Gilbert is the best-selling author of Eat, Pray, Love and The Last American Man. Her novel Stern Men has just been reissued by Penguin.
David Copperfield by Charles Dickens (Dover, $5). I divided my six favorite books into six genres, to make the choosing somewhat tidier. So we shall begin with fiction—and my favorite novel. David Copperfield was Dickens’ own favorite among his novels—no better recommendation than that!
The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $15). This is a masterpiece of compassion—the fascinating true story of a Hmong immigrant family with an epileptic daughter, struggling through the American health-care system. In nonfiction, it’s the book I most deeply admire.
Three Dog Life by Abigail Thomas (Harvest, $13). The best American memoir of late. With frank simplicity, Thomas remembers her husband, whose sudden debilitating brain injury left her with a man who was both there and not there. Neither maudlin nor shallowly “triumphant,” Thomas’ writing shines with honest intelligence.
Refusing Heaven by Jack Gilbert (Knopf, $16). Gilbert (no relation to me, though I wish he were) is my favorite poet, and Refusing Heaven is his greatest volume. If you’ve never read Jack Gilbert, find him. He is timeless, bold, sly, magical, fearless.
Meditations by Marcus Aurelius (Dover, $3). For anyone interested in self-help, I’d suggest this slim, readable book, which still holds up nicely after almost 2,000 years. There are days when we all need the clear-headed advice of a dead Roman emperor.
The Wizard of Oz series (Books of Wonder, $210) by L. Frank Baum. The most important category is children’s literature. I am a writer today because I learned to love reading as a child—and mostly on account of the Oz books. After The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, L. Frank Baum wrote more than a dozen other tales about Dorothy’s continuing adventures, and these lushly illustrated epics have been republished in their original form. If you have a child and a lap, you really should own the entire set.