My Must-Read List

Suggestions always welcome! In the comments or otherwise. If your suggestion is questionable, however, I might require a short explanation before I give it a coveted spot on this list.

  • 1984, by George Orwell
  • Assassination Vacation, by Sarah Vowell
  • Bend Sinister, by Vladimir Nabokov
  • Bicycle Diaries, by David Byrne
  • The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, by Jean-Dominique Bauby
  • Emma, by Jane Austen
  • From a Native Daughter, by Haunani Kay Trask
  • Gathering Blue, by Lois Lowry
  • Gilead, by Marilynne Robinson
  • The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood
  • Hangover Square, by Patrick Hamilton
  • Haroun and the Sea of Stories, by Salman Rushdie
  • Herland, by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
  • The Jokers, by Albert Cossery
  • Les Miserables, by Victor Hugo
  • Like Life, by Lorrie  Moore
  • Little, Big, by John Crowley
  • Madness, by Michel Foucault
  • Maps & Legends, by Michael Chabon
  • Mendocino and Other Stories, by Ann Packer
  • Messenger, by Lois Lowry
  • Mimesis, by Erich Auerbach
  • Mimesis & Alterity, by Michael Taussig
  • Mrs. Vladimir Nabokov, by Stacy Schiff
  • My Name Is Red, by Orhan Pamuk
  • Nexus, by Henry Miller
  • Northanger Abbey, by Jane Austen
  • Nothing to Be Frightened Of, by Julian Barnes
  • On Late Style, by Edward Said
  • An Ornithologist’s Guide to Life, by Ann Hood
  • Pale Fire, by Vladimir Nabokov
  • Persuasion, by Jane Austen
  • Player Piano, by Kurt Vonnegut
  • Room, by Emma Donoghue
  • Space and Place: The Perspective of Experience, by Yi-Fu Tuan
  • Telegraph Avenue, by Michael Chabon
  • This is a Book, by Demetri Martin
  • Tropic of Cancer, by Henry Miller
  • Vera, by Stacy Schiff
  • The Wordy Shipmates, by Sarah Vowell
  • Wuthering Heights, by Emily Brontë
  • Zuckerman Bound, by Philip Roth

5 responses

  1. I have an addition to this list: Hangover Square, by Patrick Hamilton. (Go ahead and put it at the top.) It’s a gin-soaked noir about a schizophrenic living in a tawdry version of Earl’s Court; he alternates between pining after and plotting to kill the beautiful but dissolute Netta Longdon. The story thematically parallels Samson Agonistes (quoted at the beginning of several chapters), and it’s set against the background of the lead-up to World War II. (The book was published in 1941.) Just finished it and loved it.

    1. i was just going to put a note at the top of this page welcoming suggestions, so thanks for pre-empting me on that. it’ll go on the list. but not first, because that would ruin the carefully conceived system of order i’m using (alphabetical).

      1. Well, if you’re asking… Here are two of my favorite books from the last few years:
        Gilead, by Marilynne Robinson. It’s a kind of epistolary novel: a series of letters by John Ames, a terminally ill radical Reformed pastor, for his young son to read when he grows up. (While the novel was highly praised when it came out, most of the reviewers—with the exception of the estimable James Wood—didn’t grasp how deeply Calvinist both narrator and narrative are. Ames’s father was a committed pacifist, and his grandfather fought with John Brown and the Union Army.) Without giving too much away, the climax centers around interracial marriage, which may partly explain why President Obama (whose biography reveals his interest in the subject) listed it as one of his favorite books. I can’t work up too much dislike for someone who likes the same books I do!
        Little, Big (or, The Fairies’ Parliament), by John Crowley. A Forsyte-style family chronicle of the Drinkwater clan, who live in rural upstate New York and who share a private “religion” that turns out to be their awareness of, and interaction with, the fairy realm. This could also go on your list of dystopian novels, though the dystopia, like the fairies mentioned in the subtitle, lurk on the edges of the narrative, sometimes impinging on it only in retrospect. In addition to its delicious satire of Victorian-style theosophists (whose teacup sprites turn out to be quite real and influential), it’s worth reading simply for the breadth of subjects that make an appearance: Frederick Barbarossa, tarot, ars memorativa, and Arthur Rackham all play a role, explicitly or obliquely.

        By the way, I notice you’ve left off Jane Austen’s best novel, Emma. I can only imagine that this is because you’re reading it right now.

      2. Oh, and Mimesis is a great book—one of the few I’d describe as “magisterial.” Highly recommended! Though the comp lit guy I mentioned to you earlier, Meir Sternberg, points out some problems with Auerbach’s attempted dichotomy between the Bible and Homeric epic in The Poetics of Biblical Narrative.

      3. adding. and Emma isn’t on there because I’ve literally gotten a different Austen recommendation from every person who’s given me one! also adding.

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