Tag Archives: Time Magazine 100 Novels

Review of All the Kings Men by Robert Penn Warren

Time Magazine Top 100 Novels

Book 2:All the Kings Men by Robert Penn Warren

This is a series of reflections reading through Time Magazine’s top 100 novels as selected by Lev Grossman and Richard Lacayo published since 1923 (when Time magazine was founded). For me this is an attempt to broaden my exposure to authors I may not encounter otherwise, especially as a person who was not a liberal arts major in college. Time’s list is alphabetical, so I decided to read through in a random order, and I plan to write a short reflection on each novel.

Robert Penn Warren’s story set in the political culture of an unnamed southern state where an idealistic self-taught lawyer transforms into a charismatic political operative who eventually becomes governor and is looking ahead to a run for the senate. Willie Talos,[1] or the boss as his staff call him, quickly becomes a savvy and forceful political operator wielding both his popularity, but also using pressure, knowledge of indiscretions, and occasionally bribery. Yet, the story is told from the perspective of Jack Burden, a former journalist and historian, who becomes a personal assistant to Willie Talos and the story of Willie Talos is the story of Jack Burden and several others who become intwined in this tale of power, desire, relationships, and perceptions. There are aspects of the story that are incredibly relevant even sixty years after its publication. There are times where the plot meanders along as Jack Burden reflects on the path that led him to this point in his life, but ultimately in the end his past and Willie Talos’ present come together in an ending where secrets are revealed and many lives are shattered (and a few are reborn).

Jack Burden’s childhood in Burden’s Landing with his friends Anne and Adam Stanton, his attractive mother and her string of men, his father who walks out on his mother, and Judge Stanton who acts as a second father to Jack all find their way into the story’s progress. Adam and Anne Stanton are the children of a previous governor and Adam, as a popular surgeon, becomes the boss’ choice to run the new hospital he is building for the state. Anne was Jack Burden’s romantic interest growing up and although both she and her brother initially disapprove of the boss, she eventually becomes entangled in an affair with Governor Talos. The Judge appears at the beginning of the story and is a major part of Jack Burden’s narration. Once the Judge endorses another candidate other than the one Governor Talos is backing Jack is instructed to dig into the Judge’s past for any indiscretion. Through his digging into the past, he does discover a time when the Judge took a bribe and when his friend Governor Stanton had covered for him.

Robert Penn Warren does a masterful job of brining all the strings together in the end. The boss becomes manipulated by a political opponent due to his son’s possible impregnation of a young woman and becomes mired in the type of corruption he campaigned against. The investigation of Judge Irwin now becomes important because the judge has influence on the politician attempting to manipulate the boss. When Jack reveals the secret he learned about Judge Irwin, it causes the judge to commit suicide and Jack’s mother in her grief reveals that the Judge was his father. The revelation of the boss’ affair with Anne Stanton by one of the boss’ staff members and former lovers ultimately results in Adam Stanton shooting the boss and taking his own life. The boss also becomes manipulated by a political opponent due to his son’s possible impregnation of a young woman and becomes mired in the type of corruption he campaigned against. Secrets built upon secrets are ultimately revealed and the survivors have to find a new way with the boss, the judge, and the surgeon no longer there to be paragons in their world. Jack Burden eventually makes peace with the reality that each of these men, though not perfect, were good men and he begins to reassemble his life with Anne and the man who raised him as a father.

All the King’s Men is a well told story. There are times where the prose slows the story down or we spend time caught in Jack Burden’s meandering mind, but ultimately it paints a world where power can corrupt, where good men (and women) do occasionally act in unethical ways, where secrets exercise power, and where the sticky world of politics is populated by people struggling for power, influence, and wealth. It is an uncomfortable read at times because it embodies many of the prejudices of the 1930s and 1940s when it is written but it also feels appropriate for its narration of a brash populism that seems to be resurgent in the United States.


[1] Earlier editions named the Governor Willie Stark based on the editor’s recommendation, but Robert Penn Warren wanted his last name to be Talos and that was used throughout the Restored Edition that I read through.

