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June 1, 2010

This book is like heroin for book lovers. They asked 125 writers to name “the ten greatest works of literature of all time.” The question is open to some interpretation, of course—you mean my personal favorites, or what I think are the greatest?—but the overall result is a lot of new recommendations. In total 544 different books are mentioned.

Some of the lists are rather highbrow, including the same books that top The Modern Library’s list (e.g. Joyce’s Ulysses), but overall, this book set no limitation on fiction or nonfiction, timeframe, or even required the book to be prose (there are a number of poems, plays and even screenplays included). And as interesting as what books made the lists are who made the lists. No John Irving fan would be surprised to find Great Expectations at the top of his list, but Stephen King’s pick of an obscure anthology of short stories is a very writerly selection, and while Tolstoy, Steinbeck and Shakespeare are all over the place, Stephen King, Thomas Harris and Tom Clancy all appear on David Foster Wallace’s list.

After each individual list are more lists, parsing the results every which way (best of the best, best American, best British, best 20th century, best comedy, etc.). And then after that is a summary of all books mentioned. After reading this, I tried to update my own list of my top ten, but there were books I couldn’t bear to leave off, so here’s my top nineteen:

  1. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey
  2. The Cider House Rules by John Irving
  3. Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson
  4. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
  5. Rabbit, Run by John Updike
  6. Moby Dick by Herman Melville
  7. In Watermelon Sugar by Richard Brautigan
  8. Amos Berry by Allan Seager
  9. A Prayer For Owen Meany by John Irving
  10. A Death In the Family by James Agee
  11. The Road by Cormac McCarthy
  12. Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey
  13. Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry
  14. The Virgin Suicides by Jeffery Eugenides
  15. Nine Stories by J.D. Salinger
  16. 2666 by Roberto Bolaño
  17. The Good Soldier by Ford Maddox Ford
  18. Life of Pi by Yann Martell
  19. Suttree by Cormac McCarthy
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