Jennifer Gilmore

Many people assume that everyone in publishing dreams of being a writer, that they’d all rather be hacks than flacks.

I’ve never worked in the biz so I don’t know if that’s true (though I can report that EVERY book critic dreams of being a REAL WRITER). However, during my years as a reviewer I did witness a small number of publicists leap across the divide, including the essayist Sloane Crosley and our newest member of Top Ten Land, Jennifer Gilmore.

When I met Jennifer, she had a sweet gig as publicity director for Harcourt. Then, in 2006, she magically transformed herself into not just a published author but a celebrated novelist. Her debut, Golden Country, (the intertwining stories of three immigrants to America that was praised by the New York Times as "an ingeniously plotted family yarn" which "enlivens the myth of the American Dream.") was a New York Times Notable Book, a finalist for the National Jewish Book Award, the Harold U Ribalow Prize and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize.

The acclaim continued with her next novel, Something Red (2010). Set in Jennifer’s native city of Washington D.C. between August 1979 and March 1980, it focuses on four young members of the Goldstein family who try to understand what it means to be a radical  as the Cold War and America’s golden age of protest wane.

Her third novel, The Mothers, which Scribner will publish in March, has been praised by PW as “the heartfelt cry of a woman who desperately wants a baby. … Though often painful to read, this candid account at once embraces ‘the possibility for anything.’ ” 

Before we get to her list, I’ll add that the single greatest lesson from the Top Ten is that there is no right answers when it comes to great books. They are the books that mean the most to each of us. Jennifer reminds us of this. Hers is the 149th list we’ve run. And despite all that, she manages to add four new titles to Top Ten Land - The Ballad of the Sad Café, Another Country, The Book of Daniel and La Bête Humaine.

Jennifer Gilmore’s Top Ten List

Here is my list, but instead of best works of fiction of all time, I would say just the books that have formed me. They are predominantly American, and for the most part are written in English and so not show the true breadth of my reading. And yet these are, in the end, the books that have formed me as a writer and so how could they not be my “favorites?”

1. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë (1847)
2. Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert (1857)
3. The Ballad of the Sad Café by Carson McCullers (1943)
4. Absalom, Absalom! by William Faulkner (1936)
5. Another Country by James Baldwin (1962)
6. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce (1916)
7. American Pastoral by Philip Roth (1997) & The Book of Daniel by E.L. Doctorow (1971). (Pardon me as I yoke these two together).
8. Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy (1891)
9. La Bête Humaine (The Beast Within) by Émile Zola (1890)
10. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath (1963).

Classic List

Chris Bohjalian

1. The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri (1321).
2. Ulysses by James Joyce (1922).
3. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens (1860–61).
4. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy (1877).
5. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (1925).
6. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (1960).
7. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë (1847).
8. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain (1884).
9. Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison (1952).
10. Les Misérables by Victor Hugo (1862).

New List

Laila Lalami

1. Waiting for the Barbarians by J. M. Coetzee (1980).
2. Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison (1977).
3. A Man of the People by Chinua Achebe (1966).
4. The Lover by Marguerite Duras (1984).
5. For Bread Alone by Mohamed Choukri (1973).
6. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood (1986).
7. A House for Mr. Biswas by V. S. Naipaul (1961).
8. Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison (1952).
9. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez (1967).
10. Love Medicine by Louise Erdrich (1984).

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