Jane Mendelsohn

Our newest list comes from Jane Mendelsohn, who soared into prominence in 1996 with her bestselling debut, I Was Amelia Earhart.

Michiko Kakutani praised that work, which was short-listed for the Orange Prize, for using “the bare-boned outlines of the aviator's life … for a poetic meditation on freedom and love and flight.” The New York Times critic also compared it to Gabriel Garcia Marquez's novel "General in His Labyrinth" for the way it “invokes the spirit of a mythic personage, while standing on its own as a powerfully imagined work of fiction.”

Her second novel, Innocence (2000), is a gothic coming-of-age story set on the Upper West Side of Manhattan that one critic describes as a kind of Rosemary's Baby channeled through J.D. Salinger. Her most recent book, American Music (2010), was published to wide acclaim. Here’s how Top Ten contributor Jennifer Gilmore opened her warm review of that novel:

“From “The Thorn Birds” to “Brideshead Revisited” to “White Teeth,” the multigenerational family tale can almost always be described in certain ways: it will be long, it will take place over several decades or centuries, its narrative will be tethered to the history of a particular place. But while we may think we know what such a story looks and sounds like, Jane Mendelsohn uses her third novel, “American Music,” to quietly redefine the genre. Although the novel takes place over several generations and more than 80 years of American history (and nearly 400 years of world history), it’s less than 250 pages long. How can something so slim cover so much ground? This breadth is achieved through a series of haunting impressions that trace the story of a family, the history of 20th-century America and the evolution of American music.”

Read Jane’s 2012 NY Times essay on Amelia Earhart.
Read a 2011 interview with Jane.
Read the first chapter of “Innocence.”
Visit Jane’s official website.
Follow Jane on Twitter.   

Jane’s picks are in chronological order. I especially like her list – the 154th collected - because it is the first (!) to mention one of my most beloved favorites, "Gravity’s Rainbow."

Jane Mendelsohn’s Top Ten List

1. The Oresteia by Aeschylus (458 b.c.e.).
2. King Lear by William Shakespeare (1605)
3. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (1813).
4. The stories of Anton Chekhov (1860–1904).
5. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy (1869).
6. Middlemarch by George Eliot (1871–72).
7. The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James (1881).
8. The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka (1915).
9. The Waves by Virgina Woolf (1931).
10. Gravity's Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon (1973).

Jane’s pick for the 21st century: The Road by Cormac McCarthy (2006).

 

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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