My 5 favorite books
By Scott Sumner
We’ve been asked to discuss our five favorite books. Generally speaking, my favorite books are all fiction, and my 20 favorite non-fiction books are probably all travel books.
I don’t do well with novels about groups of people, as I’m a bit oblivious to the subtleties of social interaction. My favorite books tend to involve loners, philosophical ideas, and/or description of places (real or imagined.) None of the five books below are conventional novels. And finally, my favorite books change over time. Each of these 5 books appealed to me at a certain stage of my life:
1. The Tales of Edgar Allen Poe. I read this as a child, and liked it for the same reason that other young people like reading Poe. As I recall he did write one novel (Arthur Gordon Pym?) so if you want a specific story that would be it.
2. Labyrinths by Jorge Luis Borges. I read this in college, and it opened my eyes to the reality of literature, which until then I didn’t know existed. I was a late bloomer when it comes to reading, under the illusion that fiction was just a bunch of stories. I was most influenced by the essays in the book, and I ended up being attracted to the same sort of writers as Borges, mostly Anglo-American writers of 1820-1920.
3. Tales of Land and Sea by Joseph Conrad. I found this at a used bookstore while in grad school in Chicago, and enjoyed it more than any other book I’ve ever read. It contains his best novellas, which I regard as his very best work.
4. The Rings of Saturn by Max Sebald. I read this in middle age. Its quasi-documentary style was increasingly in fashion at the time. Indeed many of my favorite directors during the 1990s used the same style. He has two other novels that would fit equally well into this spot.
5. My Struggle by Karl Knausgaard. I started this 6-volume novel when I was middle-aged and ended it when I was in my 60s. It was the first book I ever read that had the feel of life as I experience it.