Featured List

John Banville

“I don’t want to write about human behavior,” John Banville told The Paris Review. “If I can catch the play of light on a wall, and catch it just so, that is enough for me.”

For Banville sentences, images and words have become the alpha and the omega. “Linguistic beauty,” he continued, can be pursued “as an end in itself.”

In his stellar review of 16th novel, The Blue Guitar, in the New York Times Book Review, ... read more ...

The Book: The Top Ten

Ron Rash

   Ron Rash has received many glowing reviews, but it would be hard to top the mash note he received from Janet Maslin last week for Something Rich and Strange, “a major short-story anthology that can introduce new readers to this author’s haunting talents and reaffirm what his established following already knows.”

Mrs. Bridge and Mr. Bridge

Mrs. Bridge (1959) and Mr. Bridge (1969) by Evan S. Connell. This his and hers pairing, like twinned guest towels, reveals dirty fingerprints on the underside of a tidy looking 1930s Midwestern, middle-class marriage.

Brideshead Revisited

Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh (1945). Waugh was one of the twentieth century’s great satirists, yet this novel, widely considered his best, is not satiric. It is, instead, an examination of Roman Catholic faith as it is used, abused, embraced, and rejected by the Flytes, an aristocratic English family visited by alcoholism, adultery, and homoeroticism.

How German Is It

How German Is It by Walter Abish (1980). Abish wields not pen, but scalpel, vivisecting Germany’s cult of appearances and culture of denial. His protagonist is Ulrich, whose father was executed for plotting against Hitler.


Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson (1980). This is the story of Ruth and her younger sister, Lucille, who grow up haphazardly, first under the care of their competent grandmother, then of two comically bumbling great-aunts, and finally of Sylvie, their eccentric and remote aunt.

1982, Janine

1982, Janine by Alasdair Gray (1984). In a fleabag Scottish motel, divorced and depressed, Jock McLeish once again seeks consolation and strength through massive doses of alcohol and sadomasochistic sexual fantasies (some starring a woman named Janine). Through frank, complex language Gray takes us inside the addled mind of a powerless man seeking to impose some control over his life.


1984 by George Orwell (1948). Orwell’s reputation as an antiauthoritarian arises in large part from this novel set in a totalitarian future in which citizens are constantly reminded “Big Brother is watching” as they are spied upon by the Thought Police and one another. In this landscape, Winston Smith is a man in danger simply because his memory works.

A Bend in the River

A Bend in the River by V. S. Naipaul (1979). A fictionalized account of the violence and political tyranny that gripped Zaire after its independence from Belgium, the novel focuses on an African of Indian descent named Salim who opens a small store at a bend in the Congo River.

A Clockwork Orange

A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess (1962). The linguistic virtuosity of this futuristic tale—told in nadsat, a russified English—lures us into an unwilling complicity in the drug-fueled bouts of ultraviolence committed by Alex and his droogs (comrades).

A Confederacy of Dunces

A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole (1980). “The funniest novel of the twentieth century,” said Donald Harington of this sprawling picaresque, which was awarded a Pulitzer Prize after Toole’s suicide. Its blustering, bumfuzzled antihero is Ignatius J. Reilly, an unintentionally hilarious, altogether deluded, and oddly endearing student of man who lives with his mother in New Orleans.


New List

Jonathan Franzen

1. The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky (1880).
2. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy (1869).
3. The Trial by Franz Kafka (1925).
4. In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust (1913–27).
5. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (1925).
6. Absalom, Abalom! by William Faulkner (1936).
7. The Charterhouse of Parma by Stendhal (1839).
8. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov (1955).
9. The Man Who Loved Children by Christina Stead (1940).
10. Independent People by Halldór Laxness (1934).


Classic List

Mary Gaitskill

1. Ulysses by James Joyce (1922).
2. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov (1955).
3. Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov (1962).
4. Bleak House by Charles Dickens (1853).
5. Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert (1857).
6. To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf (1927).
7. Gusev by Anton Chekhov (1860–1904).
8. Peter Pan by J. M. Barrie (1904).
9. Dead Souls by Nikolai Gogol (1842).
10. The Hunchback of Notre Dame by Victor Hugo (1831).

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