John Matthew Fox’s “Literary Pillars”

1. Blood Meridianby Cormac McCarthy. I once suggested this as a fixture on high school reading lists and a principal told me parents would riot. I still think it belongs in every possible canon.2. The Border Trilogyby Cormac McCarthy. More ways to describe lightening than you thought possible.3. Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky.

4. Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky. The great novel of ideas.

5. House of Leaves by Mark Danielewski. Of course the inventive typography is wonderful, but the pathos within the erudition makes this book sing.

6. Blindness by Jose Saramago. Taught me the power of a “what if” premise.

7. Snow by Orhan Pamuk.

8. The Collected Stories of Deborah Eisenberg by Deborah Eisenberg. Compression, compression, compression. She is the best at it.

9. The Collected Stores of Flannery O’Connor by Flannery O’Connor. She knows the human heart, all that is wicked and all that is good.

10. After the Quake by Haruki Murakami. Contains two of best short stories ever written. The rest are pretty good too.

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Fifty Gestures of Love, in honor of William Gass.

25 now, 25 to follow, with many thanks

1) In The Odyssey, there’s Penelope’s more intimate test of this stranger who claims to be her husband — after he’s gotten through the messy, public business of slaughtering all her suitors down in the castle hall.

2) Of course Penelope has enacted some significant gestures of love herself, during the course of her man’s wanderings, most especially the way she’s undone, every night, the shroud she’s been weaving every day, the funeral shroud for the former king, while meantime promising the suitors: just as soon as the shroud’s done…

3) But now this fellow claims to be the once and future king, and he’s proven pretty impressive, plus their son Telemachus accepts the story, the boy’s helped to cut all the pretenders to ribbons, and now the stranger stands in the bedroom, and so it’s time she too sprang a test on him. Continue reading

Enter and Exit Strategies: My Literary Doors and Windows

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It isn’t simply single books that have impacted my thinking, my writing, my thinking about writing, my writing about thinking, but singular artists and their respective oeuvres, each one’s so-called successes as inspiring as their so-called failures are instructive. So, what follows is a list of writers whose writing as a whole (and in some cases, their biographies, especially in regard to their work ethic, and other ethics), I consider to be important, important to me it should go without saying or writing, but likely isn’t “permitted” to go without saying in this age of having to self-effacingly preface one’s opinions with some kind of disclaimer or other.

You’ll find that my list privileges obsessive prose stylists. If a piece of writing doesn’t have this quality, I will probably have already forgotten it soon after I’ve likely given up reading it after the first few sentences I’ve had to suffer reading, while probably still remembering the writer, warning other readers to avoid his or her writing. You’ll also find me refusing to pitch my tent in either the so-called minimalist or so-called maximalist camps, or the so-called literary or so-called genre camps, refusing, in other words to think in cancelling-the-so-called-other dichotomies.

Also, I think of these writers’ writings less as literary “pillars,” than as doors or windows, of perception, yes, but also of possibility, of intelligence, of attentiveness, of innovation, of experimentation, from and through which I can enter or exit at will.

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“For Big Other on William H. Gass’s Birthday,” by Samuel R. Delany

If one tried to construct the Temple of Literature from only the fifty “pillars” below, it would collapse spectacularly. Nevertheless, here is a contingent group of titles that, to paraphrase Christopher Higgs, if I hadn’t read and reread over the years, I wouldn’t be myself. How much that is worth, I’m not sure.

1)   Djuna Barnes—Nightwood

2)   Charles H. Kahn—The Art and Thought of Heraclitus (an edition of the fragments with commentary)

3)   William Shakespeare—Sonnets, Tragedies, most of the Comedies . . .

4)   Eileen Myles—Inferno, The Importance of Being Iceland.

5)   Charlotte Brontë—Jane Eyre, Villette

6)   Jane Austen—Emma, Mansfield Park, Pride and Prejudice, Persuasion

7)   Marquis de Sade, 120 Days of Sodom, Julliette

8)   Shoshana Felman, “Turning the Screw of Interpretation” (from Writing and Madness)

9)   Herman Melville—Moby-Dick, Billy Budd, The Confidence Man, and the shorter works

10) Sir Thomas Browne—Urn Burial, Religio Medici, correspondence

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William Walsh’s “Literary Pillars”

After examining three bookshelf walls in our home—one in the living room and two in the basement (one on the “finished” side of the basement and one of the side of the basement with the boiler and the washer/drier), here’s a list of fifty books that pillar my reading and writing life:

  1. Success by Martin Amis
  2. Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson
  3. Leviathan by Paul Auster
  4. The Fermata by Nicholson Baker
  5. 60 Stories by Donald Barthelme
  6. The Watch by Rick Bass
  7. Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett
  8. Among the Thugs by Bill Buford
  9. The Most Beautiful Woman in Town by Charles Bukowski
  10. The Stranger by Albert Camus Continue reading

Tim Horvath’s “Literary Pillars”

The Top Five:

As widely as my tastes ebb and flow, these five remain, stalwarts, five friends I want with me on my desert island with little to unite them except each’s brash individuality.

1. Mating by Norman Rush. My Everest, slopes of anthropology, ethics, politics, psychology slowly traversed by the path of character

2. The Periodic Table by Primo Levi. All the more significant since I was abysmal at chemistry.

3. Cosmicomics/TZero by Italo Calvino. The oyster of the universe.

4. Visible Worlds by Marilyn Bowering. A book I’ve had to read several times, since the plot is so intricate, but whose language glimmers like an ice field.

