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Tom Wolfe, RIP

We have lost a giant – one of the very best reporters and writers in American history.

The Wall Street Journal reports that Tom Wolfe, the best-selling alchemist of fiction and nonfiction who wrote “The Bonfire of the Vanities,” “The Right Stuff” and countless other novels and works of journalism, died of pneumonia in a New York hospital yesterday. He was 88 years old.

I first met Mr. Wolfe through “The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test.” Then I read everything else. Being in his company was pure pleasure, and inspiring. Try ... 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.  Read more ...

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Tom Wolfe, RIP

We have lost a giant – one of the very best reporters and writers in American history.

The Wall Street Journal reports that Tom Wolfe, the best-selling alchemist of fiction and nonfiction who wrote “The Bonfire of the Vanities,” “The Right Stuff” and countless other novels and works of journalism, died of pneumonia in a New York hospital yesterday. He was 88 years old.

Tom Perrotta

     “Disappointment plagues the characters in [Tom] Perrotta’s novels,” writes Laura Miller in the New Yorker, “from the disaffected parents in Little Children to the divorced sex-education instructor in The Abstinence Teacher. Their marriages lack passion, their spouses cheat, their kids demand too much from them.

George Saunders is Da Man!

First he was invited to submit a Top Ten list, then he became just second American to win the Man Booker Prize. 

Coincidence?

Perhaps. In any event we offer an All American high-five, true-dat, chuch yo, way to go, to Mr. George Saunders.

Susan Vreeland

Susan Vreeland, a master of turning fine art into literature, has died at age 71, following complications from heart surgery.

Her second novel, and breakthough work, Girl in Hyacinth Blue (1999), traces the ownership of a purported Vermeer painting back to World War II and Amsterdam, and still further back to the moment of the work's inspiration.

Alexander McCall Smith

    You tell your publisher you have surefire hit – the story of a writer whose rental car complications force him to drive a bulldozer around Tuscany.

    You tell her it’s not a farce, but rather poignant.

    She tells you to find another agent.

    Unless, of course, your name is Alexander McCall Smith and you have already enjoyed so much success that she exclaims, “Brilliant!,” and you have enough imagination and wit to pull it off.

Peter Blauner

Peter Blauner is back! After an 11-year break from writing novels – the poor man had to make a living, crafting scripts for TV shows like “Law & Order: SVU” and “Blue Bloods” (my mom’s fave) – the Edgar Award-winner has delivered his seventh novel, Proving Ground.

Maile Meloy

When Liv and Nora decide to take their husbands and children on a holiday cruise, everyone is thrilled. The adults are lulled by the ship’s comfort and ease. The four children—ages six to eleven—love the nonstop buffet and their newfound independence. But when they all go ashore for an adventure in Central America, a series of minor misfortunes and miscalculations leads the families farther from the safety of the ship. One minute the children are there, and the next they’re gone. 
 

Annie Proulx

Considering that Annie Proulx is already one of America’s most celebrated and honored writers, it is saying something that she is receiving the best reviews of her life for her new, 717-page novel, Barkskins.

Listen:

Lydia Millet

“I have the worst idea for a book! It’s the single-worst idea for a book I’ve ever had,” Lydia Millet told her friend and fellow author Jenny Offill. “See, there’s a baby. And God speaks through it! It’s a terrible idea, isn’t it? I can’t wait to write it.”

Offill, Millet recalls in an interview with Bethanne Patrick, “encouraged me. That’s what friends are for.”

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New List

Francine Prose

1. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy (1877).
2. The Charterhouse of Parma by Stendhal (1839). (See below.)
3. In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust (1913–27).
4. The stories of Anton Chekhov (1860–1904).
5. The stories of John Cheever (1912–82).
6. The stories of Mavis Gallant (1922– ).
7. Moby-Dick by Herman Melville (1851).
8. Middlemarch by George Eliot (1871–72).
9. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez (1967).

 

Classic List

Amy Bloom

 

1. The Deptford trilogy by Robertson Davies (1983).
2.Persuasion by Jane Austen (1817).
3. His Dark Materialsby Philip Pullman (1995–2000).
4.The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields (1995).
5.The Known World by Edward P. Jones (2003).
6. The Beggar Maid by Alice Munro (1978).
7. The Plot Against Americaby Philip Roth.
8. The Hours by Michael Cunningham (1998).
9. Fancies and Goodnights by John Collier (1951).
10. Larry’s Party by Carol Shields (1997).

 

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