Top 10 unreliable narrators

From Edgar Allan Poe to Gillian Flynn, storytellers who cannot be trusted are great devices for writers, and a compelling challenge for readers

Will truth out? … Judi Dench as Barbara in the film of Notes on a Scandal.

 Will truth out? … Judi Dench as Barbara in the film of Notes on a Scandal.

The unreliable narrator is an odd concept. The way I see it, we’re allunreliable narrators of our lives who usually have absolute trust in our self-told stories. Any truth is, after all, just a matter of perspective. The only rule I have in how I let characters tell stories is that they must always tell the reader their version of the truth. No one likes being outright lied to, even in fiction. I don’t mind a narrator who’s self-deceiving, but the clues for their truth have to be there for the reader to see.

My novel Behind Her Eyes is, on the surface, the story of the three people in a love affair. An affair combined with a marriage built on secrets – which there must be in a thriller – is perfect for creating unreliable narrators. After all, it’s in the situations when we’re acting at our most shameful – cheating on a partner, sleeping with someone else’s partner, or secretly fighting to keep a spouse, that our versions of the truth are the most tenuous. I couldn’t help it. I didn’t mean to. It just happened. I was going to end it. And that’s a fun pit to play in for a writer. Fertile ground, because let’s face it, good people make for really dull stories.

There are, of course, different types of unreliable narrators; those who are fooling themselves, those who are fooling others, and a range in between. Here are a few of the ones that stand out for me.

1. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
The fabulously unpleasant tale of Amy and Nick’s marital problems breathed new life into the psychological thriller. The twist wasn’t what I loved most about this book – it was the slow reveals in the first section from Nick about himself, that turned him from immediate protagonist to somewhat tarnished hero.

2. Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk
Unreliable narrators go hand in hand with plot twists and never so much as here. When the unnamed, insomniac narrator meets the enigmatic Tyler Durden, the two men start an underground boxing club for men who feel they want to be defined by more than their jobs and pay grades. This becomes Project Mayhem, an army with the aim of bringing the whole system down. A punch of a twist – excuse the pun – reveals both characters to be completely unreliable.

3. The Three by Sarah Lotz
This dark story of four plane crashes and the three children who survive plays with unreliable narration in quite a different way, as diary entries, extracts of a book, news reports and psychiatric reports make up the puzzle pieces of the plot. After seeing events and actions from one character’s viewpoint and believing them, Lotz then presents you with another character’s version of the same events. Who you can trust, if anyone, is hard to know.

4. The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks
Teenager Frank Cauldhame has no National Insurance number, no birth certificate and has been told by his overprotective father to lie should anyone ask who he is. Living on a remote island off Scotland, Frank tells the reader bluntly he had murdered three people by the time he was 10. With an older brother just escaped from a psychiatric institution and a father who keeps his secrets locked away, The Wasp Factory is a darkly disturbing study of a hugely dysfunctional – and unreliable – family.

5.Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
In the second Mrs de Winter we have a narrator who is unreliable through no fault of her own because she misunderstands everything about the eerie situation around her, and the reader is misled along with her. Rebecca is a masterclass in the search for secrets at the heart of a marriage as one woman tries to find out what became of her predecessor.

Someone should be watching their back … Joan Fontaine (left) and Judith Anderson in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1940 film of Rebecca.
 Someone should be watching their back … Joan Fontaine (left) and Judith Anderson in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1940 film of Rebecca. 

6. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
He’s sly, is Humbert Humbert. He flatters the reader, and tries to bring them on side as he talks of his perverse infatuation with a prepubescent girl and attempts to justify his actions. A disgustingly brilliant book.

7. The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
I can hardly believe there is anyone left in the world who hasn’t read this yet, but it’s hard to beat for unreliable narration. The central character in its clever tale of mistrust and murder is unreliable simply because she’s drunk for much of the book and blacks out.

8. The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe
Never trust a narrator whose opening gambit is to insist he’s not mad. Although only a short story, this is a chilling tale of the effects of guilt on a person’s psyche will stay with readers a long time. Is the tell-tale heart really beating, spectrally, beneath the floorboards, or does murder create a hell of its own?

9. Notes on a Scandal by Zoë Heller
From the outset, narrator Barbara’s acid tongue and confidence that she is the only one in a position to tell the sordid tale of an art teacher’s ill-judged affair with a pupil give the reader the nod that the perspective they are about to get on everyone involved is likely to be skewed.

