The Top Ten: Writers Pick Their Favorite Books

by J. Peder Zane (Editor)

Paperback, 2007




W. W. Norton & Company (2007), Edition: 1st, 352 pages


You'll find the answer in The Top Ten: Writers Pick Their Favorite Books: the ultimate guide to the world's greatest books. As writers such as Norman Mailer, Annie Proulx, Stephen King, Jonathan Franzen, Claire Messud, Margaret Drabble, Michael Chabon and Peter Carey name the ten books that have meant the most to them, you'll be reminded of books you have always loved and introduced to works awaiting your discovery.The Top Ten includes summaries of 544 books--each of which is considered to be among the ten greatest books ever written by at least one leading writer. In addition to each writer's Top Ten List, the book features Top Ten Lists tabulated from their picks, including:* The Top Ten Books of All Time* The Top Ten Books by Living Writers* The Top Ten Books of the Twentieth Century* The Top Ten Mysteries* The Top Ten ComediesAlready sparking debate, The Top Ten will help readers answer the most pressing question of all: What should I read next?… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member 1morechapter
This book has top ten book lists for 125 writers. Zane then scored these selections with a #1 pick getting 10 points and a #10 pick getting 1 point to come up with an overall list. The top ten works are the following:

1. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy (1877)
2. Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert (1857)
3. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy (1869)
4. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov (1955)
5. Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain (1884)
6. Hamlet by William Shakespeare (1600)
7. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (1925)
8. In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust (1913-1927)
9. The stories of Anton Chekhov (1860-1904)
10. Middlemarch by George Eliot (1871-1872)

I find it interesting that the breakdown according to nationality was 40% Russian, 20% British, 20% American, and 20% French. I LOVE Russian lit-especially Tolstoy and Dostoevsky. I have read the titles in bold and would like to read the other books on the list in the following order: Middlemarch, War and Peace, The Stories of Anton Chekov, Lolita, and then In Search of Lost Time. I want to read Middlemarch in 2008 and perhaps War and Peace as well.

There were various other top ten lists in the back with the following as the #1 pick for each:

#1 work of the 20th century: Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
#1 work of the 19th century: Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
#1 work of the 18th centure: Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne
#1 work of the 16th and 17th centuries: Hamlet by William Shakespeare
#1 work of the 15th century and earlier: The Odyssey by Homer
#1 author by number of works selected: William Shakespeare
#1 author by points earned: Leo Tolstoy
#1 work by an American author: Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
#1 work by a British author: Hamlet by William Shakespeare
#1 work by a Russian author: Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
#1 work by a French author: Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
#1 work by a living author: One Hundred Years of Solitude by Marquez
#1 comic work: Don Quixote by Cervantes
#1 work of fantasy/science fiction: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Carroll
#1 mystery/thriller: The Long Goodbye by Raymond Chandler

He also lists all 544 books mentioned by the writers in point order with a summary for each. I did glean some titles for my TBR pile that I’ll list here:

The Golden Argosy edited by Van H. Carmell
The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann
Mrs. Bridge/Mr. Bridge by Evan S. Connell
Stones for Ibarra by Harriet Doerr
The Transit of Venus by Shirley Hazzard
The Diary of a Country Priest by Georges Bernanos
Wheat That Springeth Green by J. F. Powers
The Gate of Angels by Penelope Fitzgerald
The Sheltering Sky by Paul Bowles
The Ponder Heart by Eudora Welty
The Betrothed by Alessandro Manzoni
Silence by Shusaku Endo
The River of Earth by James Still
The Beginning of Spring by Penelope Fitzgerald
The Old Wives’ Tale by Arnold Bennett

I like lists of books so you may be wondering why only a 3.5 rating. I just really liked The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop and The King’s English so much better. Also, out of the 125 authors that participated, I had only heard of 55 of them. As I read through the selections, I found that other than the obvious classics I haven’t read and the above titles, I just wasn’t interested in many of them. Doom and gloom and s*x and violence. I don’t have to have a happy ending to enjoy a book, but I do want to feel something other than utter hopelessness.
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LibraryThing member bibliobibuli
You pretty much know the contents of the book from the title alone. In fact Zane asked 125 top British and American authors of various fiction genres for their lists, among them, Stephen King, Alice Hoffman, (my patron saint) Annie Proulx, Alexander McCall Smith, Ann Patchett, Sue Monk Kidd, Michael Cunningham ... (Scott Esposito of the Conversational Reading blog delights in the quirkinesses of the lists.)

The writers between them nominate 544 titles, which Zane then provides a guide to in the second part of the book. This is a formidable master reading list and perhaps a great place for the reader who wants to go straight for the best or the wannabe writer setting out to fill gaps in their reading education.

