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25 Novels That Stood the Test of Time and Stand Out Still

One of the great finds from my pilgrimage to Half Price Books is Dallas that is not fiction is The King’s English by Betsy Burton. Betsy is the owner of the monumental The King’s English Bookshop in Salt Lake City. In the beautiful coffee-table book Betsy reflects the recent story of independent bookselling. Burton and her first partner, Ann Berman, opened the shop in 1977, fueled by an enthusiasm for good literature and a dream of creating a hangout for book lovers in Salt Lake City. Neither partner knew much about running a business, but over time they learn how to negotiate with sales reps, stock inventories, assess and shape the reading tastes of their customers, and thwart the pilfering hands of larcenous employees. The most entertaining parts of the book are anecdotes about famous and not-yet-famous authors who stop by the King’s English on their book tours. Isabel Allende is as colorful and passionate in person as her novels suggest, even during Utah’s winters, and British mystery writer John Mortimer endures a series of miscalculations with the aplomb of his defining literary character, barrister Horace Rumpole. There are even author signings where nobody shows up.

The King’s English caught my eye because of its polished packaging and good page design, and anyone passionate about independent bookstores should read this story. This book also comes with lists of great reading ideas, which I will from now on blog about:

25 Novels That Stood the Test of Time and Stand Out Still

1. Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison
2. The Sea, The Sea by Iris Murdoch
3. Shosha by Issac Bashevis Singer
4. The Burger’s Daughter by Nadine Gordimer
5. The Second Coming by Walker Percy
6. The Transit of Venus by Shirley Hazzard
7. Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie
8. Smiley’s People by John Le Carre
9. A Chain of Voices by Andre Brink
10. Unbearable Lightness of Being Milan Kundera
11. The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende
12. World’s Fair by E.L. Doctorow
13. The All of It by Jeannette Haien
14. Moon Tiger by Penelope Lively
15. Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner
16. Dancing at the Rascal Fair by Ivan Doig
17. Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
18. Possession by A.S. Byatt
19. The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje
20. Consider This, Senora by Harriet Doerr
21. The Cunning Man by Robertson Davies
22. Corelli’s Mandolin by Louis De Bernieres
23. The Moor’s Last Sigh by Salman Rushdie
24. A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry
25. The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood

I read 8 out of 25 books that have stood the test of time. The last one I just finished is The Blind Assassin. Crossing to Safety has become a huge favorite. Possession never made a deep impression in me, just meh. After The Satanic Verses, I had no desire to further pursue Salman Rushdie. There are so many names on this list that I would like to read: Murdoch, Gordimer, Brink, Hazzard, Doig, and Allende. This seems to be a great reading as most of these books are hardcore literature. That said, I will use this list, along with a few others from The King’s English, as blueprint to my reading this year.

16 Responses

  1. Interesting. I wouldn’t have thought that any of those twenty-five books could be described as having “stood the test of time.” All strike me as being contemporary literature.

    Nominally I have traditionally recognized the date a book goes out of copyright as the break between classical and contemporary, but several people have convinced me that in this fast moving age, a date like the end of World War II is much more acceptable. I can see their argument.

    But even with this much less strict dating, a novel should be available in print for well over fifty years. I figure that if I read a book when it first came out, then it is unquestionably contemporary.

    • I think you made a solid point. I always dig the books that have either gone out of print or that are written by out-moded authors. The books on this list are fairly recent, or contemporary, as you called them. True. I have the impression that these books are the one that have been constantly sold at the bookstore. Most of these titles came about around or after Betsy opened The King’s English Bookshop in 1977. These titles have been in prints for 35 years.

  2. I’ve only read 3 of these. I really better get moving and at 48, almost 49, I have less years ahead of me to read!

  3. Toni Morrison has such a distinctive voice inlaid in each one of her works; one doesn’t know when she is conversing with or instructing you.

    • She is a gift to America. I always enjoys the nuanced, and layered stories that blend folklore, magical realism, and personal interpretation of moral values.

  4. Walker Percy was one of my favorites when I was in college. But that was a long time ago and I don’t know what I’d think now. Shirley Hazzard is a wonderful writer, beautiful prose style.

    Had meant to post weeks ago on your blog about “The Longest Journey”. I’m not big on rereading books (too many books, not enough time) but Forster is the one writer several of whose books I’ve read three times: The Longest Journey, Howards End, and Passage To India. The latter two always seemed more perfected and wonderful novels but there was something about The Longest Journey despite what seemed as I read it each time as its lack of perfection . . . but something so deeply moving and personal from Forster. I just read the Wendy Moffat bio, which changed greatly many of my preconcieved notions about how he lived his life.

    • Based on your recommendation, I went ahead to buy Hazzard and Percy books. The Passage to India has remained the last of Forster to read. I’m not feeling the urgency to read it, as I have put it off for years. I wonder why?

  5. I’m surprised that there’s not even one V S Naipaul book on the list!

  6. […] 25 Novels That Stood the Test of Time and Stand Out Still […]

  7. I’ve read 9 of these. I loved The Blind Assassin but I would give the nod to Captain Corelli’s Mandolin as the best on this list. That book is spectacular.

  8. […] old favorite authors and authors I have never read before, thanks to the many fun book lists like this and this from The King’s English Bookshop in Salt […]

  9. […] The King’s English Bookshop is a obviously a bookstore, in Utah, but it’s also the title of a coffee table book. I have been constructively influenced by the many lists taken out of this book. It is from this interesting category I have culled Le Divorce by Diane Johnson, a book judging by its title, cover, and popularity I would never have otherwise picked up. This list seems ideal for reading on-the-go, for in-flight reading, and for beach read. […]

  10. […] scavenger-hunt the books named in the many interesting and aptly titled book lists from the book The King’s English. I have mentioned the book and the bookstore by the same name. The lists will form a backbone of my […]

  11. […] merits a double recommendation: a friend with trusted reading taste and an endorsement from The King’s English Bookshop book lists. this jewel of a book is pure delight for a day of reading in the […]

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