Featured List

Jonathan Lethem

“Jonathan Lethem’s extraordinary career is a reminder of the not-so-distant past when working novelists published their new creations regularly and with a seemingly free-flowing hand,” Michael Greenberg writes in the New York Times Book Review. “If one book wasn’t up to snuff, there would be another to redeem it a year or two later. It was all part of the ebb and flow of a lifetime of work.

 

“Twenty books ... read more ...

The Book: The Top Ten

What is a classic book?

By J. Peder Zane

Italo Calvino defined it is as a work that “has never finished saying what it has to say.” Ezra Pound said it possesses “a certain eternal and irrepressible freshness." And the 19th century French literary critic Charles Augustin Sainte-Beuve declared that “[it] has discovered some moral and not equivocal truth, or revealed some eternal passion in that heart where all seemed known and discovered.”

At first glance, these definitions of classic/great books seem on the mark. Under their umbrella of excellence we can fit undisputed works of genius from “The Iliad” and “The Divine Comedy” to “Pride & Prejudice,” “Anna Karenina” and “Invisible Man.”

Unfortunately, they rest on a fallacy – that any and every book that exhibits these qualities will be considered a classic. In fact, there are many works graced with eternal and irrepressible freshness that are not considered part of the canon. I could mention “A High Wind in Jamaica” by Richard Hughes, “With” by Donald Harington and “The Night Inspector” by Frederick Busch. Some readers will dispute those picks; most have their own list of unheralded masterpieces.

The definition of great books will never be settled by competing arguments. There are no objective criteria that can establish the qualities exclusively possessed by a small handful of works deemed classics. That doesn’t mean that we should stop trying to define what makes some works better than others – this is possible, necessary and great fun. But it suggests that other, long ignored factors drive our definition of classic/great books.  Read more ...

Free and Easy Way to Support this Site

Use the Top Ten as your gateway to Amazon and we'll receive a small commission on everything your purchase. Just click here. THANKS!

 

cTo order an inscribed copy of The Top Ten ($15, includes shipping) click here.

Follow The Top Ten on:

Jonathan Lethem

“Jonathan Lethem’s extraordinary career is a reminder of the not-so-distant past when working novelists published their new creations regularly and with a seemingly free-flowing hand,” Michael Greenberg writes in the New York Times Book Review. “If one book wasn’t up to snuff, there would be another to redeem it a year or two later. It was all part of the ebb and flow of a lifetime of work.

 

Joyce Carol Oates

“During her long and distinguished career, Joyce Carol Oates never has shied away from the controversy that can come with using celebrities and tabloid news stories as the inspiration for her fiction,” Jon Michaud observes in the Washington Post.

Peter Carey

Peter Carey is receiving astoundingly mixed reviews for new novel, Amnesia. Where some reviewers see genius, others eye a tedious mix. It’s enough to make you suspect that critics are not infallible!

 

Stewart O'Nan

Stewart O’Nan’s fifteenth novel, West of Sunset, is the latest in a line of works in which great writers essay the life of other great writers – one of my favorites is Frederick Busch’s 1999 novel featuring Herman Melville, The Night Inspector.

 

Tom LeClair

Top Ten Land may celebrate classic books, but like Bob Dylan, we don’t look back. We look forward to new lists that bring great works to our attention.

Ron Rash

   Ron Rash has received many glowing reviews, but it would be hard to top the mash note he received from Janet Maslin last week for Something Rich and Strange, “a major short-story anthology that can introduce new readers to this author’s haunting talents and reaffirm what his established following already knows.”

Mrs. Bridge and Mr. Bridge

Mrs. Bridge (1959) and Mr. Bridge (1969) by Evan S. Connell. This his and hers pairing, like twinned guest towels, reveals dirty fingerprints on the underside of a tidy looking 1930s Midwestern, middle-class marriage.

Brideshead Revisited

Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh (1945). Waugh was one of the twentieth century’s great satirists, yet this novel, widely considered his best, is not satiric. It is, instead, an examination of Roman Catholic faith as it is used, abused, embraced, and rejected by the Flytes, an aristocratic English family visited by alcoholism, adultery, and homoeroticism.

Pages

New List

Sandra Cisneros

1. The Time of the Doves by Mercè Rodoreda (1962).
2. The Ten Thousand Things by Maria Dermout (1955).
3. Stones for Ibarra by Harriet Doerr (1984).
4. The Burning Plain and Other Stories by Juan Rulfo (1953).
5. Good Morning, Midnight by Jean Rhys (1939).
6. La Flor de Lis by Elena Poniatowska (1988).
 7. Borderlands/La Frontera by Gloria Anzaldúa (1999).
8. The Book of Embraces by Eduardo Galeano (1989).
9. Dreamtigers by Jorge Luis Borges (1964).
10. Maud Martha by Gwendolyn Brooks (1953).

Classic List

Lydia Millet

1. JR by William Gaddis (1975).
2. Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf (1925).
3. Voyage of the ‘Dawn Treader’ by C. S. Lewis (1952).
4. The Lorax by Dr. Seuss (1971).
5. Woodcutters by Thomas Bernhard (1984).
6. The War with the Newts by Karel Capek (1936).
7. Auto-da-Fé by Elias Canetti (1935).
8. Red the Fiend by Gilbert Sorrentino (1995).
9. Masquerade and Other Stories by Robert Walser (1878–1956).
10. Molloy, Malone Dies, and The Unnamable, a trilogy by Samuel Beckett (1951–54).

Read On Amazon Fire Phone

Read Your Books and do so much more. You have to see it to believe it! What a great gift for Christmas

Amazon Fire Phone, 32GB (Unlocked GSM)Read Your books on Amazon Firephone and do so much more