The Top Ten: Writers Pick Their Favorite Books
July 28, 2012 10:16 PM   Subscribe

The Top Ten: Writers Pick Their Favorite Books catalogs the top ten favorite books of over 140 major authors and growing, including Louis D. Rubin, Jim Harrison, David Foster Wallace, David Leavitt, Paul Auster, Michael Chabon, and many more. Here's the list of books rank-ordered by frequency and here are other lists compiled from the statistics.
posted by shivohum (40 comments total) 41 users marked this as a favorite

 
A very enjoyable book that makes me feel like I need to read so much more.
posted by Skygazer at 10:36 PM on July 28, 2012


Call me when the torrent's up.
posted by nicwolff at 10:50 PM on July 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


David Foster Wallace's Top Ten includes two Thomas Harris novels and a Tom Clancy novel? That does not jibe with comments of his I've read elsewhere, but even if I hadn't read otherwise it would be troubling.
posted by akaJudge at 11:23 PM on July 28, 2012


Good to see that famous writers lie just as much as the rest of us when filling in these kind of surveys. 'Oh yes, I mean I spend my days rereading the classics - Tolstoy, Faulkner, Middlemarch. You know, in many ways Lance Punchington, the main character of my new novel "Why All Other NYC Writers Suck and Never Invite Me to Their Parties" is a spiritual descendent of Dorothea'.
posted by fallingbadgers at 11:25 PM on July 28, 2012 [7 favorites]


Well we puzzled over that DFW list last time it was posted, he did in fact assign Thomas Harris in his class.
posted by Ad hominem at 11:45 PM on July 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


I don't doubt that he liked Harris, but as much as he talked about Nabokov and Tolstoy I find it hard to believe he'd leave them off to make room for Clancy and King.
posted by akaJudge at 11:52 PM on July 28, 2012


The one that threw me for a loop was Fear of Flying, I didn't know people still read that. It is like Portnoy's Complaint, The 7 percent solution or Jonathan Livingston Seagul in my mind, so of a certain period I didn't think people still found it interesting. That Alligator book is out of print and must have been something he picked up at the drugstore or something as a kid. I have my own version of that, a book name "Call it Courage" I read every couple years when I can't sleep.

I guess he was at a time in his life he liked fast paced fiction that is essentially escapist and In a way comforting. I mean it is favorite books, not best books.
posted by Ad hominem at 11:58 PM on July 28, 2012 [1 favorite]


When he finally acts decisively, Hamlet takes with him every remaining major character in a crescendo of violence unmatched in Shakespearean theater.

Someone hasn't read Titus Andronicus recently.
posted by dismas at 12:02 AM on July 29, 2012 [5 favorites]


Really glad to see my 19th century literature classmates are doing so well! Have a great summer, guys!
posted by Corduroy at 12:11 AM on July 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


Who wrote the blurbs for the books in question? I'd be interested to hear what these writers think of those writers but just these writers like these books is ... Kind of not all I hoped for.
posted by From Bklyn at 1:44 AM on July 29, 2012


James Joyce in the Top Ten of British Literature? "And in spite of everything, Ireland remains the brain of the Kingdom. The English, judiciously practical and ponderous, furnish the over-stuffed stomach of humanity with a perfect gadget - the water closet. The Irish, condemned to express themselves in a language not their own, have stamped on it the mark of their own genius and compete for glory with the civilized nations. This is then called English literature." (Joyce, as quoted by Richard Ellmann)
posted by TheRaven at 1:45 AM on July 29, 2012 [3 favorites]


I always get depressed by how "books" are almost always taken to mean "novels".
posted by kariebookish at 2:33 AM on July 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


sad to see no maugham love in there
posted by timsneezed at 3:34 AM on July 29, 2012


David Foster Wallace's Top Ten includes two Thomas Harris novels and a Tom Clancy novel?

Oh my. How dreadfully common.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 4:57 AM on July 29, 2012


The blurbs weren't written by the authors: the same one is used for a book no matter who's recommending it. They all have the same chirpy, credulous tone and sort of ruin the site for me.
posted by How the runs scored at 5:09 AM on July 29, 2012


Does anyone really read Middlemarch for fun?
posted by Summer at 5:11 AM on July 29, 2012


It's about time! No, it really is!
posted by Wolof at 5:21 AM on July 29, 2012


"Does anyone really read Middlemarch for fun?"

Oh, me! Me! I was assigned it in high school and got maybe 100 pages in before I gave up in boredom (must have been extra credit or I would have slogged through anyway). It was still sitting on my shelf glaring at me reproachfully a decade later, bookmark still where I gave up, so I pulled it back out and gave it another try because I hate leaving books unfinished, and the second time, it was great -- hilarious and touching and smart. I couldn't believe how funny and sly it was (in places), and I couldn't believe I had completely missed all that the first time. (I mean, I can believe it, I was 15 or whatever, you have to watch young adults make terrible life choices up close before the novel starts to make any sense; it was way too far over my head at that age.)

However, I'm deeply suspicious of any person over the age of 15 who thinks "The Catcher in the Rye" is one of their favorite novels, because the only people for whom that is a favorite novel is people who have read so little literature that they get excited by books that say "fuck" in them. Phonies, the lot of them.

So, you know, to each their own.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:49 AM on July 29, 2012 [9 favorites]


So I tried to buy some of these for my Kindle, only to find that Amazon does not do Kindle editions of most of them. I've actually had to buy proper books. Score one, Old World.
posted by Summer at 6:00 AM on July 29, 2012


Frankly, most of them are available for Kindle from Project Gutenberg. Because apparently authors don't like to read books written in the last 50 years.
posted by 256 at 8:03 AM on July 29, 2012


Who wrote the blurbs for the books in question?
Clearly not the authors who chose the books. (See the
identical descriptions of Moby-Dick on Paul Auster's and
Russell Banks' lists). This is weak.
posted by crazy_yeti at 8:06 AM on July 29, 2012


"Oh my. How dreadfully common."

