Dan Wakefield on his 5 favorite books

Dan Wakefield
Dan Wakefield

Dan Wakefield is a novelist, journalist and screenwriter whose best-selling novels Going All The Way and Starting Over were produced as feature films; he created the NBC prime time TV series “James at 15.” A documentary film has been produced of his memoir New York in the Fifties. Most recently,  Dan edited Kurt Vonnegut: Letters (Delacorte Press, $35.00) named one of the best books of the year by Newsweek/The Daily Beast and The Kansas City Star.  Here are the author’s 5 favorite books of all time:

The Razor’s Edge by William Somerset Maugham is the greatest novel of “the spiritual quest.” A good movie was done of it in the ‘forties with Tyrone Power and Gene Tierney, and even better one in the ‘eighties by Bill Murray. The Murray version was his first non-comic movie, so dumb reviewers didn’t get it – but you should get it! My favorite scene is when the Bill Murray character, on his quest around the world, arrive finally at a Buddhist monastery high in the mountains of Tibet. After a long trek, as he approaches the door of the monastery, a man in orange robes comes to the door, smiles, and says, “We have been waiting for you.” Maugham seems forgotten now though he is one of the great English prose writers. Ironically, new movies keep being made of his books: “Up At The Villa” based on his novella, and “The Painted Veil,” based on one of his great novels both were movies within the last decade.

Name All The Animals by Alison Smith is one of the finest memoirs of the last decade. She is thirteen when her sixteen year old brother who is also her best friend, is killed in a car wreck. Her emerging from that tragedy and becoming her own person ,and coming out as a gay woman are told with amazing power. Unforgettable.

Middlemarch by Gorge Eliot is still one of the all-time great novels, up there with the best of Tolstoy and Dostoevsky. Not only great story telling but also stunning understanding of the human condition – of how we love and how we hurt. I re-read it recently for the third time and then read for the first time her first novel The Mill on the Floss and was totally entranced by the story of a sister and brother coming of age and tragic early death.

The Sleeping Father by Matthew Sharpe is a contemporary brother-sister coming of age story that is as funny and wise as The Catcher in the Rye, but you here you get adolescence from both a female as well as a male point of view when the siblings have to take care of their father (in the hospital in a coma) and, more challenging, take care of themselves.

Anna Karenina by The Count, aka Leo Tolstoy. Simply the best love story of all time. Unlike too many novelists of today, the great 19th century writers wrote these masterpieces in serial form for magazines, so they HAD to have a plot! They had to make the reader want to buy the next issue, so they had to make the reader want to know “What Happens Next?” which is the key to all good storytelling. And all good writing.

14 thoughts on “Dan Wakefield on his 5 favorite books

  1. I am dismayed that among your 5 favorite BOOKS, there is not one of poetry. Not even room for one poetry book in that top 5 list? Even in my top 10 favorite books of POETRY for your holiday wish list, I had to squeeze in 2 or 3 books of prose!

  2. Couldn’t agree more about Razor’s Edge. And couldn’t agree LESS about Middlemarch, which I found dull, insufferably long, and turns out that George dude ain’t even, well, a dude! (Miss you, Dan! Thanks for the list!)

  3. Sorry I didn’t put in a book of poems – I also didn’t put in a play, a musical, an opera, or a symphony, which doesn’t mean I don’t hold them in high regard..
    If you’d like my five favorite books of poetry they would be: “To Bedlam and Part Way Back,” by Ann Sexton, “Still To Mow,” by Maxne Kumin, “Things of This World,” by Richard Wilbur, “The Night of the Hammer.” by Ned O’Gorman, and “Howl,” by Allen Ginsberg.
    Dan Wakefield

    1. Hey, Dan–thanks for answering, and so promptly! Some good poetry books there–I’m glad you like them! My point was that the title of the article said “5 favorite books,” without distinguishing between between books of fiction, drama or poetry–which would indicate that all of those categories were considered. Written musicals, operas, and symphonies, of course, are scores.

      Happy Holidays!


  4. I miss you so much, Dan. And I forgive you for not putting in a book of poems. Five books is pretty limiting, but I like Michele’s challenge. I am in the middle of Vanity Fair right now and am loving it. I chose to read it now because of the character Amelia. I think I am going to try Middlemarch next.

  5. I miss you, too, Dan. I think it’s fine that you didn’t mention one book of poetry–after all, they aren’t really BOOKS, are they? Well, no one asked me, but my five favorites are: Just Kids, by Patti Smith, An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, Notes from Underground by Fyodor, and of course, A Girl From Ohio by J. Ammon, which I noticed was missing from your and Joe Clifford’s five faves. I know Joe is a fan of mine so it must have slipped his mind. You, I don’t really understand the omission…. I would like to hear other people’s favorites.

    1. I’d very much like to read A Girl from Ohio by J. Ammon. How might one go about locating a copy? Might you be considering a prequel? A Girl From the University of South Florida perhaps?

Leave a Reply