Wednesday, May 29, 2013


By Shelly Lowenkopf

Lists are tyrants.  There are many types of both.

There are laundry lists, shopping lists, and from my publishing background, front lists and backlists, meaning books appearing in the front pages of a publisher’s catalog or the back pages, where books already in print are listed.

Some lists are extensive and inclusive.  Some tyrants are benevolent and populist oriented.  The thing they share most is the fact of their being arbitrary.

A tyrant begins with the assumption of being correct.  A list often takes the moral high ground of correctness, even though it recognizes some limitations, then becomes defensive about the items left out.

This list was requested of me by my Wednesday morning Memoir Class, some of whom have been with me since I assumed its teaching post in December of 2010.  As a mere request and thus an abstraction, it was not a tyrant.  The moment I began considering candidates for the list, it became a tyrant for me, requiring a kind of elitism I tend to distrust when I do not outright dislike it.

I offer this list of one hundred things I’d like the class to read with the awareness of dozens of things beyond the hundred mark already fluttering about me.  I can and do herewith say these things have the aggregate power to work alchemy on anyone who undertakes to read them, digest them, and find ways to bring them into permanent internal residence.

Some of the things on this list are works I have edited, written, or wished that I had edited or written.  Others are transformative experiences for me which I offer in the remembered spirit of shared and traded sandwiches at school lunches.

There is no particular order or design to the order in which these suggestions are listed other than the order or design of serendipity, which seems to me an excellent approach to reading.