Review of the Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien

Time Magazine Top 100 Novels

Book 53: The Lord of The Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien

This is a series of reflections reading through Time Magazine’s top 100 novels as selected by Lev Grossman and Richard Lacayo published since 1923 (when Time magazine was founded). For me this is an attempt to broaden my exposure to authors I may not encounter otherwise, especially as a person who was not a liberal arts major in college. Time’s list is alphabetical, so I decided to read through in a random order, and I plan to write a short reflection on each novel.

Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings is one of my favorite books. I first read this work as a teenager and I return and read through it every couple of years. I continue to be amazed at the depth of the story and how I continue to be enriched by each reading. Tolkien is a master at developing a complex world complete with complex cultures, languages, and histories which form the backdrop for the incredible journey of Frodo, Sam, Pippin, Merry, Gandalf, Aragorn, Gimli, Legolas, and Boromir. The work is a classical battle between good and evil on an epic stage and throughout the work spins a defiant hope in the midst of incredible odds.

The test of any great book is how it holds up after multiple readings. Even after walking the paths with the characters many times and knowing how the journey unfolds it still remains a phenomenal journey which continues to reveal new aspects each time. The battle scenes at Helms Deep and Minas Tirith are some of the most moving fantasy battle scenes I’ve read both in their reserve in the details of the battle and their stirring defiant language that lets the reader ride with Rohirrim or stand against the darkness or Mordor.

This is a hopeful epic of heroic perseverance with good ultimately triumphing over evil. After reading several nihilistic or fatalistic works on this list that narrate the ending of an age it was enjoyable to revisit this rich story where the protagonists come through the darkness and emerge into the new age they helped form. Even though the main protagonist, Frodo, comes out permanently scarred and unable to enjoy the homecoming at the end of the work he leaves behind a hopeful new beginning for his beloved Shire, a world safe under the reign of Aragorn, and a place where Sam can raise his new family and tell the stories of the fellowship to new generation.

Review of American Pastoral by Philip Roth

Time Magazine Top 100 Novels

Book 3: American Pastoral by Philip Roth

This is a series of reflections reading through Time Magazine’s top 100 novels as selected by Lev Grossman and Richard Lacayo published since 1923 (when Time magazine was founded). For me this is an attempt to broaden my exposure to authors I may not encounter otherwise, especially as a person who was not a liberal arts major in college. Time’s list is alphabetical, so I decided to read through in a random order, and I plan to write a short reflection on each novel.

American Pastoral is a moving novel which follows the destruction of the world of Seymour (Swede) Levov in the aftermath of his daughter’s bombing of the Rimrock post office and general store in protest of the Vietnam War. Swede Levov is the good-looking high school multi-sport star who eventually joins the U.S. Marines at the end of World War II and then returns home, marries Miss New Jersey, takes over the family glove business and builds a successful life. Although the beautiful couple come from different backgrounds (Swede’s family is Jewish while his wife Dawn is Irish Catholic) the manage to construct a seemingly perfect environment to raise their one daughter, Merry. Yet, their daughter rejects everything about their family life and eventually becomes a part of a violent anti-American group which opposes the actions of the United States in Vietnam and the American capitalistic worldview. Merry plants a bomb and disappears leaving behind a wrecked family.

Swede Levov loved his work, his house, his family, and his life. He attempts to encounter life with an ‘expansive blessing of openness and vigor conferred by his hyperoptimism.’ He is a statuesque protagonist whose experience on the sports field, the Marine Corp, and business have shaped him to continually bear the burdens of others. When his daughter’s actions plunge his wife into a deep depression and shakes his community he attempts to maintain a firm foundation for his wife, his parents, his business, and his missing daughter. When he finally encounters his daughter years later and sees the wreckage of her life that he cannot save her from, he also begins to see the places where his own life and values have come undone. He stands powerless as the foundations of the life he so carefully tended are torn asunder to the delight of some of the more nihilistic characters in the book.

