Tag Archives: George Eliot

The Ten Greatest Books: A List

Like I’ve said before, I’m a sucker for book lists.  Although the book, The Top Ten: Writers pick their Favorite Books, edited by J. Peder Zane, has been out for some time, I just discovered it (I know, I’m a bit slow).  This book does just what the title says it will, compiling the favorite books of 125 authors from around the world.  The book includes summaries of 544 books – each thought to be a top ten by at least one of the authors.

What do you think are the ten greatest books of all time?  What would the list look like if it was compiled from the top ten choices of over one hundred of the top authors in the world?

Lev Grossman, in Time (Jan. 15, 2007), states, “…literary lists are basically an obscenity… Take it from me, a critic who has committed this particular sin many times over.”  It’s a fun read: http://www.time.com/time/arts/article/0,8599,1578073,00.html

I say, let’s see their top ten (compiled from their individual lists): 

  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 F. Scott Fitzgerald
  8. In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust
  9. The Stories of Anton Chekhov by Anton Chekhov
  10. Middlemarch by George Eliot

So, there you go.  What’s your top ten (or is it obscene to ask?)?

The Beginning of My Education

As mentioned previously, twenty years ago I decided to set fifty goals (my “bucket list”) with the intent to accomplish each item over the course of my lifetime.  I will not likely list all of my goals, but have accomplished almost all of them – at least those with a termination point. 

One of the goals I set was to read a novel a week for the rest of my life – a never ending goal, but – so far, so good.

The rationale behind this goal was simple – although I received a very good education at good schools, I felt I needed a broader, more liberal education.  I wanted to expand my worldview by looking through a variety of lenses provided by a range of authors, experience great literature just for the pleasure of a good story, increase my exposure to a new and different (to me) ideas, have some background to draw from when a quote or literary work is mentioned, and, finally, to discover my own values through a comparison/contrast of what others believe.

I also discovered an additional benefit of voracious reading: less time spent watching mindless TV shows.

The result (so far) is that I have been thrilled, stretched, baffled, shaped, enlightened, amused, angered, and even left wanting… but never bored.  To me, each novel has been (and is) an adventure.  Although I have not kept a written record of the novels I have read (about 1,000), I remember the ones that had a definite impact on me.

I have often been asked to list my favorite novels, and my list occasionally changes.  However, here are my current favorites (I listed eleven just to annoy the compulsive and orderly – actually, #5 isn’t a novel, it’s a journal, but I really like it):

1. A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving.

2. Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe.

3. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.

4. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens.

5. Two Years Before the Mast by Richard Henry Dana Jr (unabridged version that includes the appendix: Twenty-Four Years After).

6. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury.

7. Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad.  I don’t normally enjoy movies inspired by books I have read, but this is a must read if you have ever watched Apocalypse Now.  Also of interest: Conrad is considered one of the great English authors, yet English was his second language – learned in his twenties.

8. The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende.

9. Lord of the Flies by William Golding.

10. Silas Marner by George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans Cross).

11. All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque.

Rather than comment or summarize any of the above works, I instead encourage you to read them and enjoy your own adventures.