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

3.6 out of 5 stars 17 customer reviews

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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: #254,877 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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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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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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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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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
J. Peder Zane asked 125 British and American authors to "provide a list, ranked, in order, of what you consider the ten greatest works of fiction of all time--novels, story collections, plays, or poems." They submitted their lists, and then Zane compiled this book, which should be of interest to anyone who wishes to further extend her radar coverage of noteworthy fiction to consider reading in her lifetime.

The first part of THE TOP TEN consists of the lists themselves. Many of the contributors, by the way, are (or were) heavyweights in the literary world -- people like Julian Barnes, Margaret Drabble, Carl Hiaasen, Ha Jin, Norman Mailer, Claire Messud, David Mitchell, Reynolds Price, Annie Proulx, and David Foster Wallace. The 125 lists named 544 different titles. A few of the respondents offer brief explanations, and there are about sixteen short essays or "Appreciations" amplifying on a particular listed work -- for example, Kathryn Harrison on Kobo Abe's "The Woman in the Dunes", Tom Wolfe on James T. Farrell's "Studs Lonigan", and A.L. Kennedy on Flann O'Brien's "The Third Policeman".

The second part of the book, presumably prepared by editor Zane, may be the most valuable part. It contains one-paragraph descriptions of each of the 544 titles that appear on the various lists. By browsing through the lists themselves and then these brief descriptions, you might end up producing a list of your own -- of books to add to your personal catalogue of "books to read" before you kick the bucket. (I added about a dozen books to my list, so now I guess I will to have to live a few months longer.
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