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50 Books that are Books - A List by Ben Hechts




Back in the 1920's, celebrated screenwriter Ben Hechts wrote an article called "50 Books that are Books" in a column in The Chicago Daily News. This was in response to a letter from a friend who had requested a list of 50 books as the basis for a compact personal library:

As for the library, I want no more than fifty books. And none of them modern; that is, no novels that are coming off the presses these last ten years. Are there fifty intelligent books in the world?

To create his list, Hechts sat down in front of his typewriter to recall 50 such books from memory: "Ten minutes in front of the bookshelves and there would be five hundred volumes, all demanding recognition".

The following is a list of the 50 books Hechts recommends complete with his descriptions, along with (where applicable) links to where they can be downloaded as free digital editions*.

1. The Idiot by Dostoevsky. A marvelous novel. For years it has remained in my mind as the best book I ever read.
Download digital editions

2. The House of the Dead by Dostoevsky. A marvelous novel. For years it has remained in my mind as the best book I ever read.
Download digital editions

3. At the Sign of the Reine Pedauque, by Anatole France. An epitome of the venom and listlessness which have been celebrated as the irony of M. France.
Download digital editions (French language)

4. The Opinions of Jerome Coinard, by Anatole France
Download digital editions (French)


5. The Genealogy of Morals, by Freiderich Nietzsche. Dynamite. Beware.
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6. Ecce Homo, by Frederick Nietzsche. More dynamite, but diluted with skyrockets.
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7. Zarathustra, by F. Nietzsche. As quaintly written as the Bible.
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8. The Legend of Tyll Eulenspiegel, by De Coster. A historical novel crowded with poetry, pep and pleasure. A book to place alongside...
Download digital editions: Vol. 1 | Vol. 2

9. The Works of Francois Rabelais. A rococo mausoleum, in which the soul of man lies in its happiest incarnation.
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10. The Romance of Leonardo Da Vinci, by Daniel Merjckowski
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11. Natural Philosophy of Love, by Remy de Gourmont, in which Ezra Pound in an epilogue reveals what an ass he is and what boobs contemporary scribblers in the main are, alongside the genius of de Gourmont.
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12. Morbid Fears and Compulsions, by Frink. The best orchestration of the psychanalysis (sic) penumbral I have encountered.
Download digital editions (Archive.org)

13. The Psychology of Insanity- - Hart. A tiny volume which tells all there is to be told about the thing. A blue print of modern thinking.
Download digital editions (Archive.org)

14. Fathers and Sons, by Turgenev. As I remember it there was a character called Bazarov or Barazov in this book. I tried to imitate Bazarov or Barazov for three years.
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15. Masks and Minstrels of New Germany, by Percival Pollard. Pollard used to drink wine at the old Richeleau Hotel on Michigan Avenue.
Download digital editions (Archive.org)

16. Affirmations, by Havelock Ellis. James Huneker looted Havelock Ellis and Havelock Ellis looted de Gourmont.
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17. A Book of Masks, by Remy de Gourmont. Nearly all modern literary criticism derives from 17.
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18. En Route, by J.K Huysmans. His A Rebours is a better book but it is still untranslated. But En Route is good enough. Huysmans poured his passion into a vocabulary. His phrases are the adventure of proud syllables.
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19. The Golden Ass, by Signore Apelius. Which supplied Signor Boccaccio and Signor Cervantes with almost too much material.
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20. The Lives of the Caesars, by Suetonius. Biography that reads like an old-fashioned Fourth of July gone mad.
Download digital editions (volumes 1-14)

21. The Satyricon of Petronius Arbiter. In which the unholy Roman Empire of Nero bows itself into the oblivion celebrated by the platitudinous Mr. Gibbon.
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22. Margaret de Valois, by Alexander Dumas. De Medici, Henri of Navarre, Charles the Ninth, the poisoned page; the poisoned glove- -death! A book for the intellectual's hammock.
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23. The History of Art, by Elie Faure. The song of the ages, the soul of man, the torment, tragedy, the beauty of life- - there was never another work like this written.
Download digital editions (Open Library)

24. The Crowd, by LeBon. An antidote and an explanation.
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25. The Golden Bough, by Frazer. Anthropology. The marvelous, the hideous, the illuminating beginning of his majesty the American citizen.
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26. The French Revolution, by Carlisle. A dyspeptic dramatist. History on a jazz band. I prefer it that way.
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27. M'mselle de Maupin, by Gautier. Its preface anticipates H. L. Mencken. The novel itself is Rabelais played on the violin.
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28. Maggie, by Stephen Crane. Together with 29. George's Mother, by Stephen Crane, constituting the great American novel.
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29. George's Mother by Stephen Crane, constituting the great American novel.
Download digital editions (Archive.org)

30. The Hill of Dreams, by Arthur Machen. To be read for its delicate Satanism.
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31. Winesburg, Ohio, by Sherwood Anderson. The evangel of the American Renaissance.
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32. Travel Pictures, by Heinrich Heine. Lingers like old wine in my memory.
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33. The Picture of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde, who had intelligence enough to steal it from J.K. Huysman's A Rebours.
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34.  Decameron, by Boccaccio, who was the literary adviser of my favorite Spanish Italian, Caesar Borgia.
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35. Prejudices, First Series, by H. L. Mencken, the berserker Americano.
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36. Tono-Bungay, by an H. G. Wells who had not yet ascended the soapbox.
Downoad digital editions

37. The Egoist, by George Meredith. To whom I still bow in passing.
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38.  Celibates, by George Moore. A sneering, vicious volume, lightly done.
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39. Spiritual Adventures, by Arthur Symons, which contains my favorite short story about a piano player called Travelgya or Treveylga or something else.
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40. Sons and Lovers, by D. H. Lawrence. As profound and beautiful a novel as England has ever turned out.
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41. The Genius, by Theodore Dreiser.
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42. Volume 6 of Burton's Arabian Nights, in which Bagdad (sic) dreams again.
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43. The Memoirs, by Ben Cellini.
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44. Salambo, by G. Flaubert. I almost forgot Salambo, beside which Madame Bovary is a stutter in monosyllables and inanities.
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45. The Queen's Quair, by Maurice Hewlett. I read it on a boat and it kept me from seasickness.
Download digital editions (Archive.org)

46. The Mystic Rose by Crawley
Download digital editions (Archive.org)

47. Chicago Poems, by Sandburg.
Download digital editions (Archive.org)

48. The Renaissance by Gobineau
Download digital editions (French, Archive.org)

49. Joan of Arc
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50. Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain (condensed in the original).
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*Unless otherwise noted, links are to download pages on Project Gutenberg.

What do you think of this list? Have you ever considered making a list of our own, relying only on memory? Please feel free to leave your own ideas and comments below.
Amanda Kennedy
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[name=Amanda Kennedy] [img=https://3.bp.blogspot.com/-nW5UR23ytjA/WKxWbZ4PGbI/AAAAAAAALUE/k0NHVKX1ScINTuCLcuUa7pHIvzPz8QFWwCLcB/s100/IMG_0163.JPG] [description=Amanda is a lifelong lover of literature, particularly charming novels and stories with a touch of magic! In addition to her musings on Pretty Books, you can find Amanda's writings on Blogger Buster and Glamumous. She has also edited and produced the Harvard Classics 365 project in addition to other ebooks which you can find on Amazon.] (facebook=http://www.facebook.com/allmyprettybooks) (instagram=https://www.instagram.com/allmyprettybooks/)

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