J. Peder Zane, book review editor of the Raleigh News & Observer, asked 125 noted writers for their 10 favorite works and compiled a list of the all-time Top 10.
The winners (in order, from top to bottom) are: Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina; Flaubert’s Madame Bovary; Tolstoy’s War and Peace; Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita; Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn; Shakespeare’s Hamlet; F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby; Proust’s In Search of Lost Time; the stories of Anton Chekhov; and George Eliot’s Middlemarch.
An unexceptionable list, right? Well, only until you start thinking about it. Critic Sven Birkerts, in his introductory essay, picks up on two oddities: first, only one of the works is by a woman (and she, Mary Ann Evans, used the male pen name of George Eliot); second, only one was written before the 19th century. No Homer, no Dante, no Chaucer.
Also no Charles Dickens. Or Jane Austen. In fact, Middlemarch is the only British novel on the list, which itself seems strange.