Recommended Readings

Standard works for writers to read and reread. Look for periodic additions to this list.

Chopin, Kate. Kate Chopin: Complete Novels and Stories. Edited by Sandra M. Chopin. Library of America, 2002. A late 19th century writer, Chopin has been called a postmodernist and a feminist ahead of her time. Her literary reputation continues to grow.

Ellison, Ralph. Invisible Man. Random House, 1952. A profound chronicle of a young black man's awakening to racial injustice and his struggle against an American society that refuses to recognize his humanity.

Golding, William. Lord of the Flies. Coward, McCann & Geoghegan, Inc., 1962. Introduction by E. M. Forster.  A modern classic about the struggle between good and evil and its impact on society.

Gordimer, Nadine. A Soldier's Embrace. Viking Penguin, 1980.  Best known for her novels, Gordimer is also widely acclaimed as one of the great practitioners of the short story. "Oral History" realistically reports on colonial repression in Africa and shows Gordimer's sympathy for its victims.

Hurston, Zora Neale. Their Eyes Were Watching God. Harper Collins Publishers, Inc. Foreword by Alice Walker.  A 1965 reprint of the 1937 novel. A masterpiece about African-American life in Florida in the early twentieth century.

Jackson, Shirley. The Lottery and Other Stories. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1982.  Written in 1948, "The Lottery" still shocks us today with its emphasis on the scapegoat, the disenfranchised, and brutal inhumanity.

Kafka, Franz. The Metamorphosis, the Penal Colony, and Other Stories. Translated by Willa and Edwin Muir. Foreword by Anne Rice. Shocken Kafka Library, 1995.   Kafka ranks as one of the great literary innovators. "The Metamorphosis" (first published in 1915) is the best known of his nightmarish stories in which characters are overwhelmed by forces beyond their control.

Kundera, Milan. The Unbearable Lightness of Being. Translated from the Czech by Michael Henry Heim. Harper Perennial, 1999.  Set first in Czechoslovakia during and after the "Prague Spring" of 1968 and then in Switzerland, this story of two couples expands into a pan-European exploration of the complexities of love, sex, and political oppression. Kundera intrudes in the narrative with brilliant insights that give the novel an important historical-philosophical dimension.

Mann, Thomas. The Magic Mountain. Translated from the German by John E. Woods. Alfred A. Knopf, 1999.  First published in 1924, this story follows protagonist Hans Castorp during his long treatment at the Berghof, a sanatorium near Davos high in the Swiss Alps. The Berghof is a microcosm of Europe in the decade before World War I, a Europe beautiful, sophisticated, learned, and sick. This novel is a masterpiece in every respect.

Marquez, Gabriel Garcia. Leaf Storm and Other Stories. Harper-Collins Publishers, 1971.  "A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings" (in this collection) Marquez calls "a tale for children," but he also combines in it adult satire and social criticism in a remarkable display of magic realism.

McCarthy, Cormac. Suttree. Vintage Books, 1979.  Set in Knoxville, Tennessee, in the early 1950's, this story centers around Cornelius (Buddy) Suttree who forsakes his upper class family and Catholicism to live in a ramshackle houseboat on the Tennessee River. In his interactions with eccentrics, criminals, and squatters (some of them real Knoxvillians of that time), Suttree experiences squalor, filth, drunkenness, brutality, and insight. The narration is remarkable for its complexity, esoterica, and passages of lyrical beauty. Parts of the story rock with raw, earthy, frontier-like hilarity. Comedy, however, is a distant second to this novel’s gloom. Its self-centeredness, its sadness-violence-doom all add up to a powerful story of high pathos.

McCarthy, Cormac. The Crossing. Alfred A. Knopf, 1994.  This may be the best of McCarthy's Western novels, though the story begins rather implausibly: Billy Parham, 16, captures a she-wolf, leaves his family, and takes the wolf back to Mexico. The striking variety and violence of Parham's Mexican adventures invite comparison with those of John Grady Cole in McCarthy's best-known work, All the Pretty Horses. The story that a heretic ex-priest tells Parham resounds with a power reminiscent of that of "The Grand Inquisitor" in Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov.

McCarthy, Cormac.The Road. Alfred A. Knopf, 2006.  See Robert B. Gentry's essay on this Pulitzer Prize-winning novel about love and death in a post-apocalyptic world.

Morrison, Toni. The Bluest Eye. Afterword by the author. A Plume Book, Penguin-Putnam. First published in 1970. The 1993 Nobel Prize for Literature was Morrison's reward for her art, dedication, and courage in dealing with the complexities of the African-American experience in this first novel and in Sula, Beloved, Jazz, and other fine works.

Poe, Edgar Allan. Complete Stories and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe. Doubleday, 1966. (a reissued book).  For reasons unclear to us, Poe's present reputation is not as high as in years past, and this is unfortunate. A master of fiction and father of the detective story, Poe still has much to offer about the art of short-story writing.

Shakespeare, William. He needs no introduction. We recommend that anyone interested in serious writiing--whether it be poetry, prose, drama, or film--read as much of Shakespeare as they can, especially Hamlet, King Lear, Macbeth, Othello, As You Like It, The Tempest, and his sonnets.

Tan, Amy. The Joy Luck Club. Putnam Publishing Group, 1989.  This novel provides psychological realism, the quest for personal identity, and insight into the lives of four Chinese women and their Chinese-American daughters. Tan uses multiple narrators, connecting vignettes, and a structure patterned after the game of mahjongg.

Toole, John Kennedy. A Confederacy of Dunces. Grove Press, 1980. Foreword by Walker Percy.   A rollicking tour de force. It would be hard to find a comedy or satire written in the last hundred years that is better than this one.

Woolf, Virginia. Mrs. Dalloway. Harcourt, 2002. First published in 1925.

                         To the Lighthouse. Harcourt Brace, 1981. Foreword by Eudora Welty. First published in 1927.  Interest in Woolf as writer and person may now be at an all time high. The Hours (2002), an award-winning film, captures some of the power and depth of Mrs. Dalloway, a novel that broke new ground in its treament of time and consciousness. See Robert B. Gentry's essay on To the Lighthouse.