This is another book that is well written, and I can see why it is a part of the Time Magazine top 100 list. Many of these books tend towards a nihilistic and fatalistic perspective on society and humanity (also not surprising based on Lev Grossman’s writing) and seem to rail against the hyperoptimism of characters like Swede Levov. I really like the character of Swede and could identify with him in many ways. Even though I knew that the book was a story of the fall of the ‘golden child’ I wanted him to succeed. I may have read this book at some point in the past because some of the scenes were familiar. Philip Roth does a good job of character development even if he sometimes goes off on rambling almost stream of consciousness tangents that can make the work difficult to follow at times.

Review of A Handful of Dust by Evelyn Waugh

Time Magazine Top 100 Novels

Book 40: A Handful of Dust by Evelyn Waugh

This is a series of reflections reading through Time Magazine’s top 100 novels as selected by Lev Grossman and Richard Lacayo published since 1923 (when Time magazine was founded). For me this is an attempt to broaden my exposure to authors I may not encounter otherwise, especially as a person who was not a liberal arts major in college. Time’s list is alphabetical, so I decided to read through in a random order, and I plan to write a short reflection on each novel.

A Handful of Dust takes its title from the ominous words of T.S. Elliot’s The Wasteland, “I will show you fear in a handful of dust.” Evelyn Waugh writes dialogue in a way that is easy to read, and the story’s pace and tone is light as it mocks the collapsing of the world of Tony Dust, and by extension many others who saw their way of life under threat by the changing cultural winds that occurred between the two World Wars in England. Tony Last loves his home, his wife, and his son and is very satisfied with their life on the gothic designed estate of Hetton. It is a world of attending church, watching his son ride horses, participating in social clubs, and managing the affairs of the estate. Yet, after seven years of marriage his wife, Brenda, becomes bored with this life and embarks on a path which brings unravels everything. She decides to begin an affair with a London man of limited ambition and interest named John Beaver. John, who still lives with his mother and has no regular responsibilities, is viewed by many in society as a bore with little prospects but Brenda’s presence invites him into many new places in London society.  Brenda conspires with John’s mother to purchase a flat in London, so that she may stay there for extended periods under the guise of studying economics while she engages in an open affair in London while her husband stays generally supportive of her and unaware in Hetton. Everything unravels when Tony and Brenda’s son is killed in an accident while he is out on a hunt with his father. Brenda asks for a divorce and Tony, humiliated but still the honorable English man attempts to grant her that. When Brenda and her lawyers make increasingly large demands, demands that would require the sale of the Hetton estate, Tony departs on an expedition to the unexplored regions of South America and never returns.

Evelyn Waugh writes well, and I can understand why this book is on the top 100 list. Like Anthony Powell’s A Dance to the Music of Time, this is set in a time period and world that I don’t find greatly appealing and even though both works are dealing with the unraveling of that world they are not things I would seek out to read. With A Handful of Dust, I identified strongly with Tony Last and for personal reasons I really disliked Brenda’s shallow and careless actions which destroyed not only her marriage but the entire world of her husband. In my own story, I have been the husband whose wife embarked on an affair with a person who others looked upon as awkward and boorish. I was the last to know what was going on, and had several people come to me after the revelation and disclose that they had known but were afraid to say anything. Even though I may not have chosen to live in Tony Last’s world, I could empathize with the trauma he must have endured as it quickly is taken away from him and he finds himself in unfamiliar territory still attempting to be the person he once was. All reviews of any work of fiction are subjective, and although the work unearthed some painful memories for me, and it is not a genre or a time period that I find compelling it is well written and I can understand why many people enjoy its mocking of the collapse of this stilted and formal world. These brief reflections are, for me, a way of consolidating my thoughts after engaging with each work.

Reflection on A Death in the Family by James Agee

Time Magazine Top 100 Novels
Book 28: A Death in the Family by James Agee

This is a series of reflections reading through Time Magazine’s top 100 novels as selected by Lev Grossman and Richard Lacayo published since 1923 (when Time magazine was founded). For me this is an attempt to broaden my exposure to authors I may not encounter otherwise, especially as a person who was not a liberal arts major in college. Time’s list is alphabetical, so I decided to read through in a random order, and I plan to write a short reflection on each novel.

