Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson (Signet, $4). Stevenson's 1883 page-turner was the first full-length book I ever read. I was slow to pick up reading — I struggled until I was 7 — and I still remember the joy I felt when the pieces suddenly clicked into place. All these years later, I retain strangely vivid images of scenes in Stevenson's book.
The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje (Vintage, $16). I requested this novel for Christmas when I was 14 or 15. Ondaatje's text was revelatory: I think it was the first time I understood how beautiful prose could be.
The Executioner's Song by Norman Mailer (Grand Central, $22). I get some strange looks when I cite this book as an influence. It's almost as if some people confuse the question "Which books influenced you?" with "Which writers do you uncritically adore, and do you also approve of them stabbing their spouses?" I don't like most of the Mailer books that I've read. But his book about serial killer Gary Gilmore is a masterpiece, and it changed the way I write.
Await Your Reply by Dan Chaon (Ballantine, $15). I believe Await Your Reply, which sends three characters on parallel journeys of reinvention, would be a captivating novel no matter what structure Chaon chose to use. Yet the tension is greatly heightened by his use of multiple points of view and a wildly nonlinear structure.
A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan (Anchor, $16). The structure in Egan's most recent novel is so fractured that, legend has it, the book was marketed in some territories as a short-story collection. It was a direct influence on Station Eleven.
Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction by J.D. Salinger (Little, Brown, $8). I like The Catcher in the Rye well enough, but to my mind, Salinger's masterworks were the stories he wrote about the Glass family. Their humanity grabs hold of me. Salinger took such care with his characters and wrote with such warmth. When I'm working on developing characters, I try to live up to his example.
— Emily St. John Mandel's fourth novel, Station Eleven, was recently nominated for a National Book Award. The current best-seller follows a troupe of Shakespearean actors as they tour an America ravaged a generation earlier by a global flu pandemic.