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Books are Not Quite Dead: AVA Readers Talk Books

Attention readers and writers: Send us your list of favorite books, especially the ones that influenced the way you live and think. We'll begin with Bruce McEwen who has inspired me to list some of mine:

McEwen writes: “Taking the hint from Patrick Cockburn’s favorite novels, and having seen that all the CounterPunchers listed theirs, I decided to list mine and encourage others to do so too.”

  • Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift
  • Reynard The Fox by Johann Wolfgang von Gothe
  • Quinten Durwood by Sir Walter Scott
  • H.M.S. Surprise by Patrick O’Brien
  • Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs
  • Fire From Heaven by Mary Renault
  • Grendel by John Gardner
  • Heavy Weather by P.G. Wodehouse
  • The Moon Is Down by John Steinbeck
  • Siddartha by Herman Hesse

* * *

The Editor

As a child, all of John R. Tunis; the Hornblower books; Chron's sports page; hagiographic biographies of great Americans; Johnny Tremain, Forbes

As a keen teen, On the Road, Kerouac; Mice and Men, Steinbeck; Catcher in the Rye, Salinger; Hemingway's short stories; Huckleberry Finn, Twain; USA Trilogy, Dos Passos (the last a shocking antidote to high school history force fed, circa '56 and '57

Soon after, in no particular order:

  • The Way We Live Now, Trollope
  • King Lear, Shakespeare (more relevant in old age than now, but I liked it best of all the master's plays as a kid)
  • David Copperfield, Dickens
  • The Power and the Glory, Greene
  • Moby Dick, Melville
  • The Brothers Karamazov, Dostoyevsky
  • Short Stories, Chekhov
  • To the Finland Station, Wilson
  • Fathers and Sons, Turgenev
  • Trampling Out the Vintage, Bardacke
  • Man's Fate, Malraux
  • Big Trouble, Lukas
  • Sentimental Education, Flaubert
  • Sometimes A Great Notion, Kesey
  • Miss Lonely Hearts and Day of the Locusts, West
  • Desperate Characters, Paula Fox
  • Dubliners, Joyce
  • Essays, Orwell, in the Everyman edition, which includes them all including BBC lectures during WWII

* * *

Jonah Raskin 

  • Moby-Dick by Herman Melville
  • The Red and the Black by Stendhal
  • American Renaissance by F.O. Matthiessen
  • The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett
  • The Communist Manifesto by Marx and Engels
  • Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman
  • Anna Karenina by Tolstoy
  • Prison Diary by Ho Chi Minh
  • Nostromo by Conrad
  • The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing
  • Walden by Thoreau
  • The Waste-Land by T.S. Eliot

* * *

Mark Scaramella

  • A Civil Action by Jonathan Harr
  • Benito Cerino by Herman Melville (two books in one! a completely different book upon second reading!)
  • The Closing Circle by Barry Commoner
  • Shah of Shahs by Ryszard Kapuscinski
  • Legacy of Ashes by Tim Wiener
  • Red Mutiny by Neal Bascomb
  • Common Ground by Anthony Lukas (especially the personality profile chapters)
  • Perelandra, and The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis
  • All the Shah’s Men by Stephen Kinzer
  • Black Cloud Rising by David Wright Falade
  • Out of Control by Leslie Cockburn
  • Unsafe At Any Speed by Ralph Nader
  • Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
  • Management by Peter Drucker
  • Freedomland by Richard Price
  • Newjack by Ted Conover
  • The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
  • The Golden Age Is In Us by Alexander Cockburn
  • The Brothers by David Talbot
  • Tom Paine and the Clarion Call for American Independence, and American Tempest, both by Harlow Giles Unger
  • Blue Blood by Ed Conlon
  • The Peter Principle by Laurence Peter
  • For Whom The Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway
  • The Closers by Michael Connolly
  • FDR At War (three volume set) by Nigel Hamilton
  • Under Enemy Colors by S. Thomas Russell
  • An Enemy of the People by Henrik Ibsen

* * *

Elaine Kalantarian

These books all struck a deep chord, some also blew my mind as well, reading them changed me.