A Death in the Family takes place in a couple days in the summer of 1915 mainly in Knoxville, Tennessee and the surrounding areas. Reading the book is a little disjointed since it brings together an unfinished manuscript after the author’s death and there are portions in the Penguin Classic edition, which I used, which are in italics to indicate that they may not be where the author intended in the manuscript. The story is about a family’s ordeal in the couple of days around the father’s sudden death in an accident. The book jumps between perspectives of the wife, the son, the daughter and other members of the family and touches on differences in religious practices and beliefs, the disfunction that can exist in extended families, and the impact and importance of the family as they move through grief.

As a pastor, I walk into this space pretty frequently and the author does a good job in describing many of the dynamics you may encounter. I, along with most of the characters in the book, dislike the priest in his rigid and cold way of approaching people in their grief but I have encountered people in religious roles who do more harm than good. The book speaks to the life in a town from the past and there are certain aspects that are both appealing and off putting about the description of life in Knoxville (particularly from the perspective of Rufus, the son) and some of the expectations of individuals based on gender and place in the family have changed since the 1910s, but much of the experience of sudden and intense grief would be recognizable for any time. Reading about a death in a family may not be an enjoyable experience, but the author does a good job of describing the difficult job of dealing with the aftermath of a world changing loss in the family.

Reflections on the Power and the Glory by Graham Greene


Time Magazine Top 100 Novels
Book 74: The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene

This is a series of reflections reading through Time Magazine’s top 100 novels as selected by Lev Grossman and Richard Lacayo published since 1923 (when Time magazine was founded). For me this is an attempt to broaden my exposure to authors I may not encounter otherwise, especially as a person who was not a liberal arts major in college. Time’s list is alphabetical, so I decided to read through in a random order, and I plan to write a short reflection on each novel.

The Power and the Glory is set an unnamed state where the persecution of the church is similar to the Mexican state of Tabasco in the 1930s. The governor of the state attempting to eliminate the influence of the Roman Catholic Church in his state by either eliminating the priests, closing the churches, eliminating alcohol, and punishing those who aid or hide clerics. The main character is a priest who has been traveling around the province conducting services for the past eight years and is the only non-married and still practicing priest remaining. His antagonist is a police lieutenant who zealously believes in the reforms of the government and spends the book chasing this final priest through the villages and countryside, eventually taking hostages in each village to deny the priest places he can return to.

The priest, who remains unnamed throughout the story, is also dealing with his own broken past where he as a ‘whisky priest’ had numerous sins which he could not confess to anyone: a daughter he had fathered in one of the villages he served, a fondness for alcohol, and his own questions about the church and the pious. Yet, even though the priest does not have a pristine past, he continues to attempt to carry out his ministry and even in the end knowingly walks into a trap to hear the confession of a murder. The lieutenant who has tracked him zealously and has an avid hatred of the church finds he can no longer hate the priest once he is captured and they speak. The book ends on a defiant note with the priest’s death, but in the aftermath another priest appears in town. The church and the priesthood somehow endured.

The land and the crippling poverty that many of the people face become characters in the book. The descriptions of the land with its heat, mosquitos, and beetles and the poverty of most of the villagers in the book make the environment appear almost hellish. The loss of the church has not alleviated the suffering of the people and in the minds of many of the characters it has made things worse. The church is not depicted as perfect nor and the priest has some of his harshest thoughts for the pious of the church. Yet, many people desire the services of the priest even in the midst of the danger until they begin taking and executing hostages from the villages to attempt to capture the priest.

The environment of the book and the slow pace of the priest’s movement from town to town gives the story a bit of an arid feel. It is hard to love the land as it is described, but it does evoke compassion for the people who live in this harsh place. The lieutenant is not an evil man, nor is the priest a saint and I found myself wishing both characters could find themselves in a different story.

