What’s In Your Book Bag?

Imagine: You’re in New York City at a large gathering of authors and book industry people.  Someone wants you to give away books, twelve of them, to each person there.  You get to choose any books you want, knowing that you will be judged on the mercurial and mercenary standards of Book People.

If this scenario sounds familiar, you’re probably Jennifer Egan, author of “A Visit from the Goon Squad,” and chosen “book bag” curator for the PEN World Voices Festival of International Literature. She wrote about her picks in detail on The Daily Beast Book Beast Page, but here’s the quick run down:

  1. Emma by Jane Austen
  2. The Image by Daniel J. Boorstin
  3. Don Juan by Lord Byron
  4. Underworld by Don DeLillo
  5. Middlemarch by George Elliot
  6. Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
  7. The Transit of Venus by Shirley Hazzard
  8. The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing
  9. Good Morning, Midnight by Jean Rhys
  10. Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne
  11. The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton
  12. Germinal by Émile Zola

If this scenario sounds awesome to you, tell us in the comments which books you would choose and why. Or just feel free to lay judgements on Egan’s and other people’s lists.

UPDATE: Don’t feel pressure to name twelve books. It’s your bag. Put in as many or as few books as you like.

– Michael Moats


Filed under Hooray Fiction!

4 Responses to What’s In Your Book Bag?

  1. Mike

    1. Elbow Room by James Alan McPherson — A great collection of short stories that is somewhere on the spectrum between Invisible Man and Nine Stories.

    2. Silent Spring by Rachel Carson — It turns 50 years old this year, and may still be the best illustration of what the environment means in our lives.

    3. Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow — Hamilton has an incredible story, and far more influence as a founder than is commonly known. It’s a great book.

    4. The Real Holden Caulfield by me — Because what the hell.

    5. How to Be Alone by Jonathan Franzen — A great collection of essays that I liked better than Freedom or The Corrections or Strong Motion.

    6. The Death of Adam by Marilynne Robinson — Another great collection of essays that surpasses the author’s better known fiction.

    7. Our Kind by Kate Walbert — A book everyone should read.

    8. Coming of Age in the Milky Way by Timothy Ferris — Another book everyone should read, about the history of science and the crazy geniuses who made it all happen.

    9. The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell — The more I think back on this book, the more I realize how amazing it is.

    10. Swann’s Way by Marcel Proust, translated by Lydia Davis, paperback Penguin Classics Edition — This is one of the most beautifully designed books I’ve ever encountered, so even if you don’t read it, it’s still great to look at. But you should read it.

    11. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl, 50th Anniversary Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition — Another beautifully designed book. And you should read it because reading should be fun.

    12. Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace — I couldn’t resist.

  2. Anonymous

    This took some thinking, something outside my comfort zone. I fear these books may be a bit predictable and I know once I get home and actually look at my shelves I’ll have a completely different list. But here you go Mr. Mike:

    1. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald–I don’t care if you didn’t like it in High School, you need to read it again or suffer a life filled with subpar writing, unaware of how beautiful a sentence can actually be.
    2. Notes of a Native Son by James Baldwin–A collection of essays by the greatest American essayist.
    3. The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood–So good! Infuriatingly good!
    4. Where I’m Calling From by Raymond Carver–This book would come with a warning: after reading these stories, you will think you could write like this. But you can’t. No one can.
    5. Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy–Because so few of us have the patience to read Dante anymore and this book is amazing. Though, if you’re looking for a happy ending this is not the book.
    6. The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien–A personal favorite. Came to me right at the time I was most curious about the art of fiction and the military history my father would not discuss.
    7. Jesus’ Son by Denis Johnson–The stories are quick, funny, and often beautiful. Besides, the book fits in your back pocket. Great for travel.
    8. Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman. I love poetry and this is the great American classic that too few people read. The poems are long and not for those with short attention spans but read them out loud and feel the joy.
    9. The Collected Fictions by Borges–Like nothing else in literature. A book to pick up and put down throughout your adult life. Also, I wanted to get in a latin writer but the Oprah sticker disqualified One Hundred Years of Solitude.
    10. Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Duma–A fun revenge story and a book I read as a teenager. When it was over, I remember the sadness of not being able to carry on with the characters for 500 more pages.
    11. The Lover by Marguerite Duras–A great novel that flies by but lingers with you. And, let’s be honest, I need more women on this list.
    12. Hamlet by William Shakespeare–Because fuck you, that’s why.

  3. Anonymous

    If you need more women on your list try: The Constant Nymph, by Margaret Kennedy, The New Meaning of Treason, by Rebecca West, any short stories by Sylvia Townsend Warner, The Death of the Heart, by Elizabeth Bowen, Near to the Wild Heart, by Clarice Lispector, anything by Natalie Saurrote, and some Iris Murdoch — any one of them since they’re all the same. Oh and The Man Who Loved Children, by Christina Stead.


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