We all love lists, but even I was surprised by how popular our TIME 100 list of the world’s greatest movies turned out to be when it premiered on TIME.com in May. Compiled by our film critics, Richard Corliss and Richard Schickel, the list has been viewed by millions of visitors, drawn cheers (thanks for including Sweet Smell of Success) and jeers (what happened to Gone With the Wind?) and still remains one of TIME.com’s most clicked-on special features.
This week we introduce our TIME 100 list of the best novels on TIME.com and I expect the debates will be just as lively. There were only two ground rules. As with our film list, we picked 1923–when TIME began publishing–as our starting point. And we focused on books written in English. That’s why there is no Ulysses (published in 1922) or One Hundred Years of Solitude (originally written in Spanish).
Lev Grossman and Richard Lacayo, our book critics, reread many of the classics and discovered a few that they had never had a chance to read. There were some easy calls (The Sound and the Fury, Invisible Man, Herzog) and some not so easy (Gore Vidal and Norman Mailer did not make the cut, though both critics admire their essays and nonfiction books). Several authors appear twice, including William Faulkner, Vladimir Nabokov and Saul Bellow. And one author on the list is actually a TIME alumnus: James Agee, who reviewed movies and books for the magazine in the 1940s and is represented by A Death in the Family.
I know the list will spark lots of discussions, but I hope it also sends you back to books you read with pleasure years ago as well as to books that you may not have heard of. I’d also love to hear what you think of our selections. I find almost all our critics’ arguments persuasive, but I still feel John le Carré’s best book is Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (not on the list) instead of The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (on the list). Oh, and one more thing: this time around, Gone With the Wind fans get their revenge. The film may not have made the movie list, but Margaret Mitchell’s book makes this one.