Isabel Allende’s books have been translated into 37 languages and sold more than 57 million copies worldwide. Her new novel, Ripper, is a murder mystery that’s set in San Francisco and features a teenage sleuth.
The Arabian Nights (Modern Library, $10). Imagine a solitary girl, 14 years old, in Lebanon, in the 1950s, reading these sensuous stories with a flashlight inside a closet to avoid parental censorship. That was me. A thousand and one nights, hundreds of stories, magic, eroticism, adventure, and mischievous characters: What an orgy of the senses and imagination! I keep all this in mind when I write.
One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez (Harper Perennial, $19). The most important Latin American novel of the 20th century. Márquez’s characters seemed very familiar, and his voice sounded like my grandfather’s. I realized that with a family like mine, I didn’t have to invent anything to write fiction.
The Female Eunuch by Germaine Greer (Harper Perennial, $16). As a young woman, I was desperately angry with machismo until I read this 1970 book—revolutionary at the time—and discovered that there was an articulate, smart, and humorous way to tackle the patriarchy. I channeled my fury into action and became a feminist journalist.
Dracula by Bram Stoker (Dover, $5.50). We all know this macabre Victorian novel loaded with sexual innuendo, suspense, Christian paranoia, blood, mystery, and even a zoophagous madman. What is there not to like? It is badly written, but the story fascinates me to this day.
Broken Open by Elizabeth Lesser (Villard, $16). Many years after my daughter’s premature death, Lesser’s spiritual memoir was a balm to my lingering sorrow. Broken down or broken open by pain? Bitterness or compassion? Self-pity or wisdom? These are choices we all have to make sooner or later.
The Road by Cormac McCarthy (Vintage, $15). Among the thousands of apocalyptic futuristic novels in existence, this one stands out as the most depressing. Yet it is so beautifully crafted that I have read it three times. In McCarthy’s tale, the love of a father for his son sheds the only light in the midst of supreme horror and darkness. What a writer!