Great Writers Show Their Appreciation

We launched Top Ten Books because we had to know: Which books do our favorite authors deem the best ever written? When they gave us the answer we wanted more: Why do these particular titles mean so much to them? So we asked some of ‘em to write a short appreciation of one of their picks. A.L. Kennedy, Stephen King, Margot Livesey, Lydia Millet and Tom Wolfe are among the writers who expressed their admiration for works that range from uber-classics such as The Bible to obscure gems including "Red the Fiend" by Gilbert Sorrentino. The result is a wealth of titles with personalized recommendations from leading writers. Over the next few months we will be highlighting these appreciations so that we readers can better understand why these works matter to those whose books matter so much to us.

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Kathryn Harrison on Kobo Abe

Kobo Abe (1924-1973) was a giant of post-war Japanese literature, whose novels and plays captured the alienation and loss of identity his society wrestled with after their defeat. Abe’s personal history sensitized him to these dynamics. While he was young, his father took the family to Manchuria, in northern China, where he practiced medicine. Japan soon invaded and then brutally occupied the province, developing Abe’s lifelong ambivalence with his nation.

After the war, he explored the profound sense of confusion and loss in Japan’s growing urban centers through deeply imagined absurdist works that are often described as Kafakaesque. His major works include:

William Boyd

Top Ten Land welcomes William Boyd while the Scottish writer is firing on all cylinders. His 16th novel, Trio, is receiving glowing reviews for its tale of three people leading secret lives – a movie producer, a novelist and an actress – who are making a disaster-plagued British film in 1968, a year when Britain was still swingin' as the world was coming apart.

Iain Pears

Iain Pears – whose appreciation of Georges Simenon’s Maigret novels appears at right - is an English novelist who often draws on his expertise as an art historian to craft literary mysteries. His first novel, The Raphael Affair (1991), introduced Jonathan Argyll, a detective art historian who works with the Italian Art Squad. The six other novels in the series include The Titian Committee (1992), The Bernini Bust (1993) and The Immaculate Deception (2000).

David Leavitt

“Would you be willing to ask Siri how to assassinate Trump?”

That’s the opening question in David Leavitt’s daring new comedy of manners, Shelter in Place, which revolves around a group of New Yorkers who have gathered in a stately Connecticut home just four days after the 2016 election.

That question itself is not what it seems – rather than an invitation to murder (Siri can’t do that, yet) it is a test of the group’s moral compass and its willingness to speak freely – and neither is the novel.

John Banville

John Banville’s new novel, Snow, begins with this magnificent grabber: “‘I’m a priest, for Christ’s sake – how can this be happening to me?’”

We learn straight away what happened to him on a snowy Irish night in 1957 – a mutilative murder most foul.

The urgent question, of course, is whodunit? Banville moves toward the answer in a suspenseful, beautifully written story that invokes many of the classic elements of Agatha Christie-era mysteries.

Ian Rankin

Edinburgh’s mandatory retirement age for police forced Inspector John Rebus to retire in 2007, as Ian Rankin detailed in Exit Music. That was six books ago. A Song for the Dark Times, the 23rd installment of the internationally acclaimed Rebus series, finds the cantankerous crime stopper with a bum heart and lungs, a broken down Saab and two mysteries to solve.

Sue Miller

Bestselling author and Top Ten contributor Sue Miller is receiving glowing reviews for her latest novel, Monogamy. It’s no surprise since this story showcases what Miller does so exquisitely: provide a richly detailed, poignant and surprising portrait of the contemporary family, through an engrossing story.