French

21. Brave New World – Aldous Huxley (1932) English

22. Nineteen Eighty-Four – George Orwell (1949) English

23. Asterix the Gaul – René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo (1959) French

24. The Bald Soprano – Eugène Ionesco (1952) French

25. Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality – Sigmund Freud (1905) German

26. The Abyss/ Zeno of Bruges – Marguerite Yourcenar (1968) French

27. Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov (1955) English

28. Ulysses – James Joyce (1922) English

29. The Tartar Steppe – Dino Buzzati (1940) Italian

30. The Counterfeiters – André Gide (1925) French

31. The Horseman on the Roof – Jean Giono (1951) French

32. Belle du Seigneur – Albert Cohen (1968) French

33. One Hundred Years of Solitude – Gabriel García Márquez (1967) Spanish

34. The Sound and the Fury – William Faulkner (1929) English

35. Thérèse Desqueyroux – François Mauriac (1927) French

36. Zazie in the Metro – Raymond Queneau (1959) French

37. Confusion of Feelings – Stefan Zweig (1927) German

38. Gone with the Wind – Margaret Mitchell (1936) English

39. Lady Chatterley’s Lover – D. H. Lawrence (1928) English

40. The Magic Mountain – Thomas Mann (1924) German

41. Bonjour Tristesse – Françoise Sagan (1954) French

42. Le Silence de la mer -Vercors  (1942) French

43. Life: A User’s Manual – Georges Perec (1978) French

44. The Hound of the Baskervilles – Arthur Conan Doyle (1901–1902) English

45. Under the Sun of Satan – Georges Bernanos (1926) French

46. The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald (1925) English

47. The Joke – Milan Kundera (1967) Czech

48. A Ghost at Noon/Contempt – Alberto Moravia (1954) Italian

49. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd – Agatha Christie (1926) English

50. Nadja – André Breton (1928) French

51. Aurelien – Louis Aragon (1944) French

52. The Satin Slipper – Paul Claudel (1929) French

53. Six Characters in Search of an Author – Luigi Pirandello (1921) Italian

54. The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui – Bertolt Brecht (1941) German

55. Friday – Michel Tournier (1967) French

56. The War of the Worlds – H. G. Wells  (1898) English

57. If This Is a Man/Survival in Auschwitz – Primo Levi (1947) Italian

58. The Lord of the Rings – J. R. R. Tolkien (1954–1955) English

59. The Tendrils of the Vine – Colette (1908) French

60. Capital of Pain – Paul Éluard (1926)French

61. Martin Eden – Jack London (1909) English

62. Ballad of the Salt Sea – Hugo Pratt (1967) Italian

63. Writing Degree Zero – Roland Barthes (1953) French

64. The Lost Honour of Katharina Blum – Heinrich Böll (1974) German

65. The Opposing Shore -Julien Gracq (1951) French

66. The Order of Things – Michel Foucault (1966) French

67. On the Road – Jack Kerouac  (1957) English

68. The Wonderful Adventures of Nils – Selma Lagerlöf (1906–1907) Swedish

69. A Room of One’s Own – Virginia Woolf (1929) English

70. The Martian Chronicles – Ray Bradbury (1950) English

71. The Ravishing of Lol Stein – Marguerite Duras (1964) French

72. The Interrogation – J. M. G. Le Clézio (1963) French

73. Tropisms – Nathalie Sarraute (1939)French

74. Journal, 1887–1910 – Jules Renard (1925) French

75. Lord Jim – Joseph Conrad (1900) English

76. Écrits – Jacques Lacan (1966) French

77. The Theatre and its Double – Antonin Artaud (1938) French

78. Manhattan Transfer – John Dos Passos (1925) English

79. Ficciones –  Jorge Luis Borges (1944) Spanish

80. Moravagine – Blaise Cendrars (1926)French

81. The General of the Dead Army – Ismail Kadare (1963) Albanian

82. Sophie’s Choice – William Styron (1979) English

83. Gypsy Ballads – Federico García Lorca (1928) Spanish

84. The Strange Case of Peter the Lett – Georges Simenon (1931) French

85. Our Lady of the Flowers – Jean Genet (1944)French

86. The Man Without Qualities – Robert Musil (1930–1942) German

87. Furor and Mystery – René Char (1948)French

88. The Catcher in the Rye – J. D. Salinger (1951) English

89. No Orchids For Miss Blandish -James Hadley Chase (1939) English

90. Blake and Mortimer – Edgar P. Jacobs (1950) French

91. The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge – Rainer Maria Rilke (1910) German

92. Second Thoughts – Michel Butor (1957) French

93. The Burden of Our Time/ The Origins of Totalitarianism – Hannah Arendt (1951) German

94. The Master and Margarita – Mikhail Bulgakov (1967) Russian

95. The Rosy Crucifixion – Henry Miller (1949–1960) English

96. The Big Sleep – Raymond Chandler (1939) English

97. Amers – Saint-John Perse  (1957) French

98. Gaston Gomer Goof – André Franquin (1957) French

99. Under the Volcano – Malcolm Lowry (1947) English

100. Midnight’s Children – Salman Rushdie (1981) English

46 thoughts on “Reading Challenge: Le Monde’s 100 Books of the Century

  1. cool, I did not even know that Le Monde had also that type of things! I read 31 of them. there are so many genres in here, including poetry, philosophy, theater, and authors from so many different countries, difficult to recommend you one. you have read my favorite of all, Le grand Meaulnes. what genre do you like? thanks for listing my blog in your ‘brilliant blogs”!! and as you seem to enjoy French stuff, be sure to visit http://francebooktours.com, where I organize virtual book tours for authors. all books in English, but related to France! and you can sign up for free to get a book for free to review on your blog

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  2. Feel good about the 22 (and those you’ve read since). My tally is six. I have a few of them gathering dust on my shelf, though, but after watching the film this weekend I don’t know if I’m going to bother reading Gatsby.

