John Irving's 10 Favorite Books

John Irving was kind enough to provide his 10 favorite books to the authors of The Top Ten: Writers Pick Their Favorite Books.


#1: Great Expectations

by Charles Dickens

Dena from New York, NY says:

I like Dickens. Even so, I didn't read "Great Expectations" until I was in grad school — I'd seen the movies, and they all seemed boring and love-storyish. Mawkish, what with Miss Havisham and her house and Pip longing for Estella...

Charles Dickens, how could I have forgotten? That's not what you do at all. "Great Expectations" has a mystery at its heart, and it plows along until all of a sudden you're on page 500 and you've laughed out loud — to Dickens! — on the subway.

This book also appears on:

Nick Hornby's Favorite Books

Oprah's Book Club


#2: Tess of the d'Urbervilles

by James Wood, Thomas Hardy

Michelle Martinez from Houston, Texas says:

This is a beautiful and poignant novel about the trials of young and resourceful Tess. Her sad life has shafts of light with moments of love and hope. You're on her side from the very start. It's a deeply moving tale. This is one of my favourite books; I've read it multiple times — in high school, college, and grad school — and each time I read something new. Thomas Hardy, the author, has a great command of the language and imagery.


#4: The Scarlet Letter

by Nina Baym, Nathaniel Hawthorne, edited by Thomas E. Connolly

Laura Marello says:

I just re-read The Scarlet Letter after 30 years. It is a grim book about a woman in Puritan New England who's shunned for having a child out of wedlock, about the man who fathered the child, and the man who is tormenting the father. It's a book about guilt, breaking the rules, about social restrictions, and it still has a lot of relevance. It's a classic.


#6: David Copperfield

by Charles Dickens

Hannah Egan says:

Many of Dickens' works are known for their opening lines, but this book boasts my favorite opener of all time. It includes some of the most lovable characters ever conceived, and yes, some of the most vile. Like any other book by Charles Dickens, this is a great read for anyone who has a healthy sense of humor and a taste for well chosen and deliciously aged words. A fine wine to enjoy slowly.


#7: Madame Bovary

by Gustave Flaubert

Sally Bjornsen from Seattle says:

I read Madame Bovary in High School and I have to say I don't think I "got it" at the time. Now having watched the world reel from the recession I "get it." Many of my hard driving, big spending, botox-consuming, career women friends have found themselves in a tight financial position and are having to evaluate what is important to them — beyond their material items. Many have spent beyond their means and are now wondering... how did I get here? Madame Bovary was a bourgeois, shallow, material obsessed character — not unlike many modern day characters. In the end (spoiler alert!) she succumbs to her insurmountable debt and a failed life that was not up to her aesthetic and romantic vision and ends her life. It's a tragic story that is replayed in the news of late. Some things never change.


#8: Fifth Business

by Robertson Davies

Rachel from Boston, MA says:

It's been years and years since I read this book, part of the Deptford Trilogy. Robertson Davies is one of those authors whose books are well-plotted AND have interesting characters, and to top it off, have lots of references to other topics. I enjoy reading his books, and they make me feel smart in the bargain. ;-)


One Hundred Years of Solitude

by Gregory Rabassa, Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Penelope Trunk says:

This book was not fun to read; it was very slow going for me. I had no idea what I was reading at the beginning. Every time the magical realism popped up, I skipped it, and got excited that I was closer to the end of the book. But somewhere, toward the end, I stopped skipping, and I realized that I was able to appreciate the weirdness of the story. This was when I realized I could process big ideas on my own, without a professor to guide me.


Moby-Dick: or, The Whale

by Herman Melville, introduction by Nathaniel Philbrick

Katrina Naugle says:

Oh my bejeezus, Herman Melville has a great sense of humor. I put off reading this book 'cause I thought it was slow-going; turns out, I just wasn't catching his dry, witty sense of humor, and once I did, he just kept getting better and more clever! Ishmael is a truly funny character, in a dark way, which makes me wonder why they haven't made a movie yet (don't get any ideas! Don't ruin it! Just kidding — a little).