When we initially surveyed 125 writers for their picks of the Top Ten books of all-time, we were pretty certain we wouldn’t get the same list of all-timers from everyone. Still, we were surprised at the diversity: the original crew filled their 1,250 slots with 544 separate titles; 353 books were selected by one author and no one else.
Top Ten contributor Margot Livesey is receiving warm reviews for her ninth novel, The Boy in the Field. The novel opens on a September afternoon in 1999 when three teenage siblings, Matthew, Zoe, and Duncan Lang discover a boy lying in a field, bloody and unconscious. Thanks to their intervention, the boy’s life is saved.
As Laura Bufferd observes in BookPage, “From her earliest work, Livesey has displayed an interest in how individuals cope with the physical and psychic space left by missing family members.”
Peter Cameron’s transporting novel, Andorra (1997), was one of the first works I responded to as a book critic. I was struck by his gift for creating a reality that’s slightly askew - the landlocked Andorra is depicted here as a seaside locale - and yet which also serves as a mirror for the one we inhabit. I also loved how his tale of a stranger who comes to a strange land evoked one of my classic favorites, Mysteries by Knut Hamsun.
“Serious literature” is often a downer, as authors confront the challenges, disappointments and limitations of life through a sad and tragic lens.
Our newest Top Ten contributor, Daniel Wallace, writes about serious things—love and loss, remorse and missed opportunities—but with a big-hearted, often whimsical perspective that adds rich layers and emotional complexity to his tales.
We have a story idea for our newest Top Ten contributor, Sue Miller: Imagine a forty-something writer who, after years devoted to rearing a family, finishes her first book and wakes up one morning to find this review in the New York Times:
“Every once in a while, a first novelist rockets into the literary atmosphere with a novel so accomplished that it shatters the common assumption that for a writer to have mastery, he or she must serve a long, auspicious apprenticeship. The novel arrives, all its parts gleaming, ticking, and we are filled with awe. However did the novice learn to build this thing? We marvel. But the question is beside the point, which is that the thing exists, has form, energy and power.”
Our newest Top Ten list comes from one of America’s most celebrated writers, Maxine Hong Kingston, who has used Chinese-American experiences to depict the human condition through several works of nonfiction and one novel.
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 harder! More!! Better!!!
Years later, I wrote him out of the blue, asking if he would contribute a list of his favorite books, and maybe a short essay on one of them, to “The Top Ten.” That’s what I learned about his generosity - and exquisite pensmanship
Where is the line the between literature and life? Between identity and performance? Between style and substance? Is there a line at all?
Those are some of the questions that engage our newest member of Top Ten Land, the Canadian writer Sheila Heti. An acclaimed and productive author – more prolific than Eugenides but no threat to Oates – the 38-year-old has published seven books that have been translated into more than a dozen languages, written a full-length play, served as Interview Editor for The Believer, and co-created a barroom lecture series, Trampoline Hall, that has been running monthly in Toronto since 2001.
“I don’t want to write about human behavior,” John Banville told The Paris Review. “If I can catch the play of light on a wall, and catch it just so, that is enough for me.”
For Banville sentences, images and words have become the alpha and the omega. “Linguistic beauty,” he continued, can be pursued “as an end in itself.”
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 Michiko Kakutani, who offered warm praise for Jonathan’s fifth novel, Purity, in the New York Times. Here’s how she opens her review: