The best of everything

As a contributor to The Best of Everything (ed. Wm. Davis, Weidenfeld & Nicolson 1980), Burgess gave his verdict on all that he considered best in literature. These were his choices:

1. Best dictionary: Johnson’s (‘human, hence imperfect, hence lovable’). Best comprehensive dictionary: the OED (‘too great to be loved’). Best from English to a foreign language: Winstedt’s English-Malay (‘for “mustard” we get “tahi tikus”, literally “mouse-turd”…. “Copulate” is well served….To perform coitus after circumcision with an older woman is “menyepoh tura”, but only in Perak’).
2. Best library: one’s own. Best bibliothecal institution: the British Museum reading room. Best library of the past: the one at Alexandria.
3. Best mystery writer: Conan Doyle.
4. Best novel: Ulysses (‘As a narrative artefact, a mammoth verbal jigsaw, an example of literary creation in which every adverb and every crumb of tobacco is accounted for, it is the ultimate and unbeatable professional fictional performance against which all other novels have to be measured.’)
5. Best novel in England: the Parade’s End tetralogy.
6. Best US novel: Pudd’nhead Wilson.
7. Best French novels: Gargantua et Pantagruel; Bouvard et Pécuchet
8. Best Italian novel: Quer pasticciaccio brutto de via Merulana
9. Best Japanese novel: 瘋癲老人日記  (Fūten Rōjin Nikki — Diary of a Mad Old Man)
10. Best German novel: Doktor Faustus (‘The composer-hero has genius and syphilis. So, thought Mann, had Germany.’)
11. Best novels about WWII: the Crouchback trilogy; The Naked and the Dead.
12. Best poets: Dante; Shakespeare.
13. Best poets since WWII: Auden; Montale.
14. Best reviews: Macaulay, on the poems of Robert Montgomery. Disqualified: Dorothy Parker — ‘The House Beautiful is the play lousy.’
15. Best title: Play — Goldsmith, She Stoops to Conquer. Poem — Milton, Paradise Lost. Prose — Joyce, Finnegans Wake (‘contains a bookload of ideas’).
16. Best humorist: Book — Augustus Carp Esq., by Himself (Bashford). Writer — Beerbohm.
17. Best biography: Hugh Walpole (Hart-Davis); The Life of Samuel Johnson, LL.D. (Boswell).
18. Best epigram: ‘All women become like their mothers. That is their tragedy. No man does. That’s his.’
19. Best repartee: ‘The right honourable gentleman is indebted to his memory for his jests, and to his imagination for his facts.’ Honourable mention: ‘Sir, your wife, under pretence of keeping a bawdy-house, is a receiver of stolen goods.’
20. Best opening: ‘I shall not say why and how I became, at the age of fifteen, the mistress of the Earl of Craven.’
21. Best literary magazine: Blast.

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