Featured List

Tom LeClair

I was Lincoln’s Billy. Billy club when Lincoln refused to knock heads in Springfield. Billy goat when he needed a battering ram to reach Washington. Billy boy when he required a charming Billy to scare up money for his campaigns.

 

So begins Tom LeClair’s absorbing new novel, Lincoln’s Billy, the ersatz memoir of the martyred president’s long-time law partner in Springfield, Mass., William Herndon. ... read more ...

The Book: The Top Ten

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.

A Dance to the Music of Time

A Dance to the Music of Time by Anthony Powell (1951–75). Powell’s panoramic series of twelve freestanding novels, grouped in four “movements,” charts the careers of four public-school friends from 1921 to 1971 against the backdrop of rapidly changing London.

A Death in the Family

A Death in the Family by James Agee (1957). A Pulitzer Prize–winning work of autobiographical fiction tells the story of a Knoxville, Tennessee, family torn asunder by the father’s accidental death in 1915. In stunningly gorgeous prose, Agee chronicles the family’s life before and after the tragedy (as well as the larger community they live in), to depict the fragility of happiness, of family, and of life itself.

A Doll's House

A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen (1879). The original desperate housewife, pampered Nora Helmer commits forgery for the money she needs to take her sick husband on a lifesaving trip. When her husband discovers her deceit, he is appalled.

A Fan's Notes

A Fan’s Notes by Frederick Exley (1968). A cross between Charles Bukowski and John Kennedy Toole, this harrowing, hilarious autobiographical novel portrays a raw and likable barstool dreamer. He is a slovenly, all-American misfit headed for the psychiatric institution, who fills his head with all-American fantasies of fame, wealth, and beautiful women.

A Far Cry from Kensington

A Far Cry from Kensington by Muriel Spark (1988). Like all of Spark’s work, this novel is hard to define. Metaphysical farce? Literary mystery? At bottom it is a dark, elegant, hilarious tale centered on the zaftig widow Mrs. Hawkins. She spends her days and evenings giving advice to her eccentric rooming house mates and her coworkers in book publishing.

A Farewell to Arms

A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway (1929). Based on Hemingway’s experiences during World War I, this romantic tragedy recounts the story of Frederic Henry, an American volunteer in the Italian ambulance corps who meets and eventually falls in love with a maternal yet alluring English nurse, Catherine Barkley.

A Handful of Dust

A Handful of Dust by Evelyn Waugh (1934). Leading lives of empty desperation, Waugh’s characters kill the days of their lives with petty concerns, silly parties, and unfulfilling affairs. A withering satire of England’s declining aristocracy, the novel showcases Waugh’s caustic eye and comic wit.

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New List

Reynolds Price

1. Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert (1857).
2. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens (1860–61).
3. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy (1877).
4. Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy (1891).
5. The Golden Bowl by Henry James (1904).
6. A Passage to India by E. M. Forster (1924).
7. The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway (1926).
8. To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf (1927).
9. Doctor Faustus by Thomas Mann (1947).
10. The Book of Ebenezer Le Page by G. B. Edwards (1981).

Classic List

Norman Mailer

1. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy (1877).
2. Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert (1857).
3. Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky (1866).
4. The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky (1880).
5. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (1813).
6. The U.S.A. trilogy by John Dos Passos (1938).
7. Moby-Dick by Herman Melville (1851).
8. The Red and the Black by Stendhal (1830).
9. Buddenbrooks by Thomas Mann (1900).
10. Labyrinths by Jorge Luis Borges (1964).

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