Featured List

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

Waiting for the Barbarians

Waiting for the Barbarians by J. M. Coetzee (1980). A magistrate for an unspecified empire finds himself thrust into a growing conflict on the frontier. Fearing an invasion, the empire sends an army to eliminate the threat of neighboring “barbarians,” and the magistrate, accused of plotting with the enemy, is beaten and jailed.

Washington Square

Washington Square by Henry James (1880). James deeply admired Balzac. Here he pays homage to the Frenchman by recasting the novel Eugénie Grandet. The setting now is New York but the dynamic is the same: despite her father’s best, often cruel, efforts, an unexceptional, though wealthy young woman falls in love with a dashing fortune hunter.

Watership Down

Watership Down by Richard Adams (1972). This imaginative epic chronicles the adventures of a band of English rabbits who possess their own language, history, and myth and who are searching for a new home after a human developer has destroyed their old one.

What’s for Dinner?

What’s for Dinner? by James Schuyler (1978).

Best known as a poet, Schuyler brings his eye for intimate details to this quirky comedy about three families in suburban Long Island. As his characters deal with rowdy children, alcoholism, and loneliness, Schuyler subtly explores the forces that tear people apart and bring them back together.

Wheat That Springeth Green

Wheat That Springeth Green by J. F. Powers (1975). Joe Hackett wanted to be a saint. While training for the priesthood he wore the hair shirt and abandoned the pleasures of “smokes, sweets, snacks, snooker, and handball.” Twenty-five years later, his ideals dampened, his passions are baseball and beer.

When I Grow Too Old to Dream

When I Grow Too Old to Dream, lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein (1935). Hammerstein’s credits are a history of the American musical, including Oklahoma, Carousel, South Pacific, The King and I, and The Sound of Music. He wrote this sweet love song, which has been recorded by everyone from Nelson Eddy to Nat King Cole to Doris Day, for the film The Night Is Too Young.

Where Angels Fear to Tread

Where Angels Fear to Tread by E. M. Forster (1905). “For fools rush in where angels fear to tread,” wrote Alexander Pope. That quote informs this biting tale that begins when a rich young widow, Lilia Herriton, travels to Italy. There she meets and marries a penniless Italian and dies in childbirth.

White Noise

White Noise by Don DeLillo (1985). Professor Jack Gladney teaches Hitler studies at the local college and trawls through the tabloid mall of American culture with his pill-popping fourth wife and their four preternaturally knowing children. Then an accident near their town generates a huge poisonous cloud—“an airborne toxic event”—and disrupts their uneasy idyll.

Wide Sargasso Sea

Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys (1966).  Carolyn Leavitt writes:  “Suicidal and alcoholic Jean Rhys wrote shatteringly spare books about women being beaten down by life. Rhys takes the classic story of “Jane Eyre” and spins it on its head, telling it from the viewpoint of none other than Mrs.

Winter's Tale

Winter's Tale by Mark Helprin (1983). One winter night, Peter Lake—master mechanic and second-storey man—attempts to rob a fortress-like mansion on the Upper West Side. Though he thinks it is empty, the daughter of the house is home. Thus begins the affair between a middle-aged Irish burglar and Beverly Penn, a young girl dying of consumption.

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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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