These are favorite books, though not in order of preference. Some are thoughtful and require careful reading, Berlin and Steiner for example. I like books about books, though Babitz is unmitigated frothy, hip language. I didn’t include Nabokov, a favorite, his college lectures on literature are fascinating. Nor is Tennessee Williams included, first a poet, then a playwright. Lawrence Durrell’s Alexandria Quartet is in the Roshamon genre, four tales, one by Justine, and each of her three lovers.
I have two dictionaries on Yiddish: The Joys of Yiddish, and More Joys of Yiddish, which I find indispensible. Then any tale by Alice Munro, her For the Love of a Good Woman is superb. I like Katherine Ann Porter, and Flannery O’Conner. Paul Theroux and Jan Morris are two of the finest travel writers, and V. S. Naipaul, a Nobel Laureate that I avidly read. His Argentina and the Ghost of Evita is a remarkable account of culture and machismo. Then there’s Maughm, one of the great storytellers that no one reads anymore.
Every young man should read The Catcher in the Rye, and Franny & Zooey by Salinger, then excessive, compulsive Thomas Wolfe who devoured life, his Look Homeward Angel a great read. Alan Moorehead’s The Blue Nile and The White Nile are great adventure accounts about the discovery of the two rivers. So is his Darwin and the H.S.M. Beagle.
Some advice. Don’t struggle with a book that you don’t like, there are too many good ones to enchant. Maybe a later reading of it will click—then you need The Oxford Classical Dictionary.
1. One Hundred Years of Solitude—Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Three generations in a Columbian village
2. On Photography—Susan Sontag
Thoughts on images by one of our finest thinkers
3. The Proud Tower—Barbara Tuchman
The events that led to WWI
4. The Seven Sisters—Anthony Sampson
History of the companies that developed the Middle East oil fields
5. Growth of the Soil—Knut Hamsen
A Nobel Prize winner’s take on injustice and farm life
6. The Collected Poems of Philip Larkin
One of England’s Poet Laureates. Precise, magical language
7. The Sun King—Nancy Mitford
The History of Louis xiv, Versailles and lots of gossip
8. Conquest of Mexico—William Prescott
Cortez’s foray into Mexico; adventure, betrayal, wise kings and monks
9. Language and Silence—George Steiner
Artists who abandon their art. Heavy going. Enlightening.
10. Madame Bovary—Gustav Flaubert
An elegant tale about vanity. An easy reading classic.
11. Collected Stories of Paul Bowles
One of America’s finest short story writers. Penetrating. Bizarre, exotic.
12. Let it Come Down—Paul Bowles
A tale of love and madness in the desert
13. Four Essays on Liberty—Isaiah Berlin
Heavy going about liberty. Vital.
14. Slow Days and Fast Company—Eve Babitz
A wicked tale of Hollywood, Rolling Stone, and groupies
15. The Greek Way to Civilization—Edith Hamilton
An introduction to art, history, culture and politics
16. Axle’s Castle—Edmund Wilson
Literary criticism. American writers who fled to Paris after WW1
17. Stories of Three Decades—Thomas Mann
Formal, classic stories of the human condition
18. Patterns in Nature—Peter S. Stevens
A learned, insightful account of form and texture in nature. Vital.
19. The Elements of Style—Prof. Strunk and E. B. White
How to write clearly by two no-nonsense teachers.
20. The Elements of Typographic Style—Robert Bringhurst
A poet’s expert take on typography, beautifully designed. A classic, vital book.