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).

Classic List

Chris Bohjalian

1. The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri (1321).
2. Ulysses by James Joyce (1922).
3. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens (1860–61).
4. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy (1877).
5. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (1925).
6. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (1960).
7. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë (1847).
8. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain (1884).
9. Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison (1952).
10. Les Misérables by Victor Hugo (1862).

New List

Laila Lalami

1. Waiting for the Barbarians by J. M. Coetzee (1980).
2. Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison (1977).
3. A Man of the People by Chinua Achebe (1966).
4. The Lover by Marguerite Duras (1984).
5. For Bread Alone by Mohamed Choukri (1973).
6. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood (1986).
7. A House for Mr. Biswas by V. S. Naipaul (1961).
8. Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison (1952).
9. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez (1967).
10. Love Medicine by Louise Erdrich (1984).

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