Yes, it’d probably be a obscenity. But it would be a pretty intriguing obscenity. And that is what we have in J. Peder Zane’s The Top 10 (Norton; 352 pages).
But what if?just for debate sake?you got insanely concerning it. You went to all the bigname authors while inside the world?Franzen, Mailer, Wallace, Wolfe, Chabon, Lethem, King, 125 of them? And got every you to cough up a top-10 collection of the greatest novels of all time. We’re talking ultimate-fighting-style here: fiction, non-fiction, poetry, modern, ancient, everything is fair game except eye-gouging along with fish-hooking. After that you printed and collated each of the lists, crunched the numbers together, and used them to generate a definitive all time Top Top 10 list.
There are lots of lifetimes’ worth of promising literary effects here? 544 novels in all. An 85-page appendix offering educated summaries of the works mentioned will probably be worth the purchase price of admission all alone. But to get you started, here, in all of its glory, will be the all-time, ultimate Top Top 10 list, derived from the leading ten lists of 125 of the world’s most renowned authors combined. Read it and? Well, only read it.
There is tons of canon fodder on these lists. Zane, who is the novels editor at the Observer, has done a statistical breakdown of their outcome, thus we know, as an example, who Shakespeare is the most-represented author (followed closely by Faulkner, who resides with Henry James; they are followed closely by a five-way tie, which you can learn about yourself). But I’m more interested at the black horses, the statistical outliers, which lay bare the secret fetishes and perversions of the literati. Douglas Coupland sets Capote’s unfinished Answered Prayers at number one, blowing right by Breakfast at Tiffany’s and In Cold Blood, too. Jonathan Franzen begins up the middle, using The Brothers Karamazov, however, turns out a sharp corner #9 with The Man Who Loved Children by Christina Stead, also another in 10 with Independent People by Halldor Laxness. The quintessentially American Tom Wolfe starts by reeling off four French classics at a row. Norman Mailer revives John Dos Passos’s out-of-fashion U.S.A. trilogy for his #6 (and reveals forebearance by leaving his or her own works off the list). And so on. (At times one reads at the data that you has been messed with. There is some other, screwball chance that David Foster Wallace really reveres C.S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters above all other novels, however I feel comfortable asserting?having read Infinite Jesttwice?that Wallace does not think like that about Stephen King’s The Stand (in no 2) or The Sum of All Fears, by Tom Clancy (Number 10).)
Let us not mince words: literary lists are an obscenity. Literature is the kingdom of the ineffable and the unquantifiable; lists would be the domain of menus and laundry along with rotisserie baseball. There is something unseemly and promiscuous about all those numbers and letters piled together. Go out of me, a critic who has committed this particular sin repeatedly.
Every person top ten list is like its own steeplechase during the international canon. Check out Michael Chabon’s. He heads up it with Jorge Luis Borges’s Labyrinths. (Nice: a undersung masterpiece with a writer’s author ) He follows that up with by Pale Fire by Nabokov at Number 2. (Hm. Can he think it’s far better than Lolita? Really?) Then with number 3 he belongs straight off the reservation: Scaramouche, by Rafael Sabatini. (What? By who?) The entire exercise is a orgy of intellectual second-guessing, which as we all know is more pleasurable than the original round of guessing.