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David Foster Wallace’s 10 Favorite Novels


Yesterday, David Foster Wallace would’ve been 50. He’s one of the authors that I’ve slowly grown in appreciation for since I started this blog. And judging by my tag cloud on the home page, I’ve probably talked about him more than any other author.

When I think of an author like DFW, a guy who wrote the beastly novel that is Infinite Jest, I assume he must have been into heady novels like Ulysses, that his daily reading list probably consisted of Chaucer and Homer, that he would read Faulkner on his lunch break.

But maybe not. Before he died, DFW made a list of his top ten favorite books for a compilation of favorite books of famous writers. I’ve got to say—they aren’t quite what I expected from DFW, but that makes him all the more intriguing.

Here is his top 10:

  1. The ScrewTape Letters by C.S. Lewis
  2. The Stand by Stephen King
  3. Red Dragon by Thomas Harris
  4. The Thin Red Line by James Jones
  5. Fear of Flying by Erica Jong
  6. The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris
  7. Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein
  8. Fuzz by Ed McBain
  9. Alligator by Shelley Katz
  10. The Sum of All Fears by Tom Clancey

A couple of things stand out to me. DFW was obviously a Thomas Harris fan, with two books on the list. Would’ve never predicted Tom Clancy’s The Sum of all Fears—didn’t see DFW as a big spy novel type of guy.

And totally wouldn’t have predicted The ScrewTape Letters in the top spot. That’s an amazing book, though, and it makes me happy to know that DFW was fond of C.S. Lewis’ writing, especially his faith-based stuff.

Fuzz is 1970s mystery fiction from an author who wrote a trillion books. Alligator has an early 80s cheesy thriller feel to it and, with only one review on Amazon, is quite obscure.

In all, it looks like DFW was a fan of generally mainstream fiction. Read about the entire list here.

Does that surprise you? Anything on his list that stands out?

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17 Comments Post a comment
  1. Beverly Penn #

    Yes, that is an interesting list, and rather unexpected. He comes across more like Woolf or Joyce than Stephen King. Not that the above books are “bad” necessarily, just not at all evocative of the brilliance in “Infinite Jest”.

    February 22, 2012
    • Some really random stuff in there too. Odd list.

      February 22, 2012
  2. No doubt. And lots of plot-driven stuff, too. The Screwtape Letters is, well, shocking really. I’m actually re-reading it as I write my second novel, which involves belief-doubt and what may or may not be the narrator’s grappling with a possession.

    February 22, 2012
    • Love The Screwtape Letters. Mere Christianity, too. I like Lewis’s nonfiction stuff better than Narnia.

      February 22, 2012
  3. Screwtape and the Stand together at the top of the list. Very interesting pairing.

    February 22, 2012
  4. Disappointing. Would’ve expected a more refined taste. The list seems sort of more fast food than epicurean or even eclectic. not one title, other than (sort of) the C.S.Lewis, would you find in the literature section of a bookstore. The Screwtape Letters might be categorized in the Religious section.
    That is, of course, if book stores still existed.

    February 22, 2012
    • Fake DFW Yo #

      the list is absolutely fake considering his personality and his fear of sounding pretentious.

      October 20, 2013
  5. I love Screwtape Letters. I don’t think I’ve read anything else on there. Because I’m awesome.

    February 22, 2012
  6. Matt Ryan #

    I don’t buy it. The list is DFW’s middle finger to J. Peder Zane and anyone else who finds value in lists such as these (which, by the way, I do!). Some writers refused to participate, others complained about the impossibility of making such choices. Wallace essentially refused as well, but had some fun while doing so.

    February 22, 2012
    • I think it’s real. He had hundreds of Oprah-ish self-help books in his personal library. Here’s an article that came out last Spring that talks about all of those books. If he was obsessed with mainstream self help stuff, I wouldn’t see why the mainstream fiction would be that much of a stretch.

      February 22, 2012
      • Matt Ryan #

        Interesting article. I see your point. I don’t deny that DFW enjoyed these books, but do you REALLY think these are his ten favorites? I don’t. I think he wanted to make a statement (and a rather important one) about the dangers of constructing such lists. He had to be making a statement when he placed The Screwtape letters as the top of his list.

        February 23, 2012
      • Just read the inside-david-wallace link above. IJ has much more autobiographical material than I realized. Good insights in that blog post.

        February 23, 2012
      • Fake DFW Yo #

        In interviews he mentions some of these writers and calls them “sometimes pretty good.”

        October 20, 2013
  7. I love it when a fancy pants author likes less fancy books! I think all too often we assume that the only books worth reading are the challenging, smart books (like your examples of Faulkner, Chaucer and Homer) when there are a ton of worthwhile books out there not written by classic authors. DFW’s list indicates to me that he loved to read and enjoyed the books he read. Yes, it’s great to say you read Homer but can you really say you enjoyed it? Was it unputtdownable? Probably not. I say good for DFW, if anything it’s a middle finger to the book snobs out there!

    February 28, 2012
    • Paul Lewis #

      I read Homer (both The Iliad and The Odyssey) and enjoyed them very much. Right up there with the best books I’ve ever read and definitely “unputdownable”!

      January 2, 2014
  8. Bobbo #

    I thought clear and present danger was the most souless, technical, “factory produced” novel I ever tried to read…It just felt like the epitomie of the novel for the technical minded military man who hates everything except rote descriptions of guns and fighting, no style, no thought provoking parts, no emotion, just a kind of machine enginered plot described in the most robotic way. I only read like 3 chapters though.

    February 29, 2012
  9. Valuable info. Fortunate me I discovered your site unintentionally, and I’m surprised why this twist of fate didn’t took place earlier! I bookmarked it.

    May 14, 2012

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