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The Top Ten: Writers Pick Their Favorite Books Paperback – January 20, 2007

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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

J. Peder Zane is the book-review editor of the Raleigh News & Observer and the editor of Norton’s Remarkable Reads. His syndicated column received the ASNE Distinguished Writing Award for Commentary.

From The Washington Post

Operating on the theory that no one knows more about great books than great writers, J. Peder Zane, book editor of the Raleigh News & Observer, asked 125 British and American writers (Andrea Barrett, Edwidge Danticat, Ha Jin, Reynolds Price and Tom Wolfe, among them) to "provide a list, ranked, in order, of what you consider the ten greatest works of fiction of all time." Zane suggests that these lists (and reconfigurations of the most often cited titles into various categories -- top ten works of the 19th century, living writers, comic works and so on) are "detailed road maps to the land of literary possibilities": "Part Rand-McNally, part Zagat's . . . it takes the anxiety out of bibliophilia by offering a comprehensive and authoritative guide to the world's best books."

This is a readers' service of the first order, a guidebook to the resulting 544 titles for those tortured by too much choice and looking for what to read next. Each of the 125 responses appears in Zane's book -- some in short answer form, some just titles, some annotated -- along with a few essays, helping steer you through what Zane calls the "yin and yang of the modern reader: opportunity and befuddlement."

To get you started, here's "The Top Top Ten":

1. Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy
2. Madame Bovary, by Gustave Flaubert
3. War and Peace, by Leo Tolstoy
4. Lolita, by Vladimir Nabokov
5. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain
6. Hamlet, by William Shakespeare
7. The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald
8. In Search of Lost Time, by Marcel Proust
9. The stories of Anton Chekhov
10. Middlemarch, by George Eliot

Copyright 2007, The Washington Post. All Rights Reserved.


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; 1st edition (January 20, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393328406
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393328400
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.9 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #357,837 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

J. Peder Zane is a writer and editor who has worked at The New York Times and The News & Observer of Raleigh, North Carolina. He is now an Assistant Professor of Journalism and Mass Communications at St. Augustine's College in Raleigh. He is co-author, with Professor Adrian Bejan of Duke University, of "Design in Nature: How the Constructal Law Governs Evolution in Biology, Physics, Technology and Social Organization," which Doubleday is publishing this month. He also edited and contributed to two books published by W.W. Norton, "The Top Ten: Writers Pick Their Favorite Books" (2007) and "Remarkable Reads: 34 Writers and Their Adventures in Reading" (2004). His work has won several national awards including the Distinguished Writing Award for Commentary from the American Society of Newspaper Editors. He is a former member of the Board of the National Book Critics Circle. He is a graduate of the Collegiate School, Wesleyan University and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

74 of 80 people found the following review helpful By Lhea J. Love on January 28, 2007
Format: Paperback
J. Peder Zane compiled 125 lists of top ten greatest books from British and American authors. Each author, from Sherman Alexie to Jennifer Weiner, ranked their 10 masterpieces in order. Each work received 10 points when ranked number 1 and thus 1 point when ranked number 10. The five works which received the greatest number of points are, (1) Anna Karenina, (2) Madame Bovary, (3) War and Peace, (4) Lolita, (5) The adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Madame Bovary actually appeared on more lists (26) than Anna Karenina (25) but Tolstoy's work was ranked higher on its lists 11 more points than Flaubert's.

The top five works by living authors are, (1) One Hundred Years of Solitude, (2) To Kill a Mockingbird, (3) Beloved, (4) The Catcher and the Rye and (5) Rabbit Angstrom. And there were a few authors who submitted lists who were fortunate to have their works mentioned on the top ten list of another artist. Michael Cunningham submitted his lists of favorites from Shakespeare's King Lear to the stories of Flannery O'Connor. Anita Shreve, author of The Pilot's Wife, placed Cunningham's The Hours in the number four spot. Stephen King includes Lord of the Flies and 1984 on his list, while David Foster Wallace and Jennifer Weiner both place King's The Stand as their second greatest book.

Shakespeare has the greatest number of works on the lists (11), yet Tolstoy collects the most points (327) off of 2 great works. Of the 125 lists there are 544 separate titles, 23 of which appeared as the greatest work on one authors list alone, not making any other list.
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27 of 28 people found the following review helpful By Ondre on April 15, 2007
Format: Paperback
This is a fun book to flip through. I'd argue that the least interesting thing about it is the actual Top Ten. That's not a surprising list, and considering the math used to get there any Top Ten list by any group of people (from a similar pool in terms of nationality and ethnicity) would look pretty similar.

What's fun about this is checking out the individual lists by individual authors. I was often surprised by some of the picks, and actually came away from it with a slightly altered opinion about some of the recommenders. I think it's more interesting to start at the bottom end - the books that only got one recommendation - and move forward from there.

Interesting. But it's not meant to be definitive. I think everyone involved knew that. Take it as a light, intelligent read, with some things you'll agree with and others that you'll shake your head at.
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34 of 37 people found the following review helpful By fluffy, the human being. on February 5, 2007
Format: Paperback
i recently picked up a book titled "1001 books to read before you die," which is a fun enough book of its sort, but having found this book, I am much more delighted and impressed. this extremely entertaining book is not nearly as pretentious as other such books (no Gravity's Rainbow, thank heavens! no James Joyce in the all-time top ten, hooray! no Darkness at Noon, thank you). i spent all of yesterday going through it, listing things that i need to move up on my read-soon list. very down to earth and very much fun it was, indeed. thank you.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By PageTurner on March 23, 2007
Format: Paperback
I stumbled across this wonderful book by accident--well, not quite by accident since as an inveterate list maker myself, I am intrigued by other list makers. But, for me, the lists are not what make this book so important. It's the 544 titles and the concise synopsis of each which help answer those infernal questions, "What should I read? What do I want to read? What am I in the mood to read?" Happily, among the inevitable tomes of Proust and George Eliot I found Stephen King, James M. Cain, Gail Parent and others to curl up with on a rainy afternoon. This book definitely should be owned by anyone who reads, wants to read or just wants to appear to read. It is great--buy it, you won't be sorry.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Shalom Freedman HALL OF FAME on August 22, 2011
Format: Paperback
It is amusing to look through the lists of individual writers and see their favorite works, and see if they connect with the writer's own kind of writing. Two examples. Norman Mailer had the works of Tolstoy and Dostoevsky on the top of his list, and one can see where his ambition to write the Great American Novel came from. Joyce Carol Oates whose love for the dark and the criminal pervades her work puts 'Crime and Punishment' on the top of her list and has a place for Kafka also.
So that is one interesting way of reading the work. And this when one might question the list of one- hundred and twenty- five noted authors also. As could be expected there are top writers with one's far lower down on the totempole. And there are many absences. I would have loved to have seen Philip Roth's favorites but he apparently did not respond.
As for the top of the top list I was surprised to see 'Anna Karenina' there. If one were to choose Tolstoy as one's greatest novelist one should certainly choose the far greater book 'War and Peace'. ( As I understand it by the way this was meant to be a list of Novels. Otherwise how explain the absence of the 'Book of Books' certainly the greatest book of all times.
I also was surprised that 'Don Quixote' was not in the top ten. If the question was asked of Literary Critics my suspicion is it would be the first.
In any case there is a lot of room in this work for pleasurable speculation and conjecture.
Very good and enjoyable if not taken too seriously.
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