This list emerged from a whimsical post I wrote about an imaginary desert island library, a private canon of books. Whilst I am suspicious of Harold Bloom’s extravagant notion of a Western Canon, I am always interested in personal libraries.
This list is open to recasting from time to time. Everything we read transforms us in some way; in the case of these books, the personal transformations were more durable.
Although I can’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.
I think I am a sensitive reader, certainly a grateful one. These are the texts I’ve found to be essential to me. I hope you will be the reader some of these books await.
Theodor W. Adorno, Minima Moralia: Reflections From Damaged Life.
Honoré de Balzac, Cousin Bette; Père Goriot.
Simone de Beauvoir, The Prime of Life; Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter; Adieux: A Farewell to Sartre.
Saul Bellow, The Adventures of Augie March.
John Berger, Here is Where We Meet.
André Bernold, Beckett’s Friendship.
Jorge Luis Borges, The Garden of Forking Paths; Fictions.
Jane Bowles, Two Serious Ladies.
Brigid Brophy, The Snow Ball.
Anne Carson, Glass, Irony, and God.
Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quixote.
Hélène Cixous, Three Steps on the Ladder of Writing.
J. M. Coetzee, The Life and Times of Michael K; Waiting for the Barbarians; In The Heart Of The Country; The Childhood of Jesus.
Rachel Cusk, Outline, Transit, Kudos.
Dante, The Divine Comedy (Mandelbaum, Sayers or Hollander translations).
Charles Dickens, Great Expectations; Bleak House.
Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov; Crime and Punishment; The Idiot; Demons.
Marguerite Duras, Moderato cantabile.
George Eliot, Middlemarch.
Mathias Enard, Compass; Zone.
Tomas Espedal, Against Nature; Against Art; Tramp.
Patrick Leigh Fermor, A Time to Keep Silence; A Time of Gifts.
Gustave Flaubert, Madame Bovary, A Sentimental Education.
Max Frisch, Homo Faber; I’m Not Stiller.
Graham Greene, The Quiet American.
Michael Hamburger, String of Beginnings.
Peter Handke, Repetition; The Afternoon of a Writer; Across; The Weight of the World.
Joseph Heller, Something Happened.
Homer, The Iliad (Chapman, Fagles or Fitzgerald translations).
James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.
Franz Kafka, The Metamorphosis; The Castle; The Trial; The Collected Short Stories; The Zurau Aphorisms; the diaries.
Giuseppe Tomasi de Lampedusa, The Leopard; The Professor and the Siren.
Doris Lessing, The Golden Notebook.
Clarice Lispector, Água Viva.
Yiyun Li, Dear Friend, from My Life I Write to You in Your Life.
Christopher Logue, War Music.
Claudio Magris, A Different Sea.
Thomas Mann, The Magic Mountain; Doktor Faustus.
Grace Dane Mazur, Hinges.
V. S. Naipaul, The Enigma of Arrival.
Proust, In Search of Lost Time (Moncrieff translation with Kilmartin and DJ Enright revisions).
Rainer Maria Rilke, The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge.
Dorothy Richardson, Pilgrimage.
Gillian Rose, Love’s Work; Paradiso.
Anthony Rudolf, Silent Conversations.
Jose Saramago, Blindness.
Jean-Paul Sartre, Witness to My Life; Nausea.
Michael Schmidt, The Novel.
W. G. Sebald, The Rings of Saturn; After Nature.
Jorge Semprún, Literature or Life; The Long Voyage.
Dag Solstad, Shyness and Dignity.
George Steiner, Grammars of Creation; The Poetry of Thought; Real Presences.
Stendhal, The Charterhouse of Parma.
Leo Tolstoy, The Death of Ivan Ilyich.
Robert Walser, Jakob von Gunten; The Assistant, The Walk.
Denton Welch, In Youth is Pleasure; A Voice Through a Cloud.
Christa Wolf, No Place on Earth; City of Angels; One Day a Year; Cassandra; Medea.
Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse; Moments of Being; the diaries.
Kate Zambreno, Heroines; Book of Mutter.