My Personal Canon

This list emerged from a whimsical post I wrote about an imaginary desert island bookshelf, a private canon of great books, compiled with the limitation of one book per writer. Whilst I reject Bloom’s extravagant notion of a Western Canon, I am always interested in personal canons. [I subsequently cast aside my self-imposed limitation.]

This list is open to recasting from time to time. Everything we read transforms us in some way; in the case of this list, the transformations are more durable. Although I don’t remember every word of these books, they remain in memory in some form and have shaped the person that I have become. These are perhaps those books that I’ll repeatedly reread in my dotage, looking for influences and patterns of my formative years.

Dorothy Richardson, Pilgrimage
André Gide, Strait is the Gate
Andre Bernold, Beckett’s Friendship
Mathias Enard, CompassZone
Gillian Rose, Love’s Work and Paradiso
Michael Hamburger, String of Beginnings
Samuel Beckett, Watt, Murphy, the trilogy (Everything?)
WH Auden, prose and poetry
Jane Bennett, The Enchantment of Modern Life: Attachments, Crossings, and Ethics
Clarice Lispector, Agua Viva
Max Frisch, Homo Faber
Patrick Leigh Fermor, Between the Woods and the Water
Doris Lessing, The Golden Notebook
Franz Kafka, Everything but especially diaries, letters, The Castle
Homer (Lattimore or Fagles translations, followed by Chapman, then Logue’s Homer)
Theodor Adorno, Minima Moralia: Reflections From Damaged Life
Roger Deakin, Notes From Walnut Tree Farm, Waterlog
Dante (Can’t go too wrong with Mandelbaum, Sayers or Hollander translations)
Proust (Moncrieff translation with Kilmartin and DJ Enright revisions)
Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse, the diaries; the Moments of Being collection; possibly everything except Orlando
Simone de Beauvoir, Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter, The Prime of Life, Witness to My Life (Beauvoir/Sartre letters)
Jean-Paul Sartre, Nausea
JM Coetzee, Elizabeth Costello
Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov
Stendhal, The Charterhouse of Parma
Jorge Semprún, Literature or LifeThe Long Voyage
Thomas Mann, The Magic Mountain
Kate Zambreno, Heroines, Book of Mutter
Tomas Espedal, Everything
Christa Wolf, Possibly everything but especially No Place on Earth, City of Angels, One Day a Year
Grace Dane Mazur, Hinges
Sara Maitland, A Book of Silence
Claudio Magris, A Different Sea
Brigid Brophy, The Snow Ball
Denton Welch, Every word you can get your hands on
Gabriel Josipovici, Whatever Happened to Modernism?