The coffin fell apart.
There was the sound of decayed wood crumbling, and a cloud of smoke surged out, like water vapour from a hot steamer.

Yan Lianke / Carlos Rojas

The Guardian's 1000 novels everyone must read: the definitive list

By Lucas Klein, published

UK's The Guardian is out with a set of "1000 novels everyone must read: the definitive list"--and this is definitive, people, so if you haven't read a thousand novels in your lifetime, or not these particular thousand novels, then really there's no accounting for you.

The Guardian doesn't let on what's going to happen if you don't read these novels, but let's just say I don't want to be around to find out (fortunately, the list isn't titled "must read before you die," as some are, so that should buy us all a bit more time).

Anyway, as you may recall, I raised a stink about Flavorwire's "50 Works of Fiction in Translation That Every English Speaker Should Read" not including a single work in Chinese. Fortunately, Chinese fiction fares better when it comes to the top thousand in any language: two whole novels! That's 0.2% of the best long fiction written in the history of the world! Chinese fiction isn't in such bad shape, after all!

Also, given recent controversies, it's good to note that the Nobel doesn't mean that much. I mean, The Guardian demands we read three novels by William Faulkner, three novels by Toni Morrison, two by Gabriel García Márquez, and one by Nadine Gordimer, but none by Gao Xingjian or Mo Yan.

Still, it's too bad. Just think, if Chinese novelists had worked just a little harder, they could have had as much representation as Stephen King.

At least Pearl Buck didn't make the list, either. I can't wait to see what they come up with for their definitive list of poems everyone must read.


# 1.   

I'm too lazy to read the whole list, much less the books. Lucas, 别卖关子: which two Chinese novels?

Anyways, any list including Zazie dans le métro can't be all bad!

Bruce, January 1, 2014, 4:10a.m.

# 2.   

Would you believe Shanghai Baby and Last Quarter of the Moon, Bruce?

No, actually, it's Monkey by Wu Ch'eng-en and Richshaw Boy by Lao She (romanization as posted). No translators mentioned of course, but given the titles (I'm assuming they mean Rickshaw), it's Arthur Waley and Howard Goldblatt, respectively.

There may be others. If you find any, post them here!


Lucas Klein, January 1, 2014, 8:29a.m.

# 3.   

Does anyone own up to having compiled this list? It's a peculiar selection to say the least (I mean, five Agatha Christies, come on!!) and crassly anglo-centric. To have a section on 'family' and not to include Story of the Stone?! I didn't see any others, but I'd like to flag up two personal favourites that do appear: Timothy Mo, Sour Sweet (written in English, about the Cantonese community in 1960s Britain) and The Sorrow of War by Bao Ninh, about the Vietnam War.

 Nicky Harman, January 1, 2014, 12p.m.

# 4.   

No, no one owns up to compiling this list, as far as I can tell. They do solicit comments, though: "Feel we've left off a crucial book? Email to us with your nomination and an explanation in no more than 150 words at"

Lucas Klein, January 1, 2014, 9:01p.m.

# 5.   

The list was published five years ago!

David D, January 2, 2014, 6:07p.m.

# 6.   

Five years ago? I thought the book choices seemed a little outdated...

Lucas Klein, January 2, 2014, 8:07p.m.

# 7.   

Richshaw Boy is a lesser-known work in which a young man, arriving in Republican-era Pei-p'ing with nothing but a smile on his face and a song in his heart, proceeds to pull himself up by his ricksha and his boostraps, building a small fortune through a combination of gumption, moxie, hard work, sly dealings, and judicious back-stabbing and bribery. In a controversial 1954 revision of Richshaw Boy for Foreign Languages Press, Lao She gave the book a more positive ending by having the protagonist shot in the head.

Brendan O'Kane, January 3, 2014, 3:52p.m.

# 8.   

Best humorous paragraph I have read all year! A little gem. Lin Yutang is smiling in heaven (Lao She, maybe). Thanks, Brendan O'Kane.

Kristin Stapleton, January 11, 2014, 11:32a.m.


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