The Thing Itself by Richard Todd. (Riverhead, $16). Wit is a word that a number of contemporary artists inaccurately apply to their own work. For an example of the real thing, I suggest Richard Todd’s recent The Thing Itself, a haunting and often very funny meditation on authenticity.

The Complete Short Stories
of Ernest Hemingway (Scribner, $22). You’ll note that this is a temporally eclectic list, which includes some books I read recently and admired a great deal and some books I read long ago and reread from time to time. When I discovered Hemingway at some point during my first year at college, I began ardently trying to imitate him. I don’t reread his novels now, for fear of finding they have aged as gracelessly as I have. I do reread his short stories, though, with pleasure and admiration, and also with nostalgia. Even today, I believe, aspiring writers could find much worse places to begin.

Moby-Dick by Herman Melville (Dover, $5). I’ve never read another novel like it. A wild and haunting book. I like to open it at random and read for a while. But, I believe, most people under 40 ought to wait before attempting it.

The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson
(Back Bay, $22). Not every poem that Emily Dickinson wrote is wonderful. Some aren’t
even good. But there are great poems every­where in this volume, some of the greatest in American literature.

Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov (Vintage, $15). To me, this is Nabokov at his very best. Among Pale Fire’s astonishing contents is a long and rather lovely poem written by a principal character: a poem written by Nabokov, of course, but not by Nabokov, as it were. This is one of the strangest and funniest novels I know.

I Sailed With Magellan
by Stuart Dybek (Picador, $15). Stuart Dybek is one of America’s best living short-story writers, an original. His stories, many of them set in his native Chicago, have a haunting, myth-like quality, but they escape easy classification. I Sailed With Magellan is his third volume of stories. In some ways, it’s his best.