10. The Life of Pi by Yann Martel
After the boat a young boy was travelling on sinks, he’s left in a life raft on the ocean with only a tiger for company. Such a beautiful story, and yet at the end the reader is left to wonder how much is true and how much has been reimagined in order for him to cope with tragedy and the brutal struggle for survival. This narrator’s unreliabilty might just break your heart.

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/jan/04/top-10-unreliable-narrators-edgar-allan-poe-gillian-flynn

Prisoners of Geography by Tim Marshall

prisoners-of-geography-by-tim-marshallI’m not entirely sure of the point of this book. When a guy on Waterstones said that it was, in the end, a great book, that when you get to the end of it you see the world in an entirely different or new way, I felt I had to buy it. More fool me. I see the world in exactly the same way on finishing this book. Except perhaps a larger dollop of cynicism towards Waterstones’ staff with their eagerness to shift stock.

Mr A

The News – A User’s Manual by Alain de Botton

The news is everywhere, we can’t stop checking it constantly on our screens, but what is it doing to our minds?

the-news

“The news occupies the same dominant position in modern society as religion once did, asserts Alain de Botton – but we don’t begin to understand its impact on us. In this dazzling new book, de Botton takes 25 archetypal news stories – from an aircrash to a murder, a celebrity interview to a political scandal – and submits them to unusually intense analysis.

He raises questions like: How come disaster stories are often so uplifting? What makes the love lives of celebrities so interesting? Why do we enjoy politicians being brought down? Why are upheavals in far off lands often so… boring?

De Botton has written the ultimate manual for our news-addicted age, one sure to bring calm, understanding and a measure of sanity to our daily (perhaps even hourly) interactions with the news machine.”

Inspired by writing the book, he created a news outlet: www.philosophersmail.com.

I would say this is the best of de Botton’s books, and I think the least well known, though it is only recently published (2014). I think the news is something so fraught with assumptions and spurious rationales that it would have been fair game to a number of such books in the past. But de Botton’s book does set the whole problem up very well: what is the news, how is it decided, and how does it shape the way we see the world. It’s pretty frightening when you think about the power of the news: just think of the infinite number of things, or ‘stories’, it choose not to tell us, then you’ll begin to understand the way it blinkers us, steers us and makes us think a very certain way… and then to have us always wanting more!

 

Mr A

 

The Betrothed by Alessandro Manzoni

the-betrothed-by-alessandro-manzoni “The Betrothed (Italian: I promessi sposi) is an Italian historical novel by Alessandro Manzoni, first published in 1827, in three volumes. It has been called the most famous and widely read novel of the Italian language. Set in northern Italy in 1628, during the oppressive years of direct Spanish rule, it is seen as a veiled attack on the Austrian Empire, which controlled the region at the time the novel was written. (The definitive version was published in 1842). It is also noted for the extraordinary description of the plague that struck Milan around 1630. It deals with a variety of themes, from the cowardly, hypocritical nature of one prelate (Don Abbondio) and the heroic sainthood of other priests (Padre Cristoforo, Federico Borromeo), to the unwavering strength of love (the relationship between Renzo and Lucia, and their struggle to finally meet again and be married), and offers some keen insights into the meanderings of the human mind.”

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Betrothed_(Manzoni_novel)

…and yet, it’s hardly read outside of Italian schoolrooms. For Italian literature and language it’s like Dickens, Shakespeare and Austen rolled into one: it defined Standard Italian dialect for a newly united nation, fired the starting gun for modern Italian fiction, and set the pace for countless novels that followed. But is it a good read? If the sometimes tiresome Christian morality doesn’t get to you, the novel works well. It’s a cracking story, very funny at times, and also full of wisdom that would, or should, be appreciated by a modern reader, especially the rank hypocrisy of those in power: a theme that never gets old.

 

Mr A

The Great Unread

Why do some classics continue to fascinate while others gather dust?

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AN ILLUSTRATION BY ATTILIO MUSSINO FROM A 1911 EDITION OF THE ADVENTURES OF PINOCCHIO.

