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.
Jorge Luis Borges–Labyrinths
Henry James–The Bostonians
J M Coetzee– Disgrace
Robert Hass– Praise
Jhumpa Lahiri–Interpreter of Maladies
Anne Carson–The Beauty of the Husband
Wallace Stevens–The Palm at the End of the Mind
(could go in either category really)