Tom Bissell's Top Ten List

Top Tenner Tom Bissell receives a mixed but interesting review in this Sunday’s New York Times Book Review for “Magic Hours: Essays on Creators and Creation.”

 

The most stimulating part of the review – which loses steam quick, fast and in a hurry – is the beginning. There, Garth Risk Hallberg aligns Bissell with what he calls the New New New Journalism (N3J), a group that includes Elif Batuman, Wells Tower, Sam Anderson and John Jeremiah Sullivan. They have, Hallberg asserts, “a certain generational voice: a mash-up of slacker insouciance and hermeneutic vigor. It’s the old Bellovian high-low, but with reliable connections for both Wi-Fi and pot. You sense cultural omnivorousness in these writers’ choice of subject matter, too: Tolstoy and traffic school; reality TV and cave painting; ChatRoulette and Derrida. Their godparents are not so much Joan Didion and Gay Talese as Nicholson Baker (Updike, Wikipedia), Geoff Dyer (Rodin, doughnuts) and David Foster Wallace (tennis, infinity).”

 

Mash-up culture is, of course, everywhere and it would have been interesting to read more about this impulse. Is mixing and matching a sign of creativity or exhaustion? Is pastiche a creative new form of expression or a phase taking us to more radical innovations? Are those the right questions? I’ll have to think about that.

 

The review closes with a nice pair of quotes.

 

“Journalism is literature in a hurry.” – Matthew Arnold

“Literature is news that stays news.” – Ezra Pound

 

Here is Tom’s Top Ten List, with his brief comments:

1. Middlemarch by George Eliot (1871-72). Modern novelistic consciousness, I think, begins with this book.
2. Ulysses by James Joyce (1922). Despite its longueurs - and boy does it have some - nobody has ever written more definitively about place and more seductively about consciousness.
3. Stoner by John Williams (1965). The best "quiet" book I've ever read, and the most heartbreaking.
4. Blood Meridian: Or the Evening Redness in the West by Cormac McCarthy (1985). The best example of how monstrous violence can be made beautiful.
5. London Fields by Martin Amis (1990). The apocalypse as stand-up comedy as murder mystery.
6. Of a Fire on the Moon by Norman Mailer (1971). His most neglected great book.
7. The Widow's Children by Paula Fox (1976). The most intense novel I've ever read--and the best ending.
8. Shah of Shahs by Ryszard Kapuscinski (1982). The work that showed me how nonfiction can be as artful and beautiful as fiction.
9. Dog Soldiers by Robert Stone (1973). Has the single greatest death scene I've ever read, and I read it, probably, every couple of weeks to remind me what prose can do.
10. Snowblind: A Brief Career in the Cocaine Trade by Robert Sabbag (1998). An impossibly stylish and gripping real-life thriller about life in the cocaine trade.

 

 

 

New List

Jim Harrison (1937-2016)

1. The Possessed by Fyodor Dostoevsky (1872).
2. In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust (1913–27).
3. Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë (1847).
4. Moby-Dick by Herman Melville (1851).
5. Ulysses by James Joyce (1922).
6. Independent People by Halldór Laxness (1934).
7. Absalom, Absalom! by William Faulkner (1936).
8. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez (1967).
9. Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller (1934).
10. The Stranger by Albert Camus (1942).

 

Classic List

Craig Nova

1. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (1925).
2. The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford (1915).
3. Parade’s End by Ford Madox Ford (1928).
4. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez (1967).
5. The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky (1880).
6. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy (1869).
7. Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather (1927).
8. Jazz by Toni Morrison (1992).
9. The Plague by Albert Camus (1947).
10. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens (1860–61).

 

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