Joyce Carol Oates' 10 Favorite Books

Joyce Carol Oates was kind enough to provide her 10 favorite books to the authors of The Top Ten: Writers Pick Their Favorite Books.


Crime and Punishment

by Fyodor Dostoevsky

Seachanges says:

I reread this book on the beach last summer and felt as enthralled by it as the first time round. There are different views on this book, ranging from "It nearly finished me. It was like having an illness" (Robert Louis Stevenson, in admiration) to Peter Kemp of the Sunday Times, who dismisses the book as so much hysteria and hallucination. I loved it again, especially the mood swings and the writer’s craft to evoke these fantastic scenes of poverty and degeneration in St. Petersburg, and uses these as the background for a fantastic literary detective story.



by James Joyce

Laura Marello says:

Ulysses is in my top five... it's an interesting story about intertwined lives of people in Dublin during one day in June. It uses a lot of language play, and the chapter's themes resemble those in Homer's Odyssey. There is love, humor, and misunderstandings. Incidentally, Ulysses was banned in America when it first came out, and people smuggled it into the country under their coats. It is now considered one of the five most important books of modernism, along with Proust, Thomas Mann, and Virginia Woolf. If you like Ulysses, you'd probably also like Joyce's other books.

This book also appears on Best of Irish Writers, Then and Now


The Sound and the Fury

by William Faulkner

Quinn Walker says:

I'm so glad we've gotten this far. The Sound and the Fury is my favorite book. Period. Not my favorite Faulkner book. Not my favorite Southern book (Sorry Penn Warren). Not even my favorite serious book. The Sound and the Fury changed the way I read. It changed how I talk to people and the music I listen to. Yoknapatawpha County, Mississippi, home of many of Faulkner's novels, is the setting and the focus is on the Compson family (see above in Absalom, Absalom!). It's divided up into four sections (five, if you count the appendix which is not included in some additions) which focus on different members of the family. The slow, agonizing decay of the Compson family and their social order twists heartstrings. Themes of incest, mental instability, and honor play out through their lives causing havoc and destruction. But, as the last sentence of the appendix says, "They endured."


The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson

by Emily Dickinson

Eric Mueller from Los Angeles, CA says:

This is the only complete set of Dickinson's poetry— over 1,500 poems in all. It's interesting to watch how she matured and changed as a poet.


The Red and the Black

by Stendhal

Anita Treso from Ryde, Isle of Wight says:

Although first published in 1830 in French, The Red and the Black is still resonant today. Aspects of feeling different from your family, aspirations for your future, love and passion and hate and passion are all written in an easy to read language. Stendhal also wrote A Life of Napoleon in his defense, but I found his novel much more gripping and interesting. Chapters open with quotations to set the scene. If you love reading 19th century literature, this is a MUST.


Women in Love

by D. H. Lawrence

Laura Marello says:

I read this in high school and still can't forget it 30 years later. (Well, 35.) Lawrence creates interesting characters and interesting relationships. He is all about romantic relationships, Britain at the turn of the century, the class system, industrialism. It's interesting stuff.


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).


The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

by Mark Twain

Roy L. Pickering Jr. from says:

I don't suppose there are too many readers who are not already familiar with this title. I happened to write about this classic on my blog, due to the decision to put out a new edition with all instances of "the N-word" omitted. The reason why this decision was made and the reason I oppose, despite its good intent, says all that needs to be said about why this is the first title on my list. The brilliance of Twain's novel is that it shows how basically good people can be conditioned to have reprehensible attitudes and not even realize their wrong doing. We forgive a character such as Huck Finn in spite of himself, which makes us wonder what sins we ourselves may be unknowingly committing on a regular basis. How many of us would be willing to do what our conscience says is the right thing when society says such behavior will result in banishment to Hell?