Reflections on The Day of the Locust by Nathanael West

Time Magazine Top 100 Novels

Book 26: Nathanael West, The Day of the Locust (1939)

This is a series of reflections reading through Time Magazine’s top 100 novels as selected by Lev Grossman and Richard Lacayo published since 1923 (when Time magazine was founded). For me this is an attempt to broaden my exposure to authors I may not encounter otherwise, especially as a person who was not a liberal arts major in college. Time’s list is alphabetical, so I decided to read through in a random order, and I plan to write a short reflection on each novel.

The Day of the Locust is a book that mocks the perfidious nature of Los Angeles in the 1930s. There is something in the tone of this book that reminds me of the writing of Flannery O’Connor: the ugliness of the characters and the desire to illustrate the worst characterization of reality. I can see why people enjoy this work, but it is not something I would choose to read. There is something almost postmodern in the work’s desire to choose the absurd as a focus of art, the medium is used to mock the message. Perhaps it is appropriate that throughout the book the primary narrator is working on a painting called “The Burning of Los Angeles.”

Tod, the primary character in the book, spends much of the book lusting over his neighbor Faye, but his primary desire throughout the book is to rape her, not to cultivate a relationship with her. Tod, like the author apparently, is bent on exposing her as a representative of all that is fake in Hollywood, along with her multiple relationships and some of the absurd situations. The orientation of Tod towards Faye, which continues throughout the book, was a major deterrent from being able to enjoy the work. Each character is a crude stereotype of various groups, and while this may be faithful to the way people in the 1930s viewed other groups, and perhaps it is to shine a light on this part of society, to read this book for me was to enter into characters that I couldn’t find anything redemptive in a slow-moving plot full of absurdity. It is a story of people caught in their ideas of themselves and never finding anything real, but the book itself seemed very contrived and fake to me. Others have found this work very powerful and delightful, so please make your own decisions, these brief reflections are merely a collection of my thoughts on each work.

Reflection on C. S. Lewis’ the Chronicles of Narnia (1950-1956)

Time Magazine Top 100 Novels

Book 50: C. S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (1950)

This is a series of reflections reading through Time Magazine’s top 100 novels as selected by Lev Grossman and Richard Lacayo published since 1923 (when Time magazine was founded). For me this is an attempt to broaden my exposure to authors I may not encounter otherwise, especially as a person who was not a liberal arts major in college. Time’s list is alphabetical, so I decided to read through in a random order, and I plan to write a short reflection on each novel.

If you have read Lev Grossman’s the Magicians, it should clear of the influence of the Chronicles of Narnia on his writing since Narnia is slightly modified to become Fillory in his trilogy. I first read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe as a child and have read it multiple times both as a child and as an adult. Although it is a children’s story and can be read, on one level, as a simple fairy tale where four children find themselves in a magical world that they enter through a wardrobe, it also has moments of real profundity.

Since I own the Chronicles of Narnia I plan to add a brief reflection on each volume as I complete it:

The Magician’s Nephew:

Although it may be the sixth book written in the series, it is the beginning of the Narnia narrative. This is a creation story for Narnia and explains the origins of several features of the world and the entrance of the witch into Narnia. I listened to the audio version with Kenneth Branagh which is very well done. This is a well-done prequel to the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

This story of a magical world and a conflict between good and evil also in a fable like manner touches in an allegorical way (whether C. S. Lewis intended or not) on many themes of Christianity, which C.S. Lewis also writes about explicitly in many of his other works. Even after many reads it is still an enjoyable story with many great images which I have been able to pull from at various times.

The Horse and His Boy

This story expands the world beyond Narnia by introducing the kingdom of Calormen. The Calormen are obviously based on Middle Eastern stereotypes, but setting aside the derogatory view of other cultures which are characteristic of Lewis’ time, the basic story of a talking horse from Narnia and a boy who are quickly joined by another talking horse and noble born young woman in their flight to freedom in Narnia. A simple but enjoyable story if you can set aside the stereotypes.

