N. Scott Momaday is a poet and novelist whose Pulitzer Prize–winning novel House Made of Dawn launched a Native American literary renaissance. The Kiowa writer's new book is a short essay collection, Earth Keeper: Reflections on the American Land.

Beowulf (circa 700–1000).

Arguably the oldest poem in the English language, Beowulf has weathered the test of time. It is as vital for readers today as it was for listeners who heard it recited centuries ago. We don't know how long it existed in the oral tradition alone, but we know that it must have captivated those who heard it and that it was loved enough to be preserved for its own sake. And that, I take it, is the definition of great literature.

The Wife of Martin Guerre by Janet Lewis (1941).

This small, elegant novel is among those books that I keep close at hand and do not lend. It is a story of abandonment, imposture, belief, and disbelief. It is based upon actual events that took place in 16th-century France — and one of the strangest cases in French judicial history: A woman who had not seen her husband for years was confounded by the arrival at her door of a man who claimed to be her husband returned. The novel it inspired is beautifully written.

Platero and I by Juan Ramón Jiménez (1914).

In rural Spain, a man and his donkey share a simple life. The book was written in Spanish, but it is faithfully translated into English. It is a timeless story for all seasons and all ages, and one that nourishes the soul.

The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway (1952).

This was Ernest Hemingway at his very best. The story of a lone fisherman and a marlin becomes a story of heroism, defeat, and the nobility of the human spirit.

Speak, Memory by Vladimir Nabokov (1951).

A masterpiece in the art of the autobiographical narrative. It is intimate, intelligent, and written in a style that is Nabokov's own. This book has kept me company for many years, and my estimation of it remains undiminished.

War Music by Christopher Logue (1981).

In this partial paraphrase of Homer's Iliad, the first of several Logue wrote in parts across three decades, the English poet plays with the ancient account of the siege of Troy and in the process renders it whole and irresistibly appealing to the modern reader. It is in itself brilliant poetry.

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