05 December 2010

Reading list: Writers' top 10

At year's end, most writers are asked by book sections of dailies and blogs to name their most favorite books read in that year. But then these writers have been reading all their lives; they can't help not to; their genes programmed them to do so. So I guess it will be more interesting to know what they did like in all those reading years of their reading lives. Which books made the deepest impressions, which masterpieces were presumably influential to their own writings.

The Top Ten: Writers Pick Their Favorite Books (edited by J. Peder Zane) is a book containing the top 10 favorite books-of-all-time of many writers. You can pick out your favorite writers, or any writer whose reading taste you want to try out, and see which books they love. The writers' top tens are available here:


Home page: http://toptenbooks.net/home.cgi

A writer is not what he reads, but some choices are quite personal as to tell something about the writer in question. A reader who looks at these lists may feel a certain sense of validation in knowing that novelist A loves this novel of writer B. John Banville and Peter Carey both included a book by Sebald, and that's enough for me. Claire Messud likes Thomas Bernhard. Great.

It can also go the other way. Aha, this writer likes books of this kind, I figure as much from her own insipid writing. Writers who are essentially "monotonous" in their top 10 selections can be easily spotted: Walter Kirn, Lorrie Moore, Scott Spencer, David Lodge.

Still, others like Jonathan Franzen chose books that are hardly new. Too academic, or too fond of the usual masterpieces: John Irving, Patrick McGrath, Joyce Carol Oates. I prefer writers who venture into underdog territories, who list books outside of the mainstream, like A. L. Kennedy.

Each reader's personal preference for certain genres can make him curious about the works of new writers he's never read before. It's good to know that Norman Mailer and David Mitchell loved Borges's Labyrinths. Fantastic, maybe I should finally try out a book by Mitchell.

For its diversity and for its inclusion of a favorite, Chad Post's book set gets my vote for the best writer's top 10. The worst top 10 for me is the one by DFW – an easy target. I'm sure DFW got his reasons for his "snobbish" choices.

Chad Post's top ten

1. Hopscotch by Julio Cortazar
2. The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon
3. Act of the Damned by Antonio Lobo Antunes
4. 2666 by Roberto Bolano
5. Life A User's Manual by Georges Perec
6. Heartbreak Tango by Manuel Puig
7. VALIS by Philip K. Dick
8. Impossible Object by Nicholas Mosley
9. The Violent Bear It Away by Flannery O'Connor
10. Cigarettes by Harry Mathews

David Foster Wallace's top ten

1. The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis
2. The Stand by Stephen King
3. Red Dragon by Thomas Harris
4. The Thin Red Line by James Jones
5. Fear of Flying by Erica Jong
6. The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris
7. Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein
8. Fuzz by Ed McBain
9. Alligator by Shelley Katz
10. The Sum of All Fears by Tom Clancy

You can also post your own top 10 in the site. I posted mine back in July.

P.S. Also in July, Peder ran a contest where one was asked to submit a top ten list of books inspired by Georges Perec's Life A User's Manual. The Prize: no less than the revised edition of the same book! Well, I won. I submitted two top 10 Life-inspired lists, which I'll share later here.

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