30 November 2010

Reading list: WLT's top 40

No, the compilation of lists isn't over yet. I'll have a couple of posts more. Bear with me.


On the occasion of their 75th anniversary, the World Literature Today magazine published their list of 40 most important works from 1927 to 2001. In terms of scope, this one appears to be a more focused list. It has a shorter time frame (75 years), for one. The coverage is also international and, thankfully, within the 20th century.

What I like about the list is that it's short. Only 40 titles, not the usual 100 best-of lists, not the 1001 that you have to scroll down before you die. Somehow, miraculously, 4 genres (poetry, fiction, drama, essays) are represented. And, so far as I can make out, more than half (23 titles) are books in translation. At least they somehow live up to the name of world literature. But how they came up with it is a mystery. It's an altogether brave, if flawed, list.


World Literature Today's top 40 most important works, 1927-2001

1927 To the Lighthouse - Virginia Woolf, England

1928 The Gypsy Ballads (Romancero gitano) - Federico Garcia Lorca, Spain

1928 The Tower - William Butler Yeats, Ireland

1929 The Sound and the Fury - William Faulkner, United States

1931 The Turning Point (I strofi) - George Seferis, Greece

1933-47 Residence on Earth (Residencia en la tierra) - Pablo Neruda, Chile

1934 Independent People (Sjalfstaett folk) - Halldor Laxness, Iceland

1935-40 Requiem (Rekviem) - Anna Akhmatova, Russia

1941 Mother Courage and Her Children (Mutter Courage und ihre Kinder) - Bertolt Brecht, Germany

1942 The Stranger (L'etranger) - Albert Camus, France

1943 The Four Quartets - T. S. Eliot, England/United States

1944 Ficciones - Jorge Luis Borges, Argentina

1945 "The Day Before Yesterday" [aka Only Yesterday] (Tmol shilshom) - S. Y. Agnon, Spain/Israel

1948 Snow Country (Yukiguni) - Yasunari Kawabata, Japan

1950 The Labyrinth of Solitude (El laberinto de la soledad) - Octavio Paz, Mexico

1952 Waiting for Godot (En attendant Godot) - Samuel Beckett, Ireland

1952 Invisible Man - Ralph Ellison, United States

1952 The Old Man and the Sea - Ernest Hemingway, United States

1952 In Country Sleep - Dylan Thomas, Wales

1953 The Lost Steps (Los pasos perdidos) - Alejo Carpentier, Cuba

1956 The Devil to Pay in the Backlands (Grande sertao: veredas) - Joao Guimaraes Rosa, Brazil

1956-57 The Cairo Trilogy (Al-Thulathiyya) - Naguib Mahfouz, Egypt

1957 Voss - Patrick White, England/Australia

1958 Things Fall Apart - Chinua Achebe, Nigeria

1958 The Guide - R. K. Narayan, India

1959 The Tin Drum (Die Blechtrommel) - Gunter Grass, Germany

1961 A House for Mr Biswas - V. S. Naipaul, Trinidad

1961 The Book of Disquiet (Livro do desassossego) - Fernando Pessoa, Portugal

1962 The Golden Notebook - Doris Lessing, Zimbabwe/England

1962 Pale Fire - Vladimir Nabokov, Russia/United States

1962 The Time of the Doves (La Placa del Diamant) - Merce Rodoreda, Spain

1962 One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich (Odin den' Ivana Denisovicha) - Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Russia

1964 A Personal Matter (Kojinteki-na taiken) - Kenzaburo Oe, Japan

1966 Collected Shorter Poems 1927-1957 - W. H. Auden, England

1967 One Hundred Years of Solitude (Cien anos de soledad) - Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Colombia

1968 House Made of Dawn - N. Scott Momaday, United States

1972 Invisible Cities (Le citta invisibili) - Italo Calvino, Italy

1974 The Conservationist - Nadine Gordimer, South Africa

1978 Bells in Winter - Czeslaw Milosz, Poland

1987 Red Sorghum (Hung kao liang) - Mo Yan, China

Source: http://www.baylor.edu/english/index.php?id=45859


  1. A quite interesting list, just a few I've never heard of and it's a pity it stops in'87; however it's motivated me to review recently read 'The Lost Steps'!

  2. Hydriotaphia - Yeah, there are big gaps at the bottom. No important works from '79 to '86 and from '88 to '01? I also notice a large proportion of books from Latin America.

    Amateur Reader - Plausible, yes. That's the word. (grins)