The Top Ten: Writers Pick their Favorite Books, edited by J. Peder Zane is a collection of top ten book lists that 125 authors submitted, with the results correlated in all kinds of interesting ways. (I know that’s not terribly descriptive, but I’ve been struggling with that one sentence for about 2 weeks now, so either take my word for it or go here for a slightly more eloquent description.)
Each book that appears on a list is given points for where on the list it appears (#1 books get 10 points, all the way down to 1 point for books in the #10 position). If a book appear on more than one list all its points get totaled and the books with the most points at the end make up the end-all-be-all top ten list. In total there were 544 books listed. The book also contains paragraph long synopses of each of the books listed.
Of course I had to keep track of my own stats as I went, and this is what I discovered. Out of the end-all-be-all top ten best books I’ve read seven :Anna Karenina (#1), Madame Bovary (#2), Lolita (#4), The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (#5), Hamlet (#6), The Great Gatsby (#7), The stories of Anton Chekhov (#9); and haven’t read three: War and Peace (#3), In Search of Lost Time (#8), and Middlemarch (#10).
Out of all of the books I’ve read 87, 5 of which I want to reread. I’ve tried but didn’t finish 15, 9 of which I want to go back and try again, and I haven’t read but want to read 145. The remaining 280 I just have no interest in. (I know those numbers don’t add up to 544, but words, not numbers, are my friends.
I’ve read the most off of the top ten works of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, mostly because of my good friend Shakespeare, and I’ve read more American authors than British, Russian or French.
Interesting to no one but me? Probably. But here’s a question you may find more interesting, if you’re still with me– what are your top ten books? I’ve been thinking about it, and my tentative list is below. You can take “best” to mean whatever you want: favorite, most influential, most powerful, whatever- but the books should be fiction.
1) The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fiztgerald
2) To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
3) Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
4) Romeo and Juliet by Shakespeare
5) The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Murial Spark
6) Nine Stories by J.D. Salinger
7) The Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio
8) Les Liaisons Dangereuses by Cholderlos de Laclos
9) Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
10) A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway
Those aren’t in order, it was hard enough to narrow it down without trying to choose which was the best of the best. (The Hours by Michael Cunningham and Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson are screaming to be on the list, I just can’t pick anything to take off to put them on.) And just so you know, my criteria for best included how much I love it, how much I enjoy reading and rereading it, the quality of the writing, and the contribution I think it makes to the world.
So what are your top ten?