Ever since publishing his controversial 1985 debut novel Less Than Zero at the age of 21, Bret Easton Ellis has been hailed as a literary sensation – to some, he’s the enfant terrible of 80s lit, and to others, a master satirist of PC culture. Exploring the depths of nihilism, narcissim, misogyny and decadence in 1991’s best-selling and wildly violent American Psycho, Ellis solidified himself as a disaffected chronicler of postmodern ennui.
Over the three decades since, he’s worked on screenplays and adaptations, hosted a popular interview podcast, and published his first piece of non-fiction work – last year’s divisive essay collection White.
Sharing a list of his 10 all-time favorite novels with NY-based bookstore One Grand, Ellis included classic works of literature by Flaubert, Fitzgerald, Eliot and Joyce. Find the full list below, and complement with the favorite books of Chuck Palahniuk, David Foster Wallace, Philip Roth, and Stephen King.
Sentimental Education by Gustave Flaubert
“My favorite novel and the greatest bildungsroman. It’s ultimately about the limits of experience compared to the fantasies of our desires—can actuality even compete with what we dream about?” -BEE
“The greatest of all Russian novels; as satisfying as a tragic soap opera as well as an epic philosophical trip into the Russian psyche and soul. Along with Madame Bovary, Anna Karenina is the greatest female character ever created.” -BEE
“My favorite Roth; his dirtiest, funniest book but also one with an epic sweep. Of all the later novels, this is probably his most major, though it was attacked upon its release as going ‘too far’ — but when a novel is this amusingly depraved, isn’t that the point?” -BEE
The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen
“The first contemporary novel by an author immersed in modernism and a kind of Gen-X nihilism that fused DeLillo’s coldness with the family novel—warming one style up and cooling another genre down, sustaining it brilliantly. In that regard alone, it’s an amazing moment in American fiction.” -BEE
“Flaubert is the only writer to consistently appear twice in my top 10—this is maybe the first modern bourgeois novel, and in its commitment to realism, one of a handful of novels that changed the path of literature.” -BEE
“A book that changed my life for a long time. The novel represents a vast expanse of the possibilities of fiction in terms of theme, style, characterization. The book represented freedom for me with epic set-pieces and a genuinely moving humanism pulsing beneath the playful and revolutionary surface post-modernism.” -BEE
“It took me too long to appreciate the subtlety and vision of Eliot [pen name for Mary Ann Evans] and the slow-burning pleasures of her storytelling. The rapturous intensity (and specificity) of the prose is formally stunning and deeply pleasurable.” -BEE
“It still even now feels remarkably contemporary, like rap and hip hop. Hemingway said all modern American literature comes from this book, and it feels like the most American novel ever written—a novel about the yearning to be an outsider in terms of wanting to be free.” -BEE
“For a few decades, this was my favorite modern American novel because it was in the execution of the book’s style that the meaning of the book was conveyed, more than the minimal story or characterizations. The fact that you could do this was revelatory—that style trumps story, character, everything.” -BEE
“This is often considered the greatest American novel of the 20th century—I waver on that sometimes but I love the beauty of its writing, its tabloid immediacy, the high body count, its modernistic touches, the relentless drama put into it’s novella-length form. It’s not only an elegy for the jazz era but for the idea of the American dream.” -BEE
(via One Grand Books)