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Rick Moody's Top Ten List

Our newest exclusive list comes from one of the most celebrated writers of his generation, Rick Moody. Reared in suburban Connecticut and educated at St. Paul’s, Brown (where his teachers included Angela Carter and John Hawkes) and Columbia, he has explored contemporary America  through novellas and short stories (The Ring of Brightest Angels Around Heaven, 1995); Demonology, 2001 and Right Livelihoods, 2007); novels (Garden State, 1992; The Ice Storm, 1994, Purple America, 1996, The Diviners, 2005 and The Four Fingers of Death, 2010),  as well as a memoir, The Black Veil, 2002. His most recent book, On Celestial Music: And Other Adventures in Listening, collects pieces he’s written on the contemporary music scene.

Asked by the Paris Review about the traditions behind his writing, he responded: “The modernist notion that anything is possible, the postmodernist notion that everything is exhausted, the post-postmodernist notion that since everything is exhausted, everything is permitted.”

Introducing Jennifer Egan’s Top Ten list last week, I said she provided the best advice you can hear about writing,Don't write when it moves you - that's a loser. Try to make it habitual.” So it is provocative to hear Rick give the opposite advice: “I’m against schedules. Write when you feel excited by the prospect. Otherwise, don’t bother. Break your deadlines, default on your due dates, wander in the streets, go to the movies, eat lavishly, fornicate, blaspheme, bless a street urchin, browbeat a civil servant, and when you’re done with these things, if you feel excited by what you’ve seen and heard, then go write.”

Rick also said something fascinating about writing, psychology and the imagination in a 2001 interview with the New York Times: “Some days, you know, I feel this tremendous virtuosic talent, like the opening of "Purple America" or the story in "Demonology" called Boys, where language is really . . . seems like it's at my disposal, and I can use it in a way that seems really evocative. But then there are other days when I just really . . . I'm really frustrated and disappointed with using the same old words and feeling like still experience eludes being captured in language a little bit. You know, there's this famous formulation by the French psychoanalyst, Jacques Lacan, whereby he said, "Desire exceeds the object." And a lot of time I feel like that. I feel sort of that way as a writer, that my desire to use language to capture emotional and psychic states is always outstripping the ability of this sign system to do its thing. It's always still lying there having only done 80 percent of the job somehow. . .”


Read his interview with the Paris Review.

Read his interviews with musicians in The Rumpus.

Watch his 2012 discussion of Kurt Vonnegut with Sidney Offit.

Visit Rick’s website.


Rick Moody’s Top Ten List

1. The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri (1321).

2. Essays by Michel de Montaigne (1533-92). 

3. Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes (1605, 1615).

4. Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne (1759–67).

5. Moby-Dick by Herman Melville (1851).

6. The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky (1880).

7. Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert (1857).

8. Ulysses by James Joyce (1922).

9. To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf (1927).

10. The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann (1924).

New List

Cathleen Schine

1. Emma by Jane Austen (1816).
2. Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman (1855–91).
3. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy (1869).
4. Phineas Finn: The Irish Member by Anthony Trollope (1869).
5. Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens (1864–65).
6. Quartet in Autumn by Barbara Pym (1977).
7. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain (1884).
8. The stories of  Alice Munro (1931– ).
9. The Makioka Sisters by Junichiro Tanizaki (1943–48).
10. Pictures from an Institution by Randall Jarrell (1954).

Classic List

George Saunders

1. Dead Souls by Nikolai Gogol (1842).
2. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain (1884).
3. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy (1869).
4. Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne (1759–67).
5. Hamlet by William Shakespeare (1600).
6. The stories of Isaac Babel (1894–1940).
7. The stories of Anton Chekhov (1860–1904).
8. Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut (1969).
9. Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett (1953).
10. On the Road by Jack Kerouac (1957).