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.

Mathias Enard, CompassZone
Michael Hamburger, String of Beginnings
Samuel Beckett
WG Sebald, After Nature, The Rings of Saturn
Clarice Lispector, Agua Viva
Patrick Leigh Fermor
Doris Lessing, The Golden Notebook
Franz Kafka
Homer, Iliad
John Williams, Stoner
Geoff Dyer, The Colour of Memory, But Beautiful, Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi
Gilbert Highet, The Classical Tradition
Roger Deakin, Notes From Walnut Tree Farm, Waterlog
Dante
Proust
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
Stendhal, The Charterhouse of Parma
Peter Handke, Repetition
Jorge Semprún, Literature or Life, and The Long Voyage
Aeschylus, The Oresteia
Pascal Quignard, The Roving Shadows, Sex and Terror
JM Coetzee, In the Heart of the Country, The Life and Times of Michael K, Waiting for the Barbarians
Mahmoud Darwish, Memory for Forgetfulness
Thomas Mann, The Magic Mountain
Kate Zambreno
Alice Oswald, Memorial
Laszlo Krasznahorkai, War and War
James Joyce, Dubliners, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
Roberto Calasso, La Folie Baudelaire
Tomas Espedal
Christa Wolf, Cassandra, No Place on Earth (probably everything)
Grace Dane Mazur, Hinges
Anne Carson, Eros the Bittersweet
Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, The Leopard, The Professor and the Siren
Sara Maitland, A Book of Silence
Claudio Magris, A Different Sea
Max Frisch, I’m Not Stiller
Brigid Brophy, The Snow Ball
Denton Welch
Nick Hunt, Walking the Woods and the Water
JG Ballard, Concrete Island, Miracles of Life
John Berger, Bento’s Sketchbook