Even in our era of blurb inflation, it’s hard to top Giuseppe Verdi’s claim that Alessandro Manzoni’s novel The Betrothed (1827) was “a gift to humanity.” Verdi was hardly alone in praising the author, who ranks second only to Dante in Italian literary history. Manzoni’s contemporaries Goethe and Stendhal celebrated his genius, while the critic Georg Lukács said that The Betrothed was a universal portrait of Italy so complete that it exhausted the genre of the historical novel. In Italy, such is the ubiquity of Manzoni’s novel that Umberto Eco claimed “almost all Italians hate it because they were forced to read it in school.” Manzoni was named senator in 1860 by the Italian government; in his greatest honor, Verdi dedicated his Requiem to him on the one-year anniversary of his death.

So why do few outside of Italy care about Manzoni—or, even more tellingly, why do they care much more about other books, written around the same time as The Betrothed and devoted to themes similar to its own? By comparison, one of the best-selling Italian books of all time is Carlo Collodi’s The Adventures of Pinocchio (1881), the story of a mischievous puppet who dreams of becoming a boy. The scholar Suzanne Stewart-Steinberg has shown that Pinocchio, in his struggle to assert his individuality against the controlling wishes of the outside world, represented the archetypal Italian child in the newly formed nation: the book first appeared twenty years after unification. Similarly, Manzoni’s Betrothed gives us two typical Italian peasants, Renzo and Lucia, who struggle to marry and build a life together amid class inequality, foreign occupation, and church domination.

But here the similarities end: Manzoni’s novel promotes a Christian faith whose adherents are rewarded for submitting to God’s providential wisdom. Collodi’s story, beyond exploring the plight of Italians in their newborn nation, describes how children learn to make their way in an adult society, with all its strictures and codes of behavior. Manzoni’s legacy in Italy is so strong that his book will always be read there. But outside of Italy, those same readers curious about Collodi’s star-crossed puppet are likely never to give Manzoni’s thoroughly Christian universe a second thought. 

This contrast, between a celebrated and largely unread classic and an enduringly popular classic, shows that a key to a work’s ongoing celebrity is that dangerous term: universality. We hold the word with suspicion because it tends to elevate one group at the expense of another; what’s supposedly applicable to all is often only applicable to a certain group that presumes to speak for everybody else. And yet certain elements and experiences do play a major role in most of our lives: falling in love, chasing a dream, and, yes, transitioning as Pinocchio does from childhood to adolescence. The classic that keeps on being read is the book whose situations and themes remain relevant over time—that miracle of interpretive openness that makes us feel as though certain stories, poems, and plays are written with us in mind.

In his Defence of Poetry, Percy Bysshe Shelley writes that great literature is “a fountain forever overflowing with the waters of wisdom and delight; and after one person and one age has exhausted all its divine effluence … another and yet another succeeds, and new relations are ever developed.” Shelley understood that some works have the magical capacity to resist closure—they read us as much as we read them, by revealing what is most important to our lives individually and our age collectively. Each great book, Shelley writes, is “the first acorn, which contained all oaks potentially”: the meaning we derive from literature changes over time, though the words on the page remain the same.

Sometimes we even look for meaning that isn’t really there—at least not in the way that the author intended it. In 1756, Voltaire proclaimed “nobody reads Dante anymore,” and indeed the Enlightenment had little time for Dante’s religious allegories and Christian doctrine. He was about to go the way of Manzoni’s Betrothed: a classic that was once much admired but now rarely read. Then the Romantics came along and rediscovered Dante, celebrating his individuality and heroism—those same qualities from Inferno that Dante would reject in Paradiso. But that didn’t matter to the Romantics. They creatively misread Dante, and in so doing made him the literary touchstone he is today. Our interest in Dante’s hell, the universality of its concern with questions of justice and crime and punishment, overrides our indifference to his medieval vision of Christianity.

Manzoni famously announced that The Betrothed would reach only “twenty-five readers,” yet his book became a national treasure. Its inability to attract a non-Italian audience isn’t the result of its artistic shortcomings, but of the nature of its questions and themes, which simply don’t appeal to a contemporary audience. No literary work can predict the future, but some do a better job than others in carving out a space for readers of all types and from all epochs. Where Manzoni failed, others, like Collodi, succeed. Manzoni’s novel exudes a Christian faith at odds with an increasingly secularized world; Collodi’s focuses on the eternal plight of children in the land of grown-ups.

