Warriors B2G1 Free

Special Offers see all

Enter to WIN a $100 Credit

Subscribe to PowellsBooks.news
for a chance to win.
Privacy Policy

Visit our stores


Authors, readers, critics, media — and booksellers.


A Very Partial Reading List

I recently heard someone say that if a writer doesn't investigate uncomfortable places within himself, why would he bother writing? All great books wind up with their authors getting their teeth bashed in. Here are 124 books (and other works) that place the writer/narrator/speaker overtly in harm's way and, in so doing, attempt to assuage human loneliness by making the reader feel less freakish (Lopate). We're all Bozos on this bus. Every man contains within himself the entire human condition (Montaigne).

1. The Education of Henry Adams by Henry Adams
2. Speedboat by Renata Adler
3. Let Us Now Praise Famous Men by James Agee and Walker Evans
4. The Women by Hilton Als
5. A Certain World by W. H. Auden
6. Confessions by Augustine
7. A Box of Matches by Nicholson Baker
8. Notes of a Native Son by James Baldwin
9. Flaubert's Parrot by Julian Barnes
10. S/Z by Roland Barthes
11. The Boys of My Youth by Jo Ann Beard
12. Proust by Samuel Beckett
13. Writing Home by Alan Bennett
14. Without You I'm Nothing by Sandra Bernhard
15. Concrete by Thomas Bernhard
16. The Dream Songs by John Berryman
17. The Balloonists by Eula Biss
18. The Mystery Guest by Grégoire Bouillier
19. Other Inquisitions by Jorge Luis Borges
20. I Remember by Joe Brainard
21. Trout Fishing in America by Richard Brautigan
22. Exquisite Pain by Sophie Calle
23. The Fall by Albert Camus
24. Awkward by Mary Cappello
25. Plainwater by Anne Carson
26. "My Heroin Christmas" (from The Professor and Other Writings) by Terry Castle
27. The Journals of John Cheever by John Cheever
28. Stop-Time by Frank Conroy
29. "On Sickness" (from The Fall into Time) by E. M. Cioran
30. Elizabeth Costello by J. M. Coetzee
31. The Art of Drowning by Billy Collins
32. Maps to Anywhere by Bernard Cooper
33. The Unquiet Grave by Cyril Connolly
34. Generation X by Douglas Coupland
35. About a Mountain by John D'Agata
36. On the Origin of the Species by Charles Darwin
37. In the Land of Pain by Alphonse Daudet
38. Curb Your Enthusiasm by Larry David
39. Confessions of an English Opium-Eater by Thomas De Quincey
40. "Sentimental Journeys" (from After Henry) by Joan Didion
41. For the Time Being by Annie Dillard
42. The Lover by Marguerite Duras
43. Out of Sheer Rage by Geoff Dyer
44. Conversations of Goethe with Eckermann by Johann Peter Eckermann
45. Things Seen by Annie Ernaux
46. A Fan's Notes by Frederick Exley
47. Cambodia by Brian Fawcett
48. The Crack-Up by F. Scott Fitzgerald
49. Commonplace Book by E. M. Forster
50. In the Dark by Joe Frank
51. The Pharmacist's Mate by Amy Fusselman
52. "Lost Cat" (featured in Granta 107) by Mary Gaitskill
53. The Book of Embraces by Eduardo Galeano
54. The End of the Novel of Love by Vivian Gornick
55. The Smoking Diaries by Simon Gray
56. Morning, Noon and Night by Spalding Gray
57. Boomerang by Barry Hannah
58. Sleepless Nights by Elizabeth Hardwick
59. The Kiss by Kathryn Harrison
60. I Am Not Jackson Pollock by John Haskell
61. "The Custom-House" (a preface to The Scarlet Letter in some editions) by Nathaniel Hawthorne
62. "Riding the Whip" (anthologized in 20 Under 30 by Debra Spark) by Robin Hemley
63. The Varieties of Religious Experience by William James
64. Letter to My Father by Frank Kafka
65. Girls by Nic Kelman
66. The House on Boulevard Street by David Kirby
67. The Queen's Throat by Wayne Koestenbaum
68. Essays of Elia by Charles Lamb
69. The Whitsun Weddings by Philip Larkin
70. Studies in Classic American Literature by D. H. Lawrence
71. No Cure for Cancer by Denis Leary
72. Manhood by Michel Leiris
73. Leaving the Atocha Station by Ben Lerner
74. Wisconsin Death Trip by Michael Lesy
75. The Disappointment Artist by Jonathan Lethem
76. A History of Bombing by Sven Lindqvist
77. Sherman's March by Ross McElwee
78. Down the Nile by Rosemary Mahoney
79. The Journalist and the Murderer by Janet Malcolm
80. My Traitor's Heart by Rian Malan
81. The Guardians by Sarah Manguso
82. This Is Not a Novel by David Markson
83. The Art Lover by Carole Maso
84. Moby-Dick by Herman Melville
85. The Elusive Embrace by Daniel Mendelsohn
86. Shuffle by Leonard Michaels
87. Essays by Michel de Montaigne
88. The Grey Album by Danger Mouse
89. Nikolai Gogol by Vladimir Nabokov
90. A Way in the World by V. S. Naipaul
91. Bluets by Maggie Nelson
92. Ecce Homo by Friederich Nietzsche
93. "Such, Such Were the Joys..." (included in A Collection of Essays) by George Orwell
94. Pensées by Blaise Pascal
95. Best Thought, Worst Thought by Don Paterson
96. The Book of Disquiet by Fernando Pessoa
97. Dialogues of Socrates by Plato
98. In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust
99. For Love and Money by Jonathan Raban
100. Vectors by James Richardson
101. Ghosts in the Mirror by Alain Robbe-Grillet
102. Maxims by François de La Rochefoucauld
103. Only the Truth Is Funny by Rick Reynolds
104. Bring the Pain by Chris Rock
105. Confessions by Jean-Jacques Rousseau
106. The World as Will and Representation by Arthur Schopenhauer
107. The Emigrants by W. G. Sebald
108. My Dinner with Andre by Wallace Shawn
109. Jesus Is Magic by Sarah Silverman
110. Lying by Lauren Slater
111. "The Moon in Its Flight" by Gilbert Sorrentino
112. Maus by Art Spiegelman
113. A Mother in History by Jean Stafford
114. On Love by Stendahl
115. Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne
116. Edie by Jean Stein
117. The Dead Girl by Melanie Thernstrom
118. Cane by Jean Toomer
119. The History of the Peloponnesian War by Thucydides
120. Within the Context of No Context by George W. S. Trow
121. Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
122. Holy Land by D. J. Waldie
123. Letters to Wendy's by Joe Wenderoth
124. The Duke of Deception by Geoffrey Wolff

÷ ÷ ÷

David Shields is the author of 15 books, including the New York Times bestseller The Thing about Life Is That One Day You’ll Be Dead; Reality Hunger, named one of the best books of 2010 by more than 30 publications; and Black Planet, a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. His work has been translated into 20 languages.

Books mentioned in this post

David Shields is the author of How Literature Saved My Life

Post a comment:

Get Your Gravatar

  1. Please note:
  2. All comments require moderation by Powells.com staff.
  3. Comments submitted on weekends might take until Monday to appear.
PowellsBooks.Blog uses Gravatar to allow you to personalize the icon that appears beside your name when you post. If you don't have one already, get your Gravatar today!
  • back to top


Powell's City of Books is an independent bookstore in Portland, Oregon, that fills a whole city block with more than a million new, used, and out of print books. Shop those shelves — plus literally millions more books, DVDs, and gifts — here at Powells.com.