The Black Stallion by Walter Farley (Yearling, $6). There is much wisdom in the old adage that if you want to teach someone to fish, make sure they catch one on the first try. After my parents gave me The Black Stallion, I discovered a lifetime of adventure in reading.
The Odyssey by Homer. Homer created the Western imagination. The story of human life as a journey and the mythological element of the story reminds us that we are not alone in the universe. Now that I have two children, Odysseus’ longing for home—what the Greeks called nostos and we call nostalgia—adds a new resonance to this undying story.
Moby-Dick by Herman Melville (Bantam, $5). Every time I read this endlessly fascinating novel it’s a completely new book. Today, I see Melville’s classic as a warning against obsessive pursuit of a personal and subjectively defined notion of “evil.”
The Collected Poems of W.B. Yeats (Scribner, $20). In poems of enormous strength and beauty, Yeats made sense of life’s endless contradictions. My friend Seamus Heaney, Yeats’ successor as Nobel laureate, put it nicely when he said that Yeats’ poetry promotes “a state of being where our social intelligence is animated, our emotional nature is replenished, and our best-dreamt possibilities are corroborated.”
Trinity by Leon Uris (Avon, $8). A compelling story about a great struggle, the effort of the Irish people to create their own country. Pete Hamill hit the nail on the head when he emphasized that Uris, like the bards who recounted tales around the fire, is more storyteller than great writer. Reading Trinity takes me back to that early pleasure of reading The Black Stallion and enjoying a story for its own sake.
The Last Lion by William Manchester (Delta, 2 vols., $23 each). There is no one quite like Winston Churchill in the political history of the 20th century. His ability to rally an entire people around a great cause and instill a willingness to sacrifice for the common good would stand us in good stead today. Manchester’s biography delights not only because of its portrait of the public man, but for its glimpses of Churchill the private man, filling the gaps in his life by painting, rebuilding Chartwell, and writing his history of the Englishspeaking peoples.