December 9th, 2010 / 10:27 pm

Suggested Reading List for My Spring 2011 Fiction Workshop

(Because if you’re going to make a writer of yourself, you must read your brains out.) *

All Things, All at Once, Lee K. Abbott
The Box Man, Kobo Abe
Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe
The Children’s Hospital, Chris Adrian
A Death in the Family, James Agee
Man In His Time, Brian W. Aldiss
The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, Sherman Alexie
Bastard Out of Carolina, Dorothy Allison
My Life in Heavy Metal, Steve Almond
Telegrams of the Soul, Peter Altenburg
Winesburg, Ohio, Sherwood Anderson
Dora Flor and Her Two Husbands, Jorge Amado
Elect Mr Robinson for a Better World, Donald Antrim
The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood
The Rector of Justin, Louis Auchincloss
Obabakoak, Bernardo Axtaga
The Music of Chance, Paul Auster
Red Cavalry Stories, Isaac Babel
The Mezzanine, Nicholson Baker
Going to Meet the Man, James Baldwin
The Sweet Hereafter, Russell Banks
The Smallest People in the World, Keith Banner
Nightwood, Djuna Barnes
A History of the World in 8 1/2 Chapters, Julian Barnes
60 Stories, Donald Barthelme
The Lives of Rocks, Rick Bass
The Stories of Richard Bausch
First Light, Charles Baxter
The Lost Ones, Samuel Beckett
The Collectors, Matt Bell
Mr Sammler’s Planet, Saul Bellow
Town Smokes, Pinckney Benedict
25th Hour, David Benioff
Correction, Thomas Bernhard
2666, Roberto Bolano
Labyrinths, Borges
The Sheltering Sky, Paul Bowles
After the Plague, TC Boyle
Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury
On the Yard, Malcolm Braly
Rumors of Rain, Andre Brink
Things That Fall from the Sky, Kevin Brockmeier
Fay, Larry Brown
A Clockwork Orange, Anthony Burgess
Scorch Atlas, Blake Butler
The Postman Always Rings Twice, James M Cain
Tobacco Road, Erskine Caldwell
If On A Winter’s Night a Traveler, Italo Calvino
American Salvage, Bonnie Jo Campbell
The Palace Thief, Ethan Canin
Hard Rain Falling, Don Carpenter
The Bloody Chamber, Angela Carter
Where I’m Calling From, Raymond Carver
Spartina, John Casey
The Professor’s House, Willa Cather
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, Michael Chabon
The Big SLeep, Raymond Chandler
Collected Stories, Eileen Chang
Among the Missing, Dan Chaon
Farewell I’m Bound to Leave You, Fred Chappell
The Stories of John Cheever
Falconer, John Cheever
Awakening, Kate Chopin
“Gusev,” Anton Chekhov
Oh Baby, Kim Chinquee
House on Mango Street, Sandra Cisneros
We’re in Trouble, Christopher Coake
Disgrace, J M Coetzee
Witz, Joshua Cohen
Diary of a Rapist, Evan S Connell
Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad
Hopscotch, Julio Cortazar
Bargains in the Real World, Elizabeth Cox
The Red Badge of Courage, Stephen Crane
A Feast of Snakes, Harry Crews
The Passage, Justin Cronin
Flesh and Blood, Michael Cunningham
The Green Age of Asher Witherow, M Allen Cunningham
House of Leaves, Mark Danieliewski
The Dew Breaker, Edwidge Danticat
In the Gloaming, Alice Elliott Dark
The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis
The Circus in Winter, Cathy Day
Great Jones Street, Don DeLillo
Mao II, Don DeLillo
Underworld, Don DeLillo
Drown, Junot Diaz
The Man in the High Castle, Philip K Dick
Play It As It Lays, Joan Didion
Interstate, Stephen Dixon
I. and End of I., Stephen Dixon
City of God, E L Doctorow
The Shell Collector, Anthony Doerr
The Brothers Karamazov, Fyodor Dostoevsky
Crime and Punishment, Fyodor Dostoevsky
Clown Girl, Monica Drake
Selected Stories, Andre Dubus
House of Sand and Fog, Andre Dubus III
Geek Love, Katherine Dunn
The Lover, Marguerite Duras
Foucault’s Pendulum, Umberto Eco
Permutation City, Greg Egan
How the Water Feels, Paul Eggers
The Magic Kingdom, Stanley Elkin
Happy Baby, Stephen Elliott
Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison
The Black Dahlia, James Ellroy
Silence, Shusaku Endo
For the Relief of Unbearable Urges, Nathan Englander
The Plague of Doves, Louise Erdrich
Altmann’s Tongue, Brian Evenson
The Wavering Knife, Brian Evenson
Erasure, Percival Everett
Middlesex, Jeffrey Eugenides
A Fan’s Notes, Frederick Exley
Sabbath Night in the Church of the Piranha, Edward Falco
As I Lay Dying, Faulkner
Absalom! Absalom!, Faulkner
The Short Stories of F Scott Fitzgerald
The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald
The Good Soldier, Ford Madox Ford
The Sportswriter, Richard Ford
Independence Day, Richard Ford
The French Lieutenant’s Woman, John Fowles
Poachers, Tom Franklin
The Corrections, Jonathan Franzen
The Recognitions, Wm. Gaddis
Bad Behavior, Mary Gaitskill
The Stories of Mavis Gallant
as much Gabriel Garcia-Marquez as possible, starting with Chronicle of a Death Foretold
Grendel, John Gardner
In the Heart of the Heart of the Country, Wm Gass
Welding with Children, Tim Gautreaux
I Hate to See That Evening Sun Go Down, Wm. Gay
Dead Souls, Nikolai Gogol
The House of Breath, Wm Goyen
Museum of the Weird, Amelia Gray
The Power and the Glory, Graham Greene
Hunger, Knut Hamsun
Adverbs, Daniel Handler
Airships, Barry Hannah
Bats Out of Hell, Barry Hannah
Legends of the Fall, Jim Harrison
“Rollerball Murder,” Wm Harrison
The Lime Twig, John Hawkes
The Scarlet Letter, Hawthorne
Stranger in a Strange Land, Heinlein
The Pacific, Mark Helprin
some stories from Hemingway
The Complete Works of Marvin K Mooney, Christopher Higgs
High Fidelity, Nick Hornby
The Cider House Rules, John Irving
The Lottery, Shirley Jackson
Jesus’ Son, Denis Johnson
All Aunt Hagar’s Children, Edward P Jones
all of Kafka
The Master of Go, Yasunari Kawabata
The Last Temptation of Christ, Nikos Kazantzakis
all of Imre Kertesz’s novellas
Pacazo, Roy Kesey
Annie John, Jamaica Kincaid
Different Seasons, Stephen King
Carrie, Stephen King
Hearts in Atlantis, Stephen King
The Stand, Stephen King
The Shining, Stephen King
Steps, Jerzy Koszinski
The Orange Eats Creeps, Grace Krilanovich
The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Kundera
The Book of Laughter and Forgetting, Kundera
From Old Notebooks, Evan Lavender-Smith
Independent People, Halldor Laxness
Mystic River, Dennis Lehane
Rum Punch, Elmore Leonard
a couple of J T LeRoy books
The Fifth Child, Doris Lessing
The Fortress of Solitude, Jonathan Lethem
Motherless Brooklyn, Jonathan Lethem
The Year of A Thousand Good Prayers, Yiyun Li
Richard Yates, Tao Lin
Stories in the Worst Way, Gary Lutz
Cairo Trilogy, Naghub Mahfouz
some Bernard Malamud novels
A Death in Venice, Thomas Mann
In Country, Bobbie Ann Mason
My Life in CIA, Harry Mathews
All of Cormac McCarthy, starting with Child of God
The Cement Garden, Ian McEwan
The Collected Stories of Leonard Michaels
at least one novel from James A. Michener
“Lust,” Susan Minot
about three weeks in Mishima
Hue and Cry, James Alan McPherson
The Ring of Brightest Angels Around Heaven, Rick Moody
“People Like That,” Lorrie Moore
Beloved, Toni Morrison
Friend of My Youth, Alice Munro
Open Secrets, Alice Munro
Hateship, Loveship, Alice Munro
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, Haruki Murakami
Norwegian Wood, Haruki Murakami
The Man Without Qualities, Robert Musil
A House for Mr Biswas, Naipaul
Pale Fire, Nabokov
Lolita, Nabokov
The Assignation, Joyce Carol Oates
In the Lake of the Woods, Tim O’Brien
The Violent Bear It Away, Flannery O’Connor
Kentucky Straight, Chris Offutt
“I Stand Here Ironing,” Tillie Olsen
The Shawl, Cynthia Ozick
Fight Club, Chuck Palahniuk
The Collected Stories of Grace Paley
The Stories of Breece D’J Pancake
Refresh, Refresh, Benjamin Percy
The Devil in the Hills, Cesare Pevase
Pale Horse, Pale Rider, Katherine Anne Porter
at least one Charles Portis novel
Knockemstiff, Donald Ray Pollock
The Collected Stories of J F Powers
Clockers, Richard Price
Close Range, Annie Proulx
Mason & Dixon, Thomas Pynchon
An Interview with the Vampire, Anne Rice
Charity, Mark Richard
Sabbath’s Theater, Philip Roth
American Pastoral, Philip Roth
Mating, Norman Rush
The Satanic Verses, Salman Rushdie
some Salinger
A Sport and a Pastime, James Salter
some Saramago
The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil, George Saunders
The Reader, Bernhard Schlink
all of Christine Schutt except the newest novel
a couple of Sebald novels
Collected Stories, Isaac Bashevis Singer
A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, Solzhenitsyn
Sophie’s Choice, Wm. Styron
“The Old Forest,” Peter Taylor
Girls in the Grass, Melanie Rae Thon
some Tolstoy and Tolkien
A Bit on the Side, Wm Trevor
at least one Anne Tyler novel, swear to god
Slaughterhouse-Five, Vonnegut
Breakfast of Champions, Vonnegut
The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint, Brady Udall
some Deb Olin Unferth stories
Rabbit Tetralogy, John Updike
What the World . . ., Laura van den Berg
The Bear Bryant Funeral Train, Brad Vice
The William T. Vollman Reader
Oblivion, David Foster Wallace
Brief Interviews with Hideous Men, David Foster Wallace
All the King’s Men, Robert Penn Warren
“Against Specificity,” Douglas Watson
some Eudora Welty stories
The Intuitionist, Colson Whitehead
Exciteability, Diane Williams
The Quick & the Dead, Joy Williams
Stoner, John Williams
“The Farmer’s Daughters,” Wm Carlos Williams
“Bullet in the Brain, ” Tobias Wolff
some Virginia Woolf novels
some Daniel Woodrell
Revolutionary Road, Richard Yates
*I’ve left out 98% of the important books you should read, but this should get you started on the fiction.