1. Twain, Mark  (ps of Samuel Langhorn Clemens).  Life on the Mississippi. In effect, a memoir of a river and a young man.
2. ____________.  The Innocents Abroad.  Memoir
3. ____________.  A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court.  Fiction.
4. Cisneros, Sandra.  The House on Mango Street.  Fiction.
5. Kingston, Maxine Hong.  Woman Warrior.  A memoir.
6. Franklin, Benjamin.  Autobiography.
7. Adams, Henry.  The Education of Henry Adams.
8. Frank, Anne.  The Diary of a Young Girl.
9. X. Malcolm.  Autobiography.
10. Burroughs, Augusten.   Running with Scissors.  Autobiography.
11. Didion, Joan.  The Year of Magical Thinking.  Memoir.
12. ____________.  Blue Nights.  Memoir.
13. ____________.  The White Album.
14. Wilde, Oscar F.  De Profundus.  Memoir.
15. Geronimo.  Autobiography.
16. Black Elk.  Black Elk Speaks.  Memoir.
17. Spark, Muriel.  The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.  Fiction.
18. _____________.  Memento Mori.  Fiction.
19. Alexie, Sherman.  The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven.   Fiction (short story collection).
20. ________________.  “What You Pawn, I Will Redeem.”  Short story.
21. Erdrich, Louise.  The Plague of Doves.  Fiction.
22. _______________.  The Roundhouse.
23. Nabokov, Vladimir.  Speak, Memory.  Memoir.
24. Greene, Graham.  A Sort of Life.  Autobiography.
25. ________________.  Our Man in Havana.  Fiction.
26. Welty, Eudora.  One Writer’s Beginnings.  Memoir
27. Eisenberg, Deborah.  “Some Other, Better Otto,” Short Story.
28. Diaz, Junot.  The Brief, Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.  Fiction.
29. Styron, William.  Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness.
30. Mahfouz, Naguib.  Echoes of an Autobiography.
31. McCourt, Frank.  Angela’s Ashes.  Memoir.
32. Wiesel, Elie.  All Rivers Run to the Sea.  Memoir.
33. Coetzee, J.M.  Foe.  Fiction.
34. Coward, Noel.  Present Indicative.  Memoir.
35. Conrad, Barnaby.  Name Dropping.  Memoir.
36. ________________.  Fun While It Lasted.  Memoir.
37. ________________.  The Death of Manolete.  Biography
38. Kincaid, Jamaca (ps of Elaine Cynthia Potter Richardson).  A Small Place.  Memoir.
39. Shaw, George Bernard.  Joan (act 1).  Drama.
40. Hellman, Lillian.  An Unfinished Woman:  A Memoir.
41. King, Stephen.  On Writing.  Memoir.
42. Walls, Jeannette.  The Glass Castle.  Memoir.
43. Kingsolver, Barbara.  Animal, Mineral, Miracle. Memoir.
44. Winterson, Jeanette.  Why Be Happy When You Can Be Normal.  Memoir.
45. Terkell, Studs.  Working.  Biographies.
46. Ehrenreich, Barbara.  Nickel and Dimed: On Not Getting By in America.
47. Bukowski, Charles.  Post Office.  Memoir.
48. McPhee. John.  Coming Into the Country.  Essay.
49. _____________.  Uncommon Carriers.  Essay.
50. Steinbeck, John.  Working Days:  The Journals of The Grapes of Wrath.  Memoir.
51. _______________.  Of Mice and Men.  Fiction.
52. Lowenkopf, Shelly.  The Fiction Writer’s Handbook.  Essay.
53. Goldman, William.  Adventures in the Skin Trade.  Memoir.
54. Athill, Diana.  Stet:  An Editor’s Life.
55. Houston, Jeanne.  Farewell to Manzanar.  Memoir.
56. Price, Richard.  Lush Life.  Fiction.
57. ______________.  Clockers.  Fiction
58. Atkinson, Kate.  Started Early, Took My Dog.  Fiction.
59. Mantell, Hillary.  Wolf Hall.  Fiction.
60. Fossum, Karen.  Broken.  Fiction.
61. Donoghue, Emma.  Room.  Fiction.
62. Fitzgerald, F. Scott.  The Crackup.  Memoir.
63. Fagan, Brian.  Before California.  History.
64. ____________.  Fish on Friday.  History.
65. ____________.  Cro-Magnon:  Portrait of an Ice Age People.
66. Harrison, Jim.  A Return to Earth.  Fiction.
67. Barnes, Julian.  Nothing to Be Frightened Of.  Memoir.
68. ______________.  Levels of Life.  Memoir.
69. ______________.  The Sense of an Ending.  Fiction.
70. Chandler, Raymond.  The Simple Art of Murder.  Memoir.
71. July, Miranda.  It Choses You.  Memoir.
72. Keaton, Diane.  Then Again.  Memoir.
73. McMurtry, Larry.  Literary Life.  Memoir.
74. _________________.  Horseman, Pass By.  Fiction.
75. Buckley, Christopher.  Losing Mum and Pup.  Memoir.
76. Dubus, Andre, III.  Townie.  Memoir.
77. Wolfe, Tobias.  The Old School.  Fiction.
78. _____________.  This Boy’s Life.  Autobiography/Memoir.
79. Proulx, Anne.  Bird Cloud.  Memoir.
80. _____________.  The Shipping News.  Fiction.
81. Richards, Keith.  Life.  Memoir.
82. Caro, Robert.  The Years of Lyndon Johnson.  Biography.
83. Tuchman, Barbara.  A Distant Mirror.  History.
84. Ruden, Sarah, (translator).  The Golden Ass.  Fiction
85. Gorra, Michael.  Portrait of a Novel.  Memoir.
86. Lawrence, D. H.  Sons and Lovers.  Fiction.
87. _______________.  Studies in Classic American Literature.  Essay.
88. Yardley, Jonathan.  Second Reading.  Essay.
89. Ford, Richard.  Canada.  Fiction.
90. Cather, Willa.  My Antonia.  Fiction.
91. ____________.   Death Comes to the Archbishop.  Fiction.
92. Woodress, James.  Willa Cather:  A Biography.
93. Graves, Robert.  I, Claudius.  Fiction.
94. Warren, Robert Penn.  All the King’s Men.  Fiction.
95. ____________________.  Band of Angels.  Fiction.
96. Dickens, Charles.  Great Expectations.  Fiction.
97. Mason, Bobbie Ann.  In Country.  Fiction.
98. O’Brien, Thomas. The Things They Carried.  Fiction.
99. Johnson, Denis.  Railroad Dreams.  Fiction.
100. Prose, Francine.  Reading Like a Writer.  Essay.
101. Smiley, Jane.  Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Novel.  Essay

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