  • Howard’s End – E.M. Forster
  • We Have Always Lived in the Castle – Shirley Jackson
  • A Prayer for Owen Meany – John Irving
  • Mansfield Park – Jane Austen
  • Charlotte’s Web – E.B. White
  • Song of Solomon – Toni Morrison
  • A Tale of Two Cities – Charles Dickens
  • Four Quartets – T.S. Eliot
  • The Accidental Tourist – Anne Tyler
  • War Talk – Arundhati Roy
  • The Tao of Physics by Fritjof Capra
  • The Master and his Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World – Iain McGilchrist

* * *

Mike Kalantarian

Many books have deeply impressed me over the years, but sometimes when I go back and reread them I realize I’ve changed and what worked for me back then doesn’t always work for me now… So here’s my list of favorite recent reads:

  • Silent Spring, Rachel Carson
  • The God of Small Things, Arundhati Roy
  • Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, Frederick Douglass
  • Typee, Herman Melville
  • Magicians of the Gods, Graham Hancock
  • Learn to Timber Frame, Will Beemer
  • Walking with the Comrades, Arundhati Roy
  • The Autobiography of Malcolm X, Malcolm X and Alex Haley
  • America: The Farewell Tour, Chris Hedges
  • The Happy Isles of Oceania, Paul Theroux
  • The Master and His Emissary, Iain McGilchrist

* * *

Stephen Rosenthal

Some are more non-fiction than fiction, but nevertheless great stories. Not in any order.

  • Travels with Charley – John Steinbeck
  • The Innocents Abroad – Mark Twain
  • Desert Solitaire – Edward Abbey
  • Der Richter und Sein Henker (The Judge and His Hangman)/Der Verdacht (The Quarry) – Friedrich Durrenmatt
  • Catch 22 – Joseph Heller
  • Deep Water – Patricia Highsmith
  • Main Street – Sinclair Lewis
  • Beautiful Joe – Marshall Saunders
  • The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test – Tom Wolfe
  • Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail – Hunter S. Thompson

Special non-fiction mention (A terrific book): The Soul of a Tree: A Woodworker’s Reflection – George Nakashima

* * *

Bob Abeles

  • Tom Jones, The History of a Foundling, Henry Fielding
  • A Confederacy of Dunces, John Kennedy Tool
  • The Hobbit, JRR Tolkien
  • Cat’s Cradle, Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.
  • Dahlgren, Samuel R. Delany
  • A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens
  • The Temple of the Golden Pavilion, Yukio Mishima
  • The Glass Bead Game, Hermann Hesse
  • The Trial, Franz Kafka
  • Roughing It, Mark Twain

* * *

John Sakowicz: Ten Of My Top 100

  • The Tin Drum by Günter Grass
  • The Sot-Weed Factor by John Barth
  • The Lime Twig by John Hawkes
  • Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov
  • Ada, or Ardor: A Family Chronicle by Vladimir Nabokov
  • V. by Thomas Pynchon
  • The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon
  • Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys
  • The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula K. Le Guin
  • Another Roadside Attraction by Tom Robbins

* * *

Betsy Cawn

  • Individualism Reconsidered by David Riesman
  • The Lonely Crowd by David Riesman
  • A Dictionary of Modern Usage by H.W. Fowler
  • Archie & Mehitabel by Don Marquis
  • The Fine Line - Making Distinctions in Everyday Life by Eviatar Zerubavel
  • Oneself to Know by John Ohara
  • Language in Thought and Action by S.I. Hayakawa
  • Power and Innocence by Rollo May
  • The Human Factor by Graham Greene
  • Trouble is my Business by Raymond Chandler
  • 1984 by James Orwell
  • Presentation of Self in Everyday Life by Erving Goffman
  • The Metaphysical Club by Louis Menand

* * *

Matthew LaFever 

  • The Executioner’s Song- Norman Mailer
  • Into Thin Air- Jon Krakauer
  • War- Sebastian Junger
  • The Call of Cuthulhu- H.P. Lovecraft
  • The Devil’s Dictionary- Ambrose Bierce
  • House of Leaves- Mark Z. Danielewski
  • Call of the Wild- Jack London
  • The Rabbit Tetralogy- John Updike 
  • The Corrections- Jonathan Franzen
  • Lolita- Vladimir Nabokov
  • Cloud Atlas- David Mitchell
  • The Martian Chronicles- Ray Bradbury

* * *

Justine Frederiksen

If I'm being completely honest, my absolute favorite books are children's novels like Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren and Fantastic Mr. Fox by Roald Dahl, but a few adult ones off the top of my head:

  • Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
  • The Lord of The Rings trilogy by J.R.R Tolkien
  • The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver
  • All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy
  • Giovanni's Room by James Baldwin

