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Tom LeClair

I was Lincoln’s Billy. Billy club when Lincoln refused to knock heads in Springfield. Billy goat when he needed a battering ram to reach Washington. Billy boy when he required a charming Billy to scare up money for his campaigns.

 

So begins Tom LeClair’s absorbing new novel, Lincoln’s Billy, the ersatz memoir of the martyred president’s long-time law partner in Springfield, Mass., William Herndon. ... read more ...

The Book: The Top Ten

Knut Hamsun: Risking a literary friendship

To mark the publication of J. Peder Zane's new book, "Off the Books: On Literature and Culture," we'll be posting an essay from it each day.  

By J. Peder Zane

When it comes to books, my only question is: What's next?

So much spine-tingling greatness, so little time. So many gaps—"The Man Without Qualities," "The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire," "Eloise." So much guilt.

Despite the onward march, old books are like old friends. Those we encounter in youth stand out more than the rest, crystallized by feeling memory. I met Knut Hamsun (1859-1952) in college. After devouring "Hunger," I quickly moved to his other psychological masterpieces, "Mysteries" and "Pan," then "Growth of the Soil," "Victoria," "Rosa," "Under the Autumn Stars" and "Dreamers." Rationally, I knew many other writers were at least the Norwegian's equal. But Hamsun became my spirited answer to: "Who's your favorite writer?" Each new girlfriend received a crisp copy, followed by a measuring discussion.

I valued him so, made him mine, because he didn't seem to belong to anyone else. "Knut who?" others would say—to my delight—of the man who had won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1920. Elitism, snobbery, call it what you will, but my love of Hamsun told me something about myself at that young age that was forcefully affirming. Read more ...

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Tom LeClair

I was Lincoln’s Billy. Billy club when Lincoln refused to knock heads in Springfield. Billy goat when he needed a battering ram to reach Washington. Billy boy when he required a charming Billy to scare up money for his campaigns.

 

Kate Atkinson

This week’s New York Times Book Review offers a Top Ten two-fer as Tom Perrotta reviews Kate Akinson’s new novel, A God in Ruins. (Although our contributors gather often for spirits at the Top Ten Country Club and share days at sea on the Top Ten Yacht (the S.S. Doorstopper), Kate and Tom have never done so together, so there is no conflict of interest.)

Heidi Julavits

Heidi Julavits has received the first major review for her diary/essay collection and it’s a rave. 

Heidi Julavits

Heidi Julavits has received the first major review for her diary/essay collection and it’s a rave. 

Jonathan Lethem

“Jonathan Lethem’s extraordinary career is a reminder of the not-so-distant past when working novelists published their new creations regularly and with a seemingly free-flowing hand,” Michael Greenberg writes in the New York Times Book Review. “If one book wasn’t up to snuff, there would be another to redeem it a year or two later. It was all part of the ebb and flow of a lifetime of work.

 

Joyce Carol Oates

“During her long and distinguished career, Joyce Carol Oates never has shied away from the controversy that can come with using celebrities and tabloid news stories as the inspiration for her fiction,” Jon Michaud observes in the Washington Post.

Peter Carey

Peter Carey is receiving astoundingly mixed reviews for new novel, Amnesia. Where some reviewers see genius, others eye a tedious mix. It’s enough to make you suspect that critics are not infallible!

 

Stewart O'Nan

Stewart O’Nan’s fifteenth novel, West of Sunset, is the latest in a line of works in which great writers essay the life of other great writers – one of my favorites is Frederick Busch’s 1999 novel featuring Herman Melville, The Night Inspector.

 

Pages

New List

Reynolds Price

1. Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert (1857).
2. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens (1860–61).
3. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy (1877).
4. Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy (1891).
5. The Golden Bowl by Henry James (1904).
6. A Passage to India by E. M. Forster (1924).
7. The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway (1926).
8. To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf (1927).
9. Doctor Faustus by Thomas Mann (1947).
10. The Book of Ebenezer Le Page by G. B. Edwards (1981).

Classic List

Norman Mailer

1. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy (1877).
2. Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert (1857).
3. Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky (1866).
4. The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky (1880).
5. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (1813).
6. The U.S.A. trilogy by John Dos Passos (1938).
7. Moby-Dick by Herman Melville (1851).
8. The Red and the Black by Stendhal (1830).
9. Buddenbrooks by Thomas Mann (1900).
10. Labyrinths by Jorge Luis Borges (1964).

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