Sunday, November 6, 2011

A Perfect 10

Board member Bruce Mays offers a challenge:

Tarry, delight, so seldom met.
All right, stop right there: that's not mine. It's the first line of Roger Angel's great New Yorker essay about the 1975 World Series. But every time I read a book that absolutely delights me I think of this opening sentence. This summer I finished City of Thieves by David Benioff, and it definitely met that criterion: a book that gave me delight, for however long it takes to finish the story and think about it again.

Is it the best book I've ever read? Maybe not, but it reminded me of something I thought of a couple of years ago. I had just finished reading Atonement by Ian McEwan, and I decided that it was one of the best books I'd ever read. But then I thought, Wait a minute. The best I've ever read? Honestly: what ARE the best books I've ever read??

What books moved me, made me slow down towards the end to enjoy them more, made me want to talk to someone else who'd read them? So I came up with a list. Ten seemed about right, so I talked to my wife, and we sat down.

We independently agreed on some: Virginia Woolf's To the Lighthouse edged out Mrs. Dalloway but not by much for us both; Evan Connelly's Mrs. Bridge, yes but Mr. Bridge also both no; Portrait of a Lady, who could argue?

But the disagreements were maybe more interesting. I added Catcher in the Rye; my wife went with Pride and Prejudice. We both liked Atonement, but only I kept it on the Ten Best list. Her criterion? A book she'd like to read again. Mine? A book that when you're reading it for the first time, I envy you.

Why keep it to 10? Remember what Samuel Johnson said about what a death-row prisoner thinks: it concentrates the mind wonderfully.

So here's the challenge: What are the 10 best books you've ever read? What criterion did you use for making your list? Use the comment box to send us your 10 best, and let's get a conversation going. Periodically we will post a new list or two or three to our blog. Who knows? Maybe someone will turn you on to a book you've never heard of, and your Ten Best list will never be the same.

Here's Bruce's list, in no particular order:
Portrait of a Lady, Henry James;
Mrs. Bridge, Evan Connell;
Remains of the Day, Kazuo Ishiguro;
Going After Cacciotto, Tim O'Brien;
Atonement, Ian McEwan;
Middlemarch, George Eliot;
Passage to India, E M Forester;
Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger;
The English Patient, Michael Ondaatje;
To the Lighthouse, Virginia Woolf.


  1. My criteria are quite simple: a)Is the writing so strong that I linger over particular sentences, rereading them to savor? b)Do I admire or relate to a particular character? c)Does the author make me think in a new way? d) Are most of my senses engaged? d) Am I sorry when the book ends? These are just 10 of my favorite books - in no particular order:

    On Cannan's Side, Sebastian Barry
    My Antonia, Willa Cather
    Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte
    Great Expectations, Charles Dickens
    Love in the Time of Cholera, Gabriel Garcia Marquez
    Brooklyn, Colm Toibin
    To the End of the Land, David Grossman
    Age of Innocence, Edith Wharton
    Mrs. Dalloway, Virginia Woolf
    The mambo Kings Play Songs of Love, Oscar Hijuelos

    -Eva Adler

  2. Some of my all time favorites are:
    David Copperfield, Charles Dickens
    House of Mirth, Edith Wharton
    Moby Dick, Herman Melville
    Madame Bovary, Gustave Flaubert
    Orlando, Virginia Woolf
    Cider House Rules, John Irving