The Times 60 novels list

The Times has a list today of the books its literary editor thinks are the best 60 novels of the past 60 years. As with all such lists, it’s subjective, but I’ve had fun going through it, agreeing and disagreeing. I’ve learned some things too, just from the layout: the 1960s and 1970s were my decades for reading fiction, and I haven’t read any of the critically received novels of this decade. Anyway, here’s my take on the list. It’s in two parts: the ones I’ve read, and the unread, with my comments.

1949
Nineteen Eighty-Four
George Orwell
Chillingly brilliant

1953
Casino Royale
Ian Fleming
A good read, but surely not one of the best books of the period

1954
Lord of the Flies
William Golding
A wonderful and thought-provoking work

1961
Catch 22
Joseph Heller
Stunned me at the time, still does. The film proved it was unfilmable.

1964
Funeral in Berlin
Len Deighton
Good, but not special

1965
Dune
Frank Herbert
Excellent sci-fi at its best

1968
2001
Arthur C. Clarke
More futurology than sci-fi, but I enjoyed it

1969
The French Lieutenant’s Woman
John Fowles
Another brilliant book

1972
Watership Down
Richard Adams
Good at the time, but verging on the naff now

1974
Fear of Flying
Erica Jong
Sexy but shallow

1976
Even Cowgirls get the Blues
Tom Robbins
Even shallower

1978
The World According to Garp
John Irving
A monstrously good novel

1979
Smiley’s People
John le Carré
Meticulously evocative of the seedy world of espionage

1980
Earthly Powers
Anthony Burgess
Another monster, by a master

1981
Lanark
Alasdair Gray
Ditto

1985
Love in The Time of Cholera
Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Didn’t really enjoy it. I was recovering from surgery when I read it

1993
Trainspotting
Irvine Welsh
Entertaining and ghastly

1995
Northern Lights
Philip Pullman
One of my all-time favourite novels

1996
Angela’s Ashes
Frank McCourt
Worthy

1997
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone
J. K. Rowling
Surely not the best book?

1998
The Wind-up Bird Chronicle
Haruki Murakami
Quirky and enjoyable, but it took me a while to read it

And now some of the unread:
1951
The Catcher in the Rye
J. D. Salinger
I felt no desire to read this one, and still don’t

1955
Lolita
Vladimir Nabokov
Tried other Nabokov, found them unreadable

1957
Doctor Zhivago
Boris Pasternak
Found it dull

1958
Our Man in Havana
Graham Greene
The Power and the Glory is a better Greene book

1960
To Kill a Mockingbird
Harper Lee
Same as with Salinger

1967
Towards the End of the Morning
Michael Frayn
Have directed a Frayn play, but not read this novel

1973
Crash
J. G. Ballard
Very much prefer The Crystal World, and The Drowned World

1977
A Scanner Darkly
Philip K. Dick
Prefer Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

1988
Mother London
Michael Moorcock
Liked some of his sci-fi

1989
Sexing the Cherry
Jeannette Winterson
Prefer Oranges are not the only fruit

1994
How Late it Was, How Late
James Kelman
Can’t stand this style of writing

2002
Atonement
Ian McEwan
Couldn’t finish this, or any other McEwan

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About sunnydunny

Poet, publisher, gardener
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8 Responses to The Times 60 novels list

  1. Jim Murdoch says:

    I think you've left it too late for the Salinger. I first read it when I was about fourteen and it blew me away. I read it again twenty years later and wondered where the guy who loved it so much had gone. Strangely enough I've never read anything else by him.

    I read quite a few books by Nabokov in my early twenties and can't remember a damn thing about them. I recently reread Pale Fire and enjoyed it enough to add a couple of his to my Amazon wish list but I've never read Lolita.

    Have to disagree with you on the Dick I'm afraid. A Scanner Darkly had a huge effect on me when I first read it whereas Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? pales a bit compared to Blade Runner though of course we couldn't have had the latter without the former.

    I agree with you on the Winterson but I also enjoyed Gut Symeteries and Lighthousekeeping.

    I read McEwan's early short story collections and his first novel but I'm not sure the guy he is now was the one read I then. I gave On Chesil Beach a go – well, I finished it – but it didn't really excite me.

    And sod Casino Royal. What about The Unnamable by Samuel Beckett? No comparison.

  2. Colin Will says:

    Jim: That whole Beckett trilogy is fantastic – Molloy, Malone Dies, and The Unnameable. Must re-read.

  3. Rachel Fox says:

    As ever with these things some very odd choices in their selection!

    The only comment here that surprises me is the Mockingbird one. I suppose I read it at the right age (about 13) but I absolutely loved it on first read and then loved it all over again when I read it to teach it to other teenagers (during brief flirtation with teaching a while back). It is beautifully written – very good on human beings.

    x

  4. Sharon E. Dreyer says:

    The list needs a few more of the science fiction genre. Just my opinion since I've read so many genres over the years, I find myself always drawn back to science fiction fantasy stories.

    Check out my first and recently released novel, Long Journey to Rneadal. This exciting story is a romantic action adventure in space.

  5. swiss says:

    agree with jim re salinger (and a scanner darkly) but to kill a mockingbird!!?

    not to read that is just wrong. a sublime book that just gets better with age (mine, not it!)

  6. smsteele says:

    Colin, Love in the Time of Cholera must be read when one is full of sweetness, i.e., young and bright and filled with love or love thoughts!

    Atonement was one of the best books I read in a decade. The movie was a disappointment. Saturday Night a technical coup albeit filled with narrative flaws (is this an oxymoron?)

    thanks for the nice comments on my war project… just remind people that the web work is all very much beta… unedited, raw

    sms

    p.s. just had some of my war stuff published in Dream Catcher, a U.K. literary journal!

  7. apprentice says:

    I agree on Antonement – didn't like it all at,and didn't finish it.

    I'm not a Fleming fan so he wouldn't be on my list

  8. McGuire says:

    I'm curious to know more about what you dislike about Kelmans writing. I've got a cope of books of short stories. He does have a strange style. Guttural, full of stops and starts, words thrown here and there, a certain deliberate careless feel to them. Very minimalist, stacatto almost.

    I'm not sure if he's great but I enjoy his writing but at times it feels off or just 'comfortable' with keeping things bit sloppy and mishapen. Mind you, I haven't read anything hes done in recent times.

    Curious to know.

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