5. The Atlas by William T. Vollmann. A stunning array of styles and places for inveterate and would-be wanderers—travels in the possibilities of narrative.

These next couple were highly significant when I was a teenager and remain so:

6. Saints and Strangers by Angela Carter. Just quoted “The Fall River Ax Murders,” last week.

7. Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie. Every Saturday for a year or so I had detention for an accumulation of small offenses, and I’d slip off to Bombay for the duration.

I Inherit a Box:

A guy who shared an apartment with my dad, Mark Johnson, a great writer and reader, left behind a box with a bunch of amazing things—a timely package.

8. Island People by Coleman Dowell. In simple garb, boundless refractions of reality.

9. RE/Search #11: Pranks Introduced me to the notion that a prank can be a work of art.

10. The Houses of Children by Coleman Dowell. Each story redefining what the genre could do for me. I still don’t understand what Dowell is up to.

11. Ah Pook Is Here by William Burroughs. Not the most well known, but what was in the box was in the box.

12. Les Chants de Maldoror by Comte de Lautremont.

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Dan Wickett’s “Literary Pillars”

If this were truly an honest list, there’d be around 34 Dzanc titles and the other 16 titles would have a healthy sprinkling of Dzanc imprint titles. I’m going to hold those off the list though. Mostly.

1. One Penny Black by Edwin Palmer Hoyt – it’s a book on stamp collecting, which I was into back in the second grade. I believe the record will show in the P.D. Graham Elementary School Library that I might have checked this book out for a couple of consecutive school years, showing early signs of some of the literary obsessions I’d show later on.

2. The Great Brain by John Fitzgerald – another book from that time period, one that I probably read a couple hundred times.

3. World’s End by T. C. Boyle – the first of his work that I read, shortly after a write-up in Rolling Stone. If this isn’t his best novel, it’s right up in the top 2 or 3, and remains my favorite to this day.

4 and 5. Best American Short Stories 1987 and Norton Critical Anthology of Short Fiction – I’m lumping these two together because they were the two “text” books for two classes I took in the Fall of 1988 and because of them (and my lack of memory at what authors were from which title) discovering authors like Ralph Lombreglia, Mark Costello, Elizabeth Tallent, Madison Smartt Bell, Robert Coover and many others.

6. Pricksongs & Descants by Robert Coover – Spinning from reading “The Babysitter” most logically from the aforementioned Norton anthology, I found the collection from which it was published and reading through was eye-opening as to what fiction could be, how it could stretch, etc.

7. Keeneland by Alyson Hagy. Honestly, it’s not my favorite of her works, though I like it a lot. It’s here because without that novel, there was no Emerging Writers Network, without the EWN, I never meet Steven Gillis and we have no Dzanc Books that I’m a part of.

8. Animal Farm by George Orwell. Undoubtedly the book that I’ve read more times as an adult than any other.

9. Dune by Frank Herbert. In 7th grade I was plowing through books in a Science Fiction & Fantasy class and the teacher sent me to the librarian with a note–please find something challenging for Mr. Wickett to read and Dune is what she gave me and it was a solid choice–so many storylines and layers that over the next five to ten years I probably read it, and the subsequent (Frank Herbert authors at-least) Dune titles and maybe, just maybe by the last time understood everything Herbert was trying to do.

10. Erasure by Percival Everett. Again, it might not be my favorite of Everett’s work, but Mike Magnuson damn near demanded I read it, and in doing so unleashed a fervor on my part to find and read everything Everett has written, which is now up around 20 titles when you include the poetry collections. Thank goodness Erasure was as good as it was as it allowed me into this wonderful world of writing.
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Derek White’s “Literary Pillars”

1.    Battlefield Where the Moon Says I Love You—Frank Stanford
2.    My Life in the Bush of Ghosts—Amos Tutuola
3.    Anti-Oedipus—Gilles Deleuze & Félix Guattari
4.    The Sound and the Fury—William Faulkner (& As I Lay Dying)
5.    Don Quixote—Miguel Cervantes
6.    Hero With a Thousand Faces—Joseph Campbell
7.    Man and His Symbols—Carl Jung
8.    The World as Will and Representation—Arthur Schopenhauer
9.    Wittgenstein’s Mistress—David Markson
10.  Codex Seraphinianus—Luigi Serafini
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Janey Smith’s “Literary Pillars”

1. AA Bronson, File Magazine, Queer Zines (with Phillip Aarons).
2. Adam Parfrey, Apocalypse Culture, The Manson File.
3. Alfred Jarry, Adventures in ‘Pataphysics: Collected Works 1
4. Andy Warhol, The Andy Warhol Diaries.
5. Bob Flanagan, Slave Sonnets, Fuck Journal.
6. Brandon Stosuy, Up Is Up, But So Is Down: New York’s Downtown Literary Scene, 1974-1992 (with Dennis Cooper & Eileen Myles).
7. Burgo Partridge, A History of Orgies.
8. Cookie Mueller, Ask Dr. Mueller: The Writings of Cookie Mueller.
9. Dennis Cooper, Little Caesar series, the George Miles Cycle.

