Featured List

Jonathan Franzen

At a time when the phrase “literary event” is a quaint anachronism (see Vargas Llosa’s Notes on the Death of Culture), a new novel from Jonathan Franzen may be as close as book lovers can come these days to tweezing a piece of the nation’s attention.

 

And it looks like he has delivered the goods again, at least according to the literary giant slayer ... read more ...

The Book: The Top Ten

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

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

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.

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New List

Siri Hustvedt

1.Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë (1847).
2. Paradise Lost by John Milton (1667).
3. Middlemarch by George Eliot (1871–72).
4. Either/Or: A Fragment of Life by Søren Kierkegaard (1843).
5. Persuasion by Jane Austen (1817).
6. Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens (1864–65).
7. To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf (1927).
8. Stories of Franz Kafka (1883–1924).
9. The Golden Bowl by Henry James (1904).
10. Sorry, but I resist. This one could be Cervantes, Dostoyevsky, O’Connor, Proust, Tolstoy, Wharton, Dante, Bachman, or an eccentric choice, chosen because it is a book so spectacularly ignored, that brilliant small novel by Djuna Barnes, Nightwood.

 

Classic List

Paul Auster

 

1. Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes (1605, 1615).
2. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy (1869).
3. Moby-Dick by Herman Melville (1851).
4. Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky (1866).
5. In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust (1913–27).
6. Ulysses by James Joyce (1922).
7. The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne (1850).
8. The Castle by Franz Kafka (1926).
9. Molloy, Malone Dies, and The Unnamable, a trilogy by Samuel Beckett (1951–54).
10. Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne (1759–67).

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