Books From the Back Room

It isn’t difficult to find a recommended list of authors you should read or have read. Everyone acknowledges the literary importance of authors such as Shakespeare, Tolstoy, Faulkner, Proust, Goethe, Flaubert, Dante, Cervantes, Eliot, Dickens. But so many of these authors have been normalized in press and education that they, even when most successful, tend to inhabit the most hackneyed regions of our collective memory.

As an aging member of the university study of literature which adhered to the precepts of the (then) new criticism with potent demiurges the likes of F. R. Leavis, William Empson, Harold Bloom, and Frank Kermode, I worshipped the works of those giants of literature. But looking back I see that my education tended to direct me down the avenue of the acceptable canon and I missed a lot of stimulating reading through the years.


This isn’t to say that I didn’t sit on the bricks of Royce Hall reading the adventures of Candy, or didn’t scan the dangerous books in the back-row at Papa Bach, but when asked for a reading recommendation my faux-erudition would seize my conscience and suggest War and Peace or Madame Bovary or even Ulysses.

Wait. I take that back. It couldn’t have been faux-erudition because I had actually read the books I suggested and my reasons for mentioning them were sound. Perhaps I should have said faux-recommendation since despite the reasoning behind the recommendation, perhaps I was actually cloaking my gut-felt urge to skip over Bleak House and suggest a close reading of Naked Lunch.

In years past I have published a few lists of authors I would now feel perfectly safe to recommend. I also notice that even at the university level there are more and more non-canon books being read (both a good and a bad thing). As time goes on I’m sure I would add many new names to this list but for now here are sixty-plus authors I have recommended through the years.

Any additions you might make to extend the list?

  1. Kobo Abe
  2. Kathy Acker
  3. António Lobo Antunes
  4. César Aira
  5. Georges Bataille
  6. Thomas Bernhard
  7. Roberto Bolaño
  8. William S. Burroughs
  9. Michel Butor
  10. Angela Carter
  11. Eric Chevillard
  12. Julio Cortázar
  13. Robert Coover
  14. Andrew Crumey
  15. Steven Dixon
  16. J. P. Donleavy
  17. John Dos Passos
  18. Rikki Ducornet
  19. Marguerite Duras
  20. Annie Ernaux
  21. Raymond Federman
  22. Max Frisch
  23. Romain Gary
  24. William H. Gass
  25. Juan Goytisolo
  26. Peter Handke
  27. John Hawkes
  28. Michel Houellebecq
  29. Bohumil Hrabal
  30. Joris-Karl Huysmans
  31. Gary Indiana
  32. Elfriede Jelinek
  33. Ismail Kadare
  34. Ibrahim al-Koni
  35. William Kotzwinkle
  36. Gordon Lish
  37. Clarice Lispector
  38. Naguib Mahfouz
  39. Javier Marías
  40. David Markson
  41. Carole Maso
  42. Harry Mathews
  43. Joseph McElroy
  44. Yukio Mishima
  45. Horacio Castellanos Moya
  46. Flann O’Brien
  47. Victor Pelevin
  48. Georges Perec
  49. Robert Pinget
  50. Raymond Queneau
  51. Ishmael Reed
  52. Alain Robbe-Grillet
  53. Henry Roth
  54. Hanan al-Shaykh
  55. Ron Sukenick
  56. Jean-Philippe Toussaint
  57. Enrique Vila-Mata
  58. Robert Walser
  59. Karen Tai Yamashita
  60. Mo Yan
  61. Banana Yoshimoto
  62. Stefan Zweig

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