  1. A pretty darn good reading list. « Joe's Place

      […] December 9, 2010 Joe Leave a comment Go to comments Over at, there is a great reading list compiled by Kyle Minor.  It’s titled “Suggested Reading List for my Spring 2011 Fiction […]

  2. MM

      this makes me cry,
      bad cry, not the fireworks kind,
      I need speed-reading boot-camp.

  3. Dreezer

      So they should have all these read by the time they show up for the workshop, right?

      Seriously — nice list; I’m going to save a copy.

  4. Kyle Minor

      It’s a long-term post-class project, I’d imagine. I got lists like this in the early days, and they helped me find places to start the lifelong project of making a reader of myself.

  5. John

      Aw, man. Just when I’m starting to get a handle on the nineteenth century…

  6. Trey

      Kyle, wow, this is awesome. for a long time I’ve been trying to figure out how to get started in fiction outside of the most classic of the classics, and this list is, I think, going to prove extremely useful. thanks for posting it.

  7. Kyle Minor

      There aren’t enough women writers on it, I know. It is tremendously diverse in other ways — aesthetically, culturally, etc. I do try to make the required reading at least fifty percent woman writers. My shelves have more male writers than female, I’m afraid, and I’m actively seeking out more female writers to read and champion.

  8. deadgod

      Offshore; Innocence – Penelope Fitzgerald
      Desperate Characters – Paula Fox
      In the Middle of Nowhere – Fanny Howe
      Their Eyes Were Watching God – Zora Neale Hurston
      Mrs. Caliban – Rachel Ingalls

  9. Kyle Minor

      I’ve read all of these.

  10. alanrossi

      you have Paul, so maybe add Jane Bowles. also, Jean Rhys. many more, but two of my favorites.

  11. Nicholas

      Kobo Abe’s ‘The Box Man’ is so under-rated. Good job including it on this list!

  12. deadgod

      Ha ha – I haven’t read half the explicit books/stories on your list.

      Fitzgerald is magically good, and, were I limited, at gunpoint – no arguing – , to one post-WWII American novel for the time capsule, I’d be greatly tempted to choose the Howe novel.

  13. Roxane

      American Salvage is such a good choice. This is an interesting list.

  14. Dreezer

      It turns out I’ve read 65 of them. I guess I better get on the rest.

  15. John Minichillo

      Have you heard of this guy James Joyce? He’s OK.

      Good call on Falconer.

      DH Lawrence has flawless construction.

      You’d recommend ALL the Rabbits?

      Some Alice Walker stories?

      Richard Wright. Mary Robison’s Why Did I Ever? Some Bukowski. Stuart Dybek. Gogol stories. Dostoyevsky’s Notes… Guy De Mauppassant’s “Boile de Suif,” As much Barthelme as you can stand. Toby Wolff’s “Next Door”

      Kyle Minor

  16. Kyle Minor

      I recommend reading the Rabbits to see what it would look like to write a tetralogy of monster novels over four decades. I read them straight through last summer. I’m glad I did. Updike is one of those writers about whom everyone seems to have an opinion, but then you ask them what they’ve read of his monstrous output and it’s one novel plus “A&P.” That’s lazy.

      I agree about a lot of your additions. The list isn’t comprehensive — it’s just a place to start.

      As for Joyce, I want to read Finnegan’s Wake straight through one more time before I die, but I don’t think that’s for everyone. I appreciate Joyce’s achievement, but I don’t think I want to have to read Dubliners or Ulysses or Portrait again, and I don’t want to inflict them on others. That’s probably not a pedagogically sound position, but that’s how I feel about it.

  17. Ryan Call
  18. Kyle Minor

      No, and haven’t heard of it, either. Tell me more.

      (I’d love to read a list from you, Ryan.)

  19. Lizi

      Women in Their Beds–Gina Berriault

      Passion According to GH–Clarice Lispector

      Three Lives– Gertrude Stein

      Housekeeping– Marilynne Robinson

      Ava– Carole Maso

      The Censors– Luisa Valenzuela

      Hotel Splendid– Marie Redonnet

      The Mirror in the Well– Micheline Aharonian Marcom

      The Story of O– Pauline Reage

      Dogeaters– Jessica Hagedorn

      Geek Love– Katherine Dunn

      The Changeling– Joy Williams

      I, etcetera– Susan Sontag (because it’s weird to think of her thinking this way)

      The Last Samurai– Helen DeWitt

      Blood and Guts in High School– Kathy Acker

      Absence Makes the Heart– by Lynne Tillman

  20. Kyle Minor

      Geek Love’s already on there.

  21. Ryan Call

      i originally read it in a ‘warzone texts’ class taught by cortney brkic. its a novel about the spanish civil war, was written by rodoreda in the 50s (came out in Catalan in 1962, if my maths correct–im pagin through the intro now)

      here’s a bit from the introduction by david rosenthal

      “In a sense, The Time of The Doves is the story of most Spaniards during the 1930s and 1940s. But more profoundly, it explores what it feels like to be an ordinary woman in a Mediterranean country. Rodoreda uses a stream-of-consciousness technique to place us directly inside Natalia’s sensibility, yet her technique is so subtle that we are aware only of the flow of Natalia’s feelings. The author’s literary skill never draws attention to itself. Instead, the heroine’s mind plays obsessively over certain images, returning to them again and again until they become protagonists in her agony. Painfully sensitive but unable to objectify what she feels, Natalia is choked rather than educated by her experiences. A victim of history, she nonetheless lacks any historical sense.”


      “For writers like Rodoreda, who did not reestablish her residence in Spain until 1979, the fate of Catalan was a matter of artistic survival. A writer’s native language is normally his or her only medium of expression. If a language dies or is killed, then the writer also dies. Thus, as with many Catalan authors, [Rodoreda’s] personal story is of a kind of death followed by a recent and partial rebirth.”

