My Personal Canon

The following is a list of books that and/or writers who have affected me deeply and for some time. I was “challenged” by Jillian to write one of my own after she shared hers. I thought it was a grand idea. I’ll update this in a year or so, if it needs updating. For now, these are the selections I likely would have made anytime in the last 5 or so years, had someone asked. So, it’s a fair bet this list will still be mostly in tact after another 365 days.

I haven’t provided explanations for my choices, but I might come back at some point and do that, or perhaps even turn this into a “page” on this blog, rather than simply a post. That said, this is more than a list of “favorites.” I could do that, too, but the call for a personal canon seems to be more profound than simply 5-star reads. These are books and writers who speak to my soul, who have never left me, and whom I turn to in times of despair and times of joy alike. 

My Personal Canon

Kurt Vonnegut

A Man without a Country, If This Isn’t Nice, What Is? Cat’s Cradle, God Bless You, Dr. Kevorkian, The Sirens of Titan, Player Piano, Look at the Birdie, Armageddon in Retrospect, Hocus Pocus, We Are What We Pretend to Be, and almost everything else (there are maybe two titles from his entire oeuvre that I might leave out). 

Virginia Woolf

Orlando, A Room of One’s Own, A Writer’s Diary, To the Lighthouse, The Waves

Edgar Allan Poe

Too much to list. I’ll just say the complete works, including short stories, poetry, criticism, and his single novel, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym. 

Joan Didion

The Year of Magical Thinking, Slouching Towards Bethlehem, Play It as It Lays.

J.D. Salinger

The Catcher in the Rye, Franny and Zooey, Nine Stories, Raise High the Roof Beams, Carpenters, Seymour: An Introduction, “The Last and Best of the Peter Pans.” 

Willa Cather

A Lost Lady, O Pioneers!, On Writing.

Plato and Aristotle

  • Aristotle: The Art of Rhetoric, Poetics, Metaphysics, Nicomachean Ethics.
  • Plato: Euthyphro, Apology, Crito, Phaedo, The Symposium, Phaedrus, The Republic.

The Stoics

  • Seneca: On Tranquility of Mind, On the Shortness of Life, On Anger.
  • Marcus Aurlieus: Meditations.
  • Epictetus: The Discourses, The Enchiridion.

John Steinbeck

The Grapes of Wrath, East of Eden, The Pearl, Of Mice and Men, Tortilla Flat, Cannery Row, A Life in Letters, To a God Unknown, Sweet Thursday, The Red Pony, America and Americans, and absolutely everything else, if I’m being honest. 

Mark Twain

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Mysterious Stranger, The Innocents Abroad, The Diaries of Adam and Eve, Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc, Captain Stormfield’s Visit to Heaven, and pretty much everything else, including journalism and short stories. 

Stand Alone Texts

  • The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
  • The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling
  • The Garden of Eden by Ernest Hemingway
  • Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
  • Under the Poppy by Kathe Koja
  • Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë


11 Comments on “My Personal Canon

  1. I’m always happy to see Willa Cather make such a list. 🙂 Joan Didion is a writer I have not yet read (unless I’m forgetting something, which is possible). Is there a book of hers that you’d recommend a newbie start with?


    • She’s best known for her essays, but I think my personal favorite is one of her novels, Play It As It Lays. Her essay collection, The Year of Magical Thinking, is also pretty incredible.


    • Oh, Cather is so wonderful. I’m always enamored by her… novels, short stories, essays… one of our greatest American writers.


  2. I never even heard of The Garden of Eden by Hemingway! There is so much to be discovered in reading one another’s personal canons. Many are quite sophisticated, as yours; mine seems to reflect the books which influenced me deeply as I “came of age.” Although for goodness sake, I think I’m still coming of age! 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Wonderful list….I keep thinking about a ‘personal canon’ but it is so difficult to put my list on paper.
    I would have to sit for a long time and think! Congratulations with your selectons!
    I love John Steinbeck…still think about Meditations and The Republic.


  4. Huck Finn? Really? (Ha! I’m kidding!!)
    I really do admire your reading of Aristotle and Plato. I’ve read Poetics and it’s a very worthy book. Trying to read Ethics but not doing very well, and also want to read Rhetoric and Politics. Also, Plato, Phaedo I’ve read and the rest I want to read. I fear I’m not clever enough for them though 🙂
    Hurrah for Steinbeck and Woolf! But where is Zola..? 😉


  5. Pingback: My Personal Canon – joseph dante

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