W. E. B. Du Bois defended the necessity of a liberal arts education for recently emancipated African Americans by saying, “I sit with Shakespeare and he winces not.” Separated from Shakespeare’s Elizabethan England by centuries, he still found in the plays a universal space where he could explore his common humanity with HamletMacbeth, and Othello. The greatest defense of the classics, he understood, was to keep reading them—and to let them keep reading us.

https://www.theparisreview.org/blog/2014/08/26/the-great-unread/#more-75920

 A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf (1929)

Virginia Woolf’s essay on women’s struggle for independence and creative opportunity is a landmark of feminist thought

a portrait of virginia woolf

 A Room of One’s Own is both a landmark in feminist thought and a rhetorical masterpiece, which started life as lectures to the literary societies of Newnham and Girton Colleges, Cambridge, in October 1928. It was then published by the Hogarth Press in 1929 in a revised and expanded edition that has never been out of print.

Barely 40,000 words long, addressed to audiences of female students in the hothouse atmosphere of interwar creativity, this became an unforgettable and passionate assertion of women’s creative originality by one of the great writers of the 20th century. Ironically, she herself never favoured the term “feminist”.

Virginia Woolf, no question, transformed the English literary landscape. But how, exactly? Was it through modernist innovation (Mrs DallowayTo the Lighthouse)? Or flirting outrageously with historical fiction (Orlando)? Or in the provocative argument – in part a response to EM Forster’s Aspects of the Novel – of a book like A Room of One’s Own?

Well, all of the above. As many critics have noted, Woolf’s writings – from letters and diaries to novels, essays and lectures – are of a piece. Open any one of her books and it’s as though you have just stepped inside, and possibly interrupted, a fierce internal monologue about the world of literature.

Woolf herself assists this response. “But, you may say, we asked you to speak…” is the opening line to A Room of One’s Own that backs its author into the limelight of an initially rambling, but finally urgent, polemic. “England is under the rule of a patriarchy,” she declares on about page 30, and then proceeds to lay bare the structure of male privilege and female exclusion – from independence, income and education.

At first, she masks the narrator of her argument in the guise of several fictional Marys: Mary Beton, Mary Seton or Mary Carmichael, an allusion to a 16th-century ballad about a woman hanged for rejecting marriage and motherhood. This “Mary” narrator identifies female writers such as herself as outsiders committed to jeopardy.

Quite soon, however, Woolf seems to abandon this contrivance. Now she is on fire, writing in her own voice:

“One might go even further and say that women have burnt like beacons in all the works of all the poets from the beginning of time – Clytemnestra, Antigone, Cleopatra, Lady Macbeth, Phèdre, Cressida, Rosalind, Desdemona, the Duchess of Malfi, among the dramatists; then among the prose writers: Millamant, Clarissa, Becky Sharp, Anna Karenina, Emma Bovary, Madame de Guermantes – the names flock to mind, nor do they recall women ‘lacking in personality and character’. Indeed, if woman had no existence save in the fiction written by men, one would imagine her a person of the utmost importance; very various; heroic and mean; splendid and sordid; infinitely beautiful and hideous in the extreme; as great as a man, some think even greater. But this is woman in fiction. In fact … she was locked up, beaten and flung about the room.

“A very queer, composite being thus emerges. Imaginatively she is of the highest importance; practically she is completely insignificant. She pervades poetry from cover to cover; she is all but absent from history. She dominates the lives of kings and conquerors in fiction; in fact she was the slave of any boy whose parents forced a ring upon her finger. Some of the most inspired words, some of the most profound thoughts in literature fall from her lips; in real life she could hardly read, could scarcely spell, and was the property of her husband.”

Typically, Woolf takes herself to task as well, for her complacency: “What I find deplorable … is that nothing is known about women before the 18th century. I have no model in my mind to turn about this way and that. Here am I asking why women did not write poetry in the Elizabethan age, and I am not sure how they were educated…”

Some of A Room of One’s Own, while written in a white heat, is also very funny: “I thought of that old gentleman … who declared that it was impossible for any woman, past, present, or to come, to have the genius of Shakespeare. He wrote to the papers about it … Women cannot write the plays of William Shakespeare.”

From this point forward, “Judith Shakespeare” becomes another polemical fiction who, like Woolf, had to stay at home, watch her brother go off to school, and become imprisoned in domesticity: “She was as adventurous, as imaginative, as agog to see the world as he was. But she was not sent to school.” Eventually, Judith is shamed into a marriage of convenience by her family. Her brother makes his way in the world, while Judith is trapped at home, her genius unfulfilled.

