Finally Reading "Quixote"

By J. Peder Zane

Don Quixote has been challenging my honor for decades.

“You want the world to think you are well-read, a true Señor of letters,” he admonished each time I looked up at him on the shelf. “You may even believe it yourself. Yet here I sit, my spine miraculously strong and stiff; a joke you would appreciate if you knew me.”

Once I reminded him that I had read the first 75 of his 940 pages – which is actually two books for goodness sake. Big mistake: “Then you, sir, are both a fraud and a quitter.” As he spat those words, I heard his fellow guilt trippers, Andrew Bolkonski and Dorthea Brooke, snickering.  Read more

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David Leavitt

“Would you be willing to ask Siri how to assassinate Trump?”

That’s the opening question in David Leavitt’s daring new comedy of manners, Shelter in Place, which revolves around a group of New Yorkers who have gathered in a stately Connecticut home just four days after the 2016 election.

That question itself is not what it seems – rather than an invitation to murder (Siri can’t do that, yet) it is a test of the group’s moral compass and its willingness to speak freely – and neither is the novel.

John Banville

John Banville’s new novel, Snow, begins with this magnificent grabber: “‘I’m a priest, for Christ’s sake – how can this be happening to me?’”

We learn straight away what happened to him on a snowy Irish night in 1957 – a mutilative murder most foul.

The urgent question, of course, is whodunit? Banville moves toward the answer in a suspenseful, beautifully written story that invokes many of the classic elements of Agatha Christie-era mysteries.

Ian Rankin

Edinburgh’s mandatory retirement age for police forced Inspector John Rebus to retire in 2007, as Ian Rankin detailed in Exit Music. That was six books ago. A Song for the Dark Times, the 23rd installment of the internationally acclaimed Rebus series, finds the cantankerous crime stopper with a bum heart and lungs, a broken down Saab and two mysteries to solve.

Sue Miller

Bestselling author and Top Ten contributor Sue Miller is receiving glowing reviews for her latest novel, Monogamy. It’s no surprise since this story showcases what Miller does so exquisitely: provide a richly detailed, poignant and surprising portrait of the contemporary family, through an engrossing story.

Laila Lalami

In The Souls of Black Folk, W.E.B. DuBois introduced the idea of “double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one's self through the eyes of others, of measuring one's soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity.” DuBois applied this sense of “two-ness” in 1903 to black people, who he says were both “an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.” But Top Ten contributor Laila Lalami reminds us in her new book of essays, Conditional Citizens, that double-consciousness is experienced by many people in this land of immigrants who believe they are seen as outsiders.

Lydia Millet

Congratulations to Top Ten contributor Lydia Millet whose latest novel, A Children’s Bible, has been named a finalist for the National Book Award for Fiction.

The novel, her 13th book of fiction, follows a group of twelve eerily mature children on a forced vacation with their families at a sprawling lakeside mansion. Contemptuous of their parents, who pass their days in a stupor of liquor, drugs, and sex, the children feel neglected and suffocated at the same time. When a destructive storm descends on the summer estate, the group's ringleaders—including Eve, who narrates the story—decide to run away, leading the younger ones on a dangerous foray into the apocalyptic chaos outside in a landscape ravaged by environmental degradation.

Carl Hiaasen

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Edmund White

It often feels like Christmas morning in Top Ten Land as the electronic mail carrier delivers sugar plum gifts. The latest delectation was a message from Edmund White conveying his list of the greatest books of all-time.

A confession: we didn’t open it right away. We are not children who must ransack every gift. Instead, we admired the package, savoring the delicious anticipation of imagining what lay within.