* * *

George Hollister

  • Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
  • 1491 by Charles Mann
  • 1493 by Charles Mann
  • A Conflict Of Visions by Thomas Sowell
  • Road To Serfdom by FA Hayek
  • The Old Testament
  • Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold
  • World Order by Henry Kissinger
  • Unsettled? by Steven Koonin
  • Climates Of Hunger by Reid Bryson 
  • Land of Hope by Wilfred M McClay
  • The Geology Companion by Gary and Benjamin Prost

* * *

Kym Kemp

  • White Banners by Lloyd C. Douglas
  • Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austin
  • King Rat by James Clavell
  • Presumed Innocent by Scott Turow
  • In the Woods by Tanya French
  • Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
  • Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder
  • The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
  • River of the Wolves by Stephen Meader
  • The Hobbit by Tolkien 
  • The Fifth Sacred Thing by Starhawk
  • The Chosen by Chaim Potok
  • In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
  • Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
  • The World According to Garp by John Irving

Rushes of joy as I wrote each title and so many more that I will regret not mentioning once I send this. All fiction (I know ‘In Cold Blood’ is supposed to be non fiction but… Capote wasn't a reporter, he was a novelist in my mind). I enjoy non fiction but the chance to understand people and their motivations from fiction just fills my heart.

Argh. I almost forgot The Good Earth by Pearl S Buck, The Friendly Persuasion by Jessamyn West, The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan, The Host by Stephenie Meyer (I know, I know...The Twilight series is terrible but I swear this is an amazing peek into the way human's work), Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card. 

* * *

Mitch Clogg

I come from Maryland. I liked John Barth's account of Maryland's early history, ‘The Sotweed Factor.’ It's a feast on every page.

* * *

Alethea Patton

Some of my favorites:

  • East of Eden by John Steinbeck
  • Orlando by Virginia Woolf
  • Big Rock Candy Mountain by Wallace Stegner
  • Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner
  • The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy
  • The Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler
  • Native Son by Richard Wright
  • Shalimar the Clown by Salman Rushdie
  • The Enchantress of Florence by Salman Rushdie
  • Tess of the D’Ubervilles by Thomas Hardy (Actually all of Hardy’s books)
  • The Lost Girl by DH Lawrence
  • Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

* * *

Lee Edmundson

Some titles I recommend as required reading:

  • A Brief History of Nearly Everything, by Bill Bryson.
  • Pilgrim At Tinker Creek, by Annie Dillard
  • Myth and Sexuality, by Jamake Highwater
  • The Jungle Grows Back, by Robert Kagan
  • Sapiens, by Yuval Noah Harari
  • Stolen Focus, by Johann Hari

If you want a delicious journey into historical fiction: Joan of Arc, by Mark Twain.

* * *

Nathan Duffy

Sorry only the first 4 are fiction….

  • Demian – Hermann Hesse
  • The Grapes of Wrath – John Steinbeck
  • Juice! – Ishmael Reed
  • The Bus Driver Who Wanted To Be God – Etgar Keret
  • Life After Death – Damien Echols
  • Shah of Shahs – Kapuscinski
  • American Prison – Shane Bauer
  • The Occupation – Patrick Cockburn
  • You Can’t Win – Jack Black
  • In The Land of Israel – Amos Oz
  • The San Quentin Story – Warden Clinton Duffy
  • The Earth Is the Lord’s – Abraham Heschel
  • The Jewish Prison – Jean Daniel
  • Alcatraz – William Baker
  • The First Rasta – Helene Lee
  • The Non-Jewish Jew – Isaac Duetscher
  • Nothing Sacred – Douglass Rushkoff


  • Desert Solitaire/Monkey Wrench Gang – Edward Abbey
  • Why Did I Ever – Mary Robison
  • Pride & Prejudice – Jane Austen
  • Pilgrim At Tinker Creek – Annie Dillard
  • Rise And Fall Of The Third Reich – William Shirer
  • Lost Continent – Bill Bryson
  • The Discomfort Zone – Jonathan Franzen
  • Blue Highways – William Least Heat Moon
  • What Am I Doing Here? – Bruce Chatwin
  • Lonesome Dove/Texasville – Larry McMurtry
  • Cadillac Desert – Mark Reisner
  • White Album – Joan Didion
  • A Chill In The Air/War in Val D’Orcia – Iris Origo
  • Travels With Myself And Another – Martha Gellhorn
  • Nobody’s Fool – Richard Russo
  • Me Talk Pretty One Day – David Sedaris
  • Love Medicine – Louise Erdrich
  • Walden – HD Thoreau

Big fan of Kapuscinski, but not his books per se. Almost all the early writers for Granta made a big impact on me, of which he was one.

