Act One by Moss Hart (St. Martin's, $20). Hart rose from grinding poverty in Brooklyn to the heights of Broadway success in writing and directing. Act One is easily the best show — business autobiography — a riveting story that risks promoting the foolish idea that if you chase your dream and never give in, you will succeed. Bull. A few will. Hart did.
Zen in the Art of Archery by Eugen Herrigel (Vintage, $14). Herrigel, a German philosopher-teacher, goes to Japan for instruction, intrigued by tales of an archer who hits his target without aiming or caring and the swordsman whose discipline allows him in combat to dismiss from his mind both his opponent and his opponent's sword. Sound crazy? There's much to learn here about learning.
Houdini's Escapes and Magic by Walter B. Gibson (Ishi, $35). Reading Houdini's Escapes led to many other books on magic and launched an all-consuming pursuit of the art of conjuring. The resulting act earned me as much as $30 a show — in the 1950s! — and I played enough church basements, etc., that I was able to lend my schoolteacher parents $700 for a new car.
The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (Dover, $3.50). Hooray! — school canceled by a Nebraska snowstorm! As flakes softly fell all day, I read The Hound without, I think, ever looking up. I then feverishly read the collected tales, which provided hours and hours of some of the most enjoyable reading of my life.
The Collected Stories of Jean Stafford (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $19). As good as short-story writing gets. Stafford's work led me toward other masters of the form, including her husband, the great A.J. Liebling. Still, Stafford's "The Echo and the Nemesis" is my favorite short story. Period.
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain (Dover, $4.50). This was the start of a lifelong addiction to Twain. A must-read, at least annually, for every man, woman, and bright child. To flaming hell with any idiot who wants to bowdlerize this towering masterpiece.
— Dick Cavett contributes regularly to The New York Times's online opinion section. His new book, Brief Encounters, gathers essays that pay tribute to performers he's admired and revisit some of his most famous interviews.