Personal Canon

This list emerged from a whimsical post I wrote about an imaginary desert island bookshelf, a private canon of 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.

Simone de Beauvoir: The Prime of Life and Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter
Peter Handke, Repetition, The Afternoon of a Writer, Across, The Weight of the World
Dorothy Richardson: Pilgrimage
Mathias Enard: Compass and Zone
Michael Hamburger: String of Beginnings
Samuel Beckett: Watt, Molloy, Malone Dies, The Unnameable, Ill Seen Ill Said
George Steiner: Grammars of Creation, The Poetry of ThoughtReal Presences
Jane Bennett: The Enchantment of Modern Life: Attachments, Crossings, and Ethics
Max Frisch: Homo Faber
Robert Musil: The Man Without Qualities
W. G. Sebald: The Rings of Saturn
Franz Kafka: The Metamorphosis, The Castle, The Trial, The Collected Stories, The Zurau Aphorisms, the diaries
Homer: The Iliad and The Odyssey (Chapman, Fagles or Fitzgerald translations)
Aeschylus: Oresteia
V. S. Naipaul: The Enigma of Arrival
Charles Dickens: Great Expectations, Bleak House
Theodor Adorno: Minima Moralia: Reflections From Damaged Life
Dante: The Divine Comedy (Mandelbaum, Sayers or Hollander translations)
Proust: In Search of Lost Time (Moncrieff translation with Kilmartin and DJ Enright revisions)
Virginia Woolf: To the Lighthouse, Moments of Being, The Waves, the diaries
Jorge Luis Borges: Labyrinths
Don DeLillo: Underworld
Jan Zwicky: Wittgenstein Elegies and Lyric Philosophy
Jean-Paul Sartre: Nausea
James Joyce: Dubliners, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and Ulysses
Miguel de Cervantes: Don Quixote
JM Coetzee: Elizabeth Costello, Disgrace, The Life and Times of Michael K, Waiting for the Barbarians, In The Heart Of The Country
Roberti Calasso: La Folie Baudelaire
Geoff Dyer, But Beautiful, The Colour of Memory
Fyodor Dostoyevsky: The Brothers Karamazov, Crime and Punishment
Stendhal: The Charterhouse of Parma
Jorge Semprún: Literature or Life and The Long Voyage
Thomas Mann: The Magic Mountain and Doktor Faustus
Kate Zambreno: Heroines and Book of Mutter
Giuseppe Tomasi de Lampedusa: The Leopard, The Professor and the Siren
Christa Wolf: No Place on Earth, City of Angels, One Day a Year, Cassandra and Medea
Grace Dane Mazur: Hinges
Jose Saramago, Blindness
Claudio Magris: A Different Sea
Denton Welch: In Youth is Pleasure, A Voice Through a Cloud
Doris Lessing: The Golden Notebook
Gustave Flaubert: A Sentimental Education, Madame Bovary
Patrick Leigh Fermor: A Time to Keep Silence and A Time of Gifts
Rainer Maria Rilke, The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge
Honoré Balzac, Père Goriot