Book Report: The Well-Stocked Bookcase by the editors of the Book-of-the-Month Club (1998)

This book updates an earlier edition of the book, wherein the editors of the Book of the Month Club got together to decide what a well-stocked bookcase should include and then included a couple paragraphs of why they think so. The subtitle limits the conceit to 72 Enduring novels by Americans published between 1926 and 1998. The analysis of each book is much shorter than in Vintage Reading, as they more likely reflect the blurbs in the BOMC newsletter than actual news reviews.

So what do they think should be on your bookshelves? (I have italicized those I know I own and have bolded those I have already read.)

Title Author Year
Accidental Tourist Anne Tyler 1985
Alias Grace Margaret Atwood 1996
All the King’s Men Robert Warren 1946
Angle of Repose Wallace Stegner 1971
Appointment in Samarra John O’Hara 1934
The Assistant Bernard Malamud 1957
Bastard Out Of Carolina Dorothy Allison 1992
Because It Is Bitter, And Because It Is My Heart Joyce Carol Oates 1990
The Bell Jar Sylvia Plath 1963
Beloved Toni Morrison 1987
The Bonfire of the Vanities Tom Wolfe 1987
Burr Gore Vidal 1973
Catch-22 Joseph Heller 1961
The Catcher in the Rye J.D. Salinger 1951
Cold Mountain Charles Frazier 1997
The Counterlife Philip Roth 1987
The Day of the Locust Nathaniel West 1939
Death Comes For The Archbishop Willa Cather 1927
Delta Wedding Eudora Welty 1946
Edwin Mulhouse Steven Milhauser 1972
A Fan’s Notes Frederick Exley 1968
A Farewell to Arms Ernest Hemingway 1929
A Flag for Sunrise Robert Stone 1981
From Here to Eternity James Jones 1951
Geek Love Katherine Dunn 1988
Gone with the Wind Margaret Mitchell 1936
The Grapes of Wrath James Steinbeck 1939
Guard of Honor James Gould Cozzens 1948
The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter Carson McCullers 1940
Heaven’s My Destination Thornton Wilder 1935
Invisible Man Ralph Ellison 1952
The Joy Luck Club Amy Tan 1989
The Last Hurrah Edwin O’Connor 1956
The Late George Apley John P. Marquand 1937
Libra Don DeLillo 1988
Lie Down in Darkness William Styron 1952
Light in August William Faulkner 1932
Little Big Man Thomas Berger 1964
Lolita Vladimir Nabakov 1958
The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne Brian Moore 1956
Look Homeward, Angel Thomas Wolfe 1929
The Magic Christian Terry Southern 1960
The Maltese Falcon Dashiell Hammett 1930
The Man with the Golden Arm Nelson Algren 1949
The Mountain Lion Jean Stafford 1947
The Moviegoer Walker Percy 1961
The Naked and the Dead Norman Mailer 1948
Nickel Mountain John Gardner 1973
Other Voices, Other Rooms Truman Capote 1948
The Postman Always Rings Twice James M. Cain 1934
Rabbit, Run John Updike 1960
Ragtime E.L. Doctorow 1975
The Recognitions William Gaddis 1955
Seize the Day Saul Bellow 1956
The Sheltering Sky Paul Bowles 1949
Slaughterhouse Five Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. 1969
Song of Solomon Toni Morrison 1977
The Sound and the Fury William Faulkner 1929
Studs Lonigan James T. Farrell 1932, 1934, 1935
The Sun Also Rises Ernest Hemingway 1926
Tales of the City Armistead Maupin 1978-1989
Tender is the Night F. Scott Fitzgerald 1934
Them Joyce Carol Oates 1969
To Kill A Mockingbird Harper Lee 1960
The Transit of Venus Shirley Hazzard 1980
The Trees/The Fields/The Town Conrad Richter 1940, 1946, 1950
U.S.A. John Dos Passos 1930, 1933, 1936
The Wall John Hersey 1950
The Wapshot Chronicle John Cheever 1957
What Makes Sammy Run? Budd Schulberg 1941
That Which Springeth Green J.F. Powers 1988
The World According to Garp John Irving 1978

Apparently, my bookshelves are not well-stocked. I must find another book fair, stat! Although it would not surprise me if I did not own more of these titles hidden among my to read shelves and forgotten.

The only one on the list I read but do not own is Catch-22, which I read the summer before my freshman year of college when the big Swedish mechanic next door taunted me for not having read much literary literature and planning to be an English major. He recommended it. Thanks, Mark!

The thing about this sort of popularity contest is that the list tends to be stacked toward more recent books. Or, in this case, books recent to a decade ago. You end up with a lot more “Who?” responses the later you get; I think the “classics” portion of this list really stops about 1960, and anything after it is very suspect. I mean, two books by Joyce Carol Oates? Really?

At any rate, it’s a quick read and hopefully has brushed me up a little about contemporary serious literature, but I’m not sure I’m going to remember anything new except that Carson McCullers is the author of The Heart is a Lonely Hunter.

Books mentioned in this review:

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