Junot Díaz

Among the wondrous passages in the wondrous novel—The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Waoby our newest Top Ten contributor, Junot Díaz, is this one:

And at that moment, for reasons you will never quite understand, you are overcome by the feeling, the premonition, that something in your life is about to change. You become light-headed and you can feel a throbbing in your blood, a beat, a rhythm, a drum. Bright lights zoom through you like photon torpedoes, like comets. You don't know how or why you know this thing but that you know it cannot be doubted. It is exhilarating. 

That sparkling, kinetic prose, so grounded in the here and now while soaring above it, captures the feeling of reading Díaz’s work, which chronicles both the search for and nature of identity, family and belonging. His debut book of fiction, Drown (1996), is a series of stories narrated by a haunted, brilliant young man who tracks his family’s precarious journey from the barrios of Santo Domingo to the tenements of industrial New Jersey. His next book, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (2007) – the story of a sweet but disastrously overweight ghetto nerd who dreams of becoming the Dominican J.R.R. Tolkien and, most of all, finding love – swept most of the major awards, including the Pulitzer Prize for fiction and the National Book Critics Circle Award. He has also published the story collection This is How You Lose Her (2012) and a children’s book, Islandborn (2018, with Leo Espinosa).

Díaz’s list introduces eight new books to Top Ten Land’s List of Books. These include two books by other Top Ten contributors— Woman Hollering Creek by Sandra Cisneros and The Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston. His list also puts another feather in Toni Morrison’s cap. His selection of Sula means that six of her books—including Beloved, Jazz, Song of Solomon, Paradise, The Bluest Eye—have been listed by at least one writer as being among the ten greatest works of all time. Only one author has placed more individual titles on the List, some guy named Shakespeare (with 10).

Junot Díaz’s Top Ten List

1. Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko (1977)
2. Woman Hollering Creek by Sandra Cisneros (1991)
3. Dhalgren by Samuel R. Delany (1974)
4. Sula by Toni Morrison (1973)
5. Small Island by Andrea Levy (2004)
6. Dawn by Octavia Butler (1987)
7. Texaco by Patrick Chamoiseau (1992)
8. The Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston (1976)
9. Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie (1981)
10. Distant Star by Roberto Bolaño (1996)