Sara Gruen

It’s a Top Ten role-reversal - not once, nor twice, but thrice! – in the New York Times Book Review as famous authors don their critic’s caps.

Sara Gruen gets things going on the cover, with her review of Elephant Company: The Inspiring Story of an Unlikely Hero and the Animals Who Helped Him Save Lives in World War II by Vicki Constantine Croke. It’s a biography, Gruen writes, of “Lt. Col. James Howard Williams, known as Elephant Bill, a dashing, athletic man with a deep attachment to animals of all kinds, and an uncanny ability to communicate with them. He was devoted to his childhood donkey, Prince (“the first animal with which I enjoyed a joke”), and was bereft to leave him behind to go to boarding school. But it was while serving in World War I that he first “really fell in love” — with a camel named Frying Pan.” Elephant love was still on the horizon for Williams, who would use them to save lives during World War II.

Next up is Mona Simpson, who reviews Kathryn Ma’s debut novel, The Year She Left Us, the story of an American girl who was adopted from China. “Our heroine,” Simpson writes, “remains tormented by her origins. Her ‘forever family’ of three smart, uncoupled women is unconventional but loving: Her mother is a public defender who’s read all the books about adoption, and her aunt, Les, is an ambitious judge. Both go by men’s nicknames, and neither has ever married. Ari’s grandmother is a hoot — and a liability for her politically correct daughters.”

Finally, Lionel Shriver delivers a mixed review of Summer House With Swimming Pool by the Dutch writer Herman Koch. She writes: “Even by the standards of commercial fiction — the plot hangs together, at least on its own terms; the pace never flags; the ending delivers a proper payoff — Summer House doesn’t cut the mustard. With this novel in my carry-on bag, I’d opt for the in-flight entertainment."

 Sara Gruen’s Top Ten List

1. Life of Pi by Yann Martel (2001).
2. The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen (2001).
3. The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway (1926).
4. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz (2007).
5. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë (1847).
6. On Writing by Stephen King (2000).
7. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck (1939).
8. Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky (1866).
9. A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry (1995).
10. Sonnets by William Shakespeare (1564-1616).

Mona Simpson’s Top Ten List

1. To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf (1927).
2. Varieties of Religious Experience by William James (1901, 1902).
3. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens (1860–61).
4. In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust (1913–27).
5. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy (1869).
6. Stories of Anton Chekhov (1860–1904).
7. Middlemarch by George Eliot (1871–72).
8. Lolita (1955) and Spring in Fialta (1936) by Vladimir Nabokov.
9. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë (1847).
10. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain (1884).

Lionel Shriver’s Top Ten List

1. For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway (1940).
2. Absalom, Absalom! by William Faulkner (1936).
3. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy (1877).
4. The Heart of the Matter by Graham Greene (1948).
5. Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates (1961).
6. The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton (1920).
7. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote (1966).
8. The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoevsky (1868).
9. Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy (1895).
10. Paris Trout by Pete Dexter (1988).