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Zoinks, 100 best books list from NPR includes just 7 by women

May 15, 2009 |  5:11 pm

Hurstonatwood
Dick Meyer at NPR has decided to come up with his list of the 100 best novels of the 20th century. "I am not a learned or prolific reader of novels," he writes. "My taste is probably medium-brow, male and parochial in many ways. Tough. It's my list."

Apparently, it is, because it's certainly not my list. While I wouldn't call it parochial, I would say that a lot of the books are the kind that were assigned to be read in school, which indicates a kind of incurious reader to me. Misspelling Nathanael West's name (as Nathaniel),  and including two books each by Philip Roth, John Le Carre, Richard Ford and John Updike doesn't help to convince me otherwise.

But truly astonishing is the fact that only seven books by women make the list. And number 100 —  Nicole Krauss' "A History of Love" — was published in 2005, so it doesn't even belong in a list that spans 1900-2000. Which would cut down the number of female authors to six.

Who isn't there: no Flannery O'Connor,  no A.S. Byatt, no Annie Dillard, no Margaret Mitchell, no Katherine Ann Porter, no Isak Dinesen, no Gertrude Stein, no Joyce Carol Oates, no Margaret Atwood, no Edith Wharton, no Zora Neale Hurston, no Eudora Welty, no Rebecca West, no Annie Proulx, no Nadine Gordimer, no Doris Lessing, no Simone de Beauvoir. 

There are plenty of iconic male writers missing, too: Norman Mailer, Don Delillo, David Foster Wallace, Thomas Pynchon, Philip K. Dick, Michael Chabon, Henry James, James Baldwin, Henry Miller. And so on.

I took an informal poll among five of the bookish types at the L.A. Times office. The most books any of us had in common with this list was 41; the least was 24. But from that commonality, our percentage of reading the female writers on his list started out about the same as Meyer's and then went up -- his was 7% (or 6%, if you take out Krauss) and our ratio went from 5%-17%.

All of which goes to show that this really isn't our list. Meyer, who is editorial director of Digital Media at NPR.org, is to be commended for reading and liking 100 books (his complete list is after the jump). But really — it's time for him to get with the ladies.

— Carolyn Kellogg

Photo credits: Zora Neale Hurston —  Unknown. Margaret Atwood — Ann Johansson / For The Times

1. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, James Joyce
2. The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald
3. The Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger
4. Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad
5. Brave New World, Aldous Huxley
6. The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck
7. Angle of Repose,Wallace Stegner
8. Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov
9. Humboldt's Gift, Saul Bellow
10. A Passage to India, E.M. Forster
11. To the Lighthouse, Virginia Woolf
12. U.S.A. Trilogy,John Dos Passos
13. The Untouchable,John Banville
14. To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee
15. Rabbit at Rest, John Updike
16. All the King's Men, Robert Penn Warren
17. American Pastoral, Philip Roth
18. Beloved, Toni Morrison
19. The Remains of the Day,Kazuo Ishiguro
20. Of Human Bondage, W. Somerset Maugham
21. Light in August, William Faulkner
22. My Antonia, Willa Cather
23. The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway
24. A Lesson Before Dying, Ernest Gaines
25. Rabbit, Run, John Updike
26. Babbitt, Sinclair Lewis
27. The Moviegoer, Walker Percy
28. The Jungle, Upton Sinclair
29. The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath
30. Midnight's Children,Salman Rushdie
31. All the Pretty Horses,Cormac McCarthy
32. The Sportswriter, Richard Ford
33. The Lay of the Land, Richard Ford
34. Sons and Lovers, D.H. Lawrence
35. Aloft, Chang-Rae Lee
36. Appointment in Samarra,John O'Hara
37. Atonement,Ian McEwan
38. So Long, See You Tomorrow, William Maxwell
39. Winesburg, Ohio, Sherwood Anderson
40. Lucky Jim,Kingsley Amis
41. The Forsyte Saga, John Galsworthy
42. Franny and Zooey, J.D. Salinger
43. A Soldier of the Great War,Mark Helprin
44. The Big Sleep, Raymond Chandler
45. Animal Farm, George Orwell
46. Charlotte's Web, E.B. White
47. The Good Soldier, Ford Maddox Ford
48. The Secret Sharer, Joseph Conrad
49. Blood Meridian,Cormac McCarthy
50. The Day of the Locust, Nathaniel West
51. Crossing to Safety,Wallace Stegner
52. Felicia's Journey, William Trevor
53. Ironweed, William Kennedy
54. Lonesome Dove,Larry McMurtry
55. The Spy Who Came in from the Cold,John LeCarre
56. In the Lake of the Woods, Tim O'Brien
57. A Coffin for Dimitrios, Eric Ambler
58. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance,Robert Pirsig
59. The Caine Mutiny,Herman Wouk
60. The Killer Angels,Michael Shaara
61. The Human Factor, Graham Greene
62. Tarzan of the Apes, Edgar Rice Burroughs
63. Paris Trout, Pete Dexter
64. Howard's End, E.M. Forster
65. The Killer Inside Me, Jim Thompson
66. The English Patient,Michael Ondaatje
67. Portnoy's Complaint, Philip Roth
68. Fabulous Small Jews, Joseph Epstein
69. Tender is the Night, F. Scott Fitzgerald
70. Roscoe, William Kennedy
71. Charming Billy, Alice McDermott
72. Lord of the Flies, William Golding
73. Razor's Edge, W. Somerset Maugham
74. Lying Awake,Mark Salzman
75. A Confederacy of Dunces,John Kennedy Toole
76. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest,Ken Kesey
77. Light Years, James Salter
78. Black Dogs,Ian McEwan
79. Spartina, John Casey
80. A Fan's Notes,Frederick Exley
81. Scoop, Evelyn Waugh
82. Blood of the Lamb,Peter De Vries
83. Empire Falls, Richard Russo
84. The Maltese Falcon,Dashiell Hammett
85. Double Indemnity, James Cain
86. The Sunlight Dialogues, John Gardner
87. The Ginger Man,J.P. Donleavy
88. Seize the Day, Saul Bellow
89. Rabbit Is Rich, John Updike
90. Deliverance, James Dickey
91. The Bird Artist, Howard Norman
92. Pnin, Vladimir Nabokov
93. City Boy,Herman Wouk
94. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy,John le Carre
95. Advise and Consent,Allen Drury
96. A Man in Full, Tom Wolfe
97. Sophie's Choice, William Styron
98. Breakfast of Champions, Kurt Vonnegut
99. The Godfather, Mario Puzo
100. A History of Love,Nicole Krauss

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