I had a tremendous amount of fun editing Jane Smiley's Thirteen Ways of Looking at the Novel. It's such a rich and exuberant book, one that offers a chance on every page for you to re-connect with or re-examine your thoughts on novels, and on reading and literature in general. I was an English major in college, and this was a great opportunity for me to go back and re-visit a lot of books that I'd read, meant to read, or, in some cases, hadn't even heard of. (Who was Aphra Behn and what is Oronooko?, I wondered.)
Many people have asked me, were any of Jane's choices of novels for Thirteen Ways controversial? Absolutely—I'll bet there are readers out there who will think, why are Nicholson Baker and Francine Prose on the same list as Faulkner, Flaubert, Proust? But the eclecticism and all-embracing quality of Jane's list of 100 novels—the book as a whole, in fact—reflects her unique personality and sensibilities. She approaches reading not only as a novelist (which makes this book unique—a craftsman's take), but also as a reader, an individual. I'll admit that we disagreed. At first there were not one but two entries for my least-favorite classic, Don Quixote, a book Jane adores. I love Anna Karenina and Moby-Dick; Jane is not quite as enamored. Nevertheless, Jane's take on these books—and indeed, all of the books in Thirteen Ways—is convincing. And though you may not ever be able to change anyone's opinion about a novel—it's that private and personal an experience—Jane's passion for both the Decameron and the Tale of Genji persuaded me to read them. I'd recommend these fictional journeys to you, too.
I'm sure that each and every reader will bring her or his own opinions to Thirteen Ways as well, which is what makes it so eminently discussable, thumbable, readable—either in pieces or as a whole: a book to treasure.
Vice President, Senior Editor