Tom Wolfe, RIP

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

Sheila Heti

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.

John Banville

“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.”

Jonathan Franzen

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:

Valerie Martin

Top Ten contributor Valerie Martin receives a warm review from Sylvia Brownrigg for her career-spanning collection of stories, Sea Lovers: Selected Stories, in the New York Times Book 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. …

Siri Hustvedt

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.”

Amanda Filipacchi

She debuted with a funny and altogether winning novel that includes an 11 year-old girl’s seduction of a 29 year-old man (Nude Men, 1993). She followed that with the darkly humorous, tale of a young woman who is transformed from drama school dropout to Oscar winner with a little help from a man who imprisons her in his cloud-filled home Vapor (1999). She next gave us another comically surreal work, Love Creeps (2005), about a female gallery owner who rediscovers her zest for life thanks to the man who is stalking her; a favor she returns by selecting another man, at random, that she stalks.

Irvine Welsh

Sure, we could drop some giddy adjectival s-bombs and f-bombs (but never c-bombs) to express our delight. Instead we’ll just say aye, aye, min to our 166th member of Top Ten Land, Irvine Welsh.