Do Any of These Titles Fit With Your Personal Canon?

If, as the Oxford dictionary presents, one of the definitions of a canon is “the list of works considered to be permanently established as being of the highest quality,” then preparing such a list is a heady task for any bibliophile. And reading those lists of fellow bibliophiles is at least as interesting, if not more, than revealing one’s own.

Here’s a problem: around which perimeters can such a list be created? Those books from childhood which firmly established my love of reading? Then I would have to say B is For Betsy by Caroline Haywood, or my well worn copy of Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White. And even before that, my mother was reading Beatrix Potter books to me, and The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis.

Or, there are the books which ushered me into adulthood, such as Madame Bovary read at the tender age of 17 after a particularly heart rending break up, or Madeleine L’Engle’s The Love Letters.

There are books which shaped my whole political outlook, such as Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, or opened doors to me of fantastic other worlds such as Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84.

So, a list considered to be of the highest quality? All I can give you is a list of my most well-loved books, the books which I have carted from apartment to condo to townhouse to home, the books that I pick up and reread again and again. From the top of my head, here is my personal canon:

  • The Bible
  • Possession by A. S. Byatt
  • The Robber Bride by Margaret Atwood
  • Cat’s Eye by Margaret Atwood
  • Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand
  • Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White
  • A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle
  • Prince Caspian by C. S. Lewis
  • The Lord of The Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien
  • Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami
  • Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
  • The Brothers Karamazov by Fydor Dostoevsky
  • Dr. Zhivago by Boris Pasternak
  • Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
  • Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
  • The Secret History by Donna Tartt
  • The Day of The Jackal by Frederick Forsyth
  • Watership Down by Richard Adams
  • The Sorrow of Angels by Jon Kalman Stefansson
  • Swimming to Elba by Sylvia Avallone
  • Seventeenth Summer by Maureen Daly
  • A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

Surely there are more, should I take the time to ponder more deeply, or scout my shelves more thoroughly. But thanks to Frances of Nonsuch Book, and Anthony of Times Flow Stemmed before her, I have compiled a list of my most beloved books. My canon, so to speak.

Do any of them resonate with you?

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27 thoughts on “Do Any of These Titles Fit With Your Personal Canon?”

  1. That’s a hard task as I think it could change by the moment but as stated before Kafka on the shore would be somewhere on that list as it was my introduction to the author & his nation’s writing.

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    1. Both you and I feel the same way about Kafka on the Shore, and it always intrigues me that for both of us it was the introduction to this wonderful author and his country’s literature.

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  2. I read the post that Frances wrote about this idea of creating your own personal canon. I loved the idea! I started thinking about mine that same day 🙂 I love your personal canon – so many wonderful books.

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    1. Mine seem to come from the days before I was blogging; except for Sorrow of Angels and Swimming to Elba, not many that I have read for recent publishers have been as powerful as what I discovered in my youth. I guess that speaks to the power of literature in one’s formative years, as well as the power of reading what one chooses by oneself. 😮

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  3. I’ve been thinking about putting together my own list but I hesitate for all the reasons you mentioned here. However, A few of your books would be on my list as well:

    The Bible
    Kafka on the Shore
    Atlas Shrugged
    Rebecca (possibly)

    Now I feel like I have to work on my list.

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    1. So glad that you feel the same about the Bible! Sometimes, Atlas Shrugged doesn’t seem to equate with a Christian values, and yet I feel Ayn Rand is so spot on politically. Perhaps that’s because I’m a capitalist at heart, and I firmly believe in independence rather than expecting someone else to solve my problems. But, lest I get into a political rant here, let me end by echoing my thoughts with Parrish Lantern above; is there a finer piece of Japanese Literature than Murakami is able to produce? I especially hold great affection for Kafka on the Shore.

      I’d be very interested in knowing more of your “canon”.

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  4. Lovely list — on mine, I put more from my childhood reading because I simply had more time then to read books over and over again. I’ve read so many great books in adulthood that I’m not quite ready to put in my canon because I’ve only read them once. I hope in 20 years I could remedy that!

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    1. There is something to be said for the impact of what one reads as a child. They affect us so deeply, I think, and become seared in our memories. Few adult books have carried such power, as you comment suggests to me.

