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It’s been awhile since we did one of the four years ago today flashback posts. So here’s a fun one I pulled from the Gmail archive. My friend Joseph and his brother had generated lists of the top ten novels in their “personal canon” and Joseph emailed to ask what mine would be. After some thought, this is what I came up with. Looking it over today, I can’t say there are any huge revisions to this list. 

From: Anna
To: Joseph
Date: Tue, Dec 11, 2007 at 10:22 PM
Subject: Re: Personal canon of books


My canon is decidedly more “lowbrow” and than yours, but I am squelching my impulse to apologise for it on Nick Hornby’s firm orders (even though he loves Dickens’ and writes tedious novels about men who refuse to grow up, so I am not sure how much I trust him . . .)

I have artificially controlled against all non-fiction and children’s literature (well, below the teen level).  Not sure if that’s quite what you had in mind, but there we are.  I discover my criteria are a) enduring “good read”–something I will go back to over and over again, as well as b) things that have had deep impact on how I answer the question, “how to live?” . . . these categories don’t always overlap.  There are books that have had great impact on how I think about the world, but which I’ve only read once . . . and books that I read habitually, but that I don’t really think of as life-shaping in any explicit way.  Maybe they’re just sneaker at it? And of course these change over time . . . I was just thinking today how His Dark Materials has really grown on me over the years.  And even though I have issues with some of his didacticism, his theological imagery really speaks to me.  And, I mean, who could resist the idea of a reversal of the whole Genesis/Fall/Eve story? (Um . . . wait . . . that’s right . . . a LOT of people 😉 ).


That long introduction completed, here are my nominations. The top ten in a strictly alphabetical order. I figure once you make top-ten I’m not going to be judgmental. ALTHOUGH I do sometimes find myself paralyzed by the question of which book I would become if I were a character in Fahrenheit 451 . . . possibly a clear indication of how troubled I actually am :).

Top Ten:

1. E.M. Forester. A Room With a View.
2. Shirley Hazzard. The Great Fire.
3. Haven Kimmel. The Solace of Leaving Early.
4. Robin Lippincott. Our Arcadia.
5. Michelle Magorian. Not a Swan.
6. Robin McKinley. The Blue Sword, et al.
7. Audrey Niffinegger. The Time-Traveler’s Wife.
8. Dorothy Sayers. Gaudy Night.
9. Martin Cruz Smith. Rose.
10. Tom Stoppard. Arcadia.

Some possible future candidates/honorable mentions:

Isabel Allende. Daughter of Fortune & Portrait in Sepia.
Jane Austen. Persuasion.
A.S. Byatt. Possession.
Sheryl Jordan. The Raging Quiet.
Laurie R. King. The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, et al.
Barbara Kingsolver. Bean Trees.
David Levithan. The Realm of Possibility.
Gregory Maguire. Wicked, Son of a Witch
Philip Pullman. His Dark Materials.
Margaret Whelan Turner. The Thief, Queen of Attolia, King of Attolia.