Prince Caspian

The fourth novel in the timeline of Narnia (2nd written) occurs in a time well after the time of the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe where Narnia is now ruled by the Telmarines, a group that invaded Narnia and has tried to eliminate the stories of Narnia. Prince Caspian, nephew of the current king, summons Peter, Susan, Edmond and Lucy back to Narnia as he struggles with the ‘old Narnians’ to end the Telmarine rule. This also is a simple but enjoyable short story where good triumphs in the end.

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

Fifth novel in the timeline of Narnia which occurs a couple years later in King Caspian’s reign where he sets out on a voyage to find seven friends of his father that were sent east as a punishment during the time preceding Prince Caspian. Edmond, Lucy and their relative Eustace are brought into Narnia for the voyage. I found some parts of the story directed towards younger children (like the Monopods) but overall an enjoyable voyage.

The Silver Chair

The penultimate novel in the timeline of Narnia now has Eustace and a girl from his school, Jill Pole arrive in Narnia once King Caspian is an old man. This was my least favorite of the chronicles so far, partially because neither Eustace or Jill are particularly likeable characters for much of the book. There is also an element where C.S. Lewis’ criticism of the secular direction of schooling and culture becomes very pointed in this work in an almost petulant manner. There are elements in the story where the dialogue involves C.S. Lewis’ characters knocking down ‘straw-man’ arguments. There are some very imaginative features of this walk through Narnia and the Under world but the story didn’t seem as imaginative or mythical as the other volumes.

The Final Battle

It starts out a little slow, but this is a fitting end to the series. The deception of the people of Narnia by an ape and an unwitting donkey dressed up as Aslan sets the stage for a final scene where characters from all the books are reunited in a final ending of the world of Narnia and the stories.

Reflection on Judy Blume, Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret (1970)

Time Magazine Top 100 Novels
Book 7: Judy Blume, Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret (1970)

This is a series of reflections reading through Time Magazine’s top 100 novels as selected by Lev Grossman and Richard Lacayo published since 1923 (when Time magazine was founded). For me this is an attempt to broaden my exposure to authors I may not encounter otherwise, especially as a person who was not a liberal arts major in college. Time’s list is alphabetical, so I decided to read through in a random order, and I plan to write a short reflection on each novel.

I had read several of Judy Blume’s books as a child and read several of her books, particularly the Fudge Books and Pickle Juice to my own children when they were younger. I had never read Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret prior to this, but I remember seeing it as assigned reading for some of the gifted and talented classes when I was in middle school. I knew it was a coming of age story of a young girl but was surprised that a story for a younger audience was on the list.

It is a very quick read and Judy Blume does a great job introducing you to the world of a preteen girl named Margaret, the social network of girls and schools she is transplanted into, a complex family narrative which is revealed as the book progresses, and the struggle for identity in the midst of competing forces. For its simplicity there are some deep themes that underlie Margaret’s story, particularly in attempting to define who she is in relation to her friends and classmates and in religion. Margaret’s parents move her immediately before sixth grade from New York City to Farbrook, New Jersey. Her father continues to commute into the city to work while her mother stays home, which is reflective of the society of the late 1960s, early 1970s white suburbia where the story takes place. Margaret is quickly brought into a circle of girls who become important in her quest for belonging in this new environment but who also set boundaries around who is acceptable to be friends with and who is not. Margaret never fully ‘fits in’ with this group of girls and one of the differences is that she does not belong to either a church or synagogue due to friction in her family between her parents and her grandparents. Margaret’s father, who grew up Jewish, and Margaret’s mother, who grew up Christian want her to choose a religion for herself when she grows up, but this is a source of struggle for Margaret as she seeks exposure to both worlds. As the story continues it reveals both the continuing wound that both parents have with Margaret’s grandparents and the way this continues to impact their relationship with their children, their spouses, and their grandchild.

I enjoyed the book, it is designed for younger readers but it also addresses some important questions of identity, of discerning what is true and navigating peer relationships, attempting to find a place for one’s relationship with God amid different religious options and pressure from family and friends. It is a coming of age book for girls and so questions of body image and early curiosity about sexuality are present and form the background of issues of jealousy and exclusion.