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For the Love of Books:
William Faulkner. Great Expectations. Marcel Proust. Moby Dick. Mark Twain. War and Peace. Virginia Woolf. Ulysses. Ernest Hemingway. They all show up repeatedly in For the Love of Books, for which each of 115 writers was asked to discuss the three to six books that influenced him or her the most. But the Hardy Boys are here, too, and Archie comics, as well as the Bobbsey Twins and Harold and the Purple Crayon. We are most susceptible to the impact of literature when we are in our 20s and younger, it seems, and several of the authors included here focus their attention on those early influences--how well they hold up over time.
Many of the book's contributors liken relationships with treasured books to those with loved ones. Some of Louis Begley's favorites (The Divine Comedy, Remembrance of Things Past), "like my children, are always on my mind." Mona Simpson warns that "we fall in with books the way we fall in with friends, irrationally, often permanently, not always wisely." The reading of some books, adds Guy Davenport, can even forge friendships: "A friendship lasting thirty years," he says, "began with the discovery at a dull luncheon that we had both read Hugh Miller."
Narrowing down one's favorite books to a mere half-dozen would daunt any reader, but it must be particularly arduous for those who eat and breathe books. While D.M. Thomas believes that "there are just a few books that, once you've read them, flow in your bloodstream," Neil Simon complains that "pin[ning] down the three or even six books that have left the greatest impression on me ... denies the four or five hundred great books that have imperceptibly changed my outlook on life." Some writers, says David Leavitt, "one thinks of as great but cannot love"; others "one loves but cannot think of as great." What a great pleasure it is to see the great and the not great, the humbling and the inspiring, gathered under one literary roof. And what a terrific task it would be to follow all the tendrils growing and shooting off toward so many sources of light, each a promise from a renowned contemporary writer that some kind of delicious reading can be found there. --Jane Steinberg [via]