10. Diter Rot, 246 Little Clouds.
11. Dominique Laporte, History of Shit.
12. Eileen Myles, Cool For You, Not Me, The Importance of Being Iceland: Travel Essays in Art.
13. Garth Williams, Baby Farm Animals.
14. Georges Bataille, Story of the Eye, Blue of Noon, The Accursed Share, Vol.1, Visions of Excess: Selected Writings, 1927-1939
15. Greil Marcus, Lipstick Traces: A Secret History of the Twentieth Century.
16. Guy Debord, Society of the Spectacle.
17. Harriet Ann Watts, Three Painter Poets: Arp, Schwitters, Klee.
18. Harry Matthews & Alastair Brotchie, Oulipo Compendium.
19. Jacques Derrida, Futures: Of Jacques Derrida.
20. Jaycee Dugard, A Stolen Life: A Memoir.
21. Jean Cocteau, My Contemporaries.
22. John Riddle, Contraception and Abortion from the Ancient World to the Renaissance.
23. John Marr, Murder Can Be Fun #13 – Death at Disneyland
24. Kathy Acker, Great Expectations, Blood & Guts in High School, Don Quixote, Hannibal Lecter, My Father.
25. Kenneth Koch, Rose, Where Did You Get That Red?: Teaching Great Poetry to Children.
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Davis Schneiderman’s “Literary Pillars”

In honor of William Gass’s birthday, here is a list of some of my own touchstones (at least of the moment).

  1. Proust. All of In Search of Lost Time. Any translation.
  2. Naked Lunch. Not Burroughs’ absolute best, but his best known…and the most important for historical reasons.
  3. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Alice’s Adventures Through the Looking Glass. Feed your head.
  4. Empire of the Senseless, Kathy Acker.The ultimate post-colonial fantasy.
  5. The Castle. Kafka saved my life.
  6. Omensetter’s Luck. Not Gass’ best-known, but it’s one the best books I’ve every read twice. Period.
  7. VAS: An Opera in Flatland, Steve Tomasula. One of my partners at &NOW, but one of my idols for making this book.
  8. Geek Love, Katherine Dunn.We told you we had living, breathing monstrosities.
  9. Calendar of Regrets, Lance Olsen. Bosch and Dan Rather.
  10. Moby Dick. My children pretend to be Queequeg.
  11. A Novel of Thank You, Gertrude Stein. Thank you very much.
  12. The Silent Cry, Kenzaburo Oe. Two brothers return to their ancestral home…
  13. Incest, from a Journal of Love, Anais Nin.Better than Miller.
  14. Funeral Rites, Jean Genet. Eating a cat.
  15. Double or Nothing, Raymond Federman. The voice in the closet.
  16. The Lost Ones, Samuel Beckett. The only humorless Beckett work? Federman’s favorite, from when derives the phrase “The twofold vibration.”
  17. Invisible Cities, Italo Calvino. Marco. Polo.
  18. Liberty’s Excess, Lidia Yuknavitch. Now I know how Joan of Arc felt.
  19. The Process, Brion Gysin. The most perfect novel you’ve never read.
  20. The Sheltering Sky/Let it Come Down/The Spider’s House: 3-way tie. Tea in the Sahara.
  21. Pinocchio in Venice, Robert Coover. He is the fox and the cat.
  22. Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72, Hunter S. Thompson. Nixon = funny.
  23. NOX, Anne Carson. You unfold this book; it enfolds you.
  24. Reality Hunger, David Shields. Not the first to say these things, and that’s the point.
  25. The Melancholy of Anatomy, Shelley Jackson. You put your inside out…
  26. Keyhole Factory, William Gillespie. Limited edition from Spineless; forthcoming from Soft Skull. Unbelievably fantastic.
  27. The Savage Detectives, Roberto Bolano. Tales of the disappearing duo.
  28. The Atrocity Exhibition, J.G. Ballard. The expanded edition includes the interior of a human chest.
  29. Peter Doyle, John Vernon.An out-of-print gem about Walt Whitman’s lover and Napoleon’s penis.
  30. The Jiri Chronicles and Other Fictions, Debra Di Blasi. With adfictions and products galore!
  31. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, Haruki Murakami.Toru Okada’s cat runs away.
  32. Is it Sexual Harassment Yet?, Cris Mazza. Well, is it?
  33. Buddenbrooks, Thomas Mann. Not The Magic Mountain. Which is why I like it so much.
  34. Song of Solomon, Toni Morrison. Not her most innovative novel, linguistically, but the one I teach again and again for the way it immediately resonates with undergraduates.
  35. The Crying of Lot 49. Thomas Pynchon. Not Gravity’s Rainbow. Which is why I like it so much.

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“Fifty Books that Brainwashed Me,” by John Reed

