You’ll find it hard to love someone if you don’t love their books. I speak as a reader, of course: but any real reader would tell you the same. Think that your new acquaintance might become your friend or your lover? Better take a good look at their vital statistics — that is, see how their shelves are stacked.Read the article here.
Favourite writers are friends too; you might not have met Carl Hiaasen or Margaret Drabble, but if you’ve read their books you feel as if you might have. Who can blame you for wanting to know what they read, to see if they like what you like, or even just what you think they might like?
So thanks to J. Peder Zane, who has provided some of the answers in The Top Ten: Writers Pick their Favourite Books. In a sense, it’s an unsurprising collection, but no less pleasing for that. I’m not shocked to learn that Hiassen’s top novel is Joseph Heller’s Catch22; nor that Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five and Martin Amis’s Money also appear on his list. I adore Peter Carey’s Oscar and Lucinda; of course he chose Gabriel GarcÍa Márquez's Love in the Time of Cholera and Great Expectations, too . . . the flip side of his own novel, Jack Maggs.
You can learn things, too, from these lists. Stephen King’s No 1 book is The Golden Argosy, edited by Van H. Cartmell and Charles Grayson. If you’re thinking: “What?”, then never fear. King explains that it’s an anthology of short stories that he found in a Maine “bargain barn” called The Jolly White Elephant, that it includes stories by Faulkner, Poe and Fitzgerald and that it “taught me more about good writing than all the classes I've ever taken”.
Annie Proulx, author of The Shipping News, provides her list (which begins with Homer’s Odyssey and ends with the haiku of Basho) with this qualification: “I find this list-of-ten-books project to be difficult, pointless and wrongheaded.” Hard to figure why she bothered to contribute, then.
David Mitchell chooses Chekhov’s novella The Duel, saying that he would save it “from a burning house before everything else I’ve read”, while the American novelist A.M. Homes ranks Nabokov’s Lolita below the children’s book Flat Stanley.
Our sister journal The TLS points out that there is a notable omission from almost all these lists: its diarist, J. C., remarks on “how few writers, when asked to name the world's best books, choose the Good Book”. The Bible crops up on only six lists, “well behind Lolita”.
Love Me, Love My Books
We've all done it. You make a new acquaintence, you ask them about books... you visit someone's home, you scan their shelves. You don't usually have access to your favorite writer's study, but here, the Times talks about a new book that explores the shelves of top authors: