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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Fred Chappell Appreciates Rabelais

Appreciation of François Rabelais’ Gargantua and Pantagruel by Fred Chappell

The stories of the giant Gargantua and his giant son Pantagruel, of their birth, nurture, education, and heroic feats of arms; of Pantagruel’s voyages through strange lands and exotic cultures in search of ultimate wisdom; of their companions Rondibilis, Frère Jean, and the irrepressible, inexpressible Panurge; of their arriving at last in the abode of the Priestess Bacbuc whose oracular Bottle utters the final truth they have sought —these stories are impossible to summarize and set in order.

Sandra Cisneros Appreciates "La Flor de Lis"

Appreciation of Elena Poniatowska’s La Flor de Lis by Sandra Cisneros

The little hand serving me coffee is also the hand that wrote the exquisite novel La Flor de Lis (1988). It seems absurd a writer of such worth should bother serving coffee to anyone, but it’s precisely this humility, this willingness to serve others, whether it be coffee, or novels, or testimonies, or tamales, that makes Elena Poniatowska a writer as well loved by cab drivers as by professors. The title alludes to France, but if you’re hip to Mexico City, you’ll know La Flor de Lis is also the famous tamale restaurant in la colonia Condesa.

Charles Palliser Appreciates "Anton Reiser"

Appreciation of Karl Philipp Moritz’s Anton Reiser by Charles Palliser

When I first encountered this autobiographical novel by the German writer, Karl Philipp Moritz, I found it hard to believe it was describing a childhoood and adolescence lived in the 1760s and 1770s. That’s how acute and fresh is its depiction of the humiliations endured by a clever boy from a poor background who becomes the recipient of charity in order to obtain the education that will give him the respect and celebrity he craves. The fact that he is clearly gifted does not deter those who are from “superior” backgrounds or in positions of power over him from patronising and insulting him.

Coded to Kill

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, U.S. government is poised to adopt a nationwide system for Electronic Health Records that uses the latest advances in advanced artificial intelligence  to immediately identify emerging diseases and vastly improve the delivery of care. But what if this historic breakthrough to save lives is also being used as a killing machine? And what if one of the first assassination targets is a presidential candidate?

Tom Wolfe Appreciates "Studs Lonigan"

Appreciation of James T. Farrell’s Studs Lonigan Trilogy by Tom Wolfe

To writers born after 1950, James T. Farrell (1904–79) is known, if at all, as a “plodding realist” who wrote a lot of dull, factual novels now as dead and buried as he is. To writers born from, say, 1925 to 1935, however, the very name James T. Farrell strums the heartstrings of youth. To be young and to read Farrell’s first novel, Studs Lonigan! It made one tingle with exhilaration and wonder. How could anybody else understand your own inexpressible feelings so well?

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.