Animal Farm, George Orwell
The Purple Crayon, Crockett Johnson
Sherlock Holmes, Arthur Conan Doyle
Ulysses, James Joyce
Stephen Hero (The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man), James Joyce
Batman
Superman
The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton
Discourse on the Method of Rightly Conducting the Reason, and Seeking Truth in the Sciences, René Descartes
A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens
Great Expectations, Charles Dickens
The Night Before Christmas, Clement Clarke Moore
Where the Wild Things Are, Maurice Sendak
The Giving Tree, Shel Silverstein
On the Road, Jack Kerouac
Hardy Boys, Franklin W. Dixon
Little Peewee or, Now Open The Box
Babar, Jean de Brunhoff
Curious George, H. A. Rey
Fathers and Sons, Ivan Turgenev
Less Than Zero, Bret Easton Ellis
Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury
Lord of the Flies, William Golding
Crime and Punishment, Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Jonathan Livingston Seagull, Richard Bach
Little House on the Prairie, Laura Ingalls Wilder
Paul Revere’s Ride, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Christiane F, Christiane F and Susanne Flatauer
The Red Badge of Courage, Stephen Crane
Gone With the Wind, Margaret Mitchell
Clifford the Big Red Dog, Norman Bridwell
All Quiet on the Western Front, Erich Maria Remarque
All Things Great and Small, James Harriet
The Jungle Book, Rudyard Kipling
Henry V, William Shakespeare
The Ugly Duckling
The Little Engine that Could, Watty Piper
Old MacDonald Had a Farm
Baby Farm Animals
Magic Mountain, Thomas Mann
Siddhartha, Hermann Hesse
Nightmare of Reason, Ernst Pawel
The Basketball Diaries, Jim Carroll
Junkie, William Burroughs
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Hunter S. Thompson
The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, Tom Wolfe
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Ken Kesey
The Story of George Washington Carver (70s scholastic biography)
Helen Keller (70s scholastic biography)
The Right Stuff, Tom Wolfe

Editor’s Note: This list is part of Big Other’s Tribute to William H. Gass’s 88th Birthday.

Nick Potter’s “Literary Pillars”

  1. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland – Lewis Carroll
  2. All Fall Down – Mary Caponegro
  3. A Prank of Georges – Thalia Field & Abigail Lang
  4. As I Lay Dying – William Faulkner
  5. Asterios Polyp – David Mazzucchelli
  6. At Swim-Two-Birds – Flann O’Brien
  7. Autumn of the Patriarch – Garbriel García Márquez
  8. Berg – Ann Quin
  9. Big Questions – Anders Nilsen
  10. Bone – Jeff Smith
  11. Catch-22 – Joseph Heller
  12. Dies: a Sentence – Vanessa Place
  13. Epileptic – David B.
  14. Europeana – Patrik Ourdenik
  15. God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater – Kurt Vonnegut
  16. Gravity’s Rainbow – Thomas Pynchon
  17. Hey, Wait… – Jason
  18. Invisible Cities – Italo Calvino
  19. Invisible Man – Ralph Ellison
  20. Jimmy Corrigan – Chris Ware
  21. Labyrinths – Jorge Luis Borges
  22. Memories of My Father Watching T.V. – Curtis White
  23. Minor Angels – Antoine Volodine
  24. Molloy – Samuel Beckett
  25. Motorman – David Ohle
  26. Pedro Páramo – Juan Rulfo
  27. 60 Stories – Donald Barthelme
  28. Sleepers Awake – Kenneth Patchen
  29. Souls of the Labadie Tract – Susan Howe
  30. Stories in the Worst Way – Gary Lutz
  31. Take Five – D. Keith Mano
  32. Tender Buttons – Gertrude Stein
  33. The Age of Wire and String – Ben Marcus
  34. The Art Lover – Carole Maso
  35. The BFG – Roald Dahl
  36. The Dead Father – Donald Barthelme
  37. The Epileptic Bicycle – Edward Gorey
  38. The God of Small Things – Arundhati Roy
  39. The Life and Opinions of Tristam Shandy, Gentleman – Lawrence Stern
  40. The Log of the SS Mrs Unguentine – Stanley Crawford
  41. The Magic Kingdom – Stanley Elkin
  42. The People of Paper – Salvador Plascencia
  43. The Regular Man – Dina Kelberman
  44. The Stranger – Albert Camus
  45. The Third Policeman – Flann O’Brien
  46. The Tin Drum – Günter Grass
  47. The Wavering Knife – Brian Evenson
  48. Ulysses – James Joyce
  49. Underworld – Don DeLillo
  50. Wittgenstein’s Mistress – David Markson
  51. Editor’s Note: This list is part of Big Other’s Tribute to William H. Gass’s 88th Birthday.

David Peak’s “Literary Pillars”

I am only listing books I have read—so a lot of very important books are getting left out. I’m aware of this. Also, I’m also leaving out the Bible because I shouldn’t have to explain why. These are simply the 50 books that have shaped my understanding of the written word, my place in the world, and how I perceive everything around me. I am not saying anything more than that. I am no authority.

1. Beowulf by Anonymous (???)

This book is pure fucking heavy metal. I’ve found that it’s best to read Beowulf while listening to a band like Blind Guardian. For some reason, I was obsessed with this story when I was a kid. For a long time, I thought the Goya painting “Saturn Devouring His Son” was Grendel eating some dude. I was wrong, obviously.

2. The Odyssey by Homer (8th Century BC)

Again, more heavy metal. Why are so many older books so heavy metal? I think it’s because life was much harder back then and you had to be good at sailing and swinging a sword in order to survive and mate. I probably wouldn’t have lasted long. Also, this book gave us the phrase “the wine-dark sea” which is just pure awesome.

3. The Republic by Plato (380 BC)

This whole book is worth reading just for “The Allegory of the Cave.” This is a book that keeps on giving. Once you read it, your whole world perception is affected. It’s like when Neo starts seeing the Matrix. You will begin to recognize the signs that life is showing you.

4. Poetics by Aristotle (c. 335 BC)

I found this in the communal laundry room of my first apartment building after moving to Chicago. I was nineteen years old. I had no internet and no television that whole year. After I read it, I started thinking critically about the way writing was classified, or the terms we use to describe the tradition, which has since turned into a huge problem for me. Now I can’t have fun while reading ☹

5. The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri (Early 14th Century)

Dante’s ambition is astounding and his language is as thick and taut as a rope, always pulling you forward along with him for the ride. I’ve found that reading a single canto each day is a good way to digest this without getting worn out.

