The first books I ever owned were given to me as a Christmas gift by my older cousin John when I was about 10 years old. Up to that point, my available reading material consisted of the daily Yonkers Herald Statesman, Life magazine, Reader’s Digest Condensed Books, DC Comics, the backs of baseball cards and Mad magazines I read at my cousin John’s house). I still have some of the paperback books John gave me: “Goodbye, Mr. Chips” by James Hilton,”A Christmas Carol,” “Kidnapped “and “Treasure Island “by R.L. Stevenson. “The Little World of Don Camillo” by Giovanni Guareschi, “Call of the Wild” and “White Fang” by Jack London, and “Tom Sawyer” and “Huckleberry Finn.”

Cousin John had pretty good taste. He was a very cool guy: took me one time to a Holiday Inn lounge to see Sam the Sham and the Pharoahs; wrote experimental one-act plays; played the saxophone; dodged the draft; always had beautiful girlfriends; I remember one of them, she and John used to sing at parties and small clubs, mostly Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell duets. John ended up working as an apartment building superintendent in Manhattan. He died young, about ten years ago. He was about eight years older than me, and we mostly lived in different states and in different circles, so I didn’t see him much through the years. After I graduated from college, he took me out drinking at a Irish bar on McLean Avenue in Yonkers and I told him I still had some of the books he’d given me. I never did think to tell him that he’d changed my life.

Anyway, last year I asked my friends — some of them writers, all of them readers — to list their favorite or most influential books. And I started out by offering my own list:

Something Wicked This Way Comes (Bradbury)

Cat’s Cradle (Vonnegut)

Slaughterhouse Five (Vonnegut)

Huckleberry Finn

Ragtime (Doctorow)

On The Road (Kerouac)

One Hundred Years of Solitude

The Trial (Kafka)

USA (Dos Passos)

Paterson (W.C. Williams)

Kaddish (Allen Ginsberg)

Leaves of Grass

Three Men In a Boat (Jerome K. Jerome)

North of Boston (Robert Frost)

Circus of the Sun (Robert Lax)

Ragtime (Doctorow)

Up in the Old Hotel (Joseph Mitchell)


Collected Poems (Emily Dickinson)

My Life and Hard Times (Thurber)

The King James Bible

A Human Comedy (Saroyan)

Tortilla Flat/Cannery Row (Steinbeck)

Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

A Christmas Carol

History of Yonkers (Rev. Allison)

The Sketch Book, Washington Irving

Corelli’s Mandolin by Louis de Bernieres

Rabbit, Run by John Updike 

Main Currents in American Thought, Parrington

Love and Death in the American Novel, Fiedler

From Ritual to Romance, Weston

Book of Dreams, Kerouac

The Seven Storey Mountain, Thomas Merton

Fables, Robert Lax 

Book of Friends, Henry Miller

Tickets for a Prayer Wheel and Holy the Firm, Annie Dillard

Tales, Edgar Allan Poe

The World of Washington Irving (and others in the series) Van Wyck Brooks





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