Friday, April 13, 2007

Top Tens

So have you sent your list of top ten favourite reads in to the Star? You only have a couple more days to go, y'know.

I've tossed and turned at night over my choices ... many of them read so long ago that I wonder if I would still love the titles as much as I did back then. What did I choose? I'll tell you in another post after the results of the StarMag poll are out. (Mel posted her list on her blog.)

Lists of best reads make compulsive reading. Critic Robert McCrum puts it nicely:
Obviously, in the whirling blizzard of new prose and amid the disorienting static of mass communications, a list provides a signpost, a welcome simplification of confusing data and, perhaps, a still small voice of clarity. Next, especially for bookish blokes whose reading must be susceptible to notions of rank and consequence, a list posts a valuation on a vivid but meaningless literary Footsie. Finally, a list is simultaneously an aide-memoire, a reproach and a provocation.
Last month I impulse bought The Top Ten: Writers Pick Their Favourite Books edited by J. Peder Zane from Kinokuniya. (I'm a sucker for books about books and naughty Kino had a whole table covered in them!)

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


Chet said...


I never even got past quartermarch!

bibliobibuli said...

neither have i ... and not even that far!

Amir said...

I gave up in Book 3.

bibliobibuli said...

maybe this is why none of us are great published writers!!!

Anonymous said...

I gave up on at least two of these books, including Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby. Oh dear. Eliza

Chet said...

Ha! The Great Gatsby was one of the books I managed to finish. I was inspired to read it after watching the movie version!

Tunku Halim said...


Off the top of my skull and in no particular order, mine are:

The Old Man and the Sea - Ernest Hemmingway

Gormenghast - Mervyn Peak

Catch 22 - Joseph Heller

Ghost Story - Peter Straub

One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance - Robert Pirsig

Oscar and Lucinda - Peter Carey

Animal Farm - George Orwell

An Equal Music - Vikram Seth

Salem’s Lot - Stephen King

bibliobibuli said...

hey, tunku halim - do hope you sent in your list to the star. some of my favourites on your list esp. "an equal music" but i had "a suitable boy" instead

eliza said...

Rather glad someone else has Salem's Lot on their list too. This book is definitely on mine.

chet: :-P

The Visitor said...

i believe one cannot have Salem's Lot on the list without also including Dracula.

i think IT is Stephen King's greatest book, and a great modern novel. it says a lot about communal guilt and anxiety.

animah said...

Thanks for the reminder. Just submitted. None of the 10 above are in my list. Well I wavered between Lolita and Ada or Ardor. Went for the latter. I was determined on one book for an author. To be democratic you know. All my books are 20th century.
I know I'll go, oh no I forgot to include ....!!! all weekend.
Oh no, I forgot the Hitchikers Guide to the Galaxy!!!

The Visitor said...

the greatest book ever written is Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury!

no plot, no story, but what a book!!!

bibliobibuli said...

eliza - yes, people should just be honest about what they like ...

visitor - i've read most of ray bradbury but not dandelion wine. i loved the short stories when i was a teenager ...

i'm glad starmag is doing this!

Chet said...

House of Mirth, Edith Wharton

The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway

The Bluest Eye, Toni Morrison

Fear of Flying, Erica Jong

Wild Swans, Jung Chang

The Talisman, Peter Straub and Stephen King

The Woman Warrior, Maxine Hong Kingston

Woman in White, Wilkie Collins

Possessing the Secret of Joy, Alice Walker

Dancer Dawkins and the California Kid, Willyce Kim

bibliobibuli said...

never heard of willyce kim, chet! my ignorant!

hope you sent this list in?

qaminante said...

I would also include "A Suitable Boy". But I have a problem with Top 10 lists (apart from having to re-read everything to be able to decide on ratings!): to me there is a distinction between "favourite" and "most worthy", i.e. "great literature". I suppose this means I have absorbed something from literature classes in terms of what makes for "a great book", but I still prefer "a good read"! In a language class once we were all asked to talk about our favourite music, I spoke about Gloria Estefan, Beatles etc.... but every single other member of the class (whether older or younger than me) talked about classical composers! Felt a right philistine.
I'll look out for other lists with interest.

Greenbottle said...


1: catcher in the rye
2: catcher in the rye
3: catcher in the rye
4: kim
5: cat's cradle - kurt vonnegut
6: tin drum - gunther grass
7: huckleberry finn
8: the great gatsby
9: hundred years of solitude
10: the satanic verses
11: dracula

bibliobibuli said...

greenbottle - do you like "catcher in the rye" or something?

qaminante - you are quite right. i based my choice on books i keep having to go back and reread and which feel fresh each time

Chet said...

Sharon - Willyce Kim is an Asian-American writer who I discovered thro another Asia-American writer, Kitty Tsui, whose book The Words of a Woman who breathes Fire I discovered one day in Silver Moon in London.

bibliobibuli said...

thanks chet, it's good to have areas of ignorance banished - hey the mention of the bookshop brings back happy memories of charing cross road!

Chet said...

Especially 84, Charing Cross Road?

Jane Sunshine said...

Sharon I've done my list and sent it to Star.