Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Top Ten

Here is an interview with J Peder Zane, who interviewed major writers about their top ten favorite novels and then compiled them in this book. I, of course, began thinking about my own top ten and how it would be comprised. Selecting a top ten is no easy task. First you have to select a criterion or criteria for inclusion. I didn't want to build some model in Excel, so I just picked a range of books that I tend to recommend widely and/or frequently give as gifts. These are in no order.

Brothers Karamazov: War and Peace is close behind, but this philosophical novel is my fave of the big fat 19th century Russians. It's a massive work of philosophy and psychology. And the devil makes an appearance!

Atonement: Rarely have I been as emotionally engaged with a story as with this one. The retreat to Dunkirk is a standout section, but I love everything about this book.

Kavailer and Klay: Here's hoping his upcoming book is as good.

Barchester Towers: I was once reading this book in Logan airport when I was approached by a member of the Trollope Society. This would be the only time I have been approached about a book I was reading at the airport, and I bring a lot of books to the airport. People who like Trollope, really like Trollope.

American Tabloid: Ellroy is the master of modern noir fiction. His LA Quartet is phenomenal, but when he expands his canvas to early 1960s America, he really takes off. The book is like a firehose full of bile hitting you square in the face, and I loved every minute of it.

Song of Fire and Ice: Wha? Not Tolkien? Of course I love Lord of the Rings, but I think Martin brings a much more sophisticated political understanding to his, as yet incomplete, epic.

Consider Phlebas: The greatest of the space operas. In a genre that tends to bloat, Banks crams five books worth of inventiveness into a reasonably short volume. This one might have been beat by the Reailty Dysfunction, were it not for the length and the weak ending of the trilogy.

Possession: My favorite of the smart literary mystery genre.

Watchmen: I have to represent. At least one nerd book needs a mention, and this remains my fave graphic novel, even over Dark Knight Returns.

The Cruel Sea: While most historical fiction serves to explain history in a literary format, this one explains the life of British anti-submarine sailors in an exciting and moving way.


Brack said...

No particular order:

1. Gravity's Rainbow (sorry, Nic)
2. The Rebel Angels/The Cornish Trilogy
3. Rise and Fall of the Third Reich
4. The Last Lion
5. To Skin a Cat
6. Declare
7. Mere Christianity
8. Altered Carbon
9. A Game of Thrones/A Song of Fire and Ice
10. Consider Phlebas
11.* The Big Knockover (ftg. Alphabet Shorty McCoy!)

* These go to eleven.

Brack said...

12. Portrait of the Artist As A Young Man (ftg. Bo Stephanomenos!)

OK, that's it. Seriously.

Tripp said...

Well you can keep 11 and 12 since nonfiction doesn't count.

Good calls over though, esp. Cornish.

Steve said...

I'm not sure I can come up with a definitive top ten but had to respond due to the call out in Brack's post (and the fact that I love to think about what I would take to the desert island - there is a music debate in there as well). I'm going to omit any that are on the two lists posted although I agree completely with most of them. A few favorites:

1. The Sound & The Fury
2. Angle of Repose
3. Cloud Atlas
4. Hyperion and its sequels
5. A Prayer for Owen Meany
6. Dubliners (particularly The Dead)
7. The Long Goodbye (edging out The Big Sleep)
8. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
9. The Great Gatsby
10. Lord of the Rings

Tripp said...

Owen Meany?! That's right down there in my bottom ten with Confederacy of Dunces.

Brack said...

Dude, T. Owen Meaney is BY FAR the best Irving out there. Blows the Rabbit Fillintheblanks out of the water.

Steve, I've got your six on this one. Good call on Stegner, by the way. Most dramatic horticultural scene I've read.


Tripp said...

Irving's preachiness is like a room full of shrieking bats to me, I've never been able to finish one of his books. And that ALL CAPS NONSENSE in Owen makes me want scream.

He is meant to be a follower of Robertson Davies, but I don't see it.

Steve said...

Hmm. My guess is that more people would agree with me than disagree about Owen Meany, but then again that proves nothing. There are 6 or 8 versions of CSI showing at any one time these days, so public opinion is a dubious benchmark. I liked the fact that in the era of the postmodern novel Irving managed to write unironically about those characters. I've heard that your opinion about Owen Meany depends on whether you first read Garp (the theory being that most people only have room for one Irving novel in them). Reminds me of arguments about The Fountainhead v. Atlas Shrugged (generally limited to dim-witted Rand adherents who have not yet grown into big boy pants, but a parallel nonetheless).

And because you sting me with your criticism, TR, I will add that I thought The Cruel Sea was trite and cliched and not nearly as good as HMS Ulysses. I am astonished that someone who has read as much as you have would put that silly book in a top ten. So there.

p.s. thanks for the back-up, B.

Tripp said...

Did the Cruel Sea's depths elude you Steve? Pity. While early MacLean like Ulysses is quite good, the later stuff falls into the drug store category mentioned above.