Northwest Passage by Kenneth Roberts (Smith, $37). It's the time of the French and Indian War. Langdon Towne is in love with Elizabeth Browne, but trouble leads him to join Rogers' Rangers and an assault on the Abenaki village of St. Francis in Quebec. A sentimental favorite, 700 pages long, this is what American boys used to read.

Disappearances by Howard Frank Mosher (Mariner, $14). I read Disappearances when I was just getting my start as a writer, and I thought, "Why bother even trying?" Set in Prohibition-era Vermont, this is a tall tale nonpareil. Quebec Bill and his son Wild Bill Bonhomme must make a whiskey run to Canada to save their farm. The journey is Homeric, the imagination at play formidable and magnificent.

Legends of the Fall by Jim Harrison (Delta, $15). This novella about a family in the northern Rockies came my way in 1979 when first published in Esquire. It's the story of so many families whose lives are lived at the grand intersections of historical upheaval and transformation.

The Sorrow of War by Bao Ninh (Riverhead, $15). So many men, and now women, have survived to tell the horrors of war. Bao Ninh served in Vietnam with the Glorious 27th Youth Brigade. We Americans know of our own inexplicable sorrow, anguish, and death. This beautiful work of literature gives us theirs.

Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy (Vintage, $15). McCarthy is our very own Shakespeare. He remembers the people we would choose to forget. He reminds us of the awes of life, and of how fragile the experience we call civilization is. Into each narrative comes a strange stirring of the heart. And the words he writes — they are as if sewn into the page: a kind of needlework or embroidery.

The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway (Scribner, $15). Hemingway is the giant upon whose shoulders we all stand. I read him as a boy and then 30 years later as a man. When I read him I sense the true madness, capriciousness, and consequence of life, and I am not afraid. Wherever I travel in the world, Hemingway is the lingua franca.

Robert Olmstead is the author of eight novels, including Far Bright Star and the award-winning Coal Black Horse. His latest, The Coldest Night, is a soldier's love story, set against the backdrop of the Korean War.