boring personal reading habits: 50 literary pillars

I've been enjoying the William H. Gass inspired "50 literary pillars" series at Big Other, where guests such as Christine Schutt, Matt Bell, and Samuel R. Delaney post their 50 favorite books. The list by Gass which inspired the series can be found on Goodreads.

When I logged onto Goodreads to see Gass's list, I checked my own list of favorite books, which happens to stand at 54 books. This is a very casual list that I've added a book to now and then since 2007, when I apparently first started a Goodreads account. It isn't a carefully compiled list that I agonized over to make sure I represented my various interests, had a good balance of different types of literature, and so forth.

But, as such, it may actually be more telling than a list that one I'd consciously compile for publication. Unedited list and comments after the jump.

The list:

  1. Airships by Barry Hannah
  2. A Good Man is Hard to Find and Other Stories by Flannery O'Connor
  3. Invitation to a Beheading by Vladimir Nabokov
  4. The Baron in the Trees by Italo Calvino
  5. Sixty Stories by Donald Barthelme
  6. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami
  7. Macbeth by William Shakespeare
  8. Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy
  9. Society of the Spectacle by Guy Debord
  10. Billy Hazelnuts by Tony Millionaire
  11. On Being Blue by William H. Gass
  12. Cat's Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut
  13. The Woman in the Dunes by Kobo Abe
  14. The Stranger by Albert Camus
  15. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  16. Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell
  17. The Lime Works by Thomas Bernhard
  18. Jesus' Son by Denis Johnson
  19. Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov
  20. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
  21. Almost No Memory by Lydia Davis
  22. Red Cavalry Cycle by Isaac Babel
  23. The Anchor Book of New American Short Stories edited by Ben Marcus
  24. Venus drive by Sam Lipsyte
  25. A Fan's Notes by Frederick Exley
  26. The Collected Poems of Zbigniew Herbert
  27. Titus Andronicus by William Shakespeare
  28. The World Doesn't End by Charles Simic
  29. Pastoralia by George Saunders
  30. Mr. Cogito by Zibigniew Herbert
  31. Deep Thoughts by Jack Handey
  32. Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace
  33. Rock Springs by Richard Ford
  34. Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
  35. The Complete Stories by Franz Kafka
  36. Labyrinths by Jorge Luis Borges
  37. Our Dumb Century by The Onion
  38. Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson
  39. The Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolano
  40. Novels in Three Lines by Felix Feneon
  41. Days Between Stations by Steve Erickson
  42. Autobiography of Red by Anne Carson
  43. Basic Writings of Nietzsche
  44. What We Talk About When We Talk About Love by Raymond Carver
  45. Child of God by Cormac McCarthy
  46. Trout Fishing in America / The Pill versus the Springhill Mine Disaster / In Watermelon Sugar by Richard Brautigan
  47. This Is About the Body, the Mind, the Soul, the World, Time, and Fate by Diane Williams
  48. Parables and Paradoxes by Franz Kafka
  49. Hunger by Knut Hamsun
  50. Taking care by Joy Williams
  51. Weathercraft by Jim Woodring
  52. An Elemental Thing by Eliot Weinberger
  53. Jakob von Gunten by Robert Walser
  54. Une Semaine De Bonte by Max Ernst

The order is roughly the chronological order that I added the books. The first few dozen added in bulk on the day I joined Goodreads or within the next year. Une Semaine De Bonte being the last book added.

My first thought is that, yes, this list more or less displays my literary concerns and tendencies (the surreal, the darkly comic, books that dissolve that world and remake it into something odd, dark, and beautiful, etc.).  There are very few works of straight domestic realism here, which I am more than fine with. There are certainly some books that I'm not sure belong (Murakami for example) and there are, of course, many that are probably missing. But overall a good list, for my tastes, as well as a decent balance of styles, eras, and nationalities.

Of the missing books, the list is heavily weighted towards books I read or reread in the last decade. There are many books that I remember being fascinated by in High School (Crime and Punishment, The History of the Peloponnesian War, As I Lay Dying, Greek tragedies, etc.), but which I didn't feel comfortable adding so many years since reading. Of course, why I haven't reread any of those is another question.

I also notice an almost complete lack of non-fiction. I count two works of philosophy (Debord, Nietzsche), two technically non-fiction books that read more like poetry (An Elemental Thing, Novels in Three Lines), and two more traditional non-fiction works by novelists (On Being Blue and Homage to Catalonia). My tastes are indeed heavily weighted towards fiction, but even so this seems a little thin. I've always considered philosophy important to me, and I am not sure how I've included only two books. Nothing by Kierkegaard? Or Cioran? Or the Greeks?

The list is also thin on poetry with Simic, Herbert, and Carson being the only representatives. I think this is due to the fact that I'm more likely to read individual poems as opposed to full collections of poetry. I've only included books I've read back to front.

I've got three graphic novels (Une Semaine De Bonte, Billy Hazelnuts, and Weathercraft) and two works of straight humor (Our Dumb Century and Deep Thoughts). I feel happy with the latter, as I think finely crafted jokes take as much linguistic skill as any great novel and I've honestly probably borrowed as many "moves" from Handey as I have form McCarthy.

Mostly this list just makes me realize how much more I have, as always, to read.

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