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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Lee Smith

If Silver Alert proves to be Lee Smith’s 15th and final novel, she is going out with a bang.

Through high-velocity prose filled with humor and sweet compassion that does not flinch from cruelty, Smith focuses on two improbable friends―an ailing octogenarian and a young woman with a frightening past―who are both trying to gain some measure of control over their lives.

Scott Turow

Top Ten contributor Scott Turow has built a long, illustrious career crafting topnotch legal thrillers. Though he works within a traditional genre, Turow also pushes the envelope.

Consider his latest novel, Suspect, which plays with the au courant ideas of #MeToo and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in a fast-paced tale of scandal and crime.

Percival Everett

Is Percival Everett the black male Joyce Carol Oates? Is Joyce Carol Oates the white female Percival Everett?

Perhaps there’s nothing to that comparison except that both are literary artist as prodigiously talented as they are stunningly prolific—delivering quantity and quality.

Just a year after his 22nd novel, The Trees, was named a Booker Prize finalist, Everett has given us his 23rd novel (which share shelf space with his six collections of poetry and four books of stories)—a smart and funny riff on high-level mathematics, identity, race and James Bond films called Dr. No.

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.