The Top Ten

A Natural Curiosity :: The Top Ten

imageTo create The Top Ten: Writers Pick Their Favorite Books, editor J. Peder Zane polled 125 English and American authors to find out which books (mostly works of fiction, with a little poetry and nonfiction mixed in) meant the most to them.

The crankiest of the 125 authors, to judge by the written record, was Annie Proulx.

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. One could, of course, quickly go on to put together list after list. Moreover, the lists would change from week to week as one’s tastes change and as one reads more widely. It has not escaped me that nearly every newspaper, book review publication, and magazine are currently gripped by list fever. Lists, unless grocery shopping lists, are truly a reductio ad absurdum.

So worked up was Proulx that she lost track of the subject/verb agreement in her penultimate sentence. But it’s worth noting that 1) she did produce a list in the end, and 2) it’s a pretty interesting list, encompassing the Odyssey, The Master and Margarita, The Black Book by Orhan Pamuk, and the haiku of Matsuo Bashō.

The Top Top Ten List, compiled from the weighted results of all the responses, is, as you might expect, somewhat predictable. The usual suspects are here: Tolstoy, Flaubert, Nabokov, Twain, Shakespeare, Proust, and so on. Quirkier and more surprising is the list of One-Hit Wonders: Twenty-Three Works That Earned a Top Slot But No Other. Here you find The Woman in the Dunes,Seven Pillars of Wisdom, and I, Claudius.

Douglas Coupland, whose One-Hit Wonder was Truman Capote’s Answered Prayers, endeared himself to me by including two Margaret Drabble novels in his Top Ten: The Ice Age and The Radiant Way. And David Anthony Durham (Jenn’s professor at the Stonecoast writing program) puzzled me by including some of my favorite books (The Book of Laughter and Forgetting, The Famished Road) alongside two that I couldn’t read at all: Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy and The Green House by Mario Vargas Llosa.

Each book mentioned, even if only once, is described in a brief synopsis. After browsing through them, I want to take a look at Fiskadoro by Denis Johnson, The Untouchable by John Banville, The Master by Colm Tóibín, Norwood by Charles Portis, The War with the Newts by Karel Čapek, Death of the Fox by George Garrett, Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko, Fuzz by Ed McBain, Break It Down by Lydia Davis, and maybe one of the Maigret detective novels.

Posted by geoff on 05/31 at 09:59 PM


The Master is very good—in fact just about everything I’ve read by Colm Tóibín is great. I’m going to check out Annie Proulx’s list.

Posted by brad  on  06/01  at  08:00 PM

I’ll try it—though Henry James is not a favorite of mine. Here’s Annie Proulx’s list, in case you don’t have the book handy:

1. The Odyssey by Homer
2. Wheat That Springeth Green by J.F. Powers
3. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
4. Ship of Fools by Katherine Anne Porter
5. The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov
6. King Lear by William Shakespeare
7. Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman
8. The stories of William Trevor
9. The Black Book by Orhan Pamuk
10. The haiku of Matsuo Bashō

Odd that she prefers Tom Sawyer to Huckleberry Finn!

Posted by geoff  on  06/02  at  08:38 AM
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