Here is, organized in no particular order, the 2017 edition of my ten desert island fiction selections:
- Notes From Underground, Fyodor Dostoevsky
- The Accidental Tourist, Anne Tyler
- The Star Diaries, Stanisław Lem
- The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald
- The Stars My Destination, Alfred Bester
- Last Exit To Brooklyn, Hubert Selby, Jr.
- No Longer Human, Osamu Dazai
- Kokoro, Sōseki Natsume
- Mrs. Dalloway, Virginia Woolf
- Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?, Philip K. Dick
Some things about this list stand out:
A good half of the writers on that list didn't even produce their works in English. Most are male, although in my defense I've been trying to make more efforts as of late to read contemporary female authors (Renata Adler, Margaret Drabble, Clarice Lispector, Elena Ferrante, suggestions always welcome). But a great deal of my voraciousness for reading in the first place comes from knowing there are so many books from other countries and other languages waiting to be discovered, and the fact that any of them could turn up on English at any time is endlessly thrilling.
There is less SF on there than I thought there would be, even if I am picky about it. I was tempted to swap out one of the SF authors for a relative latecomer, Machado de Assis, if only because the latter's influence on my worldview as a writer and reader has been at least as profound as any of the SF I have read. But in the end I gave the nod to Dick and Lem and Bester, because let's face it, they got there first.
The key thing is how these are books that not only shaped my sensibilities, but which I am also happy to return to time and again and find something new inside. I can't deny William S. Burroughs had a massive impact on me when I was younger, but it wore off — I realized his worldview was too singular to emulate properly, and that any lessons I could draw from who he was or what his work was meant to achieve were mainly counter-examples. He wasn't someone you could take as a model for anything except for how to be William S. Burroughs, and there's only ever going to be one of him anyway. Re-reading his work now is frustrating, because the things about it that are so ambitious and powerful are also the same things that limit it and make it more of a curiosity than a fulfilling experience.
On the other hand, I don't think I'll ever run out of things to extract from Dostoevsky or Lem. Some of that is me, and I know it. You change as a person, inevitably, and you can never come back to the same book as the same person. If you do, something's broken.