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“Fifty Literary Pillars or a Few Planks,” by Christine Schutt

The books listed come in order of memory and recent courses taught at high school and college levels; in both instances, pleasure.  Every year:  Shakespeare, Dickinson, Lowell, Bishop, Frost.  I like many living writers, too, but I have decided to interpret the assignment as listing writers whose work I read again and again.

1.    Shakespeare’s plays, particularly: Lear, Macbeth, Othello, Richard III, Twelfth Night,  Richard II.  Lines come back that make me cry.  Lear’s “Never, never, never, never, never.”

2.  Emily Dickinson
One of the astonishments is how many great poems there are—too many.   The titles may not be rightly capped but these tumble out:
I Felt a Funeral in My Brain
The Bustle in the House
Twas Just this Time last Year I Died
The Distance that the Dead have Gone  .
I heard a Fly Buzz when I Died
Just Lost When I was Saved
Because I could not stop for death
Pain has an element of Blank
A Certain Slant of Light Winter Afternoons
My Life it Stood a loaded Gun
The Soul Selects her own Society
I could not Live with you it would be Life

3.  Robert Frost, especially  “Home Burial”

4.  Elizabeth Bishop, especially the poem “Crusoe in England”

5.  Robert Lowell, especially the last book,  Day by Day

6.  Elizabeth Hardwick, Sleepless Nights and the essays

7.  W. G. Sebald, Rings of Saturn, The Emigrants

8.  William Maxwell, So Long, See You Tomorrow

9.  Emily Bronte, Wuthering Heights

10.  Homer, Just the epithets are colossal. . .Hector, Breaker of Horse

11.  Virginia Woolf, especially To the Lighthouse and The Waves

12.  William Faulkner, especially As I Lay Dying

13.  Flannery O’Connor, especially the stories and their endings

14.  Louise Gluck, Averno

15.  Denis Johnson, Angels, Jesus’ Son, Train Dreams

16.  Herman Melville, especially Billy Budd and “Bartleby the Scrivner”

17.  Nathaniel Hawthorne, especially The Scarlet Letter

18.  John Cheever, especially the drum roll endings

19.   Henri Cole, especially Blackbird and Wolf, Middle Earth

20.  Barry Hannah, especially Airships, Ray, and Hey Jack!

21.  Cormac McCarthy, especially Child of God

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

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