6. The Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio (Mid-14th Century)

Non-stop fucking, scheming, plotting and gossiping—this book is the precursor for modern television. It’s a slog to get through all one hundred stories, but the framework devised around their telling is nothing short of brilliant. Also, the descriptions of the Black Death in the beginning are seriously heavy metal. This book signifies the beginning of what would later come to be known as the structured novel.

7. Titus Andronicus by William Shakespeare (Mid-to-Late 16th Century)

This book is way better than Hamlet, which always seemed overrated to me. I never felt like I had a handle on Gertrude or what her actual feelings for Claudius were. Oh, well. There’s no whiny prince in Titus Andronicus, just a ton of pretty disgusting violence and plans for revenge. I think of it as the 16th Century’s “I Spit on Your Grave.” It’s pretty great. More than almost any other play by Shakespeare, I feel that Titus has had a lasting influence—an influence we might not want to acknowledge. It was hated for centuries, but like a bad stain, it never went away—and there’s a reason for that. Bloodlust, as much as we might try to ignore it, has always fed creation.

8. Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift (1726)

Not much to say about this book. It’s really funny and it gave us the term “yahoo.” For that reason alone, it makes the list. Holds up really well even to this day and marks the first book on this list that could be considered a book of “grotesques.”

9. The History of Tom Jones, A Foundling by Henry Fielding (1749)

Okay, full disclosure, I never made it through this book, but I really, really want to. For its time, the book had a wildly conceptual structure. Basically, the story is told in mirroring themes, so the beginning of the book has themes that relate to the end of the book, the middle sections of the book mirror one another, etc. There’s a scene pretty early on where a woman gets accosted in the graveyard outside of the local church. It turns into a huge brawl and someone winds up getting clubbed with a thigh bone. Fight scenes—or crowd scenes—don’t get much better than this one.

10. The Short Stories of Edgar Allan Poe (1833-1849)

It’s difficult to recognize now, but Poe essentially re-defined the way we tell stories, ratcheting the tension up one notch at a time. It’s powerful stuff—gruesome too. He even wrote a story about a murderous gorilla named Erik who dresses up in people clothes. It’s adorable.

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Lance Olsen’s “Literary Pillars”

1. Petronius, Satyricon (1st century A.D.)

2. Cervantes, Don Quixote (1605, 1616).

3. Laurence Sterne, Tristram Shandy (1759-67)

4. Mary Shelley, Frankenstein (1818)

5. Joris-Karl Huysmans, Against Nature (1884)

6. Friedrich Nietzsche, Twilight of the Gods (1889)

7. Franz Kafka, The Metamorphosis (1915)

8. James Joyce, Ulysses (1922)

9. Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway (1925)

10. William Faulkner, As I Lay Dying (1930)

11. Jorge Luis Borges, Ficciones (1944)

12. Raymond Queneau, Exercises in Style (1947)

13. Samuel Beckett, The Unnamable (1953)

14. Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita (1955)

15. Alain Robbe-Grillet, Jealousy (1957)

16. William S. Burroughs, Naked Lunch (1959)

17. Samuel Beckett, How It Is (1961)

18. Carlos Fuentes, Aura (1962)

19. Julio Cortázar, Hopscotch (1963)

20. Thomas Pynchon, Crying of Lot 49 (1966)

21. Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967)

22. John Barth, Lost in the Funhouse (1968)

23. Robert Coover, Pricksongs & Descants (1969)

24. J. G. Ballard, Atrocity Exhibition (1970)

25. Peter Handke, The Goalie’s Anxiety Before the Penalty Kick (1970)

26. Raymond Federman, Double or Nothing (1971)

27. Samuel R. Delany, Dhalgren (1975)

28. Guy Davenport, Da Vinci’s Bicycle (1979)

29. Gilbert Sorrentino, Mulligan Stew (1979)

30. Donald Barthelme, Sixty Stories (1981)

31. Kathy Acker, Blood and Guts in High School (1984)

32. Julian Barnes, Flaubert’s Parrot (1984)

33. Don DeLillo, White Noise (1985)

34. Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons, Watchmen (1986-7)

35. Carole Maso, Ava (1993)

36. William Gass, The Tunnel (1995)

37. Ben Marcus, Age of Wire and String (1995)

38. David Foster Wallace, Infinite Jest (1996)

39. Young-Hae Chang, Traveling to Utopia (ca. 2000)

40. Mark Z. Danielewski, House of Leaves (2000)

41. Joe Wenderoth, Letters to Wendy’s (2000)

42. Laird Hunt, The Impossibly (2001)

43. Patrik Ourednik, Europeana (2001)

44. Gary Lutz, Stories in the Worst Way (2002)

45. Steve Tomasula, Vas (2003)

46. David Mitchell, Cloud Atlas (2004)

47. David Markson, The Last Novel (2007)

48. David Clark, 88 Constellations for Wittgenstein (2009)

49. J. M. Coetzee, Summertime (2009)

50. Anne Carson, Nox (2010)

Editor’s Note: This list is part of Big Other’s Tribute to William H. Gass’s 88th Birthday.

