My Personal Canon of Great Books

There have been lots of fascinating lists of personal canons of great books among lit bloggers and I’ve succumbed to peer pressure and made my own list.  As I was thinking about my list I realized that the ancient authors are embarrassingly predictable.  So I’ve broken my canon into two parts, ancient and everything else.

Ancient Authors:

Homer, Iliad

Presocratic Philosophers, The Main Fragments in Ancient Greek

Aeschylus, Agamemnon

Euripides, Trojan Women, Medea

Sopocles, Oedipus, Antigone

Plato, Symposium

Aristotle, Poetics

Catullus, poems

Vergil, Aeneid

Seneca, everything he wrote, especially The Trojan Women

Cicero De Senectute, Pro Caelio

Ovid Metamorphoses, Heroides

Propertius, Elegies  (Many read Catullus and Ovid and unfortunately bypass Propertius.  But his poems are just as good and important.)

Lucan The Civil War  (A very underappreciated epic from the Latin Silver Age)

Everything Else:

James M. Redfield, Nature and Culture in the Iliad

Pascal Quignard, The Roving Shadows and The Sexual Night

Jean-Luc Nancy, Corpus and Coming

John Wiliams, Augustus and Stoner (Stoner is his more popular novel, but Augustus is brilliant!)

Anne Carson, Nay Rather, The Bakkhai (This is being published in the US in the fall and it is stunning.)

Christopher Logue, War Music

Antal Szerb,  Journey by Moonlight

Christa Wolfe, Medea

Alexander Pushkin, Eugene Onegin

R.D. Blackmore, Lorna Doone

Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Aurora Leigh

George Eliot, Middlemarch

Sandford Friedman, Conversations with Beethoven

Derek Walcott, Omeros

Georgi Gospodinov,  The Physics of Sorrow

Sergei Lebedev, Oblivion and The Year of the Comet

Stuart Shotwell, Edmund Persuader, Tomazina’s Folly (a little know author, both books are 1500 pages each and some of the best modern writing I’ve ever encountered)

Charlotte Bronte, Jane Eyre

Jane Austen, Persuasion and Pride and Prejudice

Teffi, Tolstoy, Rasputin, Others and Me

Of course all of this is subject to change according to the year, my mood, the weather, etc.  What are the books on your personal canon?


Filed under Opinion Posts

34 responses to “My Personal Canon of Great Books

  1. Interesting list! I have literally just discovered Anne Carson and your reference to Nay Rather, The Bakkhai really piques my interest. If you had to pick just one of those books, which would be your favourite?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’d include Bernhard Henry Green. Somerset Maugham Waugh Hesse Böll on mine

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Fascinating to read your list, Melissa. So pleased to see Logue’s Homer there.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. This is a great list and also a great idea (I’m copying down book titles from them all!)
    I wish you’d suggested translations for all your classics (a lot of work I know). I just saw Charlotte Mendelson on Twitter placing Gavin Douglas’ Aeneid on her list – I would never have thought of that!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I was actually thinking of the ancient authors I’ve translated myself and not considering the translations. I like Fitzgerald and Fagles translations of the Aeneid. I also love Seamus Heaney’s translation of Aeneid VI.


  5. What a fascinating list! I would have trouble with mine as it would constantly change – but it would include Mervyn Peake, Virginia Woolf, Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Camus, Calvino, Perec and a whole host of Russians too numerous to mention…. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Jonathan

    I would have trouble keeping the list down to a respectable size, I think.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. As others have said, a very interesting list, suitably eclectic given the diversity of your reading. As for my own personal canon, I would probably veer towards writers ahead of specific books – Jane Austen, F Scott Fitzgerald and Elizabeth Taylor would almost certainly feature, possibly Javier Marias too.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Vishy

    Wonderful list, Melissa! From your modern list I have read only Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and George Eliot’s Middlemarch. So there are a lot of new books for me to read. I am adding all of them to my TBR list. On the ancient ones, I have a question. Why Aeschylus’ Agamemnon and not The Oresteia? 🙂

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    • Of the trilogy The Agamemnon is my favorite by far. I am a bit luke warm on The Electra and The Libation Bearers.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Vishy

        Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Melissa. Thanks so much for your list! I can’t wait to read some of the books there!


      • Vishy

        I just finished reading Agamemnon from The Oresteia trilogy, Melissa! So beautiful! Loved the imagery, beautiful sentences and the inspiring and stylish dialogue! Thanks so much for inspiring me! Looking forward to reading Libation Bearers and Eumenides tomorrow. I discovered that Sophocles and Euripides have written plays called Electra which is on the same topic. Have you read them? (Of course, you have 🙂 ) What do you think about them?

        Liked by 1 person

      • I actually prefer Sophocles Electra but both are great! I hope you enjoy the rest of the Oresteia! The Agamemnon was one of the best pieces of literature I have ever translated from the Greek!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Vishy

        Thank you, Melissa! I will read Sophocles’ Electra next after finishing the Oresteia. So wonderful to know that you translated the Agamemnon! Is it possible for me to read? Can you share it please, if it is okay?


      • I would love to share it with you but I no longer have the translation I originally did. It was quite a few years ago and I wish I had kept it. But maybe I ought to work on a new one and post it on my blog a little at a time. I’ve been translating a little Latin poetry so I ought to throw some Greek into the mix too! Tj assnks for the inspiration!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Vishy

        Sorry to know that you no longer have that translation. But so nice to know that you are thinking of translating it again! Looking forward to reading it! This is so cool!


  9. Very intriguing mix of familiar and unknown here! I’m very interested to read Augustus — I enjoy fiction set in the ancient world. On my list I would definitely put Willa Cather, Thornton Wilder, Robertson Davies, and Ursula K. LeGuin.

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  10. Glad to see Antal Szerb in there. And wondered if you’d read Charlotte Bronte’s Villette, which I think knocks spots off Jane Eyre, as well as being the first novel I’m aware of with an open/ alternative ending…

    Liked by 1 person

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  12. buriedinprint

    Funny, I was on a long walk yesterday and it occurred to me that it’s been awhile since I did one of these lists (I used to make one every few years but it’s been more than 10 now) and I started thinking of the possbilities and, today, find your list! I hadn’t heard of Edmund Persuader (I must have missed your post, or it was before I was following your reading) but have marked it TBR now; it sounds very Middlemarch-y and because that’s pretty much the only favourite title we have in common otherwise *grins*,I’m doubly interested in it now!


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  17. I was looking to expand my WP reader list, typed in ‘Szerb,’ and got your blog. I see you’ve read Journey By Moonlight. Whose translation did you read? I read it last year, and it didn’t change the way I feel about life. I just finished The Pendragon Legend, which I loved.


    • I read the translation that was published by the New York Review of Books. I wouldn’t say it changed the way I feel about life, but I thought the plot was full of clever twists that I didn’t expect and that’s why I liked the story.

      Liked by 1 person

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