And then Zane then correlates all the lists to draw out with a single Top 10 of all time according to authors. And this, my dears, is it:

1. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

2. Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert

3. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

4. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

5. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

6. Hamlet by William Shakespeare

7. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

8. In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust

9. The Stories of Anton Chekhov

10. Middlemarch by George Eliot
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LibraryThing member LheaJLove
J. Peder Zane compiled 125 lists of top ten greatest books from British and American authors. Each author, from Sherman Alexie to Jennifer Weiner, ranked their 10 masterpieces in order. Each work received 10 points when ranked number 1 and thus 1 point when ranked number 10. The five works which received the greatest number of points are, (1) Anna Karenina, (2) Madame Bovary, (3) War and Peace, (4) Lolita, (5) The adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Madame Bovary actually appeared on more lists (26) than Anna Karenina (25) but Tolstoy's work was ranked higher on its lists 11 more points than Flaubert's.

The top five works by living authors are, (1) One Hundred Years of Solitude, (2) To Kill a Mockingbird, (3) Beloved, (4) The Catcher and the Rye and (5) Rabbit Angstrom. And there were a few authors who submitted lists who were fortunate to have their works mentioned on the top ten list of another artist. Michael Cunningham submitted his lists of favorites from Shakespeare's King Lear to the stories of Flannery O'Connor. Anita Shreve, author of The Pilot's Wife, placed Cunningham's The Hours in the number four spot. Stephen King includes Lord of the Flies and 1984 on his list, while David Foster Wallace and Jennifer Weiner both place King's The Stand as their second greatest book.

Shakespeare has the greatest number of works on the lists (11), yet Tolstoy collects the most points (327) off of 2 great works. Of the 125 lists there are 544 separate titles, 23 of which appeared as the greatest work on one authors list alone, not making any other list. The range of authors selected to submit top ten lists is varied and diverse including the late Bebe Moore Campbell, Sandra Cisneros, Pearle Cleage, Edwidge Danticat, Arthur Goldin, John Irving, Ha Jin, Sue Monk Kidd, Wally Lamb, Joyce Carol Oats, Ann Patchett and Robert Pinsky. While this survey of fiction does include a small sample of non-fiction and poetry, the central focus is the novel. All of the poets & non-fiction writers who were surveyed, have also published fiction works.

This book is a great guide for bloggers, who like myself, are searching for 100 great books to read this year.
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LibraryThing member aimless22
An exhaustive list of wonderful books recommended by today's authors. Enjoyable to read and possible purchase? I did note one book mentioned that was not on anyone's list. It was mentioned in one of the summaries. A Void by George Perec - it does not contain the letter 'E'. How difficult that must have been to write? I have added that one to my list out of curiosity. The 544 titles actually on lists do include many that I have read. I willa dd the others to my list in the future - hence the possible purchase.… (more)
LibraryThing member Humbert_Humbert
At first I was unsure about another book about "books you must read", but after thumbing through it I absolutely fell in love. At least once a week I take this book off the shelf and look to see what some great authors have to say about their favorite books.
LibraryThing member debnance
I browsed through this book a few weeks back during a bookstore visit and put it back on the shelf; my quick assessment found it tediously monotonous, with all the writers picking the same few classics. I couldn’t pass it up for two dollars at a book sale, however. It did read with deadly repetition for the majority of the book: Macbeth…Macbeth…Macbeth…Middlemarch…Middlemarch…Middlemarch…War and Peace…War and Peace…War and Peace. It was the surprises, the little known favorites, that I found to be worth the price of the book, the So Long, See You Tomorrows, The Man Who Loved Childrens, the Quartet in Autumns. I love to hear about other people’s favorite books….It should be written under their name on a tag when meeting new people….inscribed on t-shirts….emblazoned on business cards….added to signature lines….… (more)
LibraryThing member nmhale
I love reading. I like making lists. I like finding out what books are considered quality literature and checking my reading against those recommendations. Clearly, this book is ideal for me.

The way the editor created his list was by surveying contemporary writers about their top ten choices. While many of the writers protested that such a list was an impossibility, they still sent one in. The editor then assigned a number to each book on the list, ten points for the top book chosen, ranging down to one point for the book on the bottom of the list. He totaled the points, and chose the ten books that received the most of them. Voila - a top ten lists of favorite books chosen by contemporary writers. The method is admittedly flawed; it's too subjective, we don't know how the editor chose his sample of participating authors, and the criteria for what makes a book a favorite can vary wildly from one person to the next. The editor actually acknowledges several of these points in one of the essays at the beginning of a book. He also explains that this list is meant to inspire more reading in literature rather than be a decree to read the particular titles described, and that while it is not conclusive evidence of anything, it is suggestive to see similarities and differences in reading choices among a broad set of people.

