Chosen by Max Porter
Max Porter is the award-winning author of Grief Is the Thing With Feathers and Lanny, a new novel about a city boy in an English village. Porter’s stage adaptation of Grief recently had its U.S. premiere at St. Ann’s Warehouse in Brooklyn.
The Odyssey by Homer, translated by Emily Wilson (2017). I have always loved The Odyssey so, so much, returning to it often, and Emily Wilson’s radical and important new translation is simply gorgeous to read and contemplate. The sheer musicality and energy of it is startling.
The Notebook by Ágota Kristóf (1986). Bless the gods (and CB Editions, the publisher of Alan Sheridan’s 1989 translation) for allowing English readers to meet this thumpingly powerful masterpiece about childhood, survival, and war in mid-20th-century Hungary. The Notebook, which is the first book in a trilogy, is one of the best novels I’ve ever read—a lethally insightful fable of death and desire.
Dart by Alice Oswald (2002). Oswald’s book-length poem about the river that flows through her native Devon taught me to listen, and to think about how a living and life-giving thing like the River Dart might be written and thought about. Dart is a text of infinite linguistic brilliance, shimmering, moving, a genuinely alive piece of literature and one of the greatest long poems in the language.
The Dark Is Rising by Susan Cooper (1973). “And this night will be bad. And tomorrow will be beyond imagining.” For a doomy-romantic kid growing up in England’s Thames Valley with a love of the woods and a preference for folklore over contemporary reality, this book was a life-changing favorite. It’s still astonishing and a great inspiration to me as a writer and a person.
In Parenthesis by David Jones (1937). My favorite book. The dizzyingly strange and difficult visionary war poem of a lonely, eccentric genius whose work has challenged, surprised, and delighted me more than any other. It isn’t so much a book as a sacred literary monument to humanity and civilization.
On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong (2019). This is a forthcoming book, due in June, but I include it here because I recommend that everyone pre-order it. It is one of the most beautiful novels I have ever read, a literary marvel and a work of extraordinary humanity. It is about who we are, and how we find ourselves in our bodies, in each other, in countries, on this earth: truly a masterpiece. ■