My top one hundred. Sort of. After a fashion. You know.

David Bowie recently listed his top one hundred must-read books as a part of his art show David Bowie Is, which has had spectacular runs at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, and more recently at the Art Gallery of Ontario. He has, as one would expect of such an extraordinarily talented and intelligent person, some thought-provoking choices, and the list, overall, is endearingly eclectic. It is gratifying to see some of my own favourites there (Lolita, Herzog, In Cold Blood, Nights at the Circus, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao), though he also includes On The Road (ick) … and there are a lot of Newfoundlanders who will not be pleased to see Howard Norman’s The Bird Artist, a book that ranks even lower in people’s esteem than The Shipping News for its hackneyed and egregiously inaccurate depiction of outport Newfoundland.

That being said, reading the list got me thinking … not so much about what my one hundred “must-reads” would be, but which one hundred books have affected me the most profoundly over the years. I’m not sure why my mind went there precisely, when the practice of telling people what they should read is both a pedantic hobby and a professional imperative … but I suspect that in the aftermath of last week’s posts about David Gilmour and his insistence on only teaching what he loves had me reflecting on those texts that I love.

It didn’t really occur to me as I wrote those posts, but when I go back and reread Gilmour’s Hazlitt piece and his interview in The National Post, I find it a little odd that, if his personal mandate is to teach only what he truly loves, he seems to have such a narrow range of authors he’s willing to teach. As I sat and made my own list, I reflected that the books I have read that I love and which had affected me profoundly is massive. My favourite part of teaching is that I get to share some of these books with my students.

But then, perhaps I’m just undiscriminating.

I’ve been picking away at this list all week in my spare moments. I started compiling it partially out of curiosity, because I’ve never really done it before. I was also curious to see—after two posts in which I took issue with David Gilmour’s and Margaret Wente’s antipathy to women authors—whether I would prove myself a hypocrite. The one comment I received on those posts was someone pointing out that the banner image at the top of this blog is almost exclusively male, with only Zadie Smith and Marjorie Garber as exceptions. As I replied, my choice of banner image is actually quite random: I took a few pictures of the various bookshelves in my office at home, and that was the one that turned out best (if I’d posted the shelf beneath, you’d think this was a George R.R. Martin fan site). I quite deliberately did not rearrange books to be more flattering—I wanted something honest, if not necessarily representative.

So, a word on my list: my rules to myself were that I could choose one book per author. (If it was a list of books proper, regardless of author, you’d see an awful lot more of Don DeLillo, Toni Morrison, Martin Amis, and so forth). The representative book had to be the work by that author that affected me in a significant manner, not the book that I would later come to consider the best by that author. So for example, Love in the Time of Cholera is the entry here from Gabriel García Marquez, even though I believe One Hundred Years of Solitude is his masterpiece (and one of the greatest novels of the twentieth century), because that was my first real encounter with Marquez. By contrast, the first book of Annie Dillard’s I read was The Writing Life, a slim volume in which she talks about the nature of writing and what the writer’s task is. I read that in high school and loved it, but it was eclipsed a few years later when I read A Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. I read Jane Austen’s Emma when I was an undergraduate, and hated it. Later I read Pride and Prejudice, which made me grudgingly think maybe this Austen person had some game; but it was on reading Northanger Abbey as the urging of an Austen-mad friend that I truly grasped Austen’s genius. I then went back and reread the other two novels (as well as the rest of her books) with new eyes , but it was Northanger that had the greatest affect.

All this is by way of saying that these choices are entirely idiosyncratic.

Also: there is no poetry, for the simple reason that, for me, that is an entirely different category and an entirely different species of affect. What we have here are novels, histories, philosophy and theory, and a handful of plays.

I encourage other lists. Most of the people reading this probably came here from Facebook: if so, post a list there! Otherwise, for you other bloggers, post to your blog and I’ll link to you.

