Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë (Dover, $4.50). I was home sick from school, aged 10, and this was lying around the house. I remember being lifted from my skin by it. I was taken from an Irish suburb in the early 1980s and set down on a wind-blasted, 19th-century Yorkshire moor, and into the maelstrom of one of literature's great doomed romances. It taught me that a book could truly be a vehicle.
Everything That Rises Must Converge by Flannery O'Connor (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $16). I risk the wrath of O'Connorians everywhere when I suggest that there's a particular time in life when her short stories have the most charge or reverb, and it's in one's late teens or early 20s. That was when I read this collection, and I was awed by the dense emotional humidity of the world it depicted.
Underworld by Don DeLillo (Scribner, $20). In the '90s, this offered many young writers a view of what the novel could achieve. It had scope, fun, drama, and pitch-perfect dialogue, but above all it had sentences — sentences of special gleam and precision. It still sits close to my desk as a reminder and a goad.
Dubliners by James Joyce (Dover, $4). I read Dubliners dutifully in my early 20s and thought, 'Sure, fine, these are excellent stories, well-made, yadda yadda.' When I returned to them 15 years later, I began to sense the true depths within, depths I could only find after living more of my life.
2666 by Roberto Bolaño (Picador, $22). Just when we thought the novel had no place left to go, here came this splintered masterpiece, a paranoid odyssey told in 900 writhing pages filled with a new, rich, glamorous prose. Bolaño, who died a year before the book's 2004 publication, was a great, maverick, maniacal talent. We'll be considering his influence for generations.
The Writing Life by Annie Dillard (Harper Perennial, $15). I love books on the nuts and bolts and mechanics and tactics of writing. There is none better than this collection of pieces from the great Annie Dillard, an essayist of savvy, wit, and uncanny insight.
—Irish writer Kevin Barry, author of the novel City of Bohane, won a new honor recently when his latest book garnered Britain's Goldsmiths Prize. Beatlebone imagines an alternative fate for John Lennon, transporting him to a remote Irish island.