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The Book: The Top Ten

George Saunders

It’s the kind of New York Times headline that would drive most every self-respecting author into a fit of uncontrollable rage: George Saunders Has Written the Best Book You’ll Read This Year.

Unless, of course, your name is George Saunders. Then you might feel a mixture of euphoria and embarrassment. Or you might just throw it on the stack o’ praise that’s began with your celebrated debut story collection, CivilWarLand in Bad Decline (1996) and has continued to mount through Pastoralia (2000), The Very Persistent Gappers of Frip (2000),The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil (2005) and In Persuasion Nation (2006). The praise includes:

"An astoundingly tuned voice—graceful, dark, authentic, and funny—telling just the kinds of stories we need to get us through these times." — Thomas Pynchon

"Scary, hilarious, and unforgettable . . . George Saunders is a writer of arresting brilliance and originality." — Tobias Wolff

"Saunders is a hilarious, wicked, and pitch-perfect satirist of our times, of course, but for a satirist he has a whole lot of heart." — Esquire

"Mr. Saunders writes like the illegitimate offspring of [Nathaniel] West and Kurt Vonnegut, perhaps a distant relative of Mark Leyner and Steven Wright. He's a savage satirist with a sentimental streak who delineates … the dark underbelly of the American dream: the losses, delusions, and terrors suffered by the lonely, the disenfranchised, the downtrodden and the plain unlucky.” — The New York Times

And that was before the “best book you’ll read” encomiums he’s receiving for his new book of stories, Tenth of December.

Reviewing his collection in the Boston Globe, Jane Ciabattari avers:

“Like Kurt Vonnegut before him, Saunders is morally acute and attuned to injustice. In this new collection, he also shows a new, more tender side. Even his writing about dark subjects like violence and suicide is shot through with illumination. In the best of these new stories — “Victory Lap,” “The Semplica Girl Diaries,” and “Tenth of December” — Saunders swings wide the gates and ushers us into the human realm with all its ambiguities. And somewhere in the background of most of these stories is the question: What would you do?”

Read George’s story The Semplica-Girl Diaries

Watch George discuss his new collection on PBS.

Listen to George discuss his new collection on NPR.

Read the Missouri Review’s interview with George.

George Saunders’s Top Ten List

This was harder than I thought it would be.  Because I found myself pondering the notion of Greatness: What good is it?  Why even have such a concept?  In the end I answered myself: We need a concept of greatness so we can know in what direction we should morally aspire.  A book answers this question most eloquently, it seems to me, in its voice; that is, in its attitude towards the mayhem it observes.  A book can be like the voice of God, telling us what to think of ourselves.  These are, for me, the books that do this most valuably:

1. Dead Souls by Nikolai Gogol (1842).

2. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain (1884).

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

4. Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne (1759–67).

5. Hamlet by William Shakespeare (1600).

6. The stories of Isaac Babel (1894–1940).

7. The stories of Anton Chekhov (1860–1904).

8. Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut (1969).

9. Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett (1953).

10. On the Road by Jack Kerouac (1957).

New List

Michael Chabon

1. Labyrinths by Jorge Luis Borges (1964).
2.Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov (1962).
3. Scaramouche by Rafael Sabatini (1921).
4. Moby-Dick by Herman Melville (1851).
5. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (1813).
6. Tales of Mystery and Imagination by Edgar Allan Poe (1836–47).
7. In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust (1913–27).
8. Paradise Lost by John Milton (1667).
9. Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez (1985).
10. The Long Goodbye by Raymond Chandler (1953).

Classic List

Margot Livesey

1. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë (1847).
2. Sunset Song by Lewis Grassic Gibbon (1932).
3. Parade’s End by Ford Madox Ford (1928).
4. The Fountain Overflows by Rebecca West (1956). (See below).
5. Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino (1972).
6. Memoirs of Hadrian by Marguerite Yourcenar (1951).
7. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov (1955).
8. A Simple Heart by Gustave Flaubert (1877).
9. The stories of Mavis Gallant (1922– ).
10. The stories of William Trevor (1928– ).