  22. Ryan Call

      i suggest it because i saw you have nightwood on there and, while maybe 30yrs separate the two books, i have them linked in my mind because of how they both arrive at this one animalistic event/act at the end that is sort of terrifying.

  23. Lizi

      whoopsies, i got carried away …

  24. ryder collins

      geek love has that effect…

  25. Kyle Minor

      No, you didn’t. Part of the point of lists like these is to start a conversation. I remember showing Donald Barthelme’s list to someone, and they’d be like: This one, not that one. One book leads to another, and one list leads to another. I should’ve put Stein and Lispector on this list, at least. My favorite Kathy Acker is Kathy Goes to Haiti, which represents a variety of writing (the sexually frank faux naive travel story) that I don’t have represented here.

  26. Kyle Minor

      I’ll look for it. I’m not sure I’ve read any novels translated from Catalan before.

  27. Richard

      Haunted Houses — Lynne Tillman

  28. Guest

      Paul Eggers! aka: the most positive and encouraging professor a budding* writer could hope for. I’ve read some of The Departure Lounge but not HTWF, will get on it during this whole reading-my-brains-out deal.

      *cliched, but appropriate: “aspiring” or “young” don’t seem to necessarily fit. Anyone who writes is a writer, so the only way to be an aspiring writer is to not write at all, so of course Paul couldn’t offer any feedback to this person, and he workshops all ages, so “young writer” is too exclusive. I don’t know why I feel it necessary to justify my word choice here. Insecurity? Moving on.

  29. guest

      i’m right in the middle of The Children’s Hospital. it’s not very good.

  30. MM

      this makes me cry,
      bad cry, not the fireworks kind,
      I need speed-reading boot-camp.

  31. Kyle Minor

      Nope, it’s good news. I wish I could read all the good books for the first time again. The second time isn’t as good as the rush and surprise of the first time. And no need to speed read. Take your time and enjoy the books. They aren’t going anywhere. You’ve got time.

  32. C. Mittens

      Djuna Barens, Virginia Woolf, Clarice Lispector (already suggested), Renata Adler, Emma Kay, Pamela Lu, Lyn Hejinian, George Eliot, also dude writers not represented: Flaubert, and I read your defense of not including Joyce, but then, three books by Alice Munro? I mean, there are lots of books I’ll be happy never to read again, I’m not sure that’s the point, right?

      (on looking over the list, I see you have Virginia Woolf on there, but her name is spelled wrong)

  33. Kyle Minor

      Thx for noticing. I’ll fix.

  34. Kyle Minor

      As for giving a defense or whatever, the list isn’t comprehensive, and it’s heavy on 20th century stuff to be sure. It’s not a “best of _____” or a declaration of a canon or any such thing. It’s just a reading list for my students, who are aspiring writers who need to start reading a lot of contemporary fiction, and it’s salted with my own likes and dislikes as these kinds of lists will be, although I did try to make it aesthetically and formally diverse as much as possible. I’m glad you’ve offered some more good books — that’s part of the point, to get the people who read the list to use it as a jumping-off point for further reading.

  35. C. Mittens

      Also, I, I meant Djuna Barnes, and see that Nightwood’s on your list (sorry, this list is long!) And my last point about Joyce was that I think Dubliners, especially, and Ulysses, are definitely worth reading, and are far more important than reading three books (if any) by Munro. But, that’s just personal opinion. I think this list is ambitious, and I doubt you seriously believe your students will take this list and read all of these books, so I get your strategy, but it feels so prescriptive in the same way most canons are. I hope your students use this list as a jumping off point to form their own lists. I love to suggest books for my students, and obviously you have to start somewhere, but it seems weird to me to dump this on undergrads, especially suggesting not only 2666, The Recognitions, and Mason & Dixon, but also The Man Without Qualities? Seriously? This list would just discourage me.

  36. Kyle Minor

      I hope they’ll take it as a challenge and read as many of the books as they can find and find the whole experience to be deeply pleasurable, as I did when I worked through similar lists before I had read very much at all.

      As far as being canonishly prescriptive goes (I assume you’re talking aesthetically here), what’s so prescriptive about a jumping-off point that includes Alice Munro alongside Roberto Bolano, Diane Williams alongside Stephen King, Tolstoy alongside Angela Carter, J F Powers alongside Brian Evenson, Louise Erdrich, Shusaku Endo, and James Ellroy? I think it’s rightly broad and rightly open, and the books you suggested would be at home in it as well.

      I think offering undergraduates an expansive reading list is a welcome alternative to reading the five novels and ten stories their instructor offers and calling it a semester.

  37. Kane

      C. Mittens wrote: “I love to suggest books for my students, and obviously you have to start somewhere, but it seems weird to me to dump this on undergrads, especially suggesting not only 2666, The Recognitions, and Mason & Dixon, but also The Man Without Qualities?”

      That’s sort of like saying, “It’s weird to ask my pre-med students to memorize that big bad anatomy book. All those bones in the fingers? The whole circulatory system? And you want them to learn all those diseases on top of that? Why not just introduce them to the common cold, the two bones of the arm, and a ruptured spleen. That really intense work in the medical discipline might just discourage them.”

      Come on. Being a writer is hard. Reading fortifies the writer. Don’t cop out on your students Mittens. Treat them like they really could be writers. They’re not children.

  38. MM

      yeah but you gotta get safeguards so that the lazy students don’t just sift and pluck the easy poppy stuff which you’ve intended as possibility-contrasts. It might be nice to see suggested pairings. A good healthy easy salad aint anything unless it has the right accompaniment.

  39. MM

      thank you for being positive and encouraging, but i writhe in jealousy at the people who BLOG, WRITE, READ, TEACH, EDIT, SURF/SCHMOOZE (and probably have decent social lives too), and aren’t insane from such fullness. bravo, but i keep thinking i should pull a Dahlberg hiatus and hunker down and read, cutting out all the other crap since I’m so slow. (hey where’s he? both “because i was flesh” and “the confessions” are what spurred me to take up the pen.)

  40. Kyle Minor

      Lazy students won’t become writers anyway, so the purpose of the list won’t be exploited anyway. When I offer a supplementary reading list after a semester of study, I see it as a goodwill offering. You can do with it what you will, for your own purposes, or do nothing at all. The teacher’s job isn’t to be a traffic cop. It’s to suggest the breadth of possibility available to a person willing to give their working life to making literature.

  41. Kyle Minor

      Paul Eggers is a writer not many people have read. His story collections are from tiny university presses (SMU Press and OSU Press), and his lone novel, Saviors, went quickly to remainders. I’m a fan, anyway.

  42. stephen

      Finnegans Wake.


  43. Christopher Higgs

      I always love your lists, Kyle. Honored to be included in this one.

      You got my curiosity peaked in a few of the entries, I wonder if you might elaborate on a couple of them? Specifically, I was wondering:

      Why Beckett’s “The Lost Ones,” above any other of his work?

      What do you mean when you say “about three weeks in Mishima”?

      Of all the possible Pynchon, how come Mason/Dixon?

      How come not the new novel by Christine Schutt?

      ps – so glad to see Baker’s Mezzanine up there…I just finished a pretty dizzying essay in which I used that book as a case study for the application of a Deleuzian reconceptualization of the everyday (as my attempt to make an intervention in the current critical discourse surrounding everyday life studies).

  44. Kyle Minor

      Also, if by easy poppy stuff you mean the Stephen King or Nick Hornby, I wouldn’t mind if my students wrote stuff like that, especially if they did it as well as Stephen King or Nick Hornby do it at their best. It’s not easy to write in a way that makes it look easy. Like Zadie Smith says, literature is a big tent. There’s room on my shelves for Thomas Pynchon and Grace Krilanovich and Chuck Palahniuk and Toni Morrison and Barry Hannah and Philip K. Dick alike. My experience as a reader is broadened by reading different kinds of books, and I’m glad there are good writers working in all kinds of different modes. My students don’t have to become the kind of writer I am or the kind of writer I like best. Their job is to push out into the thing that makes their own hearts beat, and my job is to help them be better at the thing that makes their own hearts beat.

