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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.

11. Wind Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami. Cats, classical music and wells.

12. Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace. I don’t mean to get all Heraclitan on you, but I don’t know how you can be the same person after reading this book.

13. Consider the Lobster by David Foster Wallace. This entry is a placeholder for all of Wallace’s nonfiction. Read it all.

14. The Children’s Hospital by Chris Adrian. If any contemporary writers have imaginations better than Adrian, I haven’t read them.

15. The Elementary Particles by Michel Houellebecq. A primer on the wrong ways to think about sex.

16. 2666 by Roberto Bolano. I wish all novels were this ambitious.

17. Collected Fictions by Jorge Luis Borges. This is an infinite library.

18. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller. The funniest book I’ve ever read.

19. Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry. Teaches you what the world should be and what it shouldn’t.

20. The Art of the Commonplace by Wendell Berry. The book I quote more than any other.

21. The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene. Gives religion legs and heart.

22. Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell. The sheer force of language makes me feel inadequate as a writer.

23. The Castle by Franz Kafka. We live in Kafka’s world.

24. Chronicle of a Death Foretold by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

25. Moby Dick by Melville. The archetypal “large, loose baggy monster.”

26. The Stranger by Albert Camus.

27. Miracle Boy by Pinckney Benedict. He writes the stories I want to write.

28. Dangerous Laughter by Steven Millhauser.

29. Turn of the Screw by Henry James.

30. Atmospheric Disturbances by Rivka Galchen.

31. Metropole by Ferenc Karinthy. I’m a sucker for languages. Especially imaginary ones.

32. If on a winter’s night a traveler by Italo Calvino.Ah, the structural possibilities of narrative.

33. Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard. The book that made me become a writer.

34. Jesus’ Son by Denis Johnson. Naked hang-glider. Need I say more?

35. Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad. The power of this novella is that its meaning always lies just beyond my grasp.

36. The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera. In my experience of reading, the first marriage of philosophy and literature.

37. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig. The second marriage.

38. Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee.

39. Jealousy by Alain Robbe-Grillet. He upended all my novelistic rules.

40. The Winners by Julio Cortazar. I usually dislike the amount of dialogue in his work, but the premise of this mystery cruise carried me through.

41. The Unnamed by Joshua Ferris. Immaculate premise, immaculate execution.

42. The Old Testament. “Where we find men, things, and words in a style so grandiose that the Latin and Greek literatures have nothing to lay upon it.” – Friedrich Nietzsche

43. Beyond Good and Evil by Friedrich Nietzsche. Nietzsche taught me how to think.

44. Fear and Trembling by Soren Kierkegaard. Since I’m going to be a father of twins in the next few weeks, the father/son relationship haunts me.

45. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions by Thomas Kuhn. How to think about the progress of science.

46. Sexual Personae by Camille Paglia. Defined my notions of gender and sex.

47. Socratic Memorabilia by Johann Hamann. Philosophical lit that’s both beautiful and mysterious.

48. America by Jean Baudrillard. Love the Disneyland bits, with the preference for the fake over the real. Also, check out Simulacra and Simulation.

49. The Dialogic Imagination by M.M. Bakhtin. Wonderful insight on Dostoevsky and the novel.

50. Lonely Planet Guides. The travel guide to every country on earth, because travel has fed my imagination.

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

John Matthew Fox‘s fiction has appeared in ShenandoahThird CoastBellingham Review,Tampa Review, and Los Angeles Review. He is currently working on a novel. He’s written about books for the Los Angeles TimesThe Rumpus, Open Letters Monthly, and The Quarterly Conversation. He blogs at BookFox.

2 thoughts on “John Matthew Fox’s “Literary Pillars”

  1. Thanks for adding to my book list!

    …And I’m happy to note that I’ve read at least a few of these.
    Your take on O’Connor is absolutely correct.

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