The Reading Room

Ninety Nine Novels

Ninety Nine Novels by Anthony Burgess..

I recently found Anthony Burgess’s ‘Ninety Nine Novels’ in a local secondhand bookshop and was so intrigued by it I felt moved to feature as many of the books he listed as I could on my social media feeds.

Burgess chose his favourite ninety nine novels written since 1939 and wrote a short synopsis on each. The choice is quite remarkable and a number of authors are chosen twice including Graham Greene, Saul Bellow, Ernest Hemingway and Evelyn Waugh. We all have differing opinions, especially regarding favourite books and some of his choices made me reevaluate my own preferences. Is Greene’s The Power and the Glory and The Heart of the Matter his two finest books? 

As usual my Twitter book friends rose to the challenge and shared their own copies of the books or their own personal preferences by the chosen author. These came from across the globe, from America to Australia, India to Holland, it is so interesting to see variant copies and other book collections.

The book was commissioned by a Nigerian publishing company and took Burgess just two weeks to write it before being published the following year in 1984. Burgess is, unsurprisingly, considered in his reviews but forthright when warranted. He isn’t afraid to veer from the literary path and upset his peers with the inclusion of a James Bond novel which showed honesty and, in anyone else, a degree of courage. But in this, we see the point Burgess is making; a good read should be celebrated thus. He writes: “Guardians of the good name of the novel may be shocked at this inclusion…we must beware of snobbishness” –and whilst I agree with him I would say From Russia with Love is a better novel than Goldfinger!

I have copies of around a quarter of the books featured, some have been on my ‘must buy’ list for a while, some I have now been inspired to get, but not all. What has proved to be particularly gripping is seeing better versions of those I have! Book collecting is a curse, particularly if you, like me, have a weakness for vintage book cover art. Burgess fuelled my book buying list whilst my Twitter friends pushed me in the right direction for particular copies. I love that.

Here’s a few of the books featured in the book and shared on my Twitter feed:

Graham Greene: The Power and the Glory, The Heart of the Matter

Norman Mailer: The Naked and the Dead

Nevil Shute: No HIghway

Saul Bellow: Humboldt’s Gift

James Joyce: Finnegan’s Wake

Ian Fleming: Goldfinger

Len Deighton: Bomber

Philip Roth: Portnoy’s Complaint

Ernest Hemingway: The Old Man and the Sea

Joseph Heller: Catch-22

George Orwell: 1984

Malcolm Bradbury: The History Man



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