Brockmeier’s 50 Favorite Books

Last week, I went to see Kevin Brockmeier do a reading and Q&A for The Brief History of the Dead (highly recommended) sponsored by the local newspaper book club. Brockmeier is a lovely, soft-spoken reader, but he really shines at answering questions. He has that thing people who’ve done a lot of teaching have, where he can answer even the dullest questions in a really interesting way and without being condescending. Like most writers on the road with a book, he’s constantly asked for recommendations. Unlike most other writers on the road with a book, he likes to make lists. So he made one of his fifty favorite novels, with asterisks next to the top 10. He updates it regularly and hands it out at events to recommendation seekers.

By the way, KB reads more than you do. (Unless you’re Jenny D or Colleen or Kelly.) He said the last time he totaled up the number of books he read in a year, it was something like 170. And he has great wide-ranging taste. Many of these that I haven’t read, I’ll definitely be picking up.

Behind the cut, I’ll reproduce the 50 books list in its entirety.

Several rules: (1) I have listed these books in alphabetical order by the author’s last name, rather than in order of preference–though I’ve marked each of my ten very favorites with an asterisk. (2) I have chosen no more than one book per author, except in those cases where a pair of books or a trilogy seemed to call for a single shared listing. (3) I have tried to be honest, which is why there are so few classics on this list and so many children’s books, semi-obscure fantasists, and slim, sad coming of age stories. – Kevin Brockmeier, January 5, 2006

1. A Death in the Family by James Agee (*)
2. The Complete Short Stories by J.G. Ballard (*)
3. A Fine and Private Place by Peter S. Beagle
4. Once in Europa by John Berger
5. Collected Fictions by Jorge Luis Borges
6. The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov (*)
7. Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents by Octavia Butler
8. The Baron in the Trees by Italo Calvino (*)
9. Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll
10. Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton (*)
11. Novelties and Souvenirs: Collected Short Fiction by John Crowley
12. Matilda by Roald Dahl
13. The Latin American Trilogy by Louis de Bernières
14. Tales of Neveryon by Samuel R. Delany
15. The Unexpected Universe by Loren Eiseley
16. A Passage to India by E.M. Forster
17. The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys by Chris Fuhrman
18. Paris Stories by Mavis Gallant
19. The End of the Affair by Graham Greene
20. The Last Temptation of Christ by Nikos Kazantzakis
21. Collected Stories by Richard Kennedy
22. Otherwise: New and Selected Poems by Jane Kenyon
23. Elegy by Larry Levis
24. Magic for Beginners by Kelly Link
25. The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers
26. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez (*)
27. All the Days and Nights: The Collected Stories by William Maxwell (*)
28. Edwin Mullhouse: The Life and Death of an American Writer, 1943-1954 by Steven Millhauser
29. Essays by Michel de Montaigne
30. Complete Works and Other Stories by Augusto Monterroso
31. A Wild Sheep Chase and Dance, Dance, Dance by Haruki Murakami
32. The Sharpshooter Blues by Lewis Nordan
33. The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien
34. Esther Stories by Peter Orner
35. A Collection of Essays by George Orwell
36. Metamorphoses by Ovid
37. Bel Canto by Ann Patchett
38. Alan Mendelsohn, the Boy from Mars by Daniel Pinkwater (*)
39. My Name is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok
40. The His Dark Materials Trilogy by Philip Pullman (*)
41. Where Bigfoot Walks: Crossing the Dark Divide by Robert Michael Pyle
42. Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson (*)
43. The Gospel According to Jesus Christ by José Saramago
44. Indistinguishable from the Darkness by Charlie Smith
45. The Man Who Fell to Earth by Walter Tevis
46. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
47. Waiting for God by Simone Weil
48. Essays by E.B. White
49. Stoner by John Williams
50. The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham

4 thoughts on “Brockmeier’s 50 Favorite Books”

  1. Yeah, that is a cool list–I completely disagree with tons of his choices, it’s not really my taste at all (the ones I would have: Orwell and Montaigne and the Alice books; YES to Wild Sheep Chase, definitely my favorite Murakami; yes to Chaim Potok, but I really think “The Chosen” is his absolute best, “My Name is Asher Lev” is great though too; Pullman of course, and also War and Peace; and I adore “Day of the Triffids” and Octavia Butler and also Kelly Link–but a lot of the other stuff isn’t on my list of favorites at all), but I love the clarity of the sensibility.

  2. What a wonderful, wonderful, wonderful list. I really like seeing people who read everything.
    (And I adored The Truth About Celia and the short that made it into the YBF&H. Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful writer, too.)

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