The Torchlight List — Jim Flynn

Some books are so good that you can’t put them down — you have to keep reading them, even if it means reading by torchlight in the middle of the night. Jim Flynn has read a lot of good books — The Torchlight List describes 200 of the best.

At the beginning he offers five truly great books:

  • Isaac Bashevis Singer, The Slave
  • Thornton Wilder, The Bridge of San Luis Rey
  • F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby
  • Erich Maria Remarque, Spark of Life
  • Calder Willingham, End as a Man

The rest of the book goes through several categories of books (mostly fiction) from various times and places, describing the work of some important authors and calling out 200 of the books that he feels are particularly good. Eliminating books I have already read, I have extracted my own list of the books that appeal to me. Here they are, with very brief summaries of Flynn’s descriptions.

19 Calder Willingham, The Gates of Hell (1951) “Short stories and non-fiction” — he had a “biting wit”
23 Calder Willingham, End as a Man (1947) The “greatest novel” portraying contemporary American college life
29 E. L. Doctorow, Ragtime (1975) “A great novelist”, this novel “is done wonderfully well”
34 Tom Wolfe, A Man in Full (1998)
36 Norman Mailer, The Naked and the Dead (1948) Mailer’s “one good novel”
46 Dorothy M. Johnson, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance short stories; she has a “spare style”
50 Betty Smith, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1943) “I have never met anyone who did not love reading it.”
63 Martin Luther King, Jr, Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story (1958) the source of the early civil rights movement in the USA
72 Nathaniel West, Miss Lonelyhearts (1933) “the dark side of American life”
73 Nathaniel West, The Day of the Locust (1939) a tragic novel about Hollywood
76 Rebecca Goldstein, The Mind-Body Problem (1983)
84 Thornton Wilder, The Bridge of San Luis Rey (1927) “The prose reads as if Wilder were under a spell cast upon him by the characters”
92 V. S. Naipaul, The Middle Passage (1962) about the West Indies — “a master of English prose”
94 Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities (1859)
106 Richard Llewellyn, How Green Was My Valley (1939) “pure poetry”
117 Bertrand Russell, Unpopular Essays (1950)
124 Erich Maria Remarque, The Black Obelisk (1957) The publisher calls this “the best book of the twentieth century”
127 Erich Maria Remarque, Spark of Life (1952) “so moving that you can hardly bear to turn the pages”
129 Thomas Mann, The Magic Mountain (1924) is Mann’s “masterpiece”
147 Anton Chekhov, The Seagull (1924) a play demonstrating “the Russian soul”
155 Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov (1880)
169 Elena Ferrante, The Days of Abandonment (2002) “You are gripped by a nightmare…”
199 Isaac Bashevis Singer, The Slave (1962) “most days, I think it is the best novel I have ever read”

These are the books I will look for when I need something new to read. I’m not going to set myself any sort of challenge to read them — that seems to be the wrong approach. Some people are more ambitious though:¬†Reading the Torchlight List¬†documents one person’s journey through all 200 books. Sadly, she seems to have stalled after two books. Still, that’s two more than I have managed so far.

I’ll post notes on each book as and when I read them. In the meantime, why not read The Torchlight List yourself, and be inspired to read some great books.

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