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.

Theodor Adorno: Minima Moralia: Reflections From Damaged Life
J. G. Ballard, Concrete Island, The Kindness of Women
Honoré Balzac, Père Goriot
Simone de Beauvoir: The Prime of Life and Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter
Samuel Beckett: Watt, Molloy, Malone Dies, The Unnameable, Ill Seen Ill Said
Jane Bennett: The Enchantment of Modern Life: Attachments, Crossings, and Ethics
Jorge Luis Borges: Labyrinths
Jane Bowles, Two Serious Ladies, Out in the World: Selected Letters of Jane Bowles [Edited by Millicent Dillon]
Miguel de Cervantes: Don Quixote
Kate Chopin, The Awakening
JM Coetzee: Foe, Elizabeth Costello, Disgrace, The Life and Times of Michael K, Waiting for the Barbarians, In The Heart Of The Country
Grace Dane Mazur: Hinges
Dante: The Divine Comedy (Mandelbaum, Sayers or Hollander translations)
Fyodor Dostoyevsky: The Brothers Karamazov, Crime and Punishment
George Eliot: Middlemarch
Mathias Enard: Compass and Zone
Patrick Leigh Fermor: A Time to Keep Silence and A Time of Gifts
Gustave Flaubert: A Sentimental Education, Madame Bovary
Michael Hamburger: String of Beginnings
Peter Handke: Repetition, The Afternoon of a Writer, Across, The Weight of the World
Homer: The Iliad and The Odyssey (Chapman, Fagles or Fitzgerald translations)
James Joyce: Dubliners, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and Ulysses
Franz Kafka: The Metamorphosis, The Castle, The Trial, The Collected 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
Claudio Magris: A Different Sea
Thomas Mann: The Magic Mountain and Doktor Faustus
Robert Musil: The Man Without Qualities
V. S. Naipaul: The Enigma of Arrival, A House for Mr Biswas
Proust: In Search of Lost Time (Moncrieff translation with Kilmartin and DJ Enright revisions)
Dorothy Richardson: Pilgrimage
Rainer Maria Rilke, The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge
Michael Schmidt, The Novel
W. G. Sebald: The Rings of Saturn
Jorge Semprún: Literature or Life and The Long Voyage
George Steiner: Grammars of Creation, The Poetry of ThoughtReal Presences
Stendhal: The Charterhouse of Parma
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 and Medea
Virginia Woolf: To the Lighthouse, Moments of Being, The Waves, the diaries
Kate Zambreno: Heroines and Book of Mutter
Jan Zwicky: Wittgenstein Elegies and Lyric Philosophy