These books changed me. They helped make me. They refresh and delight me. I turn to them again and again, my dear possessions and the furniture of my mind, faded and worn.

Alexander Herzen
Herzen did it. He saw it. And he wrote it. He grew up a noble in Moscow, just a little young to have joined the Decembrists. He made up for it. He went from Moscow University to internal exile. Then to external exile. His memoir, My Past and Thoughts, tells not everything, but with striking candor the lessons of a man, pivoting on betrayal from his marriage and from 1848.
John Ruskin
If I start rereading Ruskin, I usually soon revisit Europe. The Stones of Venice
The Great War and Modern Memory by Paul Fussell
I have reread this book at least once every year for over ten years.
Jane Jacobs
I stood outside Jane’s house, like Helene outside her bookshop, too late. Jane changed the world. The Death and Life of Great American Cities
Wilfred Owen
World War 1 destroyed so much, and killed Wilfred Owen. Had he survived, he would have rivaled Eliot. We could have hoped he supplanted Eliot.
The Oxford Book of English Verse edited by Arthur Quiller-Couch
I have a nice india paper 1924 edition. One day I will buy myself an older one such as Wilfred Owen could have carried. In my copy I found a black and white snapshot of Keats’s grave “Whose Name was writ in Water” dated 1947, now taped inside the cover. I like to think the book came to me by way of an American GI. When no other book travels with me, it does.
John Donne
Donne re-taught me poetry. What “The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner” took away in junior high, Donne gave back and more. His delightful conceits got inside my head and taught me the point and meaning of poetry.
Clear and Simple as the Truth: Writing Classic Prose by Francis-Noël Thomas and Mark Turner
Simply the best book I have read about writing. I expect no better.
John Henry Newman
Helene Hanff referred to him as “dear, goofy John Henry.” She got little wrong, but this. I have a nice 1910 edition of The Idea of a University on the shelf from Longmans, Green, and Co.
The Great Good Place by Ray Oldenburg
Oldenburg taught this fish to see water.
The Theory of the Leisure Class by Thorstein Veblen
The Servile State by Hilaire Belloc
Seven Types of Ambiguity by William Empson
Poetic Meter and Poetic Form by Paul Fussell
Schopenhauer recommends that a title should function as an address on an envelope and get a book to the intended recipient. In this book Fussell has too much of the young professor: masterful but a bit anxious. I wish he’d rewritten it. An opportunity for a fluent scholar, but until then—indispensable.
Randall Jarrell
Gerard Manley Hopkins
Poetry of Thomas Hardy
G K Chesterton
Manalive 1912

Many an unnoticed girl in a dank walled garden had tossed herself into the hammock with the same intolerant gesture with which she might have tossed herself into the Thames.

Diary by Witold Gombrowicz
Reading this book made waiting in a jury room memorable. Nothing else from that year comes to mind easily. I remember the smell of damp. (Was it spring or autumn?) I remember the bag I carried the book in: yellow. I remember this book, slow, deliberate, delightfully artful, in my hands, my eyes, and my mind. Two weeks of waiting for mostly nothing made memorable.
The Disappearance of the Outside: a Manifesto for Escape by Andrei Codrescu
84 Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff
This book created this list. 84 Charing Cross Road entered my mind long ago. I have not reread it in many years: I have no need to; it lives in me. I’d gone from illiterate to educated. Then in my early twenties I reread Hanff, and went from educated to literate. Her reading list became my reading list. As Q gave her a literary education, she passed it on to me. Wearing a sweater with the heat down, I dust my books, and think of her and her dear bookshop.

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