Finally Reading "Quixote"

By J. Peder Zane

Don Quixote has been challenging my honor for decades.

“You want the world to think you are well-read, a true Señor of letters,” he admonished each time I looked up at him on the shelf. “You may even believe it yourself. Yet here I sit, my spine miraculously strong and stiff; a joke you would appreciate if you knew me.”

Once I reminded him that I had read the first 75 of his 940 pages – which is actually two books for goodness sake. Big mistake: “Then you, sir, are both a fraud and a quitter.” As he spat those words, I heard his fellow guilt trippers, Andrew Bolkonski and Dorthea Brooke, snickering.  Read more

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Laila Lalami

In The Souls of Black Folk, W.E.B. DuBois introduced the idea of “double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one's self through the eyes of others, of measuring one's soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity.” DuBois applied this sense of “two-ness” in 1903 to black people, who he says were both “an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.” But Top Ten contributor Laila Lalami reminds us in her new book of essays, Conditional Citizens, that double-consciousness is experienced by many people in this land of immigrants who believe they are seen as outsiders.

Lydia Millet

Congratulations to Top Ten contributor Lydia Millet whose latest novel, A Children’s Bible, has been named a finalist for the National Book Award for Fiction.

The novel, her 13th book of fiction, follows a group of twelve eerily mature children on a forced vacation with their families at a sprawling lakeside mansion. Contemptuous of their parents, who pass their days in a stupor of liquor, drugs, and sex, the children feel neglected and suffocated at the same time. When a destructive storm descends on the summer estate, the group's ringleaders—including Eve, who narrates the story—decide to run away, leading the younger ones on a dangerous foray into the apocalyptic chaos outside in a landscape ravaged by environmental degradation.

Carl Hiaasen

Squeeze Me is the latest hilarious and enthralling carnival-ride of a novel by the American journalist, novelist and Top Ten contributor Carl Hiaasen. It begins when a seventy-two year old Palm Beach socialite, Kiki Pew, suddenly goes missing at a charity gala. When Kiki’s dead body is finally discovered, her neighbor down the street - who just happens to be President of the United States - tries to turn her murder into a political issue by claiming she was killed by immigrants.

Edmund White

It often feels like Christmas morning in Top Ten Land as the electronic mail carrier delivers sugar plum gifts. The latest delectation was a message from Edmund White conveying his list of the greatest books of all-time.

A confession: we didn’t open it right away. We are not children who must ransack every gift. Instead, we admired the package, savoring the delicious anticipation of imagining what lay within.

Wallace & Calvino

When we initially surveyed 125 writers for their picks of the Top Ten books of all-time, we were pretty certain we wouldn’t get the same list of all-timers from everyone. Still, we were surprised at the diversity: the original crew filled their 1,250 slots with 544 separate titles; 353 books were selected by one author and no one else.

Margot Livesey

Top Ten contributor Margot Livesey is receiving warm reviews for her ninth novel, The Boy in the Field. The novel opens on a September afternoon in 1999 when three teenage siblings, Matthew, Zoe, and Duncan Lang discover a boy lying in a field, bloody and unconscious. Thanks to their intervention, the boy’s life is saved.

As Laura Bufferd observes in BookPage, “From her earliest work, Livesey has displayed an interest in how individuals cope with the physical and psychic space left by missing family members.”

Peter Cameron

Peter Cameron’s transporting novel, Andorra (1997), was one of the first works I responded to as a book critic. I was struck by his gift for creating a reality that’s slightly askew - the landlocked Andorra is depicted here as a seaside locale - and yet which also serves as a mirror for the one we inhabit. I also loved how his tale of a stranger who comes to a strange land evoked one of my classic favorites, Mysteries by Knut Hamsun.

Daniel Wallace

“Serious literature” is often a downer, as authors confront the challenges, disappointments and limitations of life through a sad and tragic lens.

Our newest Top Ten contributor, Daniel Wallace, writes about serious things—love and loss, remorse and missed opportunities—but with a big-hearted, often whimsical perspective that adds rich layers and emotional complexity to his tales.

Sue Miller

We have a story idea for our newest Top Ten contributor, Sue Miller: Imagine a forty-something writer who, after years devoted to rearing a family, finishes her first book and wakes up one morning to find this review in the New York Times:

“Every once in a while, a first novelist rockets into the literary atmosphere with a novel so accomplished that it shatters the common assumption that for a writer to have mastery, he or she must serve a long, auspicious apprenticeship. The novel arrives, all its parts gleaming, ticking, and we are filled with awe. However did the novice learn to build this thing? We marvel. But the question is beside the point, which is that the thing exists, has form, energy and power.”