1. White Noise by Don DeLillo. Just as Hemingway was the most influential American prose writer for much of the 20th century, DeLillo has been the most influential novelist of the past two decades (at least among male writers), and by DeLillo I mean the DeLillo of White Noise. I lent this to a girlfriend in my early 20s. Lost it in the breakup. I still think of it as a contemporary novel even though Penguin has put it through nearly half a dozen cover changes since then.
2. The Orchid Thief by Susan Orlean. One of my favorite works of literary journalism. I will be teaching it next year, so just picked up another copy, which has a pale, much less attractive cover than the rich blue of the advance reading copy of the hardcover edition I owned. Also, the trim size of that was slightly unusual if I remember correctly, and it looks like they’ve trimmed the bottom margins of the current paperback to make it a more orthodox size. Too bad.
3. The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford. Read this during fall semester of my freshman year in college in a class that was confirming my decision to be an English major. This seems like a book I would really like to re-read. I remember it as a revelation of what a novel could be, and it seems like it would be no less satisfying to read in mid-life.
4. Heft on Wheels: A Field Guide to Doing a 180 by Mike Magnuson. The only book on this list that I’ve read twice, and if I had it on hand I might start in on it again right now. Magnuson’s account of his love affair as a 255-lb., chain-smoking, heavy drinker with bicycling is profane and beautiful. This and Christopher McDougall’s Born to Run are two outstanding books about the compulsions of endurance athletes.
5. Feeding a Yen by Calvin Trillin. The only book on this list I haven’t read in its entirety. I lent it out before I could sit down and read it properly.