Once Woolf has invented Judith Shakespeare, the poet’s sister who eventually kills herself, she can embark on a review of the creative lives of her great predecessors – Jane Austen, George Eliot, and the Brontë sisters, of whom she wrote, that Charlotte Brontë, burnt by rage, died “at war with her lot… young, cramped and thwarted”. En passant, Woolf reviews the lives and careers of female writers such as Aphra Behn: “All women together ought to let flowers fall upon the tomb of Aphra Behn … for it was she who earned them the right to speak their minds. It is she – shady and amorous as she was – who makes it not quite fantastic to say to you tonight: Earn five hundred a year by your wits.”

It’s at this juncture in her argument that Woolf proposes her now celebrated idea about the key to a woman’s creative liberation: a room, plus some independent means. To a resident of Bloomsbury this, no doubt, seemed a feasible goal, the guarantee of two essential gifts – privacy and freedom, or time and solitude. In retrospect, a private room plus “five hundred a year” seems impossibly middle-class. And yet, at current prices, it’s a sum that roughly translates into the figure that the Bailey’s prize (formerly the Orange prize) for women’s fiction (£30,000) awards to its annual winner. So perhaps Woolf’s dream has been at least partly fulfilled.

So much of A Room of One’s Own is so light and glancing that it’s easy to overlook the urgency of Woolf’s analysis. But she could be transgressive, and even mischievous, too. In another passage, describing the work of a fictional woman, Mary Carmichael, Woolf alludes to lesbian love in the novel, a passage almost certainly inspired by her relationship during the 1920s with Vita Sackville-West: “Then I may tell you that the very next words I read were these – ‘Chloe liked Olivia…’ Do not start. Do not blush. Let us admit in the privacy of our own society that these things sometimes happen. Sometimes women do like women.”

Finally, Woolf breaks free from the feminist arguments of her essay, morphs towards her preferred androgyny, and makes a larger claim for the true literary imagination (as she sees it): “It is fatal for anyone who writes to think of their sex … one must be woman-manly or man-womanly … Some collaboration has to take place in the mind between the woman and the man before the art of creation can be accomplished. Some marriage of opposites has to be consummated. The whole of the mind must lie wide open … There must be freedom and there must be peace. Not a wheel must grate, not a light glimmer. The curtain must be close drawn.”

And then, in a few valedictory pages – replete with more powerful arguments about the importance of university education for women – she is done, closing with an appeal to the essential spirit of risk and originality, “ the habit of freedom and the courage to write exactly what we think”.

A signature sentence

“For my belief is that if we live another century or so – I am talking of the common life which is the real life and not of the little separate lives which we live as individuals – and have five hundred a year each of us and rooms of our own; if we have the habit of freedom and the courage to write exactly what we think; if we escape a little from the common siting-room and see human beings not always in their relation to each other but in relation to reality; and the sky, too, and the trees or whatever it may be in themselves; if we look past Milton’s bogey, for no human being should shut out the view; if we face the fact, for it is a fact, that there is no arm to cling to, but that we go alone and that our relation is to the world of reality and not only to the world of men and women, then the opportunity will come and the dead poet who was Shakespeare’s sister will put on the body which she has so often laid down.”

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/dec/05/100-best-nonfiction-books-no-45-a-room-of-ones-own-by-virginia-woolf-shakespeares-sister-seton-beton?CMP=share_btn_tw

What Is an “Existential Crisis”?

“Who am I?” many of us have wondered at some point in our lives, “What am I? Where am I?”… maybe even—while gazing in bewilderment at the pale blue dot and listening to the Talking Heads—“How did I get here?”

That feeling of unsettling and profound confusion, when it seems like the hard floor of certainty has turned into a black abyss of endless oblivion…. Thanks to modern philosophy, it has a handy name: an existential crisis. It’s a name, says Alain de Botton in his School of Life video above, that “touches on one of the major traditions of European philosophy,” a tradition “associated with ideas of five philosophers in particular: KierkegaardCamusNietzscheHeidegger, and Sartre.”

What do these five have in common? The question is complicated, and we can’t really point to a “tradition.” As the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy notes, Existentialism is a “catch-all term” for a few continental philosophers from the 19th and 20th centuries, some of whom had little or no association with each other. Also, “most of the philosophers conventionally grouped under this heading either never used, or actively disavowed the term ‘existentialist.’” Camus, according to Richard Raskin, thought of Existentialism as a “form of philosophical suicide” and a “destructive mode of thought.” Even Sartre, who can be most closely identified with it, once said “Existentialism? I don’t know what it is.”

