Personal Canon of Books

This idea was brought to me by Jillian, who encouraged me to make a list.  It has just taken me awhile.

Every avid reader has a particular and unique way of composing a personal canon.  The list is characteristic of who you are.  It says, "These are my books."

Some of these books have affected my worldview, some shook me to my core, some left an imprint on my heart, and others changed my life forever.  These books matter to me.  If I constructed my self-portrait using books, this is what it would look like; if I was marooned on an island, these are the books I would desire for my companion.  Over all, I measured my books based on how I responded to them, which makes them obviously personal.

Since every reader is distinct and every reading experience is personal, I can not stand by each one and promise that another reader would have the same encounter.  You may have a completely different result.  We may agree that a work is good because it meets certain qualifications or standards, but beyond that, it may end.  And that is ok, too.

This is my personal canon - an ever growing and evolving list that may forever be part of me.  I broke it up between fiction and non-fiction (the latter including biographies, histories, and miscellaneous).


Alcott, Louisa May
Little Women

Angelou, Maya:
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

Atwood, Margaret
The Handmaid's Tale

Austen, Jane
Pride and Prejudice                      
Sense and Sensibility 

Brittain, Vera
Testament of Youth

Bronte, Charlotte
Jane Eyre

Burnett, Frances Hodgson
The Secret Garden

Bunyan, John
Pilgrim's Progress

Cather, Willa
O Pioneers!                         

Don Quixote

Crane, Stephen
The Red Badge of Courage

Defoe, Daniel
Robinson Crusoe

Dickens, Charles
A Christmas Carol                               
A Tale of Two Cities                              
Oliver Twist

Dostoevsky, Fyodor
Crime and Punishment                                    
The Brothers Karamazov

Ellison, Ralph
Invisible Man

Fitzgerald, F. Scott
The Great Gatsby

Flaubert, Gustave
Madame Bovary

Forster, E.M
Howards End

Golding, William
Lord of the Flies

Grahame, Kenneth
Wind in the Willows

Haley, Alex:

Hardy, Thomas
Far From the Madding Crowd                             
Jude the Obscure                             
The Mayor of Casterbridge                             
Return of the Native                             
Tess of D'Urbervilles

Hawthorne, Nathaniel
The Scarlet Letter

Hemingway, Ernest:

Hosseini, Khalid
A Thousand Splendid Suns

Hurston, Zora Neale
Their Eyes Were Watching God

Irving, Washington:
Old Christmas

Lee, Harper
To Kill a Mockingbird

Lewis, Sinclair:

Marquez, Gabriel Garcia:
One Hundred Years of Solitude

Melville, Herman

Miller, Arthur
The Crucible

Mitchell, Margaret
Gone with the Wind

Orwell, George

Pasternak, Boris
Doctor Zhivago

Remarque, Erich Maria
All Quiet on the Western Front

Stowe, Harriet Beecher
Uncle Tom's Cabin

Twain, Mark
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn                         

Tolstoy, Leo:
War and Peace                       

Turner, Nancy

Wharton, Edith
The Age of Innocence                             
The House of Mirth                           
Ethan Frome

Wilder, Laura Ingalls
Little House in the Big Woods                                   
Little House on the Prairie                                   
Farmer Boy                                   
On the Banks of Plum Creek                                   
By the Shores of Silver Lake                                   
The Long Winter                                   
Little Town on the Prairie                                   
These Happy Golden Years                                  
The First Four Years

Zola, Émile


The Bible

Adler, Motimer:
How to Read a Book

Ash, Christopher:
Married for God


Bauer, Susan Wise
The Well-Trained Mind                                   
The Well-Educated Mind 

Beamer, Lisa
Let's Roll

Bergreen, Laurence:

Jacobs, Harriet
Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl

Johnson, Paul
A History of the American People

Lewis, C.S.
Mere Christianity

Lewis, Meriwether & Clark, William
The Journals of Lewis and Clark

Metaxas, Eric
Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy
Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery                         
If You Can Keep It: Forgotten Promise of American Liberty

Nafisi, Azar
Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books

Rousseau, Jean-Jacques:
The Confessions

Sarton, May:
 Journal of a Solitude

Schaeffer, Francis
How Should We Then Live?

Stewart, Elinore Pruitt
Letters of a Woman Homesteader

Strachey, Lytton:

Thomas, Clarence
My Grandfather's Son

Thoreau, Henry David

Tomalin, Claire:
Thomas Hardy

Washington, Booker T.
Up From Slavery

Wiesel, Elie

Woolf, Virginia
A Room of One's Own

So . . . what is your personal canon?


  1. I'm SO EXCITED you did this, and so so so glad to see that Woolf made your list! AND THOREAU!! I want to read the Booker T. Washington title, & still have the May Sarton on my list at your suggestion. I'm also very interested in the Bradford and Columbus titles: I remember your entries on those. I either love or need to read every single one of your fiction titles. GONE WITH THE WIND. I'm SO HAPPY you loved that one soo much! xx

    Thanks for doing this. Wasn't it lovely to think it through and put together your list? :)

    1. Thanks, Jillian. Yes, It was so good to put together the list. I wanted to add why I chose each one, but I'll have to add those words later b/c it will take a longer time to think about it. I probably need to revisit my posts to come up with the right explanation b/c my reading responses are truly why these books are here.

      Thanks, again.