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  3. I’ve only read 4 of them! :/
    But I have many in my wish list and some are even on my shelves waiting to be picked up!

    On a side note,that list is very interesting as it comprises many little known French novels! I’ve been looking for French books lately,but found that I only knew the works from Balzac,Hugo,Flaubert,and Dumas….

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      • Sadly! I haven’t read any! (Well,I did read Colette’s Le Ble en Herbe which I liked and Antigone,although it’s a play,which I absolutely adored,because of the language and the storyline.)
        Eurydice,Anouilh’s other play,sounds very promising too! 🙂
        And I have Le Mythe de Sisyphe at home.I’ll read it after Waiting for Godot! I’m expecting much from this essay!

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  4. What a great list, I have only read 11 listed, but have read some of the authors other books. I’m not surprised that it comprises so much variety, more than 40% of the fiction read in France is translated from other languages, they have for a long time has a much greater awareness of foreign fiction than we have have ever had access to in the English language.

    I enjoy reading contemporary French authors and Gallic Books are now trying to bring more of it to the English reading world, which you probably already know about.

    I read Le Grand Meaulnes in January this year and thought it was a wonderful read. I’m currently reading Simone De Beauvoir’s Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter. Love translated fiction and non-ficton. So much to discover.

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    • That’s really interesting – I had no idea translated fiction was read in such high proportion in France, although I knew they read much more translated fiction than the UK. 40% is astounding!

      Most of the French fiction I read is classics – I should use Gallic Books’ initiative to read more contemporary authors. I really enjoy translated fiction too. As you say, so much to discover: a whole world 🙂

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    • I’m really enjoying it, but I need to get back on track – life’s been so busy I’ve let it slide a bit… It is a really interesting list and definitely encourages me to read things I wouldn’t otherwise.

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  5. Quite a fascinating list that I’ve only just discovered now – how are you getting on with it? I grew up outside the UK and had access to several languages, so I’ve been fortunate enough to have read about 50 of the books on this list. But do you know what I’ve just realised? I must have read them al or most of them by the time I turned 20 – and I do believe my reading has grown less diverse since! Is that sad, or what?

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    • That’s not sad – I had much more time to read when I was younger. And it’s never to late to start diversifying your reading again 🙂 My reading has really slowed down at the moment (I’m writing – or failing to write! – a dissertation) but I was looking at the list just the other day and thinking I really want to get back into it. 50 books is really impressive! Any recommendations for me?

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  6. Ha, when I had a dissertation to write, I felt like reading, cleaning the house, doing pretty much anything BUT the dissertation, so good luck with writing it! My recommendations (if you haven’t read them already) are: The Little Prince (makes me cry every time, one of my favourite books ever), The Second Sex (still so relevant), The Joke and The Lost Honour of Katharina Blum. Good luck with everything and thanks for visiting my blog too.

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  7. I love book lists like these – I’m always on the look out for recommendations! It’s interesting to see a French list, there are some titles I’ve not come across, so I shall definitely be bookmarking this page! (Oh, I got 23. Must read more!)

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  8. I’m feeling quite smug after discovering I’ve read 17 from the list, I must admit that Joyce’s Ulysses was read only because I thought one should read it. I didn’t enjoy it. My favourite book from the list is probably the Orwell selection: 1984. Though I must say I prefer most others by him. I rate him the finest writer of the 20th century. I would highly commend ‘Burmese Days’ and his very useful, even today, essay ‘Politics and The English Language’.
    I shall read another from the list soon, your review prompted me to do so: Woolf’s ‘A Room of One’s Own’ I’ve been meaning to read it for twenty years and I shall… as soon as I finish raeding my all time favourite book, again. I’ll let you know what it is when I’ve finished Woolf.

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    • Yes, ‘Politics and the English Language’ is certainly still relevant. I’ve not read Burmese Days but I definitely want to fill the gaps in my Orwell reading – thanks for the recommendation. I look forward to hearing about your favourite book 🙂

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  9. Interesting – it certainly seems much more diverse and intellectual than English ones – not to mention, as you point out, international. And I like, very much, the fact it isn’t only novels. Anyway, it seems I’ve done 28, Like MarinaSophia I read much more challenging stuff in my teens and twenties than now……….for example, I have faded copies of Apollinaire’s Alcools and Calligrammes on my bookshelf – IN FRENCH – which i would never have been able to properly read!!!! I have no idea why, perhaps I thought I could teach myself better than O level French, with this – I also have a copy of the Penguin Modern European Poets, – Apollinaire, (translated) so its possible I had a grand intention of reading some poems in English and French.

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  10. I’m amazed at the fact that I have read six books from this list!! Six! I know not something to fuss about but I love reading and this is the first time I am looking at some list and feeling unexpectedly excited and happy!! Maybe I have gone mad!!

    I hope i will read more books in future… Love your blog Madamebibliophile…. keep writing, I sure have a lot to read here …

    TC Tata

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  13. I have to say I was disappointed in this list. Just books published in English, French, German, and Russian, with the occasional Other — like Milan Kundera — thrown in. There are amazing Latin American authors, like Cortazar or Borges or Pablo Neruda, which are not here. And then there’s the rest of the world, besides the Americas and Europe, which isn’t represented at all.

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  14. I’ve read 29 of them, mostly the US, UK and French ones though also a couple of German, Italian and Latinos.
    I agree that it’s a bit parochial, nothing from China or Africa, for example, and *sigh* as usual nothing from Australia, but still, it’s a much more interesting list than most of them:)

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