Kyle Minor’s “Literary Pillars”

1. American Pastoral, Philip Roth
2. “Pale Horse, Pale Rider,” Katherine Anne Porter
3. Jesus’ Son, Denis Johnson
4. Bats Out of Hell, Barry Hannah
5. Selected Poems, Wislawa Szymborska
6. Child of God, Cormac McCarthy
7. The King James Bible
8. The Stories of J F Powers
9. The Collected Works of William Shakespeare
10. Going to Meet the Man, James Baldwin
11. “Lust,” Susan Minot
12. The Never Ending, Andrew Hudgins
13. Sabbath’s Theater, Philip Roth
14. The Violent Bear It Away, Flannery O’Connor
15. Desires, John L’Heureux
16. The Collected Stories of Lorrie Moore
17. Questions for Ecclesiastes, Mark Jarman
18. The Collected Poems of Lucille Clifton
19. Seventeen & J, Kenzaburo Oe
20. “The Paperhanger,” William Gay
21. All Things, All at Once, Lee K. Abbott
22. The Collected Stories of Isaac Bashevis Singer
23. In the Lake of the Woods, Tim O’Brien
24. The Battlefield Where the Moon Says I Love You, Frank Stanford
25. Suttree, Cormac McCarthy
26. For the Relief of Unbearable Urges, Nathan Englander
27. Airships, Barry Hannah
28. Open Secrets, Alice Munro
29. The Book of Laughter and Forgetting, Milan Kundera
30. The Collected Stories of William Trevor
31. Selected Stories, Andre Dubus
32. All Aunt Hagar’s Children, Edward P. Jones
33. Friend of My Youth, Alice Munro
34. Knockemstiff, Donald Ray Pollock
35. Nightwork, Christine Schutt
36. Entrance to a colonial pageant in which we all begin to intricate., Johannes Goransson
37. The Necropastoral, Joyelle McSweeney
38. Train Dreams, Denis Johnson
39. Slaughterhouse-Five, Kurt Vonnegut
40. Mao II, Don DeLillo
41. The Dew Breaker, Edwidge Danticat
42. Rabbit Tetralogy, John Updike
43. “The Apology,” Stephen Dixon
44. 60 Stories, Donald Barthelme
45. How They Were Found, Matt Bell
46. American Salvage, Bonnie Jo Campbell
47. The Human Stain, Philip Roth
48. “Good Old Neon,” David Foster Wallace
49. The Collected Self-Published Volumes of Bill Knott
50. “The Emperor of Ice-Cream,” Wallace Stevens & “In a Station of the Metro,” Ezra Pound
 Editor’s Note: This list is part of Big Other’s Tribute to William H. Gass’s 88th Birthday.

Robert Lopez’s “Literary Pillars”

Three Novels, Molloy, Malone Dies, The Unnamable, Samuel Beckett
The Complete Short Prose, Samuel Beckett
Waiting for Godot, Samuel Beckett
The Collected Stories, Stephen Dixon
Wittgensteins’ Mistress, David Markson
Reader’s Block, David Markson
60 Stories, Donald Barthelme
Typical, Padgett Powell
Stories in the Worst Way, Gary Lutz
I Would Have Saved Them If I Could, Leonard Michaels
Reasons to Live, Amy Hempel
Ray, Barry Hannah
Airships, Barry Hannah
Pedro Paramo, Juan Rulfo
Collected Stories, Grace Paley
Letters to Wendy’s, Joe Wenderoth
Notes from Underground, Fyodor Dostoevsky
The Voice Imitator, Thomas Bernhard
Young Adam, Alexander Trocchi
In the Heart of The Heart of The Country, William H. Gass
Walden, Henry Thoreau
Leaves of Grass, Walt Whitman
What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, Raymond Carver
The Tales, Anton Chekhov
Hamlet, William Shakespeare
The Collected Poems, Wallace Stevens
Poems and Letters, John Keats
Complete Poems, Emily Dickinson
Tristram Shandy, Laurence Sterne
The Stranger, Albert Camus
The Caretaker, Harold Pinter
The Homecoming, Harold Pinter
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, Tom Stoppard
The Complete Stories, Franz Kafka
Selected Poems, Czeslaw Milosz
Selected Poems, Pablo Neruda
Collected Poems, William Carlos Williams
Spanking the Maid, Robert Coover

Editor’s Note: This list is part of Big Other’s Tribute to William H. Gass’s 88th Birthday.

Michael Leong’s “Literary Pillars”

