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
2. Madame Bovary, by Gustave Flaubert
3. War and Peace, by Leo Tolstoy
4. Lolita, by Vladimir Nabokov
- Hear Nabokov read the next to final chapter here. 26 minutes of classic audio.
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
- Swann’s Way 
- Within a Budding Grove 
- The Guermantes Way 
- Cities on the Plain 
- The Captive 
- The Sweet Cheat Gone 
- Time Regained 
9. The Stories of Anton Chekhov
10. Middlemarch, by George Eliot