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  5. Bellezza, many of these resonate with me as well. They are classics. I’d also need to add a couple by J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye and Franny and Zooey, and also, The Lord of the Flies by William Golding.

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    1. Ah, I, too, am I quite fond of The Catcher and The Rye. Franny and Zooey not so much, and can you believe I’ve never read The Lord of The Flies?!

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  6. What an interesting list. I’ve read quite a few of these. I MUST read some A.S. Byatt. I know you’ve mentioned “Possession” in previous posts.

    For my personal canon I would have to add “Jane Eyre” (recently reread for the 3rd time), “Wuthering Heights”, “The Pickwick Papers”, “Middlemarch”, “A Moveable Feast”, “The Collected Stories of John Cheever”, “Stoner” by John Williams, “Pere Goriot” (my intro to Balzac and a multi-year obsession with French Lit), “Tales From My Windmill” by Alphonse Daudet, The Leatherstocking Tales of James Fenimore Cooper and the list goes on….. Thank you for sharing.

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    1. Yeah, I’m a little obsessed with Possession. Strangely enough, people I’ve suggested it to have put it down, and it was even took me a few tries when I first picked it up. But, oh, the poetry and the plot and the ending…

      Yes to Jane Eyre, which I’ve read three times as well, and The Moveable Feast! Many others you’ve mentioned I have never read, so thank YOU for leaving them here for me to come to.

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      1. Yikes! I just realized I made a mistake with the Daudet title. It should be “Letters From My Windmill” not “Tales”. Sorry. It’s series of short stories about the Provence region and considered by Daudet enthusiasts to be his masterpiece. I loved it but I was in total Francophile mode and co-moderator of the Yahoo French Literature group back when I read it .

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        1. How interesting that you were co-moderator of a French literature group! I will definitely keep this title in mind for Paris in July, if not before, as I respect your opinion. Also, I’ve not read Daudet before. 🙂

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  7. It’s good to see something by C. S. Lewis on your list of favourites. I loved the Narnia books as a child. What could be more exciting than finding a portal to a magical land in an old wardrobe?

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    1. C. S. Lewis…what a magical writer. Literally. He is able to write of so much more than what is contained within his stories; the symbolism, the wisdom seem never ending. Of course, a magical portal is pretty inspiring in and of itself, as you say.

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  8. Nice list! Charlotte’s Web would be a strong contender for my list. I would also include many of L.M. Montgomery’s books. Those I know for sure – the rest would take some thought… 🙂

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    1. Someone said Charlotte’s Web is a perfect book about friendship, but for me, it was the introduction to death. I guess I should say grieving and loss, when Charlotte dies. I remember being so devastated by that, and realizing (at 8) that of course, this is the way of the world. It changed my life.

      I have seen Anne of Green Gables, but never read the books. I need to do that.

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      1. I agree – it was Charlotte’s death that really stuck with me – more than the friendship. But I can also see why it’s described as a book about friendship, since it was one between two very different species, and they were both able to see beyond their differences.

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  9. King James trans. of the Bible. (This is its own supreme category)

    Heidi. by Spyri
    ‘Till We have faces. C.S. Lewis and Narnia Series. C.S. Lewis
    Robert Frost Poems
    William Blake’s poetry
    Bonhoeffer, Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy. Eric Metaxas
    City of Joy. Dominique Lapierre
    The Far Pavillions. M.M.Kaye
    The Cloister Walk. KAthleen Norris
    Necessary Losses. Judith Viorst
    All The Light We Cannot See. Anthony Doerr

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    1. It was so enriching to discuss our lists, and realize how we could keep adding to them. Little Women, City of Joy, Treasure Island, The Wind and The Willows…so many lovely titles, imbued with so much significance. Thank you for teaching me to read, and for sharing it with me all of my life.

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  10. C.S. Lewis — oh yes. And E. B. White. Both are absolute magic. I have Watership Down on my to-read list. Can’t wait for it. Someone recommended it to me recently. Beatrix Potter, The Bible. These Personal Canons are so lovely. When I arranged mine, my parameters were merely — which ones shook my soul? I don’t know if that’s parameter enough, but it’s a question one can answer, I think. 🙂

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