4.48 Psychosis, Sarah Kane
The Anchored Angel, Jose Garcia Villa
Altazor, Vicente Huidobro
Anthology of Concrete Poetry, Emmett Williams (ed.)
Ark, Ronald Johnson
The Auroras of Autumn, Wallace Stevens
The Black Riders and Other Lines, Stephen Crane
Breathturn, Paul Celan
The Bridge, Hart Crane
The Cantos, Ezra Pound
Dictee, Theresa Hak Kyung Cha
Dialectic of the Enlightenment, Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer
The Eclogues, Virgil
Eureka, Edgar Allan Poe
The Faerie Queene, Edmund Spenser
Finnegans Wake, James Joyce
Four Quartets, T.S. Eliot
I, the Worst of All, Estela Lamat
Illuminations, Walter Benjamin
Illuminations, Arthur Rimbaud
Impressions of Africa, Raymond Roussel
The Inventor of Love, Gherasim Luca
Invisible Cities, Italo Calvino
A Throw of the Dice will Never Abolish Chance, Stéphane Mallarmé
Leaves of Grass (1860), Walt Whitman
The Magnetic Fields, André Breton and Philippe Soupault
Margins of Philosophy, Jacques Derrida
The Matrix, Norman Pritchard
Memories, Guy Debord (with Asger Jorn)
Men and Women, Robert Browning
Metamorphoses, Ovid
Milton, William Blake
Mythologies, Roland Barthes
Naked Lunch, William Burroughs
The Narrow Road to the Interior, Matsuo Bashō
Oulipo Compendium, Harry Mathews and Alastair Brotchie (eds.)
Oxford English Dictionary, J. Simpson and E. Weiner (eds.)
Pale Fire, Vladimir Nabokov
Paradise Lost, John Milton
The Poetry of Surrealism, Michael Benedikt
The Single Hound, Emily Dickinson
Society of the Spectacle, Guy Debord
Solar Throat Slashed, Aimé Césaire
Spring and All, William Carlos Williams
Tender Buttons, Gertrude Stein
Trilce, César Vallejo
The Unnamable, Samuel Beckett
Vathek, William Beckford
The Waves, Virginia Woolf
White Album, Kitasono Katue
 Editor’s Note: This list is part of Big Other’s Tribute to William H. Gass’s 88th Birthday.

Paul Kincaid’s “Literary Pillars”

I confess, I don’t really know what a literary pillar is. The more I tried to think about this list of 50 books, the more confused I became. If I interpreted literary pillars to mean classics of literature, then my list probably wouldn’t be that much different from anybody else’s: Moby-Dick, Don Quixote, and so forth. But then it would be full of books that were there as a matter of received opinion, not necessarily books I’d enjoyed or rated or even necessarily been able to finish. On the other hand, if I were to produce a list of books that had shaped me as a reader and a writer, then it would inevitably be full of titles by Enid Blyton or R.J. Unstead or Ladybird Books or other works I’d be even more embarrassed to admit to reading now.
In the end I came to an odd compromise position. These are not all great books, they are not all books I necessarily rate highly now or even enjoyed. But they are all books that have helped to shape my mature tastes and interests, and they are all books that have lodged sufficiently in my memory for me to call them up without having to scour my bookshelves. In some ways, I think that memorability is the most important thing about all of them.

They are not pillars, in the sense that I don’t think the edifice of literature would come crumbling down if any or all of them were knocked away. But they are pillars in the sense that I think I might have been a different person, a different reader, a different critic, if I had not encountered these books.

I’ve arranged them in alphabetical order of author, because I honestly couldn’t think of any other arrangement for them.

1: English Music by Peter Ackroyd
There was a time, almost impossible to imagine nowadays, when Peter Ackroyd seemed to be one of the most important of contemporary English novelists. From Hawksmoor on, his work was inventive, daring, fresh, engaging. Most of the delight, of course, came down to an enjoyment of his skill at mimicry, tied in with a precise and detailed knowledge of London at various stages in its history. The high water mark, for me, was English Music, which really was Ackroyd doing the police, and everyone else, in different voices. Unfortunately, everything he has done since then has been a falling off. But I’ve read English Music several times, with real pleasure every time.

2: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
I’m not really a fan of Atwood, I’ve not actually read very much of her work. But I was a judge for the first Arthur C. Clarke Award, when this novel won, and of all the winners since then this is still the book that stands out most vividly for me.

3: The New York Trilogy by Paul Auster
I have now no idea what made me first pick up this book. I’d not heard of the author, but I’d presumably seen a review somewhere that sparked my interest. But I just loved the cleverness of it right from the start. He’s not been able to keep that up, and his best work since then has all been very different in tone and affect. But that first book was just a brilliant one-off that taught me a lot about what you could with story.

4: Tiger, Tiger by Alfred Bester
When this book was written it was the early 50s. Science fiction was at its most conservative, both politically and artistically. And along came this guy who played with the shape of the words on the page, who just put the most extraordinary literary invention at the service of the most traditional of sf stories (culled quite openly from The Count of Monte Christo), and in the process he produced the one truly classic sf novel of the entire decade.

5: Labyrinths by Jorge Luis Borges
I love short stories. I think I love them mostly because of Borges. I can read them over and over again (my copy of this book is falling apart), and they always stun me.

6: The New Confessions by William Boyd
There seemed to be something of a vogue at one point for sprawling novels that encompassed the whole of the twentieth century, and often seemed to use film as their guiding metaphor: Earthly Powers by Anthony Burgess, Star Struck by Nigel Williams, Days Between Stations by Steve Erickson. I’m not sure The New Confessions is the best of the bunch, I’m not sure it is the best thing Boyd has done (I slightly prefer The Blue Afternoon), but this was the novel that somehow confirmed him as a writer I wanted to follow.

7: 2001, A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke
I had just seen the film. I was taking my O-Levels, and after the last of my exams needed something to read before school ended. There are times when the circumstances in which we read a book matter every bit as much as anything actually in the book. This was one of them. But it is still an amazing book.

8: The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon
So, back in the 80s I was reviewing regularly for the late, lamented Fiction Magazine, and at one point I was sent a bunch of first novels by new American writers. They were mostly technically competent but rather uninspiring. Flash forward a few years and everyone is suddenly talking about this book. I pick it up and realise that Chabon was actually one of those new American writers. Still don’t think The Mysteries of Pittsburgh is up to much, (though in retrospect I see much of his fascination with the fantastic), but this one excited me and introduced me to a writer I now read assiduously.

