Psychopathology of Everyday Life by Sigmund Freud (Penguin $16). A seminal work of psychology. Freud looks at memory, the loss of it, misremembrances, words, and malapropisms to investigate the mental mechanics of his subjects and their engagement with the quotidian.
In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust (Modern Library, $100). I remember reading this when I was on the dole. I spent three hours reading it every afternoon, and it was a joy. This book had a profound impact on my own writing. Proust's gimlet eye and focus on everyday minutiae, and its reflective transcendence, have continued to inspire me. Perhaps the greatest examination of memory in fiction, it also bursts with colorful characters and gorgeous prose.
To Sir, With Love by E.R. Braithwaite (Jove, $7). Maybe the first book to deal with what it meant to be black in postwar Britain. An ex-serviceman from British Guiana begins work as a teacher at a school in London's East End and has to negotiate not only the prejudice of his peers but also the scorn of his pupils. He slowly gains respect and motivates his despondent class. A heroic book, guided by the integrity and heroism of one man.
The Selected Stories of Mavis Gallant (Bloomsbury U.K., $28). Mavis Gallant was one of the most sagacious observers of the human condition. Her portraits of struggling individuals — particularly in her stories set in Paris — are among the most moving things I've read.
Erotism: Death and Sensuality by Georges Bataille (City Lights, $17). Bataille looks at sex through the cipher of transgression in his 1957 book, describing how, to surpass loneliness and ephemerality, we must overcome taboos and engage with the erotic. Bataille's prose is coruscating, and his insights are brave, startling, and unique.
The Year of Dreaming Dangerously by Slavoj Zizek (Verso, $15). Zizek's reconsideration of the events of 2011 is an essential text in this "age of riots," when apathy and fury, fundamentalism and neoliberalism, and prohibition and enjoyment combine to create the venomous exploding effluence in which we now live.
—Hanif Kureishi is a British playwright, novelist, and film writer whose celebrated screenplays include My Beautiful Laundrette. His new novel, The Last Word, focuses on a famously difficult author who is sharing his life story with a biographer.