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Tom Wolfe, RIP

We have lost a giant – one of the very best reporters and writers in American history.

The Wall Street Journal reports that Tom Wolfe, the best-selling alchemist of fiction and nonfiction who wrote “The Bonfire of the Vanities,” “The Right Stuff” and countless other novels and works of journalism, died of pneumonia in a New York hospital yesterday. He was 88 years old.

I first met Mr. Wolfe through “The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test.” Then I read everything else. Being in his company was pure pleasure, and inspiring. Try ... read more ...

The Book: The Top Ten

    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.

    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.

    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.

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    New List

    Francine Prose

    1. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy (1877).
    2. The Charterhouse of Parma by Stendhal (1839). (See below.)
    3. In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust (1913–27).
    4. The stories of Anton Chekhov (1860–1904).
    5. The stories of John Cheever (1912–82).
    6. The stories of Mavis Gallant (1922– ).
    7. Moby-Dick by Herman Melville (1851).
    8. Middlemarch by George Eliot (1871–72).
    9. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez (1967).

     

    Classic List

    Amy Bloom

     

    1. The Deptford trilogy by Robertson Davies (1983).
    2.Persuasion by Jane Austen (1817).
    3. His Dark Materialsby Philip Pullman (1995–2000).
    4.The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields (1995).
    5.The Known World by Edward P. Jones (2003).
    6. The Beggar Maid by Alice Munro (1978).
    7. The Plot Against Americaby Philip Roth.
    8. The Hours by Michael Cunningham (1998).
    9. Fancies and Goodnights by John Collier (1951).
    10. Larry’s Party by Carol Shields (1997).

     

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