Ugh, I realize it sounds condescending, but that's not how I meant it. I only meant that I've seen him mention some of his favorite novels before, and I know he really, really loves some Russians, so I was very surprised to see none of that on his list.
posted by akaJudge at 8:15 AM on July 29, 2012


The books link to Amazon with an affiliate code. There is shilling and money involved that gives the whole project a bad odor. Sure, they probably don't make much money, just to "pay the bills" etc.. whatever. It used to be cool to link to Amazon, now not so much. Who knows what kind of arrangements might be involved here. Amazon is the octopus.
posted by stbalbach at 8:30 AM on July 29, 2012


It's bizarre how samey these are. Almost every one is a selection of obvious picks from the Western Canon with an emphasis on the 19th century. There's nothing wrong with that, necessarily--those are great books, to be sure--but what's the point of an exercise like this if no-one points out any rare gems?
posted by IjonTichy at 8:46 AM on July 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


Re Middlemarch, I'm not sure this qualifies as fun, but only read it because I'd seen it mentioned frequently on MeFi and I wanted to see what the fuss was about, not because I was assigned in some class. I didn't find it to be the be all and end all of English Literature, but it's a damned good book and I'm glad I read it.
posted by hwestiii at 9:21 AM on July 29, 2012


what's the point of an exercise like this if no-one points out any rare gems?

Sandra Cisneros (who I have not read) has a really fascinating list. The Dermout and the Rulfo volumes seem to me to be among those wonderful hidden gems of books. Both beautiful, albeit in very different ways.
posted by .kobayashi. at 9:49 AM on July 29, 2012


I was only joking about Middlemarch. I quite liked it, although I wouldn't include it in a list of my ten favourite books.
posted by Summer at 10:28 AM on July 29, 2012


"Here's the list of books rank-ordered by frequency "

Oh no! I rolled my eyes so hard I can't stop! Going to pass ou...
posted by Catch at 12:33 PM on July 29, 2012


I just gained a little respect back for my old pal Douglas Coupland because he did not feel the need to populate his list with the classics.
posted by elsietheeel at 1:35 PM on July 29, 2012


kobayashi, The Ten Thousand Things by Maria Dermoût is definitely worthwhile. I find that the language of her writing has a mysterious poetic quality. It's probably the same in the English translation.
posted by joost de vries at 1:43 PM on July 29, 2012


I have to admit that one of my personal projects for the past several years has been to actually read a lot of those samey, canonical titles for the very reason that they are samey and canonical, and against the Twain dictum about classics being books that nobody actually reads. For the most part, I feel I've profited from the effort, although there have been a few clinkers in the bunch. I'm looking at you Stendhal.
posted by hwestiii at 2:04 PM on July 29, 2012


sad to see no maugham love in there

Interesting you should say that. My guess is that if you had done this fifty years ago, possibly even less, he would have been there.
posted by BWA at 2:41 PM on July 29, 2012


joost de vries, yes, the English translation of The Ten Thousand Things is a marvel. I don't know that I've read anything else quite like it.
posted by .kobayashi. at 4:36 PM on July 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


Much better than the MLA list, I have to say. And regarding the disparaging remarks about Catcher in the Rye above...I have selected five passages I use for my students in which the narrator discusses...umm...art. Usually of the inferior variety. But his specificity about why the art (music, dancing, acting, etc.) is "phony" is remarkably astute. It has to do, especially, with audience reward for superficial skill and frills. This is THE novel that illustrates the benefits of using an "unreliable narrator," a very common device these days, to good purpose. The author's meaning is clear. Adults may not remember how they felt as adolescents...and many did not feel like Holden Caulfield, to be sure...but J.D. did an artful job of channeling these feelings.
posted by kozad at 9:05 PM on July 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


Ugh, I realize it sounds condescending, but that's not how I meant it.

I retract my impersonation of the Dowager Countess.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 2:17 AM on July 30, 2012


Annie Proulx writes "I find this list of ten books project to be difficult, pointless, and wrong-headed. Just so you’ll give it a rest, here is a list. [...] Lists, unless grocery shopping lists, are truly a reductio ad absurdum."

That makes me wonder how editor J. Peder Zedane introduced his project to these writers. A bit too persistently, methinks.
posted by dott8080 at 8:26 AM on July 30, 2012


Annie Proulx writes "I find this list of ten books project to be difficult, pointless, and wrong-headed. Just so you’ll give it a rest, here is a list. [...] Lists, unless grocery shopping lists, are truly a reductio ad absurdum."


Yadda...yadda....yadda....how pompous can you get, out with the damned list already....
posted by Skygazer at 8:39 AM on July 30, 2012


David Foster Wallace's Top Ten includes two Thomas Harris novels and a Tom Clancy novel?

Those two Harris books meant more to me than a pretty large percentage of the Acknowledged Classics of Literature (that I've read) at the tops of these compilations.
posted by Zed at 10:02 AM on July 30, 2012


Thomas Harris's Red Dragon is a Goddamned fuckin' masterpiece..
posted by Skygazer at 10:34 AM on July 30, 2012


hwestiii: "although there have been a few clinkers in the bunch. I'm looking at you Stendhal."

Oh, I quite liked The Charterhouse of Parma.
posted by Chrysostom at 9:57 PM on August 1, 2012


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