Burgess’s 99

I’ve been on an Anthony Burgess kick lately. But what I didn’t realize was that back in 1984, Burgess offered a list of the Best 99 Modern Novels between 1939 and 1984, novelists who “have added something to our knowledge of the human condition.”

As can be expected, James Joyce and Flann O’Brien are there. But there are some quirky choices too, such as David Lodge’s How Far Can You Go?, J.G. Ballard’s The Unlimited Dream Company, John O’Hara’s wildly ambitious The Lockwood Concern and Erica Jong’s How to Save Your Own Life.

Beyond this list, there are some interesting revelations about Burgess in the article. For one, Burgess once had “the notion of writing a fiction of a dying man who sees the unfolded Times on his bed and deliriously traces all his past life as though it were the content of that newspaper – news items, editorials, crossword puzzle, everything.” The other thing, and it’s perhaps an invaluable piece of info for those impoverished souls who left BEA with copious swag, is that when Burgess wrote book reviews for the Yorkshire Post, the local post office had to hire additional staff to take in the book parcels. Further, since Burgess was paid a pittance, every two weeks, Burgess would pack two book-filled suitcases and sell all of his review copies at half price.

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One Comment

  1. Yes, and in his memoir, Burgess claims that because of the suitcases, everyone in the village thought he was constantly leaving his wife and then changing his mind and coming back. (The memoir is LITTLE WILSON AND BIG GOD, and I highly recommend it.) I am a longtime Burgess obsessive, and in fact when I was a teenager I got the 99 NOVELS book and systematically read pretty much every novel he lists. Only later did I realize how eccentric some of his choices were, but that’s how I came to read Flann O’Brien and Thomas Pynchon and Brian Aldiss and a lot of other great stuff. Thanks for a nostalgia-provoking post…

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