  45. stephen

      it’s Virginia Woolf, not Wolff

      I would recommend these ones from your list:
      Achebe, Baker, Djuna Barnes, Beckett, Bernhard, Bolano, Chekhov, Cortazar, Lydia Davis, Ellison, Faulkner, Ford Madox Ford, Hamsun, Hemingway, Kafka, Lin, Mishima, Moore, Munro, Nabokov, Salinger, Wallace, and Woolf.

  46. Kyle Minor

      Hi Chris,

      Oh, you know, the exigencies of arbitrariness that attach to the act of making a list like this for people you care about, and not worrying about what you’re supposed to tell them, because you can be open about it, like you would among the friends with whom you can argue and still be okay about it later.

      I think Beckett’s best work is for the stage. My favorite prose of his is The Lost Ones, is why. (If you read The Lost Ones alongside Blake Butler’s Ever, that’s an interesting experience in Funhouse Mirroring. Blake, have you ever read that book?)

      That’s the rationale behind a lot of the choices of this versus that book for a particular author — I liked it better, idiosyncratically probably. My favorite Christine Schutt book is Nightwork.

      Re: Mishima, I think reading one Mishima book doesn’t get the job done. You’ve got to immerse yourself in Mishima and in the cultural context of Mishima to understand why it’s good in all the ways it’s good. (Or maybe good isn’t the right word. Mishima disturbs me greatly.) I was introduced to him through Paul Schrader’s movie, which I didn’t understand at all. I enjoy reading Mishima a lot more now that I have a better understanding of the Japan he was writing about and against and within. John Nathan’s biography helped, as did some books about postwar Japan. I think you could read Kenzaburo Oe or Yasunari Kawabata or, later, Haruki Murakami or Hiromi Ito and have a thoroughly satisfactory experience as a reader without having foreknowledge of the cultural context. But Mishima has a different relationship with the reader than any of those writers.

  47. Kyle Minor

      Does that mean you’ve read all the other ones and cannot offer your endorsement?

  48. C. Mittens

      Thanks for the tip, Kane.

      Have you read Man Without Qualities, Mason and Dixon, The Recognitions, and 2666? I have, and while Man Without Qualities might be interesting to some, I would not put it on a recommended reading list for undergraduates because very, very, very few of them would get anything out of it until much later in their writing lives. If I had a student I thought might dig it, I would certainly recommend it to him or her.

      My problem isn’t with showing students how much work writing is, and while I get where you’re coming from in suggesting I treat my students like children, consider part of treating them as if they could be writers is actually treating them like adults – I’m not saying it couldn’t work to hand them a list like this, but I also expect them to be intellectually curious readers who are capable of forming their own reading lists. I haven’t seen Kyle teaching, so maybe what I’m talking about has nothing to do with how he uses the list. Starting points are great.

      Kane, you think it’s a cop out, but all I’m talking about is information overload. This list is about 100 texts longer than my PhD reading list, which I took maybe 14 months to read, and that was almost all I did for those 14 months. Yes, pushing undergrads to read is important; I’m just questioning whether this kind of list might be the equivalent of, to use your analogy, not memorizing the bones in the fingers, but dumping every medical school text on a second year pre-med student. Maybe that’s the kind of touch-love these young Mailers need, but I also wonder if sucking the fun out of creative writing from the get go is the way to go. “Here, kid, read this 2000 page slog by Musil. Then we’ll talk about your short story.”

      I think a lot of the usefulness of such a list in how it’s presented — I think Kyle makes a good point in pointing out the aesthetic diversity of the texts on the list. I’m wondering if volume is the message to give undergrads, that they need to read ‘a whole lot’ versus learning to be careful, close readers and how to find authors that are useful to them. I’m not saying I’m right, just thinking about it.

  49. C. Mittens

      Yeah, this makes sense to me.

  50. stephen


  51. Reading: Generosity | Mark Athitakis’ American Fiction Notes

      […] Minor‘s suggested reading list for a spring fiction workshop would fill a couple of bookshelves and crush the soul of a young MFA […]

  52. Christopher Higgs

      Yeah, yeah, totally.

      I haven’t read that Beckett is why I asked, just wondered what about it specifically you thought was maybe more rewarding for a student than say Godot or Happy Days or something. I just went and looked up how to get it and it looks like it’s included in the Complete Shorter Prose, so I’m gonna check it out soon.

      Likewise, I haven’t read Mason/Dixon. It’s one I know I’d probably love, but haven’t ever gotten around to it. Was wondering if you thought it had certain qualities lacking in other of Pynchon’s work, or maybe it stands out b/c of its relationship with history? At any rate, I love seeing it here b/c it always seems like that’s one of the ones (Vineland being the other) that many people seem to downplay in the Pynchon catalog. For what it’s worth, I enjoyed the hell out of Vineland and can’t understand the cold reception it seems to have received.

      Also glad to see the absence of White Noise. I get tired of hearing people toot trumpets for that one. Delillo in general doesn’t excite me. I did pick up his sci-fi book Ratner’s Star or whatever, maybe I’ll give that a go.

      I’m woefully ignorant when it comes to Asian literature. Aside from Murakami, I don’t think I could hold an interesting conversation, should the topic ever arise.

      I said before I always love your lists, and one of the reasons is because you always seem to strive for breadth, for inclusion, for opening the range, for expanding the palate. Any list that has both Updike and Danieleswki on it is obviously trying to offer a fair and informed survey of the field. I like that. It’s one of the strengths about you I admire. My vision, on the other hand, has been for a long time pretty myopic. In part, I think that’s because I’ve often felt like a cornered animal being scolded by a swarm of voices surrounding me going “this is story! this is what you must have! this is what you must do! this is the right way to write! write for the woman on the bus! ;) etc.” Exiting the creative writing field and entering the literature field has given me some peace, has allowed me to breathe easier and get some perspective. I’m starting to relax, I think! I hope! Which is all to say: internet high five on this list, man. I copy and pasted that shit into my personal journal and will borrow from it liberally come time for me to compose my qualifying exam list.

  53. JakeLevineSpork

      it’s so good. the birdhouse! covered in shit. amazing. stream of consciousness crazy amazing. amazing amazing.

  54. Harry Giles

      I am not sure what the purpose of this list is.

      It seems kinda dumb.


  55. H. Upmann

      Don’t forget, Guy Davenport: The Jules Verne Steam Balloon and Da Vinci’s Bicycle

  56. Owen Kaelin

      Kyle, you know… I like you, but… I think you can find at least 3 authors in there that I would tar and feather you over. One of them I’ve commented on at least twice. …But since there’re so many other cool books on there, I more than forgive you. (And, no… this doesn’t include Franzen, nor Tao Lin . . . neither of whom I have anything against (aside from Franzen’s ludicrous handwringing).)

      However, you might also consider:

      Oisín Curran’s Mopus
      Jane Unrue’s Atlassed
      Andrei Bely’s Petersburg
      Wolfgang Borchert’s The Man Outside
      Witold Gombrowicz’s Cosmos
      B.S. Johnson’s Albert Angelo

  57. Owen Kaelin

      A broad sampling?

      As I’ve always said: a teacher of literature shouldn’t be teaching only what they like, but rather a broad range of material that they think is emblematic of certain approaches… so as to give the students a better idea of the variety of material that’s out there for them to read. –And for the writers among them: the variety of voices they might employ or borrow from.

  58. keedee

      This list is Barth-less. Is it personal?

  59. jesusangelgarcia

      Some favorite women: Lindsay Hunter. All of Jeanette Winterson’s novels before The Powerbook. Early A.M. Homes.

      Powerful list. I esp. like seeing the younger generation like Butler, Gray, Chinquee, Higgs, Lavender-Smith among the old-schoolers.

      Funny, out of all the Beckett you chose The Lost Ones. Can’t remember how many times I had to read that before I could really see what the hell was going on! Brain-tweakage. I’ve never been the same.

      To be fair, if you’re including DFW (and you must), I’d argue that you also have to include Richard Powers (Prisoner’s Dilemma, Gain, Galatea 2.2). And I don’t think it’s fair to the children — the chillllldren… — to leave out classics by Miller (Tropic of Capricorn) and Kerouac (On the Road, Dharma Bums) both of which changed the rules of the game, no? And William Burroughs. I’ll bet you Blake Butler would say his own writing/vision would be very different if he’d never found Burroughs.

      That said, this is a massive list. Well done. As a student, I probably would’ve freaked. When I was 18/19, I’d read a lot more poetry than fiction.

  60. jesusangelgarcia

      ha! definitely INFLICT.

  61. Osmon Steele

      The Man Who Loved Children?

  62. Richard Thomas

      Wow. This is a fantastic list.

      And this comment really speaks to me:

      “There’s room on my shelves for Thomas Pynchon and Grace Krilanovich and Chuck Palahniuk and Toni Morrison and Barry Hannah and Philip K. Dick alike.”

      Putting King on there, I was pleasantly surprised. I’ve been a long time fan. The Stand and The Shining are two of my favorites, I’d also at It and The Long Walk (as Richard Bachman). No Peter Straub? I’d have thought one at least.

      Some others I’d add:

      Choke by Chuck Palahniuk
      Survivor by Chuck Palahniuk
      The Fighter by Craig Davidson
      All the Beautiful Sinners by Stephen Graham Jones
      The Physics of Imaginary Objects by Tina May Hall
      The Wilding by Benjamin Percy
      Girl Trouble by Holly Goddard Jones
      Daddy’s by Lindsay Hunter

      I’m going to cut and paste your list for sure. Wow. Great job.

  63. Matthew Simmons


      I insist that you turn on your webcam and read this entire list to us, starting January 1st. You can have people spell you now and then if needs be. I will fly out to wherever you are in, say, mid-June, and take over for a week.

  64. Matthew Simmons


      So, were you born like this, or would you say nurture is to blame?

  65. Ryan Call

      its really a beautiful book; hope you like.

  66. c2k

      Of Beckett’s stuff, why The Lost Ones? Just curious.

  67. Blake Butler

      it’s been a long time since i read the Lost Ones, i’ll have to go back and reread. i’ve been meaning to go through all his drama again. thanks for all this kyle…

      i wanted to ask for Saunders, why Reign of Phil? that surprised me, as it is the only one of his I can’t stand. though maybe that’s a good reason for it be the one.

  68. c2k

      Never mind. I see this is addressed above.

  69. Laura

      Oh, Kyle, you have some of my favorite books on here—The Quick & the Dead, The Lover, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, Jesus’ Son. Wish I could read those all for the first time again. Lucky students.

      Also, I was interested in your Bernhard choice–why Correction?

  70. c2k

      Have you read Beckett’s First Love? Prose (novella/short story) but was also staged a few years ago in NY with Ralph Fiennes.

  71. c2k

      Have you read Beckett’s First Love? Prose (novella/short story) but was also staged a few years ago in NY with Ralph Fiennes.

  72. miette


      The Mount – Carol Emshwiller
      Seven Gothic Tales – Isak Dinesen
      Storytown – Susan Daitch
      Gilead – Marilynne Robinson
      The Black Prince – Iris Murdoch
      Sleep Has His House – Anna Kavan

      (but agreed, wicked list… really all-encompassing short fiction selection, bravo!)

  73. H. Upmann

      Don’t forget, Guy Davenport: The Jules Verne Steam Balloon and Da Vinci’s Bicycle

  74. Mary Miller

      I would also like to see more women on this list. Someone mentioned Jean Rhys; her four early novels are excellent.

  75. stephen

      i like “first love” a lot and prefer Beckett’s novels and stories to his plays

  76. mimi

      do not despair
      just think of the (comparable) awesome science-y list you most likely could compose that is thrilling to ‘know’ and yet would barely ‘scratch the surface’ so to speak
      faster is not necessarily better and sometimes too full doesn’t feel good

  77. mimi

      huh, that reply was for MM, above
      will it take its rightly place in thread-dom?
      thought i did it right, but guess not
      my bad

  78. Kyle Minor

      I like Phil. It’s probably my favorite book in which all the characters are animate inanimate objects. Saunders’s usual trick it to take the world and turn it about five degrees off its axis. My favorite stories of his are the ones where he turns it more than five degrees. “Sea Oak,” for example. In Phil, he just goes to a different world to talk about this world.

      I like Frip, too.

  79. Kyle Minor

      Yes. John Barth killed my first three children.

  80. Kyle Minor

      Because I liked reading it.

  81. Kyle Minor

      Big World will be on Version 2.0 of the list.

  82. Matthew Simmons


      I insist that you turn on your webcam and read this entire list to us, starting January 1st. You can have people spell you now and then if needs be. I will fly out to wherever you are in, say, mid-June, and take over for a week.

  83. Matthew Simmons


      So, were you born like this, or would you say nurture is to blame?

  84. Roxane

      So you were responding in kind?

  85. Kyle Minor

      I’m retired (doctor’s orders) from reading whole books on the Internet, as of last Sunday.

  86. Laura

      Well, that’s as good a reason as any. I love Bernhard–especially The Loser–but haven’t read Correction. Will add to my own list.

  87. Matthew Simmons

      Unacceptable! The list exists! The reading must follow!

  88. letters journal

      I think recommended reading lists this long are sort of useless, even if the books are good. Lists are more powerful when they’re shorter. I would cut the list down to 1/3 or even 1/4 of its current size and just tell people to read the best of it.

  89. letters journal

      I think my list would look like this:

      Wittgenstein’s Mistress by David Markson
      Q by Luther Blissett
      2666 and Distant Star by Roberto Bolano
      Oblivion by David Foster Wallace
      To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
      V. by Thomas Pynchon
      every single book by Imre Kertesz
      short stories by Kafka
      Typee by Herman Melville
      The Chelsea Whistle by Michelle Tea
      Night’s Lies by Gesualdo Bufalino
      Sleepless Nights by Elizabeth Hardwick
      Motorman by David Ohle
      The Invention of Morel by Aldopho Bioy-Casares
      Cassandra at the Wedding by Dorothy Baker
      The World and Other Places by Jeanette Winterson

  90. Kyle Minor

      I think a shorter list would be a stronger way to wield power. I could be very focused on the books that perpetuate my favored aesthetic, and exclude the books that might lead my students into directions I don’t most strongly endorse. Then I could take my best shot at controlling the parameters of their growth as writers, and thereby have a better chance at being the god of their artistic futures, right?

      The purpose of a lengthy list isn’t to wield power. The purpose is to empower those who receive it, who might do with it as they will, in the direction of their own purposes, their own ends. They can decide what’s the best of it, and, even better for their development as self-sufficient artists, they can decide what from the list is worthy of rejection, and in experiencing firsthand the thing that turns them off aesthetically or otherwise, they can refine their idea of what they want their own work to become. That’s a useful way to use a long list, too.

  91. Kyle Minor

      That’s a pretty good list if you want to communicate to your students that the only worthwhile literary pursuit is the inheritance of modernism. I think that’s one worthwhile strain, but not the only one. (See full response below.)

  92. Lincoln Michel

      Good list!

      As far as more women writers I’m strongly seconding

      Housekeeping by Robinson.

      Obviously you have a bunch of great ones like Diane Williams and Lydia Davis. Another recommendation though:

      The Autobiography of Red – Anne Carson

  93. letters journal

      Well, I think a list can be framed in a lot of ways. The short list I gave could be read in one year and is obviously incomplete. Its shortness signifies it is limited and biased (all lists are limited and biased), and I would just say that straight up – ‘these are books I think are important, that helped me understand writing… they cover a lot of ground, but they are obviously limited by my personal tastes and so on. You should be reading at least 50 books a year, and you should read as diverse a pool of books as possible.’

      On the other hand, I would be tempted to just tell my students to read through all of the surviving Ancient Greek tragedies out loud with their friends. I think I’ll do that next year.

  94. Richard Thomas

      I thought that the minute I saw Mary post.

  95. NLY

      Given the particular biases and idiosyncrasies of this list, I would say the absence I feel most immediately compelled to comment on would be Miss Lonelyhearts.
      The more obvious absences already speak for themselves.

  96. Okla_elliott

      Nora Okja Keller’s FOX GIRL is set in South Korea and perfectly genius until the abrupt ending.

  97. Michael Copperman

      That is pretty idiosyncratic. Why just “Gusev,” from Chekhov– his collected should be a must, if only in the sense that literary American short fiction was and is deeply influenced by his work. I agree with those who wonder about that guy James Joyce.

      Why Bernard Malamud’s novels? Nothing against The Natural or The Assistant, but his master was really of the short form. “Idiot’s First,” may be my favorite story.

      And along those same lines, some nitpicking: Fitzgerald’s stories (I can’t say I think they’re worth reading, though Gatsby is a masterpiece)? Why not Murakami’s “After the Quake”? Not “The Things They Carried?”

      Some collections of short stories by contemporary women writers that I love: Amy Hempel’s “Reasons to Live,” and Ann Beattie’s “The Burning House.” Have you read Ehud Havazelet’s novel “Bearing the Body?” It’s brilliant. And there’s something that’s just pleasurable about David James Duncan’s “The Brother’s K.”

      Thanks for the list, Kyle. Really interesting.

  98. Kyle Minor

      Good choices, Rebecca.

  99. stephen

      Woolf wrote a nice essay about “Gusev”… anyone else “pissed” that Chekhov has been co-opted by boring-ass mainstream “Literary Fiction” writers? i would have read him sooner if i hadn’t had that impression. I’m working my way through a collection of his stories and lots of them are really playful and fun and almost like jokes, which i like a lot… having read more of his stories, i understand why Salinger held him in such high esteem

  100. deadgod

      Finnegans Wake, yes. But Dubliners?? – an easy read, and great stories. (‘Too’ commonly taught? – but, if so, that’d be true of many titles in Kyle’s list and on this thread.)

      To plunge into great/important/illuminating writing, you wouldn’t have to read all of Ulysses – you could pick sections that are less of a chore and (for the teacher, anyway) more of a pleasure to read: for example, the fourth (Calypso; Bloom’s day begins) and the ninth (Scylla and Charybdis; Stephen in the library) sections.

  101. Kyle Minor

      I read all of Chekhov’s stories available in English (there’s a 13 volume Ecco set of Constance Garnett’s translations) while editing a volume of Chekhov’s lesser-known (and less ostensibly “Chekhovian”) stories with Okla Elliott for New American Press a few years ago. “Gusev” is a good place to start. Also: “The Murder,” “The Black Monk,” “The Two Volodyas,” and “Misery.”

  102. keedee

      Someday they’ll dredge that salt marsh behind his house.

  103. deadgod

      Consider including Aristophanes!

  104. Kyle Minor

      There’s really no argument to put forth against Dubliners except I’m personally tired of it, and I suspect anybody who takes a class in modernism has had their fill of Joyce. Ditto Chekhov, of course.

      I had an old teacher who asked a question worth considering: What would’ve happened to contemporary literary fiction as a movement if instead of embracing Chekhov and Joyce, somebody had held high Gogol or Turgenev or de Maupassant.

      The reason Joyce and Chekhov seem like an inevitability is because of the throng of imitators they inspired, many of whom are on this list. There is a degree to which this seeming inevitability might be seen not to have been inevitable, just as nothing about literary fashion is ever inevitable. It is a consequence of how things are received in particular places and times. One reason this list is so big and broad is that it is informed by the idea, however naive, that those who shape the future idea of inevitability, through their work as artists and critics, might have a very broad understanding of the range of aesthetic possibilities from which writers might draw. Toward those ends, maybe I hope the limiting of Chekhov and Joyce is a bit of a corrective. But not a huge corrective, since here we have William Trevor and Alice Munro and so on, the heirs of their inheritance.

      At the end of the exercise, of course, we get to quibble all day about what goes in and what doesn’t, and that’s fine. The natural response to any list is to make your own list if you have any investment in the matter at all. A list for everyone, I’d say.

  105. Kyle Minor

      “their heirs” or “their inheritors,” I should say. I hate it that you can’t edit these comments after you hit the post button.

  106. Scott Riley Irvine

      Erase “some of Virginia Woolf” and replace it with The Waves.

  107. stephen

      i love that book. that’s my favorite by her, i think.

  108. deadgod

      A long list is also residue of a living example – namely, that reading (for some) isn’t something done on assignment, but rather, is done in the course of making one’s life ‘better’, and the fact that some assignments in life are or can be also a pleasure and a privilege, because the activity is already in those categories, is a fact of “gravy”.

      Haven’t most teachers had this conversation with students?:

      -You read a lot of books.
      -Well, you’ve read a book that you wanted to read, that you loved reading, in a week, right?
      -Ok, if you read a book a week for a decade, that’s 500 books. I’m 25/40/65; I’ve read n-1000 books. And there’s plenty of people who read way more than I do. If you really liked than one book, I guarantee there’s similar pleasure in thousands of others. If it’s your ambition, you could end up reading circles around me – whatever – ; but, definitely, there’s lots to read for anyone who digs doing it.
      -Oh . . .

  109. Kyle Minor

      Imagine how pissed everyone will be when we get to the old Italians and I pick Cecco Angiolieri instead of Dante.

  110. deadgod

      Damn right. That you’ve even mentioned the possibility is as bad as blaming the Other.

  111. Michael Copperman

      Chekhov claimed his favorite story was a story called “The Student,” which does appear in his selected (hey Kyle, that book of lesser-known sounds interesting), that is about immanence (and how the fuck do you define immanence? I like to say, ‘in absence, imminence’). Near the end of the story, the young, naive, wrong-headed clerical student, who really grasps nothing in the moment, nonetheless grasps everything simultaneously:

      “The past,” he thought, “is linked with the present by an unbroken chain of events flowing one out of another.” And it seemed to him that he had just seen both ends of that chain; that when he touched one end the other quivered.

      Now that’s a beautiful couple lines.

      Early on, he used to do short comic portraits, I think, for papers (right Kyle?). The term ‘Chekhovian’ gets used so commonly and broadly that it’s become interchangeable with ‘classical’ and ‘really good.’

      ‘Mainstream’, ‘boring-ass’, or ‘literary’, he was a genius.

  112. Kyle Minor

      All right. I’ll pick them both.

  113. Neil Griffin

      Really great list. I think Javier Marias should be somewhere here, but how do you say ‘nitpicky’ in spanish.

  114. deadgod

      Well, in the realm of ‘short stories’, Gogol and Maupassant are held pretty high. What do they do, as a matter of craft, that Chekhov and Joyce don’t do as well or better? ( – other than being “Gogol” and “Maupassant”, of course.)

      In the cases of Chekhov and Joyce, I think the search engine that we call ‘canon formation’ is working well – though, of course, of course: maybe my taste in this regard is a ratification of the fragrance of groupthink farts. There’s a few on your list and the thread that I’m much less – to not at all – enthusiastic about.

      Sure, everyone gets tired of things – that’s one function of a long list, eh?: ‘I don’t want to read this with you, because I’m sick of it, but you should get yourself exposed to it, because it’s “great”.’

      I don’t think “inevitability” needs to be part of a rationalization: ‘it’s objectively good’ and so on. I don’t think that, in bourgeois culture, anyway, a canon is formed top-down; they’re formed middle-down and -up, by the succession of generations of parents, educators, writers themselves (in the case of literature), and so on. Canons are also formed laterally: they compete with counter-canons on many grounds, like ‘who’s being irrationally excluded?’, ‘what is quality?’, and, especially (to me) the meta-selector ‘what is literature for?’

      The decisions of what’s in and what’s out are received and filtered granularly, that is, by individuals (like you, and everyone on this thread) who can fit ‘in’ or, with similar energy, patience, and institutional savvy, fit ‘somewhat out’. Looking at something like 400 years of “Donne”, there’s flow, resistance, eddying, reversal of current, and micro-currents in every direction most of the time.

      That something goes “personally” along or against one’s grain: well, that just has to be one of the ‘search’ criteria. You’ve said you’re tired of X and Y; there’s no argument against that (because it’s not really an argument itself), but there’s no reason – indeed, no way – to hold one Perfesser or Critick responsible for “Joyce” or “Chekhov”.

      I might be wrong, but I sense a bit of defensiveness in some of your responses on the thread. You’ve got all this heartloveglow reaction, and people can’t resist also adding and quarreling. Except for a couple of corn-in-the-shit comments, I don’t see any personal attacks. You might feel lousy about being corrected, but what the hell.


      [I thought that, if one logged in, one could “edit” comments that one had posted while logged in. ??]

  115. Rebecca Loudon

      Excellent list. It makes me want to have more money. I would add Kesey’s Sometimes A Great Notion, Marguerite Duras’ Ravishing of Lol Stein and Jelinek’s The Piano Teacher. And of course, the other 45 billion books I know and love. Glad to see Rick Bass on your list. One of my favorites.

  116. John Minichillo

      You can edit. It’s one of the Discus features.

      Probably nitpicking but I see Maupassant + Chekhov = Hemingway. Probably not my idea but something I picked up along the way. And that’s Paris + The Garnett translations. And the translations brought Gogol, Turgenev, Dostoyevsky – a succession, a royal line that would influence in time. Joyce because he was the guy the Moderns looked up to, revered, at least partly because they’d been reading his books, passing them around, years before they were published, so he had built-in mystique. Hemingway had a longer broader influence, but no one thought of him as the genius in the room. He’d (with help) just worked out a purist zero-degree camera-lens approach.

      I guess in a list I’d put in the innovative

  117. Kyle Minor

      Good reply, deadgod. It’s true — like many of the commenters on this thread, I’m ready to come out swinging over books I like. That’s a good thing, I think.

  118. John Minichillo

      Sorry typing on the phone and sometimes I Lise the cursor.

      Innovators…not that you haven’t, but I like the idea of the connections being present. So maybe Joseph Conrad too. As an undergrad, “heart of darkness” was easily the story I was made to read the most. But I didn’t really get a sense of what Conrad was doing stylistically until I was much older v

  119. Kyle Minor

      I think NewspaperReportingHabitsofMindandWriting + KickingItWithGertrudeStein + FeelingInferiortoFitzgerald + OvercompensationforMomDressingMeLikeaGirl = Hemingway.

  120. Kyle Minor

      To be more serious, the thing that distinguished the prose style of Hemingway is the fourth grade vocabulary and the objective point of view, right? He did something sophisticated (at least at the beginning) with those two elements and created one end (the minimal end) of the dominant 20th c. spectrum of prose styles (with Woolf and Faulkner at the other end.) Fitzgerald maybe in the middle somewhere, and Stein out in space somewhere.

      If you tried to talk inheritors, HTMLGIANT-crowd-wise, Tao Lin = Hemingway (probably the first and last time anyone will say this, right?), Joshua Cohen = Faulkner, Justin Taylor = Fitzgerald, Blake Butler = Stein.

      Don’t take this too seriously. It’s late, and I’m funning.

  121. jesusangelgarcia

      Thanks for the hints into Ulysses, deadgod. Maybe someday I’ll crack it. I’m a huge fan of Beckett and Richard Powers and John Hawkes and some other so-called difficult lit, but I’ve never been able to get into Joyce.

  122. reynard seifert

      i like i, etc too, the first page is still the best i think

  123. John Minichillo

      The students will have no idea Hemingway is a punching bag. As an undergrad the canon I was introduced to was sweeping, historical, and from a critic’s perspective.

      The “writer’s canon” I didn’t get exposed to until later. At the same time I was given the reformed canon, with added perspectives. I never got a list until the PhD and that list was intentionally kitchen sink.

      So I think the students will appreciate it, though there’s something to be said for self-discovery. The way book leads to book.

      They might dig a democratic approach – if your list was a wiki and you let them add to it.

  124. Kyle Minor

      Good choices, Rebecca.

  125. Kyle Minor


  126. Kyle Minor

      Anne Carson is a writer I need to spend more time reading, says everyone. I’ll get on it right away.

  127. John Minichillo

      “misery” is sometimes called “heartache” right? Feel really close to that one, it could appear today and still feel contemporary. I’ve stolen that ending. I’m not ashamed to admit it.

  128. Scott Riley Irvine


  129. NLY

      Deadgod already beat me to the punch on the obvious point, here, being: the more probable reason Chekhov and Joyce are canon-centering figures, today, is that they write the pants off of Gogol, Turgenev, and Maupassant.

      But mostly I just wanted to point out that, while Chekhov has been fairly universally renowned since his initial burst of popularity during his own lifetime, Joyce fought the underdog struggle to get where he is today. We take it for granted, but Joyce wasn’t even a bad name in literary circles: for a good while, he didn’t even have a name. Part of it has to do with the obscenity charges, part of it with the nature of the work, and hell, an unseasonable portion has to do with Proust crowding him out in the intellectual scene for a steady, strange period of time.

      If Joyce’s reputation is in for a reality check, as some have suggested, it’s not because he’s had it easy.

  130. Dawn.

      I love how massive this list is. At first I felt bad that I’ve only read about 15-20 of the books listed here, but now I’m glad I haven’t. So much good reading is ahead of me. :)

  131. Dawn.

      P.S. A couple extra books by writers who are women:
      What the World Will Look Like When All the Water Leaves Us by Laura van der Berg
      Girl Trouble by Holly Goddard Jones (she was my CW professor in 2007 and she was fabulous)
      Jazz and The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
      Valencia and Rose of No Man’s Land by Michelle Tea

  132. Harry Giles

      Pretty much, yes.

      What, I am wondering, is the function of such a list? To me it represents an unscalable mountain, a heavy weight on my conscience — and, despite the author’s worthy attempt at making it a diverse and representative monolith, it still distorts the fabric of literature in the expected ways. Presented so bluntly, without context, it seems to say: “Read this, grasshopper, and then, and only then, can you call yourself a reader. Then maybe we can start on the writing part.” It celebrates the effort and struggle of reading, the sense of a lone reader disoriented by the seemingly infinite maze of twisty passage(s). It makes reading a challenge, insults any one reader’s achievement, encourages hubris rather than humility.

      Would it not be more useful, faced with a classroom of novice readers, to focus on the process of learning how to be a better reader, rather than presenting them with an unattainable end-point? Ask, what are you reading right now? Oh really? Then you might like this. Have you heard of this? Yes, she’s interesting, but I find that this presents a more interesting investigation of that. Oh, wow, then you must try out this. Do you know about this library’s search function? Do you know about this cleverly indexed database? How can I help you strengthen your reading? What are you interested in developing?

      Finally: any list is always more gross through its omissions than it is impressive through its inclusions.

      (I have a friend who refers to her bookshelf as her penis. And indeed so refers to all bookshelves. This seems pertinent.)

  133. NLY

      Perhaps, in your insistence on treating the list without a context, you’ve managed to assume it will have none in its distribution and implementing. Kyle has actually spoken at some length, in this very thread, as to how exactly he wishes to use this list, and how exactly he wishes his students to receive it, none of that having much to do with what you’ve said.

      Everybody here knows lists are fundamentally pointless, in the fullest sense of their intended function. I wouldn’t be surprised if no one in Kyle’s class read all of these books, and I don’t think he would be, either. That doesn’t mean, however, that they therefore have no function, and enforce no point: Lists offer options to people who are young, and who often have not made many inroads into literature, and who often think they have. In this sense, it is precisely about humility. A long list stresses diligence and follow through, while, at the same time, through the unrealistic and idealistic nature of the list, allowing them to not take it too seriously. There will probably be a student, fifteen years from now, in a bookshop, browsing, and he comes across a copy of Kafka’s diaries, and he’ll remember how ‘all of Kafka’ was on that list he was handed, and how he only read the short stories before moving on, and buys it on the spot. This will have been happening on and off throughout those fifteen years, in all probability, and will probably continue further onto the student’s life.

      Most importantly, they go a good way toward accomplishing every good teacher’s implicit goal: to make their students more like themselves. I doubt any actual teacher would go so far as to phrase it like that, but there’s a very real point where it is impossible to offer an ‘objective’ education, and you have to try and pass on what you’ve found that’s good in the world, and worth effort, where you’ve received the most benefit and how you got that benefit from them.
      If Kyle is a good teacher (and I’ve seen several encouraging signs to that point, at least), this list will function alongside the conversations you suggest he was going to be doing without. Suggestions, specific advice, this-book-is-perfect-for-you, and here’s-why-I’m-bored-with-Joyce are all things good teachers do, no matter how they happened to make a list out of their own ‘hubris’, or whatever you suggest was his motivation.

      The list will, in all probability, probably make those conversations work better.

  134. letters journal

      I love Michelle Tea, but I was disappointed by ‘Rose of No Man’s Land’. The ending didn’t really work for me.

  135. NLY

      To be perfectly fair, and turnabout is, in fact, fair, your comments seem inversely preoccupied with the relative status of the instructor in relation to the student. If you pay closer attention, I think you’ll find (unless I’m just terribly daft in these matters) that both of these aspects of status are chimeras. The only difference is that one of them actually has a practical nature to its existence, while the other one is a reading of an abuse of power into a dynamic which doesn’t necessarily contain it. Being a reader is a process, yes, and the nature of process includes backstory in its scope, but you are not always a reader, and you are not always a writer. You have to begin to be them, and to think like them, in the most general of ways, before you can be said to actually have launched into that process at all.
      The list, in a very practical, definable fashion, assists that process and its inception. It is not the only tool, nor is it even a primary one, but to dismiss it as a viable one strikes me as rather silly.

  136. jl schnabel

      The Children’s Hospital? Really?

  137. Harry Giles

      These are nice and interesting points. Nevertheless, this list, and many of the commenters, are preoccupied with the idea and status of “the reader” or “the writer”. We “make a reader” of ourselves; we treat students “like they could be writers”. In line with my objections to this list (to any list), I’d say reading and writing are processes we undergo, rather than “the reader” and “the writer” being a defined goal we aim for. (I am not an artist: art is something I do.)

  138. Garry Hiles

      No value judgments at all, in other words, and we all ride off into the sunset arm-in-arm, celebrating our equally accomplished stasis.

  139. Guest

      Very nice list. In workshop, Richard Bausch told us that we needed to absorb the work of at least six writers a year… and not one book either… but their “work.” Really get to know them. I’ve held onto that advice ever since, even though I’ve not always lived up to it. It’s great to see this list. Makes me want to create my own… hey… there’s an idea!

  140. aaron

      Ooh. I actually really like this idea: creating some kind of “recommended reading list” wiki with a class, with everyone having to find and add something. Hmm…

  141. aaron

      Purely out of curiosity, how or why do you think “Sea Oak” is tilted more than his usual 5 degrees?

  142. NLY

      To be perfectly fair, and turnabout is, in fact, fair, your comments seem inversely preoccupied with the relative status of the instructor in relation to the student. If you pay closer attention, I think you’ll find (unless I’m just terribly daft in these matters) that both of these aspects of status are chimeras. The only difference is that one of them actually has a practical nature to its existence, while the other one is a reading of an abuse of power into a dynamic which doesn’t necessarily contain it. Being a reader is a process, yes, and the nature of process includes backstory in its scope, but you are not always a reader, and you are not always a writer. You have to begin to be them, and to think like them, in the most general of ways, before you can be said to actually have launched into that process at all.
      The list, in a very practical, definable fashion, assists that process and its inception. It is not the only tool, nor is it even a primary one, but to dismiss it as a viable one strikes me as rather silly.

  143. Owen Kaelin

      Of course, if we had to answer, to its absurd end, for everything that came out of our mouths or keyboards, we’d really be in a pickle… .

  144. Owen Kaelin

      Hell, if he included Aristophanes he’d have to include the complete found and unfound works of Euripides, Socrates, Socrates’ son (forget his name), and several other minor playwrights of the time as well, as mentioned in Aristophanes’ plays… Aristophanes, as a satirist, leans an awful lot on other people.

      I say Aristophanes should never be read until all of the above works are found.

  145. NLY

      A conversation without value judgments only technically makes sense in a world without values; anything else, at the least, is very misleading. And a world without values (a world without values with stasis, what’s more) is probably the worst chimera yet.

      If you think people should be less Spartan, less rigid, less hierarchical, or even just nicer in their thinking about these matters, well, that’s one thing. I don’t know if that’s the same thing as a world without values or value judgments, though.
      And if it is, I need to be more careful in being nice to people.

  146. Harry Giles

      Remarkably enough, that is not what I said, and we’re far too early on in this particular philosophical disagreement to erect that particular straw man.

      Also, I used my name when making the original snide comment. If you’re going to be a daftie, you can at least own up to it.

  147. Harry Giles

      > The list, in a very practical, definable fashion,
      > assists that process and its inception. It is not
      > the only tool, nor is it even a primary one, but
      > to dismiss it as a viable one strikes me as rather silly.

      But in argument, hyperbolically attacking the worth of a list both allows one to make certain points and encourages people to say very worthwhile things like “It is not the only tool, nor is it even a primary one”, which hopefully everyone can agree on.

      Thanks for engaging.

  148. Harry Giles

      “I think a list can be framed in a lot of ways”


      I think what galled me about the original list was its lack of framing, which lends it an unwarranted comprehensive or canonical status. A well-framed list, a list which claims to *do* something, rather than to *be* something — now that I could get behind.

      Granted, Kyle has explicated what he expects the list to do in this thread somewhat.

  149. NLY

      Fair Warning: Sometimes I make jokes.

  150. NLY

      Oh, you weren’t replying to my comment, you were replying to Garry Hiles.
      We’ll let the warning stand, just in case.

  151. Harry Giles

      Yes, for all its design gracefulness, this system has a remarkably bad approach to comment hierarchy!

  152. Owen Kaelin

      There really ought to be an html function to engage smilies.

  153. More lists! « Olduvai Reads

      […] Kyle Minor’s Suggested Reading List for My Spring 2011 Fiction Workshop […]

  154. papercutfingers

      Hard Rain Falling haunts me … as to female writers:
      THREE Alice Munro but no Marilynne Robinson???? (I could do with zero Munro myself)
      Other women I would have loved to see –
      Dorothy Baker – Cassandra at the Wedding
      HILARY MANTEL and not necessarily the great big Henry VIII book that finally got her noticed but one of the early eerie novels, like Every Day is Mother’s Day … Eight Months on Ghazzah Street is extraordinary.
      At least one early Iris Murdoch novel (The Nice and the Good or Nuns and Soldiers or …)
      M.J. Hyland – This is How (I thought of the prison scenes in Hard Rain Falling while reading this)
      Lynn Freed – Curse of the Appropriate Man
      Amy Hempel. Donna Tartt. Sarah Waters. Miranda July.

      And where is Magnus Mills? (not a woman, I grant you :)

  155. amyhanridge

      Add Carol Shields and Laurie Colwin. And Kingsolver, esp. The Lacuna.

  156. Caron Gala

      No Joyce Carol Oates.

  157. Word Power

      Good job, and I know a finite list of must-reads is inherently impossible, but are you seriously gonna recommend multiple surrealists like Garcia Marquez and Borges but forget Heller’s Catch 22? Also, why recommend an author’s entire corpus? Pick one or two good ones and the student will know there is more; who reads only one Marquez, Chabon, Chandler, Roth? Your job is to pick the irresistable one. And ditch the Stephen King.

  158. thom bunn

      i’m glad you chose Satanic Verses out of Rushdie’s work. Wowee there’s a writer at his absolute apogee — now he’s so bloated with his own self-importance it’s kind of upsetting.

  159. neek

      Marilynne Robinson is amazing and I totally second this suggestion. I prefer Housekeeping to Gilead, though. Every sentence is more beautiful than the last.

  160. découverterre · A Year in Reading

      […] year, but to be honest I’m more excited about what’s to come. Author Kyle Minor’s “Suggest Reading List for my Spring 2011 Fiction Workshop” over at htmlgiant offered me what seems like a compilation of unending suggestions. I’ve got […]

  161. Papatya Bucak

      I appreciate your acknowledging the gender imbalance, and consciously seeking to be more balanced. You might like Ali Smith–Hotel World or The Accidental. Also Revenge of the Mooncake Vixen by Marilynne Chin. I also think it’s okay to acknowledge to students a little bit of subjectivity (our own taste, the books that particularly worked for us)…they can get a recommendation to read James Joyce or even Marilynne Robinson from all kinds of places. And we can make specific recommendations to specific students, of course. But I found this list interesting because it has a kind of slant and doesn’t try to be all encompassing. And because I love many of the books on it, I’m inclined to look up the ones I don’t know. Thanks for sharing, Papatya Bucak

  162. The Truth and All Its Ugly | Miette's Bedtime Story Podcast

      […] could get your brain into top form fast by looking closely at the right 3/4 of Kyle Minor’s legendary reading list. Here’s his web site, if that’s your bag.    The Truth and All Its Ugly by […]