  2. Wow, you really went to town! I'm meaning to do this. I will. But it might take me a little while...

    1. Also, wow. You put Moby Dick on your list. And I would wonder what was wrong if I hadn't seen the Little House books!

    2. I know, I'm crazy. I added Moby Dick mostly b/c I loved the reading experience up to the very end, especially forming my argument about Melville. It was like decoding his thoughts.

      Anyway, I would love to read your canon; it does take a while to put together, especially if you want to add the reason why you chose your books.

  3. This is so interesting. I have never considered making a personal canon of books. It's given me something to think about.

    I found your list interesting too. I know it would be a lot of work but I would love to know how each book made it to your canon.

    On a side note. I am kinda sorta certain that the man in Let's Roll stayed at my parent's house. They hosted a couple of young me who were performing in the Wheaton College choir at their church. The years are right and the guy in the book was in the Wheaton Choir. The problem is I don't remember his name but based on the photos he looks like the same person. I guess I'll never know for sure but I'll always wonder.

    1. I wanted to add a short blurb about why I added each one to my list, and I may do that over the summer; but for now I had to put the list together and share it. It will take me a while to articulate in the shortest way possible my feelings. The best evidence is in my posts.

      P.S. I hope you decide to do a canon. I want to see what you choose. : )

      The man from Let's Roll is Todd Beamer. He and his wife, Lisa, attended Wheaton. He was an athlete, but for some reason I cannot remember if Lisa mentioned the choir. She may have. I wouldn't be surprised b/c he was a faithful believer. You should ask your parents if they remember him. And I think you would love his and Lisa's story very much (assuming you have not read Let's Roll, yet).

  4. Truly a great list of books. Many would be on my own "Canon". Perhaps I will follow your lead.

    1. Well, let me know when you get a list together.

  5. Ruth, we have so many titles in common!
    I'm so glad Germinal has made it here.
    Moby Dick & The Scarlet Letter are a bit surprise, though. I didn't think you enjoyed them that much.
    I still haven't time to read The Walden, Willa Cather, and Pilgrim's Progress. Maybe after this moving house business is over, I would be able to spend more time reading.

    1. Yes,, The Scarlet Letter made me mad - well, Hawthorne's motives made me mad, but it was an effective read nonetheless. Even if a book makes me mad, like Malcolm X, it may still be important. If a book elicits negative emotion, it may be for good reason. I want to read both MD and SL again; that means they are worthy.

  6. Wonderful selection, you have created a great list.
    I still remember 2 books that left a lasting impressions on me: 'Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books' (A.Nafisi) and Invisible Man (R. Ellison)
    Congratulations on a great personal canon.

    1. Thank you, Nancy. Yes, Reading Lolita and Invisible Man are excellent.

  7. I've already commented on this post but it hasn't shown up?? Anyhow, great idea, Ruth. Must have a think about this...

    1. Oh, no, Carol. I didn't see it. Something must have happened. Sorry. Anyway, it is something to think about after years of reading. It's a lot of fun to put together, too.

  8. "If I constructed my self-portrait using books, this is what it would look like" - I love that! Such a good way of putting it :)

    I see you have Cather on your list - I've STILL not read Carther. Can't explain why. Must try and get one of these two books you've listed.

    I'm planning on reading Augustine's Confessions quite soon - looking forward to it.

    Interesting you picked Voyage Out by Woolf - I know quite a few Woolf fans who think that's the weakest. I like it though; I do prefer the 1920s Woolf, but that doesn't make Voyage Out less good. I personally don't think it's weak, far from it.

    Stephen Crane's another one who has passed me by - will have to look out for him too :)

    Great list!

    1. Thanks, o.

      I know Voyage Out is one of Woolf's more conventional stories, but that is probably why I enjoyed it more than her stream of conscious works.

      Yes, I saw that you are planning to read Augustine, and I was going to tell you good luck. It's an impressive read. I thought my head would explode, but in a good way. : )

  9. A magnificent list. I was supposed to do this to, but Jillian's "gone dark" and I've lost some of the motivation. I've ready many of yours, and concur with most, so I'll comment on only one. The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom. I've actually been to the hiding place, The Corrie Ten Boom museum above the jewelers (no long Ten Boom Jewelers). I was stationed some years ago in The Netherland (land of my forefathers), and we made sure to visit Haarlem and the CTB house/museum. The part I mentioned as sad, was that we asked Dutch folks in Haarlem where the Ten Boom house was, and most did not know, nor did they know what it was. It is sad to me, that the Diary of Anne Frank is so well known, and The Hiding Place is not. BTW - it is possibly the only "tourist attraction" I've ever visited where I heard a clear presentation of the Gospel. It was a thrill nonetheless. Again...nice list.

    1. Thanks, Joseph. I know Jillian's blog is temporarily out of commission, but you can still do this. You'd have an amazing list, I suspect.

      The Netherlands is changing drastically, so I am not surprised by your story. True, Anne Frank gets more recognition, but those of us who know Corrie Ten Boom's story are equally blessed. She represents those who risked their lives to save others; it is not a coincidence that her story was preserved.

  10. I love the idea of creating a personal canon. I think I shall write a post about it at the Classics Club. Perhaps we can all work on something of the sort.

  11. DEB: Great idea! You'd have my support. The author Oliver DeMille (Thomas Jefferson Education) said that every nation has its own canon of books which represent who they are as a people. He said something like, "Each culture is different because it has different shared stories. Different stories define each family, each religion, each nation. And members of each connect themselves with the stories-they make the stories part of their personal story." It makes sense that each person can have his or her own canon of books, too.