Chuck Dunbar

Some of my favorites, a mix of fiction and non-fiction:

  • A Bright Shining Lie– Neal Sheehan
  • The Best and the Brightest– David Halberstam
  • How We Die — Sherwin Nuland
  • Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance– Robert Pirsig
  • Dreamland– Sam Quinones
  • The Snow Leopard– Peter Matthiessen
  • Catch 22– Joseph Heller
  • The Forgiven– Lawrence Osborne
  • Just Mercy– Bryan Stephenson
  • The Grapes of Wrath– John Steinbeck

* * *

Craig Stehr

This is in response to an email just received from the editor of the venerable Boontling Greeley Sheet, requesting my sending in a list of my all time favorite books. Aside from the fact that I started early on reading everything obtainable, while composing poems on the dining room table in the fifth grade, and later, had Peter Knopf of the NYC Knopf publishing family, followed the next year by Peter Straub (very recently deceased), as my advanced placement English teachers at the private high school in Milwaukee, and then, Professor Arthur Kay guided me forward to continue my specializing in the study of Saul Bellow at the University of Arizona, while earning a B.A. in 20th century American literature, and then following graduation, went all over the proverbial road for the next 50 years and have not stopped yet, my absolutely positively favorite piece of writing is Jack Kerouac’s “The Railroad Earth, Part One”.

* * *

James Marmon

  • Winnie the Pooh - AA Milne
  • Alice's Adventures In Wonderland - Lewis Carroll
  • The Very Hungry Caterpillar - Eric Carle
  • The Hobbit - JRR Tolkien
  • The Gruffalo - Julia Donaldson
  • Charlie And The Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl
  • Black Beauty - Anna Sewell
  • Treasure Island - Robert Louis Stevenson
  • The BFG - Roald Dahl
  • The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe - CS Lewis

* * *

Chuck Wilcher

A few of my favorites:

  • Life on the Mississippi, Twain
  • American Notes for General Circulation, Dickens
  • The Domestic Manners of the Americans, Trollope,
  • That Dark and Bloody River, Eckert
  • Dancing Wuli Masters, Zukav
  • The Letters of Wanda Tinasky, Factor 
  • The Lost Continent, Bryson,
  • Letters From the Earth, Twain
  • The End of Faith, Harris
  • The Hobbit, Tolkien
  • Snowcrash, Stephenson

* * *

Doug Loranger 

Here are a few that don’t seem to have made it onto anyone else’s list thus far:

  • Jaroslav Hasek, The Good Soldier Svejk
  • Josef Skvorecky, The Engineer of Human Souls
  • Milan Kundera, The Book of Laughter and Forgetting
  • Richard Yates, Young Hearts Crying
  • Evelyn Waugh, Vile Bodies
  • Feodor Dostoyevsky, The Possessed
  • Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace

Of those that have, my top two:

  • Herman Melville, Moby-Dick
  • Gustave Flaubert, The Sentimental Education

* * *

Norm Thurston

  • Chesapeake, James Michener
  • Centennial, James Michener
  • Hemingway, Kenneth S. Lynn
  • Zodiac, Robert Graysmith
  • Undaunted Courage, Stephen Ambrose
  • Fly Fishing Through the Midlife Crisis, Howell Raines
  • Winning Everyday, Lou Holtz
  • Jack London – An American Life, Earle Labor

* * *

Mark Scaramella, Supplemental

  • Genocide & Vendetta by Lynwood Carranco and & Estle Beard
  • Quanah Parker and the Empire of the Summer Moon by S.C. Gwynne
  • Cadillac Dessert by Mark Reisner
  • The River Stops Here, by Ted Simon
  • The Coldest Winter by David Halberstam
  • The Dark Side of Camelot by Seymour Hersh
  • Nothing Like It In the World, Stephen Ambrose

