Novels worse than The Fountainhead

I was in a bookshop a week ago and came across a nice hardback of Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead, a book I read long ago. The hardback was a reprint of the first edition, and it felt hefty and slick and looked nice with its sewn binding and slipcase cover. A book about an architect ought to be well made.

It’s common to poke fun at Rand’s talent, and it’s mostly fair, this poking, because Rand wasn’t much of a writer. She was a fascinating woman, and the screenplay she wrote for the film version of The Fountainhead resulted in a terrific movie, with Gary Cooper and Patricia Neal as the stars. The screenplay was the best thing she ever wrote.

I didn’t buy the nice hardback, but I did think about rereading The Fountainhead, because I liked it when I was a kid, and because I now think there are so many worse popular novels that one can make fun of, novels written by men who have somehow escaped the ridicule Rand receives. So I came up with a list, a list of popular novels worse than The Fountainhead. Here they are:

  • A Confederacy of Dunces
  • The Broom of the System
  • A Man in Full
  • The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay
  • Middlesex
  • The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
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Good novels about young people

Adults must not read Young Adult novels. Adults must instead read good novels about young people. There are more good novels about young people than there are good Young Adult novels. Here is a list of good novels about young people:

Ballard, J.G. Empire of the Sun
Blatty, William Peter. The Exorcist
Brodkey, Harold. First Love and other Sorrows
Bronte, Charlotte. Jane Eyre
Carroll, Lewis. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
Cather, Willa. My Antonia
Conrad, Joseph. The Shadow-Line
Crowley, John. Little, Big
Crowley, John. Love and Sleep
De Vries, Peter. The Blood of the Lamb
DeLillo, Don. End Zone
Dexter, Pete. Train
Dickens, Charles. David Copperfield
Dickens, Charles. The Old Curiosity Shop
Dreiser, Theodore. An American Tragedy
Egan, Jennifer. The Invisible Circus
Egolf, Tristan. Lord of the Barnyard
Eugenides, Jeffrey. The Virgin Suicides
Faulkner, William. Light in August
Forster, E.M. The Longest Journey
Forster, E.M. A Room with a View
Greene, Graham. Brighton Rock
Greene, Graham. The Captain and the Enemy
Hamsun, Knut. Hunger
Harrison, Jim. Farmer
Hazzard, Shirley. The Great Fire
Hughes, Richard. A High Wind in Jamaica
James, Henry. The Turn of the Screw
Joyce, James. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
Kipling, Rudyard. Kim
Knowles, John. A Separate Peace
Lawrence, D.H. Sons and Lovers
Lindsay, Joan. Picnic at Hanging Rock
Llosa, Mario Vargas. The Time of the Hero
Macdonald, Ross. The Far Side of the Dollar
MacLaverty, Bernard. Cal
Mann, Thomas. Buddenbrooks
Maugham, W. Somerset. Of Human Bondage
McCarthy, Cormac. Blood Meridian
McCullers, Carson. The Heart is a Lonely Hunter
McMurtry, Larry. Horseman, Pass By
Millhauser, Steven. Edwin Mullhouse
Mitchell, David. Black Swan Green
Murdoch, Iris. The Time of the Angels
Murdoch, Iris. Nuns and Soldiers
Murdoch, Iris. The Good Apprentice
Nabokov, Vladimir. Lolita
Narayan, R.K. Swami and Friends
Narayan, R.K. The Bachelor of Arts
O’Connor, Flannery. The Violent Bear It Away
Parker, Robert B. Early Autumn
Percy, Walker. The Last Gentleman
Portis, Charles. True Grit
Powell, Anthony. A Question of Upbringing
Proust, Marcel. Swann’s Way
Proust, Marcel. Within a Budding Grove
Reid, Forrest. Tom Barber trilogy
Santiago, Danny. Famous All Over Town
Singer, Isaac Bashevis. The Manor
Snow, C.P. Strangers and Brothers
Spark, Muriel. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie
Spencer, Scott. Endless Love
Stern, Richard. Other Men’s Daughters
Stevenson, Robert Louis. Treasure Island
Stevenson, Robert Louis. Kidnapped
Tartt, Donna. The Secret History
Tevis, Walter. The Queen’s Gambit
Theroux, Paul. The Mosquito Coast
Twain, Mark. Tom Sawyer
Twain, Mark. Huckleberry Finn
Waters, Sarah. Fingersmith
Waugh, Evelyn. Brideshead Revisited
West, Nathanael. A Cool Million
Wodehouse, P.G. Mike
Yu Hua. Brothers

