November 8

Debut Novels

The late (and much lamented) critic D.G Meyers once composed a list of the best 25 debut novels. It is interesting to note how many famous writers began their careers with a bang — and never got any better. As I peruse the list, I would say that the world would have lost little if the great majority of these authors had never come up with a second book. 

 1. Samuel Richardson, Pamela (1740)
  2. Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre (1847)
  3. Kingsley Amis, Lucky Jim (1954)
  4. Joseph Heller, Catch-22 (1961)
  5. Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man (1952)
  6. William Golding, Lord of the Flies (1954)
  7. Charles Dickens, The Pickwick Papers (1836–37)
  8. J. D. Salinger, Catcher in the Rye (1951)
  9. Margaret Mitchell, Gone With the Wind (1936)
10. Thomas Wolfe, Look Homeward, Angel (1929)
11. Theodore Dreiser, Sister Carrie (1900)
12. Walker Percy, The Moviegoer (1961)
13. Ken Kesey, One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1962)
14. Thomas Pynchon, V. (1963)
15. Philip Roth, Goodbye, Columbus (1959)
16. John O’Hara, Appointment in Samarra (1934)
17. Marilynne Robinson, Housekeeping (1980)
18. Carson McCullers, The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter (1940)
19. Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird (1960)
20. Flannery O’Connor, Wise Blood (1952)
21. John Kennedy Toole, A Confederacy of Dunces (1980)
22. Raymond Chandler, The Big Sleep (1939)
23. Henry Roth, Call It Sleep (1934)
24. Michael Chabon, The Mysteries of Pittsburgh (1988)
25. (tie) Erica Jong, Fear of Flying (1973)
       (tie) Donna Tartt, The Secret History (1982)

3 thoughts on “November 8”

  1. I’m delighted that we have more of Richardson, Dickens, Chandler, Chabon and Amis … interesting that so many of them are One Book Wonders.

  2. And speaking of One Book Wonders, did you ever read John Kennedy O’Toole’s “A Confederacy of Dunces”? Back in the 1980s when it first came out I thought it was a parody of a bad book but then I was told it was a heartbreaking work of staggering genius. There is an interesting story about how his mother finally found a publisher for it.

    1. I think the story behind Dunces is much better than the book itself. I know people who think it’s screamingly funny, but I never even cracked a smile.

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