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

    Josephine Humphreys

    1. Moby-Dick by Herman Melville (1851).
    2. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain (1884).
    3. The Moviegoer by Walker Percy (1961).
    4. Love Medicine by Louise Erdrich (1984).
    5. Edisto by Padget Powell (1984).
    6. Bleak House by Charles Dickens (1853).
    7. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov (1955).
    8. The stories of Flannery O’Connor (1925–64).
    9. Light in August by William Faulkner (1932).
    10. Nausea by Jean-Paul Sartre (1938).


    Classic List

    Wally Lamb

    1. The Odyssey by Homer (ninth century b.c.e.?).
    2. Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes (1605, 1615).
    3. King Lear by William Shakespeare (1605).
    4. Tom Jones  by Henry Fielding (1749).
    5. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain (1884).
    6. Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser (1900).
    7. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (1925).
    8. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck (1939).
    9. The stories of Flannery O’Connor (1925–64).
    10. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez (1967). 


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