Great California Novels

1899  McTeague  Frank Norris
1939  The Day of the Locust  Nathanael West
1951  The Way Some People Die  Ross Macdonald
1953  The Long Goodbye  Raymond Chandler
1962  Big Sur  Jack Kerouac
1966  The Crying of Lot 49  Thomas Pynchon
1968  Myra Breckinridge  Gore Vidal
1969  Fat City  Leonard Gardner
1970  Play It As It Lays  Joan Didion
1974  Dog Soldiers  Robert Stone
1978  Lying Low  Diane Johnson
1983  Famous All Over Town  Danny Santiago
1987  The Black Dahlia  James Ellroy
2009  Nobody Move  Denis Johnson

Best books of 2016

These are the best books I read in 2016. One was actually published in 2016.

1847  Wuthering Heights  Emily Bronte
1911  Under Western Eyes  Joseph Conrad
1922  A Kiss for the Leper  Francois Mauriac
1968  In Front of Your Nose 1945-1950  George Orwell
1978  Prince of the City  Robert Daley
1985  Lonesome Dove  Larry McMurtry
1987  The Thanatos Syndrome  Walker Percy
1997  Underworld  Don DeLillo
2016  Bush  Jean Edward Smith

Best American fiction, 1976 – 2006

I came across a list made by the late D.G. Myers, a list of the Best American fiction, 1968–1998. It’s a list filled with good books and arguments, and it inspired me to make my own list of the best American fiction of the recent past.

Here it is, in order of personal preference:

William Kennedy  Billy Phelan’s Greatest Game
John Crowley  Aegypt
Richard Yates  The Easter Parade
Walter Tevis  The Queen’s Gambit
Jim Harrison  Farmer
Jennifer Egan  The Invisible Circus
Danny Santiago  Famous All Over Town
Scott Spencer  Endless Love
Don DeLillo  Libra
Philip Roth  Sabbath’s Theater
Richard Powers  The Time of Our Singing
Norman Mailer  The Executioner’s Song
Paul Theroux  The Mosquito Coast
Cormac McCarthy  Suttree
Thomas Pynchon  Vineland
Denis Johnson  Train Dreams
Pete Dexter  Train
Larry McMurtry  Lonesome Dove
Tristan Egolf  Lord of the Barnyard

On Easy Reading

I just finished a memoir written by a thirty-something and published in 2016. The memoir was well written and it was easy reading. It was such easy reading that I finished the book (about 70,000 words) in a few hours. All the easy reading words contained a bunch of easy thoughts and when I finished the book and set it aside, I said to the cat, “That was easy, wasn’t it?” And a few hours later I’d forgotten the experience of reading the book—I recalled a few poignant scenes, but not one example of first-rate writing, not one artful sentence or interesting paragraph. It was too easy, the book, too simple. So easy that it became instantly forgettable, the experience of reading, an experience I cherish. Easy come, easy go.

Best Novels of 2015

I read over 50 novels this year and these were the best. None were published in 2015, but that is not 2015’s fault. I will encounter a great 2015 novel soon enough.

Cervantes  Don Quixote (1605-1615)
Dreiser  An American Tragedy (1897)
Lampedusa  The Leopard (1958)
Percy  The Last Gentleman (1966)
Pynchon   Bleeding Edge (2013)
Rendell  A Judgement in Stone (1977)
Bashevis Singer  The Manor (1967)
Stendhal  The Charterhouse of Parma (1839)