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My Favorite Books

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1. The Bible (King James)- especially the book of Job, sorrow at it's most beautiful.

2.The Iliad and the Odyssey(Fitzgerlad and Fagles)- I'm always amazed at this guy. His work is so powerful after all these years. It's so light, and free, lyrical but powerful and aggressive, poetic and adventurous, all great poetic accomplishments unite in these works.

3.Plays of Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides- Shakespeare of the ancient world, the greatest most concise writer of plot, and the greatest writer of psychology.

4. Plays of Aristophanes- Particularly with Lysistrata, the funniest writer of all time.

5.Plato's Republic- The greatest thinker of all time. I love how his work builds on itself as it goes along, like a pyramid or a skyscraper, one level on top of another.

6.Virgil's Aeneid- The beginning is a lesson on how to begin a book, and Book 2 with the Fall of Troy is the greatest description of warfare, battle, and the fall of a city in literature. Tolstoy couldn't touch it.

7.Ovid's poems- The Metamorphoses is just the tip of the iceberg that is his work. He is the poet of variety, a scholar the likes of Petrarch or T.S. Eliot, a lover of mythology, a lover of women and sensuality, richly allusive to literature he loved. He is cosmopolitan, worldly, sophisticated, aristocratic, and moral. His major work is like the Bible: out of many stories a unity.

8.The Plays of Seneca- A passion, an energy, and a fire to his poetry and theater not seen again until the 19th century decadents.

9.Satyricon by Petronius- A first century Don Quixote, or a mock Odyssey in prose. Either way, this epic comic novel about a hero nicknamed "the crotch" who has offended the god Priapus and must voyage across the Roman empire facing monsters, pirates, philosophers, and perverts in search of his lost mojo is hilarious stuff.

10.Pharsalia by Lucan- An anti-epic poem of a world gone mad in an apocalyptic civil war. What The Book of Revelations would be like if Caesar were the anti-Christ.

11.Bhagavadgita (Edwin Arnold)- Good as The Book of Job and similar in that they both probe the nature of God and man's relation to the divine.

12.Poems of Tu Fu, Li Bai, and Bai Juyi- the first is a master of form, the second is romantic and original, the third is simple and concise.

13.Beowulf (Seamus Heaney)- Initially, I didn't think much of of this Old English poem, but under Heaney's skillful translation I see now all the praise which is heaped upon it is merited. It makes you wish more of the Finnesburg Fragment and other Anglo-Saxon poetry were preserved.

14.The Shahnameh by Ferdowsi (Arthur and Edmond Warner)- an Iranian poet the equal of Shakespeare or Homer wrote a three thousand page poem about the mythical history of Iran from it's earliest days to his own. His hero Rostam is one of the baddest mother****ers in all of literature. Think Gilgamesh, Achilles, Erra, Marduk, Samson, Hercules, or Roland. The feats in this book would put Beowulf to shame.

15.The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam (FitzGerald)- one of the greatest sequences of short poems ever. Wine, song, and the transience of human life.

18.The Gita Govinda by Jayadeva- A poem about two lovers better than the Song of Solomon. A story about yearning for mystical union and the ideal mate. Almost as good as the Bhagavadgita.

17.The Poems of Rumi- If Ferdowsi is the Homer of the Middle East, Rumi is it's Dante. You will find no greater celebration of the mystery and wonder of God than here.

18.The Divine Comedy by Dante- Especially the Inferno. It has all of the structure of Plato's Republic, all the mythology of Ovid, all the religious devotion of the Bible, a never ending stream of characters and invention. The greatest book ever.

19. Jerusalem Delivered by Torquato Tasso- The best poem about Knights, the middle-ages, chivalry, and the Crusades. Epic writing better than Milton's, because it's not so stuffy. All of the energy of the earlier romances but with more polish and style.

20..The Essays of Montaigne- philosophy that doesn't hurt your head. Like talking to the world's most interesting man.

21.Shakespeare's Plays- He's the writer I look to and think "There's no better way to word this. These are the best words in the best possible combination."

22.Fuente Ovejuna by Lope De Vega- this guy's plays have all the pacing, character, and dramatic situations of Shakespeare, but without some of the poetic beauty.

23.Eight Dramas of Calderon (FitzGerald)- Another nearly Shakespearean dramatist. His poetry sparkles especially in Life is a Dream. His handling of plot is phenomenal but his characters are a little flat.

24.Plays of Jean Racine (Cairncross)- A dramatist near the level of Shakespeare, though more in tune with my personal aesthetics. Mostly a copier of Euripides, for which he's a match, but there's a structure, an order, no wasted motions or words to his writing that marks him for the premier writer of the Enlightenment. There's something surreal about the precision and control with which he writes about chaotic, irrational, wild, torturous love.

25.The Farce of Sodom and poems of John Wilmot- the best English poet of his time. Buried by posterity due to his sexual, scatological, satyrical wit. An Enlgish Marqies de Sade. The second funniest play of all time. Pity it isn't actable.

26.Maxims by La Rochefoucauld- Never has man spoken with such depth in such brevity.

27.Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Gibbon- The greatest non-fiction prose with a story the likes of the the Shahnameh.

28.The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Coleridge- Romantic, brooding, and supernatural. My favorite poem.

29.Poems of Leopardi- Why do I love him so much? Is it his pessimism, his cynicism, his sardonic anger at being "turned out into the world half made up" like Richard III? He is a poet with a dark side like Baudelaire, who nevertheless finds beauty in life's tragedy.

30.Walden by Thoreau- A formative book in my high school years. It made me appreciate strolling, and nature, with a strong undercurrent of American pragmatism.

31.Danton's Death by Buchner- Witty, sarcastic, punning, dripping with dark humor and fatalism.