But labels aside, we can identify many common characteristics of the five thinkers de Botton names that apply to our paralyzing experiences of supreme doubt. The video identifies five such broad commonalities of the “existential crisis”:

1. “It’s a period when a lot that had previously seemed like common sense or normal reveals its contingent, chance, uncanny, and relative nature…. We are freer than we thought.”

2. We recognize we’d been deluding ourselves about what had to be…. We come to a disturbing awareness that our ultimate responsibility is to ourselves, not the social world.”

3. “We develop a heightened awareness of death. Time is short and running out. We need to re-examine our lives, but the clock is ticking.”

4. “We have many choices, but are, by the nature of the human condition, denied the information we would need to choose with ultimate wisdom or certainty. We are forced to decide, but can never be assured that we’ve done so adequately. We are steering blind.”

5. This means that anxiety is a “basic feature” of all human existence.

All of this, de Botton admits, can “seem perilous and dispiriting,” and yet can also ennoble us when we consider that the private agonies we think belong to us alone are “fundamental features of the human condition.” We can dispense with the trivializing idea, propagated by advertisers and self-help gurus, that “intelligent choice might be possible and untragic… that perfection is within reach.” Yet de Botton himself presents Existentialist thought as a kind of self-help program, one that helps us with regret, since we realize that everyone bears the burdens of choice, mortality, and contingency, not just us.

However, in most so-called Existentialist philosophers, we also discover another pressing problem. Once we become untethered from pleasing fictions of pre-existing realities, “worlds-behind-the-scene,” as Nietzsche put it, or “being-behind-the-appearance,” in Sartre’s words, we no longer see a benevolent hand arranging things neatly, nor have absolute order, meaning, or purpose to appeal to.

We must confront that fact that we, and no one else, bear responsibility for our choices, even though we make them blindly. It’s not a comforting thought, hence the “crisis.” But many of us resolve these moments of shock with varying degrees of wisdom and experience. As we know from another great thinker, Eleanor Roosevelt, who was not an Existentialist philosopher, “Freedom makes a huge requirement of every human being…. For the person who is unwilling to grow up… this is a frightening prospect.”

http://www.openculture.com/2016/07/what-is-an-existential-crisis.html

The 10 Greatest Books Ever, According to 125 Top Authors (Download Them for Free)

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Earlier this month, we highlighted The 10 Greatest Films of All Time According to 846 Film Critics. Featuring films by Hitchcock, Kubrick, Welles and Fellini, this master list came together in 2012 when Sight & Sound (the cinema journal of the British Film Institute) asked contemporary critics and directors to name their 12 favorite movies. Nearly 900 cinephiles responded, and, from those submissions, a meta list of 10 was culled.

So how about something similar for books, you ask? For that, we can look back to 2007, when J. Peder Zane, the book editor of the Raleigh News & Observer, asked 125 top writers to name their favorite books — writers like Norman Mailer, Annie Proulx, Stephen King, Jonathan Franzen, Claire Messud, and Michael Chabon. The lists were all compiled in an edited collection, The Top Ten: Writers Pick Their Favorite Books, and then prefaced by one uber list, “The Top Top Ten.”

Zane explained the methodology behind the uber list as follows: “The participants could pick any work, by any writer, by any time period…. After awarding ten points to each first-place pick, nine to second-place picks, and so on, the results were tabulated to create the Top Top Ten List – the very best of the best.”

The short list appears below, along with links to electronic versions of the works. There’s one notable exception, Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita. We couldn’t provide that text, but we do have something special — an audio recording of Nabokov reading a chapter from his controversial 1955 novel.

1. Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy

iPad/iPhone – Kindle + Other Formats – Read Online

2. Madame Bovary, by Gustave Flaubert

3. War and Peace, by Leo Tolstoy

4. Lolita, by Vladimir Nabokov

5. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain

6. Hamlet, by William Shakespeare

7. The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald

8. In Search of Lost Time, by Marcel Proust

9. The Stories of Anton Chekhov

10. Middlemarch, by George Eliot

http://www.openculture.com/2013/09/the-10-greatest-books-ever.html