Craig Nova's Top Ten List

Our newest list comes from Craig Nova. Craig has received an Award in Literature from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters and is a recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship. He teaches at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro, where notable alums like Nido Qubein (president of High Point University) have attended.


Jonathan Yardley remarked: “Craig Nova is a fine writer, one of our best. If you haven’t read him, the loss is yours.”


David Bowman of Salon concurred: “He’s a novelist who has yet to write a supermarket bestseller…but he has written at least two American classics that will likely resonate after his death, the way the poor-selling Great Gatsby did for poor ol’ F. Scott Fitzgerald.”


Funnily enough, Fitzgerald tops Craig’s list, which adds two new books to the Top Ten universe, Jazz by Toni Morrison and The Plague by Albert Camus.

Craig Nova’s Top Ten List:

1. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (1925).

2. The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford (1915).

3. Parade’s End by Ford Madox Ford (1928).

4. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez (1967).

5. The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky (1880).

6. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy (1869).

7. Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather (1927).

8. Jazz by Toni Morrison (1992).

9. The Plague by Albert Camus (1947).

10. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens (1860–61).


Who is Craig Nova? Craig is the award-winning author of twelve novels and one autobiography. His next novel, All the Dead Yale Men, the sequel to The Good Son, will be published later this year. Nova's writing has appeared in Esquire, The Paris Review, The New York Times Magazine, and Men’s Journal, among others. He has received an Award in Literature from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters and is a recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship. He teaches at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro.


Craig’s website includes a terrific biography, excerpted below.


Nova’s life has been a plethora of experience, almost like something straight out of Hollywood — where Nova, coincidence or not, was raised. From rebellious and alienated youth in the Hollywood Hills to graduation from University of California at Berkeley during the turbulent 1960s; from starving artist years in New York City to a placid and content writing life in more rustic parts, Nova’s rich experience has made him “an artist in full command,” as Yardley says.


Raised during the Golden Age of Hollywood, Nova was unfazed by the star-studded environment of his childhood. “Like all kids, I thought that my immediate surroundings were perfectly natural and that the whole world was just like Hollywood,” says Nova. “In fact, I think my entire life has been spent correcting this misperception, or at least realizing that there is a difference between the way things appear and the way they really are.


“I remember playing with Jayne Mansfield’s daughter when I was about eight, and racing Steve McQueen on Mulholland when I was 16,” recounts Nova. As a teenager, he attended the famed and celebrity saturated Hollywood High. There he, with most of the Mouseketeers as classmates, lived out his share of youthful rebellion.


Nova made up for those minor transgressions by being a diligent student at the University of California at Berkeley, from which he graduated just weeks before the Summer of Love. “When I was there, someone in the state senate stood up and said, ‘A course at Berkeley is a course in sex, drugs, and treason.’ I have to say he was damn right.”


After graduation, Nova moved to New York City and attended Columbia University, where his writing ambitions flourished. There at Columbia, he met Jean Stafford, a profound influence who introduced him to “the writing life.” Upon publishing his first book, Turkey Hash in 1975, Nova won the Harper Saxton prize, putting him in the ranks of such esteemed writers as Sylvia Plath and James Baldwin. “I assumed that when it was published, it would change my life,” he says, “Of course, not a lot happened. I ended up driving a taxicab in New York.”


The years between Nova’s first and third novel found him struggling, not only to write, but also to survive. He worked a variety of odd jobs constantly balancing attempts to support himself with his writing endeavors. In addition to driving a cab, his diverse experiences included carpentering in SoHo and managing a small real estate empire. “There were some very hard times here, going hungry, ending up on the street, broke,” Nova recollects. “I find it hard to remember the will it took to go on writing under those circumstances.”


During Nova’s early years in New York City, he met his wife Christina at a party. Describing their first encounter in his memoir Brook Trout and the Writing Life, Nova writes, “Like all chance meetings that turn out differently than one supposes, I almost did not go to this party.” To get away from the city, he and Christina would venture up to her small house in the country on weekends with increasing frequency. Christina gave him his first fly rod, with which he caught a brook trout during one of their escapades to the house. The brook trout, then merely a fish, would go on to reappear throughout Nova’s life, serving as a powerful link between intimate events and, eventually, giving the title to his memoir. Of his and Christina’s decision to wed, he writes, “We planned to get married, and then we did.”


Nova’s fourth book, The Good Son, received a substantial advance from the publisher and met almost universal critical acclaim. When the young couple decided to leave New York City for a more serene life in the country, Christina quit her job at CBS, where she had been working in television news. “I managed the land as a tree farm, and I have to say this was one of the most happy times in my life,” Nova recalls. “I’d write in the morning and then work in the woods in the afternoons. And when I saw something in the woods, bears, deer, rugged grouse, foxes, they found a way into the book I was writing.”


After having two daughters, Craig and Christina moved to Vermont, where their kids went to school and he went on to write another five or six novels. “This was a lovely time, too, in that I would write in the morning and afternoon, and then cook for the children and Christina. Idyllic, in a way, but the difficulty of course is the nature of the writing life,” Nova says. “You are either on your way up or on your way down and this endlessly changing prospect made for a continual uneasiness.” 

During this time, Nova worked on magazine assignments to fulfill his dreams of going to places he’d wanted to see and picked up plenty of inspiration along the way: “I went to the equatorial Pacific, went fly fishing in Austria and on the San Juan River, flew with bush pilots…all of which came in handy in the writing of novels.” He wrote screenplays for Touchstone Pictures and Behavior, a Canadian company.


“When my children went away to college, I realized that I had some extra time on my hands,” says Nova. “I thought it would be a good idea to share some of what I had learned after those years alone in a room.” In 2005 he was offered an endowed chair at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, where he teaches.


As for the brook trout, Nova writes, “these fish are forever associated in my mind with the depths of thankfulness for good fortune, just as they always reminded me of beauty and a sense of what may be possible after all.” He continues to fish for brook trout.


New List

Francine Prose

1. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy (1877).
2. The Charterhouse of Parma by Stendhal (1839). (See below.)
3. In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust (1913–27).
4. The stories of Anton Chekhov (1860–1904).
5. The stories of John Cheever (1912–82).
6. The stories of Mavis Gallant (1922– ).
7. Moby-Dick by Herman Melville (1851).
8. Middlemarch by George Eliot (1871–72).
9. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez (1967).


Classic List

Amy Bloom


1. The Deptford trilogy by Robertson Davies (1983).
2.Persuasion by Jane Austen (1817).
3. His Dark Materialsby Philip Pullman (1995–2000).
4.The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields (1995).
5.The Known World by Edward P. Jones (2003).
6. The Beggar Maid by Alice Munro (1978).
7. The Plot Against Americaby Philip Roth.
8. The Hours by Michael Cunningham (1998).
9. Fancies and Goodnights by John Collier (1951).
10. Larry’s Party by Carol Shields (1997).


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