32.A Hero of Our Time by Lermontov- what Eugene Onegin would be if it were gloomy, romantic, and prose.

33.Pere Goriot by Balzac- the best example of plot structure for novels.

34.Flowers of Evil and Paris Spleen by Baudelaire- The single greatest poet of the nineteenth century. Forget Goethe, Wordsworth, Shelley, Browning, Rimbaud, Whitman, and Tennyson. This is the high point of the age.

35.Alices Adventure in Wonderland and Through the Lookinglass by Lewis Carroll- the most inventive, original, imaginative novel for kids and adults ever.

36.Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas- More action packed and interesting than any other creation in literature. This is a page turner. It has that wonderful gift of pacing and variety which makes reading effortless and fun.

37.Moby Dick by Melville- It's one part Shakespeare, one part the Bible, and one part whaling encyclopedia, kind of weird but highly edifying.

38.Madame Bovary- Quite possibly the world's greatest novel. All the story of Anna Karenina in a little over two hundred pages.

39.Oblomov by Goncharov- The titular character is a sort of budhist saint of inactivity, or at least he would be if he weren't a lazy Russian aristocrat who can't get his life together. Like Don Quixote, he's a one of a kind comedic archetype, and he doesn't even get out of bed for the first fifty pages.

40.Les Miserables- Better than War and Peace, better than A Tale of Two Cities. Early nineteenth century France told by it's greatest author. With a prose style influenced by Dante and a novel structure borrowed from Dickens and Balzac this epic length novel is a total hit.

41.Guy De Maupassant's short stories- the master short story writer whom Hemingway learned so much from.

42.The Scarlet Letter by Hawthorne- one of the great novellas. Concise and powerful. The story of guilt, corruption, society, and secrets.

43.Mark Twain's novels- Nobody makes me laugh like this guy. He knew every trick in the book and wrote a few new ones.

44.Heart of Darkness by Conrad- Darker than dark subject matter and a prose darker still. This is a book about insanity, corruption, and how men can be changed by a single incident forever.

45.The Call of the Wild by London- Nobody's ever written about the American Old West like Jack London. What's so peculiar about this story in particular is that it's narrated by a dog. This makes it more visceral, and the physical descriptions of the sublime landscape and harsh conditions come direct to the reader unmuddied by pre-concieved social structures.

46.Poems of T.S. Eliot- I'm a sucker for scholar poets and howls of despair.

47.Steppenwolf by Hesse- Description of a man torn between two worlds, two warring identities, never at peace with himself, told in a Russian nesting doll sequence of plots and narrators, and then capping off with a psychedelic dream scenario.

48.Of Human Bondage by Maugham- The absolute realism of this novel and the accuracy of the details it describes strikes a chord in me. I've had a number of experiences myself and can relate with much of the novel up to the false and contrived happy ending.

49.Akutagawa's short stories- This guy could give Hemingway a run for his money where short stories are concerned.

50.Cavafy Poems- This guy is every bit as good as Rilke, Eliot, or Neruda. His poems go back to a time of Greek antiquity, but not the golden age. His poems are about the troubled transitional times, when things were unsettled and uncertain. There is a modern anxiety running through them all, with a classical perfection.

51.Mrs. Dalloway by Woolf- Forget Joyce, Woolf was the best writer of stream of conscious prose.

52.The Great Gatsby by Fitzgerald- The great American novel? Maybe. It's trim. It's slick. It's poignant. It has good characters, action, a little symbolism, and a moral. The prose style is pretty good too.

53. The Complete works of Hemingway- My single favorite writer period. He's got that Shakespeare kind of a talent where you didn't know words could combine that way and have the effect they do. He shatters me when I read him.

54.Journey to the End of the Night- darkly comic French novel. Some parts are as good as Catch 22.

55.1984 by Orwell- 1984 is the most visionary of his works but he's had a number of other hits especially his non-fiction which are worth reading. This is one of the only science fiction novels that deserves to be called art.

56.Novellas of Steinbeck- The Pearl and Of Mice and Men are tragedy perfected. Nobody makes you this sad.

57.Lolita by Nabokov- you should be grossed out by the subject matter but the prose is so gorgeous and there are so many tricks and thematic layers to the book that you simply don't care in the end.

58.The Dwarf by Lagerkvist- It's a portrait of misanthropy, avarice, pride, a strange tale with a unique voice.

59.Catcher in the Rye by Salinger- The American Notes From Underground, the secret life of a misfit teenager. I don't think anyone has so accurately detailed the psychology of a single character this way before. For many years my favorite novel.

60.On the Road by Kerouac- Page turner pacing, romantic, adventurous. It makes you want to be the kind of larger than life persons it describes, living life on the edge. Great prose style.

61.Waiting For Godot by Beckett- the most original playwright since Ibsen. Ground breaking and philosophical. Full of dramatic pauses and minimalism. He's re-inventing language.

62.Catch-22 by Heller- Maybe the funniest novel ever. Could use a better ending though.

63.Slaughterhouse-Five by Vonnegut- a better pacifist novel than All Quiet on the Western Front

64.Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Thompson- Funny, deranged, darkly humorous, bizarre.

65.Fight Club by Palahniuk- a masculine manifesto


  1. qimissung's Avatar
    Wow, that is some list. I guess I need to actually read some more by the Greeks. Or not. Maybe I'll just continue thinking about it.

    I am glad to see "Catcher in the Rye" on there. I think it's kind of gotten a lot of unnecessary flak of late, though I'm not sure I understand why. I love it. I should re-read it, it's been awhile. A-r-g-h, there I go with the "shoulds" again.

    Anyway, thanks for all the lists, I enjoyed reading them.
  2. mortalterror's Avatar
    Thank you for commenting, gimissung. I'm glad someone besides myself can get some use out of my compulsive listmaking.