* * *


Bruce McEwen

This project has proven insightful. I had vague inklings as to each of the people who participated, by which I mean were they my kind of people, were they of my tribe, that sort of thing, and by reading the kinds of books I love and admire myself, I see we have certain affinities, that our innermost predilections have been touched by the profound tidings of the same books and authors. I listed only novels, and only ten, but I left out Ian McEwan’s Sweettooth which, like Balzac’s A Passion in the Desert, makes the reader’s head swim with magical feats of POV; nor did I have room for Hemmingway’s Old Man and the Sea; or Saramago’s Blindness and Seeing; nor yet the many fascinating short stories, like Voltaire’s Micromegas, or Faulkner’s The Bear; then the genre of biographies and well, on and on and I would like to see more people participate — is there anybody who hasn’t read at least ten great books? C’mon everybody, jot down your lists: show us what you’re made of —- unless you’re ashamed of it, that is, you know, if all you read is porn, then never mind.

* * *

k h

I agree! It’s a very fascinating looking glass.

I only listed the books that were most essential to my own way of thinking and seeing, not necessarily favorites, or the most visionary.

The one negative thing that jumped out at me was how few female writers were represented on many of the lists. I think that’s (mostly) about age differences in the readership.

Also this project is such a nice diversion from the predictable daily political posturing.

* * *

Bruce McEwen

To answer the charge of sexism in the lists allow for the predominately male participation and recall that before postmodern deconstruction his/her (again, male prominence) he/she pronouns were as uncommon as unicorns in English lit. Excuses aside, you are right and I would like to put Peg Kingman’s Not Yet Drowned at the top of my list and go tug my forelock in penance but I’ve always thought Patrick O’Brian was Jane Austen for boys, my favorite being Persuasion.

* * *

k h

I’ve not read Kingman but I will give it a go. I’ve heard good things about her from so many readers.

* * *

Bruce McEwen

She used to ride the bus from the coast to Ukiah, which is where I met her. She signed my copy on the bus and went on to finish a trilogy for Norton. She finished the last one and Covid struck, I hope she’s well and safe. A footnote: We both covered the Americas Cup race when Dennis Connor’s Spirit of America lost to the Aussies. I was with Ranch & Coast, and we were allowed aboard the tender. Peg was with the hefty San Diego Magazine, and she was invited aboard the Spirit for cocktails on the quarterdeck with the Capt.

* * *

Justine Frederiksen

Wait, “The Shipping News!” Thank you to Pam for mentioning Annie Proulx, because I can’t believe I forgot that wonderful book, which was my first glimpse into the delicious minutia of small-town journalism!

* * *


I remember this kid from a ship I was on, all he talked about was Thomas Hardy. He was from out in Palookaville, Nebraska somewhere, used to wear cowboy boots and a cowboy hat on liberty — a real sh#tkicker, but he knew about Thomas Hardy. It was uncanny.

* * *

Eleanor Cooney

  • Wise Blood by Flannery O'Connor
  • The Wild Palms / If I Forget Thee, Jerusalem by William Faulkner
  • Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathanael West
  • Our Man In Havana by Graham Greene
  • The Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhyss
  • The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir
  • The Day Of The Locust by Nathanael West
  • Reflections In A Golden Eye by Carson McCullers
  • The Nazi And The Barber by Edgar Hilsenrath
  • Memoirs Of Hecate County by Edmund Wilson
  • The Company She Keeps by Mary McCarthy (she and Edmund Wilson had a brief, disastrous marriage! Imagine the fights and the booze!)
  • The Patrick Melrose Novels By Edward St. Aubyn
  • The Lonely Passion Of Judith Hearne by Brian Moore
  • The Sheltering Sky by Paul Bowles
  • The Lay Of The Land by Richard Ford
  • The Orphan Master's Son by Adam Johnson
  • One Good Turn by Kate Atkinson
  • The Collected Stories Of John Cheever
  • A High Wind In Jamaica by Richard Hughes
  • Quartet In Farewell TIME by Mary Durant (my mother)

* * *

Stephen Rosenthal #2

I read mostly non-fiction, but after perusing my bookshelves, here’s a few I failed to include in my initial post.

  • Don Quixote – Miguel Cervantes
  • My Uncle Oswald – Ronald Dahl
  • Complete Stories – Edgar Allan Poe
  • Tropic of Cancer/Tropic of Capricorn – Henry Miller
  • Wind, Sand and Stars – Antoine de Saint Exupéry
  • Stranger in a Strange Land – Robert Heinlein
  • The Royal Game – Stefan Zweig
  • Murder on the Orient Express – Agatha Christie
  • To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee
  • Gray’s Anatomy – one of the most important books I own. If you want to understand the human body, this is the book.

