Peter Cameron’s transporting novel, Andorra (1997), was one of the first works I responded to as a book critic. I was struck by his gift for creating a reality that’s slightly askew - the landlocked Andorra is depicted here as a seaside locale - and yet which also serves as a mirror for the one we inhabit. I also loved how his tale of a stranger who comes to a strange land evoked one of my classic favorites, Mysteries by Knut Hamsun.
“Serious literature” is often a downer, as authors confront the challenges, disappointments and limitations of life through a sad and tragic lens.
Our newest Top Ten contributor, Daniel Wallace, writes about serious things—love and loss, remorse and missed opportunities—but with a big-hearted, often whimsical perspective that adds rich layers and emotional complexity to his tales.
We have a story idea for our newest Top Ten contributor, Sue Miller: Imagine a forty-something writer who, after years devoted to rearing a family, finishes her first book and wakes up one morning to find this review in the New York Times:
“Every once in a while, a first novelist rockets into the literary atmosphere with a novel so accomplished that it shatters the common assumption that for a writer to have mastery, he or she must serve a long, auspicious apprenticeship. The novel arrives, all its parts gleaming, ticking, and we are filled with awe. However did the novice learn to build this thing? We marvel. But the question is beside the point, which is that the thing exists, has form, energy and power.”
Our newest Top Ten list comes from one of America’s most celebrated writers, Maxine Hong Kingston, who has used Chinese-American experiences to depict the human condition through several works of nonfiction and one novel.
We have lost a giant – one of the very best reporters and writers in American history.
The Wall Street Journal reports that Tom Wolfe, the best-selling alchemist of fiction and nonfiction who wrote “The Bonfire of the Vanities,” “The Right Stuff” and countless other novels and works of journalism, died of pneumonia in a New York hospital yesterday. He was 88 years old.
I first met Mr. Wolfe through “The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test.” Then I read everything else. Being in his company was pure pleasure, and inspiring. Try harder! More!! Better!!!
Years later, I wrote him out of the blue, asking if he would contribute a list of his favorite books, and maybe a short essay on one of them, to “The Top Ten.” That’s what I learned about his generosity - and exquisite pensmanship
Where is the line the between literature and life? Between identity and performance? Between style and substance? Is there a line at all?
Those are some of the questions that engage our newest member of Top Ten Land, the Canadian writer Sheila Heti. An acclaimed and productive author – more prolific than Eugenides but no threat to Oates – the 38-year-old has published seven books that have been translated into more than a dozen languages, written a full-length play, served as Interview Editor for The Believer, and co-created a barroom lecture series, Trampoline Hall, that has been running monthly in Toronto since 2001.
“I don’t want to write about human behavior,” John Banville told The Paris Review. “If I can catch the play of light on a wall, and catch it just so, that is enough for me.”
For Banville sentences, images and words have become the alpha and the omega. “Linguistic beauty,” he continued, can be pursued “as an end in itself.”
At a time when the phrase “literary event” is a quaint anachronism (see Vargas Llosa’s Notes on the Death of Culture), a new novel from Jonathan Franzen may be as close as book lovers can come these days to tweezing a piece of the nation’s attention.
And it looks like he has delivered the goods again, at least according to the literary giant slayer Michiko Kakutani, who offered warm praise for Jonathan’s fifth novel, Purity, in the New York Times. Here’s how she opens her review:
Brownrigg writes: “Among the many potent themes that weave in and out of the stories in “Sea Lovers” — the stark realities of the artist’s path; the proximity of death to life; the complexities of the relationship between humans and animals — are a number of seemingly ordinary yet revelatory images. For Valerie Martin’s characters, something as simple as drinking a glass of water can yield a moment of reflection and clarity. …
Just two weeks after Amanda Filipacchi placed The Blazing World atop her list, we are proud to welcome its author, Siri Hustvedt (hoost-ved) to Top Ten Land.
An internationally acclaimed novelist and essayist, her wide-ranging writings explore themes including the world of art, the intersection of the humanities and science, the nature of identity, selfhood and perception. Her work consistently receives the rarest and most coveted praise an author can earn, the head & heart salute: “intellectually and emotionally gripping,” “a glorious mashup of storytelling and scholarship,” “a rare gift for finding the human heart in what might be cerebral musings and rarefied settings.”