How can you make a whole book out of one list? With a lot of other corresponding lists! The book starts with two essays to establish the purpose and the meaning of the top ten list; they also describe the selection process. Then, the top ten list is presented on one page, simple and in a rectangle outlined in strong black lines. After this, the editor presents the top ten list of every individual author who responded to their survey, with a brief description of that writer's works. This way, we can see all the books that were considered brilliant but didn't quite make the cut. Following this section of lists is the longest division of the book, a bibliography of all the books mentioned in the preceding lists, with a brief synopsis for each one. Finally, in a short section at the end, the editors had fun with some data analysis. They created new lists from the information they procured, using different sets of criteria for each one; for instance, top ten mystery choices, or top ten books of the eighteenth century.

As I wrote earlier, I enjoyed reading this book. The fun of reading what other writers consider great literature. The enjoyment of perusing various lists. The enticement of all of those wonderful books that I haven't read and need to. I particularly liked the top ten list and the new configurations at the end of the book; the list of every individual author was enlightening, but monotonous. The biggest portion of the book, the bibliography, is also too much. I understand why the editor included it, and it certainly sparked new interests for me in books that I have never heard of, or books that I have always meant to read but never have, but the section was too long and repetitive and greatly slowed the reading pace. However, this only matters to people who obsessively read the entire book. If the majority of readers refer to this book as a reference, neither of these complaints will detract from the book's enjoyment. Certainly, the benefits of the materials collected outweigh the personal irritations, and I recommend this book for all fellow bibliophiles.
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LibraryThing member Moxie44
Addictive. Great fun.
LibraryThing member KurtWombat
First I will have to cop to a certain proclivity for top ten lists and also for the tabulation of points based upon an item’s appearance on those lists to make other top ten lists. Then if you make those top tens the favorite books of 125 contemporary authors, you have me hooked. This is a nice book to pick through at your leisure over time, otherwise reading list after list could become rather maddening. After the author’s lists, a synopsis of each book appears in the order of its popularity from the top tens. There are 544 books listed which let me know two things. First--many books appear on multiple lists and second-- despite that, I still found a treasure trove of books that I have never heard of and am now crazy curious to find. For example, MAN’S FATE by Andre Malraux, IMPRESSIONS OF AFRICA by Raymond Roussel, THE WAR OF THE NEWTS by Karel Capek, AUTO-DA-FE by Elias Canetti and several more. The somewhat redundant appearance of certain books reflects that most of the authors were Western, white and predominantly male—that is a drawback. I would also have liked some archival work referencing writers no longer with us and the books they liked and referenced during their careers. Possibly another book. And of course it is quite difficult to read this book and not be inspired to create my own list:
WINESBURG, OHIO by Sherwood Anderson
HEART OF DARKNESS by Joseph Conrad
INVISIBLE MAN by Ralph Ellison
SLAUGHTERHOUSE 5 by Kurt Vonnegut
MOBY DICK by Herman Melville
TWICE TOLD TALES by Nathaniel Hawthorne
DEAD SOULS by Nicolai Gogol
SHIP OF FOOLS by Katherine Anne Porter
GRAPES OF WRATH by John Steinbeck

And of course I cheated by putting eleven. Before you judge me, try it yourself.
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LibraryThing member seldombites
This is a great resource if you are looking for ideas for a quality read. With books for just about every taste and ability, the advantage of using this book instead of just looking up lists on the internet, is that descriptions of the books are included, so you don't need to google each title separately.

There are books from just about every era listed here, from the fifteenth century and earlier (such as Oedipus the King by Sophocles) to the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries (such as Paradise Lost by John Milton) to the eighteenth century (such as The Story of the Stone by Cao Xueqin) to the nineteenth century (such as Middlemarch by George Eliot) to the twentieth century (such as One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez).

There are poems (The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samual Taylor Coleridge), kids books (Peter Pan by J.M.Barrie), short stories (Going to Meet the Man by James Baldwin), plays (practically all of shakespeare made it) and novels (Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy).

There are British authors (Jane Austen), American authors (F. Scott Fitzgerald), Russian authors (Anton Chekhov) and French authors (Marcel Proust). There are comics (Right Ho, Jeeves by P.G.Wodehouse), fantasy/sci-fi (The War with the Newts by Karel Capek) and mysteries/thrillers (The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris).

In all, there are 544 books listed in The Top Ten. That means, that if you start now, and read one book per week, it will take you eleven and a half years to read them all. So get cracking - there's no time to waste!
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