Bret Easton Ellis: TOP TEN BOOKS


Photo courtesy of JBB Studio via Wikimedia Commons

After publishing his first novel, Less Than Zero, at the age of 20, Ellis quickly established himself of the chronicler of a certain burned-out aimlessness and narcissism, epitomized in his best-selling and controversial American Psycho, an excoriating takedown of 1980s decadence and lifestyle fetishism. After a long period living in New York, Ellis moved back to his native Los Angeles in 2006, where he now focuses on writing screenplays and hosting his popular interview podcast, featuring guests ranging from Kanye West to Quentin Tarantino.

Below are Bret Easton Ellis’s favorite books, available to purchase as a set or individually.


Sentimental Education

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?
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Anna Karenina

Leo Tolstoy
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.
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Sabbath's Theater

Philip Roth
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?
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The Corrections

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.
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Madame Bovary

Gustave Flaubert
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.
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James Joyce
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.
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George Eliot
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.
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The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Mark Twain
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.
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Play It As It Lays

Joan Didion
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.
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The Great Gatsby

F.Scott Fitzgerald
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.
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