Book Notes

Sunday, March 25, 2007


Writers Pick Their Favorite Books

Edited by J. Peder Zane

Norton. 352 pp. Paperback, $14.95

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

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