mailer and maugham’s favourites


Norman Mailer’s Ten Favorite American Novels

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­1. U.S.A., John Dos Passos

2. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain

3. Look Homeward, Angel, Thomas Wolfe

4. The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck

5. Studs Lonigan, James T. Farrell

6. The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald

7. The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway

8. Appointment in Samarra, John O’Hara

9. The Postman Always Rings Twice, James M. Cain

10. Moby-Dick, Herman Melville

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W. Somerset Maugham’s Ten Greatest Novels



Alfred Eisenstaedt: Maugham reading on Cape Cod.

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In 1948 the British novelist wrote Great Novelists and Their Novels, which contained the following list of what he considered the ten greatest novels ever written. He acknowledged in the introductory essay that "to talk of the ten best novels in the world is to talk nonsense, " but he went on to analyze what made these novels great in a short essay that became required reading for any would-be novelist. It is difficult to believe that anyone embarking on reading these ten books would not come out of the experience a changed person.

1. Tom Jones, Henry Fielding

2. Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen

3. The Red and the Black, Stendhal

4. Old Man Goriot, Honoré de Balzac

5. David Copperfield, Charles Dickens

6. Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte

7. Madame Bovary, Gustave Flaubert

8. Moby-Dick, Herman Melville

9. ­War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy

10. The Brothers Karamazov, Fyodor Dostoevsky

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—from Harold Rabinowitz and Rob Kaplan (eds.), A Passion for Books: A Book Lover’s Treasury of Stories, Essays, Humor, Lore, and Lists on Collecting, Reading, Borrowing, Lending, Caring for, and Appreciating Books (1999)

the epigraph to o’hara’s appointment in samara

From Cotton Mather to Nathanael Hawthorne through to Thomas Pynchon, from the God-haunted rectitude of the first American Puritans to the sinister house of the seven gables through to Tyrone Slothrop of Gravity’s Rainbow  the greatest fictional embodiment of the doomed soul in modern American literature  U.S. writers have always been fascinated with the idea of the saved and the damned, the elect and the preterite… even John O’Hara, the dogmatically realist chronicler of the lives of mid-twentieth century Americans, isn’t exempt from this preoccupation: witness his brilliant choice of epigraph for Appointment in Samara, which equips us to fully understand the true nature of hisAmerican catastrophe:   

DEATH SPEAKS:

There was a merchant in Bagdad who sent his servant to market to buy provisions and in a little while the servant came back, white and, trembling, and said, Master, just now when I was in the market-place I was jostled by a woman in the crowd and when I turned I saw it was Death that jostled me. She looked at me and made a threatening gesture; now, lend me your horse, and I will ride away from this city and avoid my fate. I will go to Samarra and there Death will not find me. The merchant lent him his horse, and the servant mounted it, and he dug his spurs in its flanks and as fast as the horse could gallop he went. Then the merchant went down to the market-place and he saw me standing in the crowd and he came to me and said, Why did you make a threatening gesture to my servant when you saw him this morning? That was not a threatening gesture, I said, it was only a start of surprise. I was astonished to see him in Bagdad, for I had an appointment with him tonight in Samarra.

—W. Somerset Maugham