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
Andre Bernold, Beckett’s Friendship (trans. Max McGuinness)
Mathias Enard, CompassZone (trans. Charlotte Mandell)
Michael Hamburger, String of Beginnings
Samuel Beckett, Watt, Murphy, the trilogy
Dirk van Hulle and Mark Nixon, Samuel Beckett’s Library
WH Auden, prose and poetry
Jane Bennett, The Enchantment of Modern Life: Attachments, Crossings, and Ethics
Clarice Lispector, Agua Viva (trans. Stefan Tobler)
Max Frisch, Homo Faber (trans. Michael Bullock)
Patrick Leigh Fermor, Between the Woods and the Water
Doris Lessing, The Golden Notebook
Franz Kafka, Everything but especially diaries, letters, The Castle (trans. various but I like the Muirs and Hofmann)
Homer (Lattimore or Fagles translations, followed by Chapman, then Logue’s Homer)
Theodor Adorno, Minima Moralia: Reflections From Damaged Life (trans. EFN Jephcott)
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) (trans. James Kirkup)
Jan Zwicky, Lyric Philosophy
Jean-Paul Sartre, Nausea (trans. Robert Baldick)
Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quixote (Edith Grossman’s translation)
JM Coetzee, Elizabeth Costello
Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov (Ignat Avsey’s translation)
Stendhal, The Charterhouse of Parma (trans. Scott Moncrieff)
Jorge Semprún, Literature or LifeThe Long Voyage
Thomas Mann, The Magic Mountain (John E. Wood’s translation)
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 (trans. MS Spurr)
Brigid Brophy, The Snow Ball
Denton Welch, Every word you can get your hands on
Gabriel Josipovici, Whatever Happened to Modernism?