I was sitting around with some writer friends having a cocktail (okay… cocktails) the other day and the subject of books happen to come up (you think?). The discussion began with a question around what does the group (as individuals) think are the best books we have read. Although more scholarly people have offered their opinion on book quality, it takes a group of five writers (who happen to be gathered together and have begun the fueling process that will guarantee brilliant opinions) to really begin to hone the particulars to consider the question.
I recall (not an easy task the morning after) that one writer felt; quality was in found in how well the plot came to resolution. He cited James Patterson’s books as examples. Another felt dialog separated the good from not so good and used Norman Mailer’s books as his proof. The better the dialog the better the book would sum his thinking. The third thought complexity of character and strength of voice marked the difference. He brought up James Joyce as the icon for his rationale. The fourth felt that the number of books sold was the benchmark. He used the rationale that if a book sold well then it was probably a good book. He picked the Grey series as his hallmark
After about three drinks it was finally my turn to proffer an opinion. I simply said (I needed to choose words that I could use without slurring) that the enjoyment factor went a long way in my mind to distinguish a good book from those that are not as good. I was thinking in particular about Stieg Larsson and the Millennium series. (Could qualify under the number of books sold criteria at 65 million) I remember hardly being able to wait to read each of the three books. Is the Millennium series a collection of fiction books that could be considered among the top books? I am not sure. To me they offered plot resolution, great dialog, complex characters and a strong voice, and as I have pointed out, sold a lot.
By the fifth drink (I know there were more, I just lost count) none of us could agree on a finite set of great books. We argued, discussed and finally must have gone home. (ahem… this is a fuzzy part).
The next morning I fished out of my shirt pocket a napkin from the bar and on it was written in blurred ink (I was trying to use a Sharpie that I borrowed from a guy at the next table who was a school teacher) I am uncertain if this was the final list but certainly is my top ten fiction favorites.
Rather than have the whole event pass without any utility, I am publishing my list right here. I would love to know your thoughts as well so if you would like to chime in please do so. (Please be careful though, my head is killing me)
John’s top ten books in no particular order.
- Jailbird by Kurt Vonnegut
- Catch 22 by Joseph Heller
- On the Beach by Neville Shute
- Mila 18 by Leon Uris
- The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand
- The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
- The Naked and the Dead by Norman Mailer
- The girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Steig Larsson
- Hotel New Hampshire by John Irving
- It by Stephen King
Have a great weekend.