Isabelle Allende, The House of the Spirits
Dorothy Allison, Bastard out of Carolina
Martin Amis, Time’s Arrow
Karen Armstrong, The Battle for God
Margaret Atwood, Lady Oracle
Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey
John Banville, Doctor Copernicus
Pat Barker, The Eye in the Door
Julian Barnes, A History of the World in 10 ½ Chapters
Walter Benjamin, Illuminations
Jorge Luis Borges, Labyrinths
Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre
Emily Brontë, Wuthering Heights
Judith Butler, Gender Trouble
Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities
Angela Carter, Nights at the Circus
Noam Chomsky, Necessary Illusions
Kate Chopin, The Awakening
Agatha Christie, And Then There Were None
Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness
Don DeLillo, Libra
Junot Diaz, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities
Joan Didion, Slouching Toward Bethlehem
Annie Dillard, A Pilgrim at Tinker Creek
Umberto Eco, The Name of the Rose
George Eliot, Middlemarch
Susan Faludi, The Terror Dream
William Faulkner, As I Lay Dying
Timothy Findley, Famous Last Words
E.M. Forster, A Passage to India
Michel Foucault, The Order of Things
George MacDonald Fraser, Flashman
Northrop Frye, The Educated Imagination
Paul Fussel, Wartime
Neil Gaiman, American Gods
Marjorie Garber, Shakespeare’s Ghost Writers
William Gibson, Neuromancer
Seamus Heaney, Preoccupations
Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms
Christopher Hitchens, God is not Great
Richard Hofstadter, The Paranoid Style in American Politics
Homer, The Iliad
Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God
Linda Hutcheon, A Poetics of Postmodernism
Henrik Ibsen, Hedda Gabler
Fredric Jameson, Postmodernism, or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism
James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
Maxine Hong Kingston, The Woman Warrior
Arthur Koestler, The Sleepwalkers
Thomas Kuhn, The Copernican Revolution
Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird
Milan Kundera, Immortality
Margaret Laurence, The Diviners
Ursula K. Le Guin, The Left Hand of Darkness
C.S. Lewis, Prince Caspian
Margaret MacMillan, Paris 1919: Six Months that Changed the World
Christopher Marlowe, Doctor Faustus
Gabriel García Marquez, Love in the Time of Cholera
George R.R. Martin, A Game of Thrones
Cormac McCarthy, Suttree
Ian McEwan, Atonement
Herman Melville, Moby-Dick
Toni Morrison, Paradise
Haruki Murakami, A Wild Sheep Chase
Vladimir Nabokov, Pale Fire
Azar Nafisi, Reading Lolita in Tehran
Gloria Naylor, Mama Day
Edna O’Brien, The House of Splendid Isolation
Flannery O’Connor, The Violent Bear it Away
Michael Ondaatje, The English Patient
Ann Patchett, Bel Canto
Terry Pratchett, Night Watch
Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar
Thomas Pynchon, The Crying of Lot 49
Bill Readings, The University in Ruins
Jean Rhys, The Wide Sargasso Sea
Richard Rorty, Contingency, Irony, Solidarity
Philip Roth, The Human Stain
Salman Rushdie, Midnight’s Children
Elaine Scarry, On Beauty
William Shakespeare, Macbeth
Mary Shelley, Frankenstein
Jane Smiley, Moo
Susan Sontag, Against Interpretation
Sophocles, Antigone
Muriel Spark, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie
Art Spiegelman, Maus
John Steinbeck, East of Eden
Bram Stoker, Dracula
Tom Stoppard, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead
J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings
Monique Truong, The Book of Salt
Alice Walker, Possessing the Secret of Joy
Evelyn Waugh, Brideshead Revisited
Edith Wharton, The Age of Innocence
Colson Whitehead, Sag Harbor
Jeannette Winterson, Sexing the Cherry
Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own
Slavoj Zizek, Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Lacan, But were Afraid to Ask Hitchcock

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