9: The Solitudes by John Crowley
10: Love and Sleep by John Crowley
11: Daemonomania by John Crowley
12: Endless Things by John Crowley
Is this a cheat? I could have listed these under one title, Aegypt (see Lawrence Durrell and Gene Wolfe below), because they do form one closely interwoven sequence. But they were written over 20 years and encountered not as one work but as four separate volumes. Anyway, this is my list so I can structure it how I want. There are some who will tell you that Crowley’s Little, Big is the finest work of contemporary fantasy, they could be right, but for me it is these four books that really work. The writing is gorgeous, the subtle interplay of themes is magnificent, and over four volumes there’s the space to really let the slow, insistent quality of the books work their magic on you. These probably come close to being the most essential books on my list.

13: Dhalgren by Samuel R. Delany
Is this science fiction’s Finnegans Wake? A broken, disorienting narrative that loops back around on itself, episodes that arise and disappear, unexplained occurrences that separate the city from the country that surrounds it. My first encounter with science fiction that wasn’t just full of wonders but that was genuinely wonderful.

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Jamie Iredell’s “Literary Pillars”

First, it was really hard to narrow this down to fifty “literary pillars,” for myself as a writer. I had to cut many good and influential books. Those I chose to cut I did so because when I thought about what I would say if someone asked me why that book was important to me as a writer, I thought my answer would be pretty nebulous. I don’t know why those books were important, really; they just were. So here I’ve gathered books that I feel I can provide an intelligent response to questions about why they were important. I’m probably missing a good number of important books, too—those that aren’t on my bookshelves at home because I borrowed them from friends, professors, or libraries, or they’re not coming to mind at the moment. Anyway, I feel safe enough, at least for this post, to explain why these fifty books were and are important to me as a writer. I’ve divided them up by genre:
Fiction

  1. On the Road, Jack Kerouac: I read this as a freshman in college and it was the book that made me decide I was going to be a writer. I had some pretty romantic ideals about my own group of friends and when I saw that someone else had written about his friends, and it was a great read, I figured I could do the same thing, since Sal and his buddies reminded me of me and mine.
  2. The Sound and the Fury, William Faulkner: This was one of those books I was told I was supposed to read in college and when I first tried to I didn’t understand it and I couldn’t even get past Benjy’s section. Later, though, I read it again and something clicked and it was all very clear, and all very brilliant. The direct relation of images, events, and ideas to the reader, without much narratorial intervention, was hugely influential.
  3. War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy: Another book everyone says you should read. I did and once I got in I didn’t want to get out. What’s amazing is how rich Tolstoy’s characters are and how your allegiances shift throughout the novel. One minute you’re thinking that Prince Andrei’s a total dick, and 200 pages later you’re in love with him.
  4. Moby-Dick, Herman Melville: I didn’t order these in any specific way and only wrote them down as they came to me and I could probably have a whole section of books that are about here’s what you can do with fiction that you never thought you could do until you read this. Moby-Dick is up there as one of my favorite novels. It’s formally crazy, incorporating multiple genres. It’s a prose poem, a really long one.
  5. Collected Stories, Flannery O’Connor: Really, if you want to learn how to write a short story you ought to just read everything that Flannery O’Connor ever wrote.
  6. Ray, Barry Hannah: Another whoa you can do that? book. Ray is downright fun. The shifts from the somewhat realistic setting of the majority of the novella into the Civil War scenes are particularly magical.
  7. Blood Meridian, Cormac McCarthy: I really love westerns, although I haven’t read many of them. But this is a western I can read and re-read. As with all McCarthy, I’m overcome with love for his use of language. His sentences somersault around with lovely details and rich music, even when he’s describing Native American babies’ heads being smashed against boulders. This book was important to my own novels, which I would say are westerns, those that are set at The Lake.
  8. Suttree, Cormac McCarthy: Here’s a great novel about . . . nothing. It’s like a proto-Seinfeld, but at the same time funnier and more serious. The amazing thing McCarthy pulls off with this plotless novel is how as a reader you feel like things are going to happen continuously, like you’re moving from one place to another, but nothing does happen, and you never get anywhere. But at the novel’s end you feel oddly satisfied with what you’ve read. I don’t know how he did that.
  9. The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck: I could have a whole other sub-category of novels that are what I‘d call “road novels,” novels about characters traveling. The great thing that Steinbeck pulls off here is on the one hand telling a very personal story about a family’s survival in the face of terrible misfortune, and on the other hand showing us in pure poetry the conditions of millions of people all struggling through the Great Depression.
  10. To the Lighthouse, Virginia Woolf: Mostly what I love about this book is the lesson about what a novelist can do with time. She can stretch out the events of a morning to cover hundreds of pages, or she can compress ten years into thirty. Also, what writer doesn’t like a good novel about creating art? Continue reading

Greg Hunter’s “Literary Pillars”

Hamlet, William Shakespeare
“White Nights,” Fyodor Dostoevsky
Dubliners, James Joyce
Look Homeward Angel, Thomas Wolfe
Red Harvest, Dashiell Hammett
Ulysses, James Joyce
The Third Policeman, Flann O’Brien
Wise Blood, Flannery O’Connor
Nine Stories, J. D. Salinger
A Good Man Is Hard to Find, Flannery O’Connor
Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov
Molly/Malone Dies/The Unnameable, Samuel Beckett
Dandelion Wine, Ray Bradbury
Mythologies, Roland Barthes
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