Great Writers Show Their Appreciation

We launched Top Ten Books because we had to know: Which books do our favorite authors deem the best ever written? When they gave us the answer we wanted more: Why do these particular titles mean so much to them? So we asked some of ‘em to write a short appreciation of one of their picks. A.L. Kennedy, Stephen King, Margot Livesey, Lydia Millet and Tom Wolfe are among the writers who expressed their admiration for works that range from uber-classics such as The Bible to obscure gems including "Red the Fiend" by Gilbert Sorrentino. The result is a wealth of titles with personalized recommendations from leading writers. Over the next few months we will be highlighting these appreciations so that we readers can better understand why these works matter to those whose books matter so much to us.

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Lydia Millet

Lydia Millet is that rare bird – a passionate environmentalist who spends her days trying to save the planet at the Center for Biological Diversity in Tucson and an acclaimed novelist who spends her nights and weekends crafting open-ended works of fiction that do not fall into the trap of activism or dogma.

Melissa Bank RIP

We are sad to hear that Top Ten contributor Melissa Bank died of lung cancer on Aug. 2 at the age of 61.

Melissa is best known for her bestselling book of linked short stories, The Girls’ Guide to Hunting and Fishing (1999), which featured a common main character, Jane Rosenthal, who was very similar to Bank. As Simon Hattenstone observed in a profile of Bank for the Guardian, “Jane and Bank were both born in Philadelphia and live in New York, they share a neurologist father who died of leukemia in his late 50s, a background in publishing, an older lover with a history of drunkenness and diabetes.”

Karen Joy Fowler

In an Author’s Note appended to her sixth novel, Booth, Karen Joy Fowler explains: “I did not want to write a book about John Wilkes. This is a man who craved attention and has gotten too much of it; I didn’t think he deserved mine. And yet there is no way around the fact that I wouldn’t be writing about his family if he weren’t who he was, if he hadn’t done what he did.”

Sheila Heti

Sheila Heti never shies away from the big questions. The title of her 2010 novel, for example, asked How Should a Person Be?

Where that bold work of autobiographical fiction merged memoir, philosophy and art to portray the search for meaning big and small—Does life have meaning? Why do I care about petty things?—it was an inward-looking work that focused on grounded struggles.

Craig Nova

Nobody actually talks the way Craig Nova’s characters do in his 15th novel – and first mystery – Double Solitaire. And more’s the pity. As this hardboiled yarn drags us down into Hollywood perversion and corruption it lifts us up into a glittering realm of rat-a-tat dialogue where most everybody sounds like a cross between Philip Marlowe and Noel Coward.

Paul Auster on Stephen Crane

One of The Top Ten’s aims is to let esteemed writers be fans – to acknowledge and celebrate their own literary heroes.

The novelist, poet, memoirist, essayist and screenwriter Paul Auster does that in spades with his splendid new biography, Burning Boy: The Life and Work of Stephen Crane. Although he lived just 28 years (1871-1900), Crane remains one of America’s best known writers, thanks, in no small part, to his realist novel, The Red Badge of Courage, which was a staple of high school reading lists. But his star – like those of his contemporaries such as Jack London and Frank Norris – has faded in recent years.