Desert Island Books

A very smart former student wrote to me (well, emailed me) last week to ask me for reading recommendations. The way he put it was that he wanted recommendations for 5 books, other than stuff I teach (so there goes Clarissa). I have been thinking about this often since getting his message, and it is really, really hard. How do I balance factors–the impact a given book had on me at a certain moment, vs. those that later helped me make sense of many other things? Should I make sure to include an array of genres, or centuries, or styles, or nationalities? Should I credit things I read 20 years ago and loved intensely but haven’t thought about much since then? Should I prefer authors who’ve written lots of great books over those who’ve written one undeniable masterpiece? Should I prefer neglected classics over more obvious things? Should I work in the fact that I probably read Trollope and Wodehouse more than any other authors these days (for fun, anyway)?

I’ve decided to err on the side of what might be called “pure reading experience.” And I had to break it down into separate categories for all-time and recent books… Mixing the two just seemed ridiculous.

All Time:

Cervantes–Don Quixote

Rousseau–Confessions

Jorge Luis Borges–Labyrinths

George Eliot–Middlemarch

Henry James–The Bostonians

“Recent” books

J M Coetzee– Disgrace

Robert Hass– Praise

Jhumpa Lahiri–Interpreter of Maladies

Anne Carson–The Beauty of the Husband

Ian McEwan–Atonement

Bonus:

Wallace Stevens–The Palm at the End of the Mind

(could go in either category really)

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6 responses to “Desert Island Books

  1. I would insist on having James Thurber on any list I made up. I’ve been reading “The Night the Bed Fell” and “The Day the Dam Broke”for 50 years and I laugh just as hard now as when I first read those pieces. (Your father recently tried to tell me those events weren’t real!? Judging from our family’s life and times I don’t believe him).

  2. Thanks for the email edits, Ed… I have silently incorporated them (oops, there I go again making verbs into nouns. But this is merely the comments section.)

  3. so, you read “beauty of the husband”? i found it chilling and hard to stop reading.

  4. dan weinstein

    Hi, George. Is “Labyrinths” the best place to start, even for a Borges neophyte like myself? -Dan “Best Pants” W.

  5. Yes, it is the especially best place to start for the Neophyte, Mr Pants.

  6. dan weinstein

    Thanks, Don. Bumping my beach reading up a notch will no doubt bedazzle the ladies…

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