Robert Goolrick's Top Ten List

Author Photo And Bio

Robert Goolrick (born 1949) is an American novelist and memoirist. He turned to writing in his 50s, after a long, eventful life as a hard-living advertising executive in New York who ended up on welfare and in Alcoholics Anonymous before becoming a bestselling writer. His debut book, the memoir The End of the World as We Know It (2007), recounts his very difficult upbringing with parents destroyed by alcohol. His next book, the novel A Reliable Wife (2009), was an international bestseller about a Wisconsin woman in 1909 who answers a businessman’s ad for a reliable wife. Heading Out to Wonderful (2012) explores the small-minded culture and racism of Virginia in 1948 through an ill-fated love story. His other novels include The Fall of Princes (2015) and The Dying of the Light (2018).

So, how can you leave out Persuasion, one might ask? Or Henderson the Rain King? Or almost anything by John Cheever, or Therese Raquin, possibly the most erotic book ever written? The truth is, there are no ten greatest books. There are only the ten that come to mind when asked the question. The only way to choose is decisively, cruelly, forgetfully. How can you leave out a book like James Salter’s Light Years, a novel the first line of which I still remember verbatim after thirty years? So, for all the elisions and neglect, I apologize to the writers, living and dead, of the actual greatest books ever written, books which number in the hundreds, if not thousands. My list is not your list, and your list is equally valid. My only unassailable pick, the book about which there cannot be a question in my mind, is Marcel Proust, who wrote the novel by which every other novel ever written must be measured.

1. In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust (1913–27). There is really no other novel; this is easily the greatest work of art of the 20th century, in any medium.






2. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy (1877). My favorite novel and a brilliant desrcription of how madness takes on an inevitable logic.







3. This Side of Paradise by F. Scott Fitzgerald (1920).   The most intriguing and heartbreaking love story ever written.







4. Appointment in Samarra by John O’Hara (1934). O’Hara is America’s most compelling and most neglected writer.







5. Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert (1857). Boredom raised to the level in incandescence.







6. The Heart of the Matter by Graham Greene (1948). Despite Ford Madox Ford’s opening line, THIS is the saddest story I’ve ever heard.







7. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (1960). The right thing, said perfectly and, as it turns out, finally.







8. The Once and Future King by T.H. White (1958). The perfect boys’ book.







9. Rabbit Angstrom Rabbit, Run (1960), Rabbit Redux (1971),Rabbit Is Rich (1981), Rabbit at Rest (1990)— by John Updike. He is all of us. Updike’s humanity is almost unbearable.






10. Franny and Zooey by J. D. Salinger (1961). One family as the entire universe.