These are not necessarily the greatest books I have ever read. They are, however, the ones that have most influenced me. Each of them, I have read multiple times, and I first read them all before 1985. I have presented them here in alphabetical order by author:
- Anonymous. Njals Saga. Why haven’t more Americans read this book? It tells of a time when Iceland was governed by clans, and justice was crude but effective. It’s one of two Icelandic sagas that have a museum dedicated to them. The Njals Saga museum is in Hvöllsvollur, and I have visited it twice. The other honors Egils Saga and is located in Borgarnes.
- Balzac, Honoré de. Old Goriot. How does a young man make his way through life? Balzac’s hero, Eugène de Rastignac, is one of the great heroes in fiction.
- Borges, Jorge Luis. Labyrinths. Borges has been one of my teachers, having turned me on to so many of the books, people, and places that have mattered in my life. I am re-reading it now for the fifth time.
- Chatwin, Bruce. In Patagonia. Maybe not every word that Chatwin writes is true, but even his fictions have lured me to the southern tip of Argentina twice, and soon, for the third time.
- Chesterton, G. K. The Man Who Was Thursday. Learn with Gabriel Syme how to see the lamppost from the light of the tree instead of vice versa. Here we are in the world of paradox.
- García Marquez, Gabriel. One Hundred Years of Solitude. This is a book I bought at a souvenir stand at the ruins of Chichén Itzá in Yucatán. It showed me that life was magical.
- Highet, Gilbert. The Art of Teaching. Originally, I wanted to become a college professor. I never quite made it, but Highet made me wish I had. I first read this book while I was in high school.
- Orwell, George. Keep the Aspidistra Flying. Another high school read: How does one tread the fine line between genteel poverty and selling out?
- Proust, Marcel. In Search of Lost Time. I am reading this now for the third time. I hope to live to read it several times more. Generally, it takes me a decade to re-read all seven novels in the series. When reading it, I am totally absorbed in the world of Marcel.
- Strunk, William and White, E. B. The Elements of Style. Strunk & White showed me that good writing is essentially simple and direct. Another classic from my teen years.
I could easily add more titles, but these titles keep swirling around in my head and influencing me.
I just read another blog which mentioned (not necessarily as influential, but great) The House of Mirth and I chimed in to say it was one of my top ten favorites of all time. Pere Goriot makes the top three!
I also liked The Man Who Was Thursday. Keep the Aspidistra Flying is on my short-term TBR list.
I never made it through the Proust. Really enjoyed the first one, but not so much the next two. I am speaking of enjoyment, not influential, so even without finishing it, I can understand why it would be on your list.
The above list is very much from the point of view of myself as a young man, and where certain books have sent me in the years that followed. From each of the above titles, there springs an invisible tree of other books, of distant places, of adventures that have gladdened my days.