* * *

Bruce Anderson

Annie Proulx, ‘everything.’ I’ll second that and add Paul Theroux, everything plus Evelyn Waugh almost everything.

* * *


Two books that every American should read: The Cool Million by Nathaniel West, and Johnny Got His Gun by Dalton Trumbo. These will tell you everything you need to know about capitalism and war. On the human condition, Freedom at Midnight (1974) by LaPierre and Collins is the best.

* * *

Whyte Owen

Posted this once before, but: Louise Erdrich from first to last in order without a break, twice.

Also: Margaret Atwood’s trilogy beginning with Oryx and Crake. The science in those novels, even more prescient than Handmaid’s Tale, contains nothing that is not feasible with current technology.

Two more for anyone interested in the comic opera of university culture: Moo by Jane Smiley and Straight Man by Richard Russo. Pretty accurate in my experience at the U of Iowa.

* * *

Nate Duffy

As I looked through my books wondering where the female authors are I spotted:

  • Geraldine Brooks – People of the Book
  • Karen Armstrong – Jerusalem, One City Three Faiths
  • Francine Klagsbrun – The Fourth Commandment
  • Nikki Keddie – An Islamic Response to Imperialism
  • Deborah Lipstadt – The Eichmann Trial
  • Karen Armstrong – The Battle For God

…It was then I suddenly realized that the majority of female authors on my shelf are writing on the subject of religion and specifically Islam or Judaism. Now of course those are common topics on my bookshelf but it seems to women write quite successfully about Religion and spirituality. Also as far as books I have on Jewish topics it seems women are quite well represented there throughout. Just my personal observations…

I thought I would see more books I know and have but I am heavy towards the nonfiction so I get it. I loved seeing Stephen Kinzer “All the Shah’s Men” and Ambrose Bierce “The Devils Dictionary” both books in my collection and when I went back to read all the way through the picks I was delighted to see the Major had also selected Ryszard Kapuscinski “Shah Of Shahs” as I did. Quick enthralling read at less than 150 pages. I did not include “The Mother of All Questions” or “Men Explain Things To Me” but I think Rebecca Solnit is an absolutely extraordinary writer! Nikki Keddie is an Islamic scholar of whose several great books on Shia Islam and Islamic History I possess. As George Hollister noticed several of my choices were on the subject of Judaism. These are all used books I have come across in Berkeley so my reading is really reflective of what is available used in a college town as such. Fascinating even to me. And thanks for the shout out. I found my copy of the San Quentin Story down in San Jose several years back on a work trip at the only bookstore I could find in town which was a high end collectible store. After seeing absolutely nothing I was interested in spending money on I was transported to heaven when I found Warden Duffy’s book in hard cover for $30.

* * *

Chuck Dunbar

Paul Theroux: meant to include his fairly recent book, On the Plain of Snakes, in my list.

* * *

Hal Bennett

Dave Smith’s book To Be Of Use: The Seven Seeds Of Meaningful Work, best express the ideals by which he strove to live his life–and how he inspired so many of us who knew him. Yeah, he often argued Atheism. (To borrow from Shakespeare, I often told him, he “doth protest too much, methinks.) But he nevertheless tells us that he based his book, and the ideals of his life, on the seven cardinal virtues of the early Christian church: faith, hope, justice, temperance, prudence, courage and love. His heroes were the “Creative Action Heroes,” people who through their work made their own lives, and the world around them, a little better. The last lines of his book tell it well:

“Meaningful work comes alive with love of others as well as ourselves, and that requires you and me.”

In the end, Dave chose to live by ideals that transcend formal ideologies. Not a bad way to go!

* * *

Kathy Shearn


  • Yertle the Turtle/Dr. Seuss
  • On beyond Zebra/ditto
  • The horse with the high heeled shoes/louis slobotkin
  • Born Free
  • Lad a Dog of course!

