Writers list their greatest reads

Frank Wilson in the Philadelphia Inquirer:

TolstoyLast year, the New York Times came up with a list of the best works of American fiction of the previous 25 years. This ignited much controversy. Which was to be expected, since a good deal of the fun of lists comes from disagreeing with them.

J. Peder Zane, book review editor of the Raleigh News & Observer, has outdone the Times considerably in The Top Ten: Writers Pick Their Favorite Books (Norton, $14.95): From the 10 favorites proffered by 125 noted writers, he has culled the all-time Top 10. The winners (in order, from top to bottom) are: Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina; Flaubert’s Madame Bovary; Tolstoy’s War and Peace; Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita; Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn; Shakespeare’s Hamlet; F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby; Proust’s In Search of Lost Time; the stories of Anton Chekhov; and George Eliot’s Middlemarch.

An unexceptionable list, right? Well, only until you start thinking about it. Critic Sven Birkerts, in his introductory essay, picks up on two oddities: first, only one of the works is by a woman (and she, Mary Ann Evans, used the male pen name of George Eliot); second, only one was written before the 19th century. No Homer, no Dante, no Chaucer.

More here.  [Tolstoy in photo.]