I have found it very difficult to collect this list together, I go through phases with books and these might be considered my current favourites ... but here goes!
In no strict order of preference:
- F Scott Fitzgerald - collected short stories. Life in the 1920s & 30s with just a pinch of melancholy
- John Keats complete poems - the sheer genius of this 20 year olds ideas was amazing. Such a tragic life too (he died aged 26)
- Victor Hugo - les Miserables (translated by Norman Denny). An undiluted masterpiece, Paris in minature and a lot of fascinating philosophical meandering in between.
- James Joyce - Poems & shorter writings. JJ’s books are unnaproachable but he had a command of English like only Shakespeare, which makes his poetry magnificent.
- Virginia Woolf - The Waves. Just read the opening page. She understood people on such an intrinsic level.
- Marcel Proust - Swanns Way. He takes a long time to get to the point but it’s like climbing a mountain, the view from the peak is indescribably beautiful.
- Foundation - Asimov. The scope of the initial concept for the series is mind boggling.
- Frank Herbert - Dune. world building at its absolute best
- Dan Simmons - The Hyperion Cantos. Requires a bit of a strong stomach but the author loved literature as well as high concept sci fi. Awesome.
- China Mieville - either Perdido Street Station or Embassytown. Some incredible concepts about language and world building.
- Mervyn Peake - Titus Groan. Brilliant, ponderous, odd, and wonderful.
- Jorge Luis Borges - Collected Stories. Mind bending infinite and looping concepts.
- Anne Fadiman - Confessions of a Common Reader. I re-read this slim volume every few years, a wonderful love letter to books, reading, and life in general.
- Boris Pasternak - Doctor Zhivago. a grand, poetic, and empathic exploration of individuals in Russia in the civil war. "I feel for each of them / As if I were in their skin", he writes in one of the poems attached to the book.
I am halfway through the Illiad, an old translation by a guy called Chapman who kept the original meter from the poem, it’s jolly wordy and doesn’t convey the barbarism of the original (probably a good thing!).
I also recently read Paradise Lost by John Milton. The charachterization is superb and language and turn of phrase is delightful.
Sophie’s World is good for covering the basic concepts of just about every branch of philosophy, in story form too!
I read Robinson Crusoe but the racism and colonialism were stomach churning.
As a biography I loved Seven Pillars of Wisdom by “Lawrence of Arabia”, he’s such a figure but he really loved the Bedouin culture and writes about it so honestly.