Early Teens

  • One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich/Solzhenitsyn
  • Silent Spring

Adult (and that’s debatable)

  • 100 Years of Solitude/Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  • Humboldt’s Gift/Saul Bellow
  • American Pastoral/Phillip Roth
  • A Confederacy ofDunces/John Kennedy Toole
  • The Alexandria Quartet/Lawrence Durrell
  • Rabbit is Rich/Updike
  • Crime and Punishment
  • Angle of Repose/Wallace Stegner
  • White Noise/Delillo
  • Empire Falls/ Richard Russo
  • The Year Of Magical Thinking/Joan Didion
  • The Handmaids Tale/Margaret Attwood
  • The Kite Runner/Khaled Hosseini
  • Death in Slow Motion/Mendo’s Own Eleanor Cooney
  • The Sportswriter & Independence Day/ Richard Ford
  • The corrrections/Jonathan franzen
  • Tinkers Paul Harding
  • Lincoln in the Bardo/George Saunders
  • Lab Girl/Hope Gahren

* * *

Steve Heilig

  • Walden by Thoreau
  • Joy of Man’s Desiring by Jean Giono
  • The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Basho
  • Collected Poems by Gary Snyder
  • Collected Stories by Paul Bowles
  • Break the Mirror by Nanao Sakaki 
  • Lord of the Rings by Tolkien
  • Fiskadoro by Denis Johnson
  • Dharma Bums/Big Sur by Jack Kerouac 
  • Tales of Ordinary Madness by Charles Bukowski
  • Robin Hood by Howard Pyle
  • Revenge of the Lawn by Richard Brautigan
  • Collected Stories by Hemingway
  • MAD magazine

* * *

Pam Partee

To add some unnamed books by women authors to the list, these come to mind:

  • Willa Cather, My Ántonia
  • P.D. James’ mysteries
  • Annie Proulx, everything
  • Flannery O’Connor, Everything That Rises Must Converge
  • Jesmyn Ward, Salvage the Bones
  • Donna Tartt, The Little Friend
  • Constance Helmericks, Down the Wild River North

* * *

Norm Thurston

  • Chesapeake, James Michener
  • Centennial, James Michener
  • Hemingway, Kenneth S. Lynn
  • Zodiac, Robert Graysmith
  • Undaunted Courage, Stephen Ambrose
  • Fly Fishing Through the Midlife Crisis, Howell Raines
  • Winning Everyday, Lou Holtz
  • Jack London – An American Life, Earle Labor

* * *

Dick Whetstone:

Three authors to add to your everything list: Peter Matthiessen, Jim Harrison, and John McPhee, but especially his Pulitzer Prize winning Annals of the Former World.

* * *]

Kirk Vodopals

I haven’t read his entire works, but pretty much anything by Kurt Vonnegut. Last one I read was Sirens of Titan which was his first novel, I believe. Crazy to think he wrote like that in the fifties.

  • Empire of the Summer Moon by SC Gwynne
  • Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole
  • Great Plains or On the Rez by Ian Frazier


  1. John Sakowicz September 18, 2022


    “To turn experience into speech – that is, to classify, to categorize, to conceptualize, to grammarize, to syntactify it – is always a betrayal of experience, a falsification of it; but only so betrayed can it be dealt with at all, and only in so dealing with it did I ever feel like a man, alive and kicking.”
    John Barth

    “The story of your life is not your life; it’s your story.”
    John Barth

    “A curious thing about written literature: It is about four thousand years old, but we have no way of knowing whether four thousand years constitutes senility or the maiden blush of youth.”
    John Barth

    “A curious thing about written literature: It is about four thousand years old, but we have no way of knowing whether four thousand years constitutes senility or the maiden blush of youth.”
    John Barth

    “The Genie declared that in his time and place there were scientists of the passions who maintained that language itself, on the one hand, originated in ‘infantile pregenital erotic exuberance, polymorphously perverse,’ and that conscious attention, on the other, was a ‘libidinal hypercathexis’ – by which magic phrases they seemed to mean that writing and reading, or telling and listening, were literally ways of making love.”
    John Barth

    “Every writer joins a conversation that’s been going on for generations, even millennia, before he or she joins the scene.”
    John Barth

    “I admire writers who can make complicated things simple, but my own talent has been to make simple things complicated.”
    John Barth


    I was John Barth’s student at the Johns Hopkins University from 1973-1979, where I earned my MA and BA in the Department of Writing Seminars. Louise Erdrich was a classmate. Other faculty included Edmund White, Richard Howard, Charles Newman, and Joseph McElroy.

    These were some of the happiest years of my life.

    Joe McElroy and I remained friends.

