Absalom, Absalom! by William Faulkner (Random House, $15). Faulkner has long been my favorite American novelist, and though The Sound and the Fury and Light in August are close runners-up, Absalom is the novel I love most. It rewards multiple readings as much as any novel I know.
All the King's Men by Robert Penn Warren (Mariner, $16). The greatest novel ever written about American politics, peopled by dozens of memorable characters. Louisiana Gov. Huey Long was Warren's inspiration, but this 1946 work is as relevant today as it was in the 1940s.
Suttree by Cormac McCarthy (Vintage, $16). McCarthy is my favorite living novelist, and over the years I've vacillated between Blood Meridian and Suttree when trying to name my favorite of his novels. Recently I've come to prefer this story of a loner who floats down the Tennessee River in a houseboat, in part because of its mixture of humor and sadness; most of all for its humanity.
Look Homeward, Angel by Thomas Wolfe (Scribner, $19). I read this book when I was 17, and as it has been for writers from Philip Roth to Pat Conroy, it played a huge role in my wanting to write fiction. Published in 1929 and unduly neglected of late, it remains our nation's finest bildungsroman.
Wise Blood by Flannery O'Connor (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $15). I have a photo of Flannery O'Connor hanging on the wall in the room where I write, and she glares down at me, keeping me humble. I love her short stories best, but her first novel, about a nihilist who wants to start his own religion, marked her early as a singular talent — a writer in her early 20s who had already found her voice and her vision.
The Moviegoer by Walker Percy (Vintage, $15). Reading this novel for the first time was one of the most intense experiences of my life. The setting is New Orleans the week before Mardi Gras, and the narrator is Binx Bolling, a young stockbroker. The book contains little overt drama, and I've found that people are either indifferent to it or, like me, find in it a profound and deeply moving account of the search for meaning in life.
— Something Rich and Strange, an anthology of Ron Rash's acclaimed short fiction, was recently published by Ecco.