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Jennifer Egan's Top Ten List

We are honored to welcome the Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Jennifer Egan to Top Ten Land.

Reared in San Francisco and educated at the University of Pennsylvania, she debuted in 1993 (in Britain; 1996 in the US) with Emerald City and Other Stories. Her first novel, The Invisible Circus followed in 1995 (and was turned into a feature film starring Cameron Diaz in 2001). Her 2001 novel, Look At Me, was a finalist for the National Book Award; The Keep (2006) was a national bestseller; and her latest novel, A Visit from the Goon Squad (2010) was awarded the National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction as well as a Pulitzer.  

As novelist Curtis Sittenfeld observed: “There is, apparently, no story that Jennifer Egan can't tell. Her five books of fiction range from an achingly gorgeous coming-of-age novel (The Invisible Circus) to a gothic tale of betrayal (The Keep) to a multidecade kaleidoscopic depiction of the music business (A Visit from the Goon Squad, this year's Pulitzer Prize winner for fiction). Uniting disparate settings and characters is Egan's ferocious intelligence; she writes with the clarity and sharpness of a pane of glass.”

Follow the links below to read more about her life and work. I’d like to add two very smart things she’s said about reading and writing.

In an interview with The Atlantic that is part of their superb series on notable people consume media, she described how to read with a writer’s purpose: “If I'm not taking the kids to school, I try to at least look through The New York Times right after my husband leaves with them. We still get the physical paper; I'm not a big fan of screen reading. My first reading is often a scan, but I scan with Post-its in hand, and often end up marking several things: articles that might interest our kids; articles that catch my attention for reasons I'm not clear on (most important from the fiction writing standpoint); others that appeal to me journalistically; cultural events we might want to check out.”

 In the Huffington Post interview she gave the best advice there is about writing: Don't write when it moves you--that's a loser. Try to make it habitual, even if you just start with 15 minutes a day, two pages a day. Make it such a part of your routine that not doing it feels strange. You have to be willing to write badly. You can't say, "I'm going to write habitually, and it's going to be good." It's unpleasant to write badly, but it's much more important show up on a regular basis so that you're there when the good stuff comes."

·       Visit Jennifer’s (beautifully designed) website.

·       Read the Paris Review’s story on Jennifer.

·       Read Heidi Julavits’ interview with Jennifer.

·       Watch Jennifer’s discussion with Jacob Weisberg about the novel.

 

Jennifer Egan’s Top Ten List

1. The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing (1962).

2. The Transit of Venus by Shirley Hazzard (1980).

3. The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton (1905).

4. Good Morning, Midnight by Jean Rhys (1939).

5. Middlemarch by George Eliot (1871–72).

6. Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison (1952).

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

8. Underworld by Don DeLillo (1997).

9. Germinal by Émile Zola (1884).

10. Don Juan by Lord Byron (1819). 

New List

Cathleen Schine

1. Emma by Jane Austen (1816).
2. Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman (1855–91).
3. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy (1869).
4. Phineas Finn: The Irish Member by Anthony Trollope (1869).
5. Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens (1864–65).
6. Quartet in Autumn by Barbara Pym (1977).
7. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain (1884).
8. The stories of  Alice Munro (1931– ).
9. The Makioka Sisters by Junichiro Tanizaki (1943–48).
10. Pictures from an Institution by Randall Jarrell (1954).

Classic List

George Saunders

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).