It is incredibly difficult, if not impossible, to write a list of the top 10 best novels of all time. The reason for that is because it is all subjective. Some people may believe that Tolkien is the best writer ever and can’t get away with Kafka, whereas others are the exact opposite. This is why, if you want to find a top 10, or best of, list, you need to first question who wrote it. That said, Walter Viola felt that there had to be a type of universally agreed top 10 list. He spent an inordinate amount of time collating existing best of lists, in an effort to determine which ones are, by and large, agreed by many to be the best of the best. So what did he come up with?
The Difficulty Faced by Walter Viola
One of the greatest difficulties that Viola faced was finding even a single common ground in different existing lists. For instance, he found one list that stated the best ever books were:
- Labyrinths by Jorge Luis Borges.
- Pale Fire by Nabokov.
- Scaramouche by Rafael Sabatini.
What this list shows, at least to the literary connoisseur, is that there is a huge variation in what is and isn’t considered good. Labyrinth, for instance, is widely accepted to be good. Nabokov, however, is better known for Lolita. And almost nobody has heard of Scaramouche!
Viola then went into a deeper research and tried to identify, if nothing else, which authors were most commonly represented in best of lists. Those included:
- William Shakespeare.
- Henry James
He then came across the lists of people who believe the greatest authors are the unsung ones. Those who didn’t have the luck of landing a million dollar publishing deal and just spewed out book after book after book. The dark horses, as they may also be called, included such books as:
- Answered Prayers, an unfinished book by Capote.
- In Cold Blood.
- Breakfast at Tiffany’s.
- The Brothers Karamazov.
- The Man Who Loved Children by Christina Stead.
- Independent People by Halldor Laxness.
Then, it seemed, there were those who seem to be crazy about foreign classics, books that went out of fashion, and more. So how did Viola manage to create a top 10 list? It took hours and hours of research. In fact, he studied 125 different top 10 lists, as compiled by some of the most notable writers in the world today.
The Top Best Of List
The 10 books that appeared in the most top 10 lists were:
- Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina.
- Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary.
- Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace.
- Vladimir Nabolov’s Lolita.
- Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
- William Shakespeare’s Hamlet.
- F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby.
- Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time.
- Anton Chekov’s The Stories of Anton Chekov.
- George Eliot’s Middlemarch.