Sunday, May 06, 2007

John Irving's 10 Favorite Books

Sitting out on the back patio early this morning and flipping through J. Peder Zane's The Top 10: Writers Pick Their Favorite Books again, I came across John Irving's list of his ten favorites. I've been surprised by the favorites chosen by some authors but Irving's list makes perfect sense to me:

1. Great Expectations – Charles Dickens

2. Tess of the D’Urbevilles – Thomas Hardy

3. Moby Dick – Herman Melville

4. The Scarlet Letter – Nathanial Hawthorne

5. David Copperfield – Charles Dickens

6. The Mayor of Casterbridge – Thomas Hardy

7. The Tin Drum – Gunter Grass

8. One Hundred Years of Solitude – Gabriel Garcia Marquez

9. Fifth Business – Robertson Davies

10. Madame Bovary – Gustave Flaubert
John Irving is certainly a writer who has taken his favorites to heart and has reflected his admiration of those books in his own work. His novels have always reminded me of 19th century writers, especially Charles Dickens, so I was not at all surprised to find Great Expectations atop the list, nor to see the list dominated by other novels of that era. If you've ever wondered what Charles Dickens would write if he were alive today, just read Irving's The Cider House Rules and you'll have a pretty good idea.

I've been reading a couple of chapters a day of Great Expectations lately and my enthusiasm for that great novel has been fired up again so I was particularly pleased to see it in Irving's top spot. For me, Dickens has always been, and always will be, the king.


  1. Madame Bovary is one of those books that reminds you about the beauty of well-crafted language.Loved the list!

    BlueRectangle Books

  2. I have to admit that I've yet to read Madame Bovary, of these days I'll finally tackle it, I hope. :-)

  3. Great list--you can't quibble with it, because he definitely includes some of the great books. Two by Hardy, even. Makes me feel that I need to re-read Great Expectations...

  4. Great Expectations is near the top of my list, too, gentle reader. I'm reading it right now, slowly, for at least the fourth time. I love Dickens and this is my favorite of all of his novels.

  5. I read Great Expectations for the first time last fall and was very surprised at how funny it could be and how quirky some of the chracters were. I especially liked the man who had a moat around his house and referred to his father as the Aged P. I was motivated to read it by the Thursday Next series, and was intrigued by Miss Havilland. I was glad I did read it.

  6. Great Expectations was and is... well... great.

    What exactly are the criteria for Irving choosing these books? Does he just like them or is it more about their influence on him or his appreciation of them as the best examples of novel literature?

  7. Isn't Top Ten a fun book? If I had to do a top ten Great Expectations would definitely be on it. It's close to being the perfect book.

  8. Library Diva, that little house with the moat and the cannon that was fired at the same time every evening so that the Aged could "hear" the sound of the vibrating house and windows is very vivid to me, too. There are so many great characters in this one that I've found something new to stick in my memory bank every time that I've read it.

    Did reading Great Expectations lead to you reading, or wanting to read, more Dickens?

  9. Arukiyomi, I get the impression that these lists were pretty much tailored by each of the respondents to represent the Top 10 however each wanted to see the list. Some may have put together a list of "great books," others a list of the books that most influenced them and their own writing. Some include only novels, some included "classic" non-fiction. Many of the lists are followed by short essays in which the authors explain their number one choices...Irving's list was not.

  10. I'm finding The Top Ten to be a goldmine, Stefanie. For those authors with whom I'm most familiar, it is great fun to look at their list and try to figure out why those particular books are listed...and what they tell me about the authors themselves. Some things jump out at me, other things come to me a little slower, and some of the lists totally confuse me because they are nothing I would have expected from those particular the book.