  2. Elaine Kalantarian September 18, 2022

    Yes! I’ve really enjoyed looking at everyone’s lists, was an excellent idea Bruce! After thinking some more and being reminded by the books on other reader’s lists, I would add:

    Jane Eyre – Charlotte Brontë
    My Ántonia – Willa Cather
    The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald
    The Scarlet Letter – Nathaniel Hawthorne
    Of Mice and Men – John Steinbeck
    The Lord of the Rings – J.R.R. Tolkien
    Miss Lonelyhearts & The Day of the Locust – Nathanael West

    And based on the number of times these books/authors appeared on readers’ lists, I requested copies from the library of Rhys’ The Wide Sargasso Sea (hopefully not too on the nose about feminism though); Beneath the Wheel and Seasons of the Soul by Herman Hesse.

    • Elaine Kalantarian September 18, 2022

      Oh and how could I forget these two?
      Ethan Frome & Age of Innocence – Edith Wharton

      • Elaine Kalantarian September 18, 2022

        And one more:
        The Loved One – Evelyn Waugh

        • Bruce McEwen September 18, 2022

          My favorite line from that book was,“anybody who loved dogs would never bring one here.”

  3. Bruce McEwen September 18, 2022

    Influential Biographies

    The Nature of Alexander, Mary Renault
    Tecumseh, Allan W. Eckert
    Rin Tin Tin, Susan Orleans
    Rossini, Stendhal
    I, Claudius, Robert Graves
    Auguste Rodin, Rainer Marie Rilke
    Dream West (John C. Fremont), David Nevin
    Son of the Morning Star (George A. Custer), Evan S. Connell
    Goya, Robert Hughes
    Lincoln, Gore Vidal

  4. Bruce McEwen September 18, 2022

    Most Influential Anthropology Books

    Lucy, Richard Leaky
    African Genesis, Robert Audrey
    Dragons of Eden, Carl Sagan
    Our Kind, Marvin Harris
    Thinking Animals, Paul Shepard

  5. Bruce McEwen September 18, 2022

    Influential Nonfiction Adventure & Travel

    Down The Great Unknown (discovery & tragedy of the Grand Canyon), John Wesley Powell

    The River of Doubt (Teddy Roosevelt and son in the headwaters of the Amazon), Candice Millard

    Death in the Long Grass (big game hunting in Africa), Peter Hathaway Capstick

    Travels With A Donkey In The Cevennes, Robert Louis Stevenson

    Two Years Before The Mast, Richard Henry Dana, Jr.

    Lassie Come Home, Eric Knight

    Memoirs of an Infantry Officer, Siegfried Sassoon

    About Face, Col. David Hackworth

    Turned Round In My Boots, Bruce Patterson

    Out There in the Woods, Thomas Allman and Steven Sparks

    A Walk In the Woods, Bill Bryson

  6. Bruce McEwen September 18, 2022

    Oooops! I almost forgot:

    (Voyage of the) Dove, Robin Lee Graham and well, I did, it seems, forget the co-author who helped the kid tell how he sailed his boat around the globe, but having read the book I jumped at the chance to see the film version at the ancient old La Paloma theater in Encinitas so many years ago that it must all be gone so it’s probably out of print anyway…

  7. Bruce McEwen September 18, 2022

    Oh, yes, lemme add:

    Dark Star Safari, Paul Theroux

    Stolen Lives (20 years in a desert prison), Malika Oufkir

  8. Chuck Dunbar September 18, 2022

    This was a darn fine idea for the AVA. What great lists and so diverse, lots of participants–how very cool, interesting and just plain fun to see it grow and grow!

  9. Pat Kittle September 19, 2022

    Quick list, roughly chronological, of memorable authors who’ve broadened my horizons:

    Jules Verne
    Vance Packard
    John Howard Griffin
    Isaac Asimov
    Mark Twain
    Paul Ehrlich
    Eldridge Cleaver
    Erich Fromm
    Abbie Hoffman
    Alan Watts
    Arthur Janov
    Tom Wolfe
    Gordon Jennings
    John Steinbeck
    Kurt Vonnegut
    Jonathan Kwitny
    Carl Sagan
    Dave Foreman
    William Catton
    Ed Abbey
    David Duke
    Kevin MacDonald
    Ron Unz

    • Bruce Anderson September 19, 2022

      Yo, Kittle. Why stop at Duke when you can list your true face, ‘Dolph?

      • Pat Kittle September 19, 2022

        Yo, Bruce, you gonna spend your whole fearful life on the Wokefarm?

        • Bruce Anderson September 19, 2022

          I hope so, George.

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