Michael Cunningham: TOP TEN BOOKS


Courtesy of Richard Phibbs

Michael Cunningham won both the 1999 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the Pen/Faulkner Award for his Virginia Woolf-inspired novel, The Hours, subsequently made into an Oscar-winning movie. His other books include A Home at the End of the World, Specimen Days, and The Snow Queen. Although he has described Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway as “the first great novel I read,” it’s Woolf’s To the Lighthouse that makes his list.

Below are Michael Cunningham’s favorite books, available to purchase as a set or individually.


Half of a Yellow Sun

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
It’s a powerful, moving, and beautiful novel.  It is not in any way about the life I live, or the world I know.
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Invisible Cities

Italo Calvino
Invisible Cities defies every single rule that’s generally applied to fiction. Every single one. It would be silly not to have a book like that on the island with me.
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Glass, Irony & God

Anne Carson
For the scope and inventiveness of it, and of course for its profound intelligence. For the reminder that as far as books are concerned, the only limits are the ones we set for ourselves.
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White Noise

Don DeLillo
Don DeLillo is my sentence god.  His sentences are more nuanced and forceful and beautiful than any sentences I know. If, upon departing for this hypothetical island, I were to be told I had to shed some weight, I could (though I’d be sorry to) just take a single DeLillo sentence with me, and read it over and over again.
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Train Dreams

Denis Johnson
Because, as far as I’m concerned, it’s one of the greatest books written in at least the last fifty years.
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Faithful and Virtuous Night: Poems

Louise Gluck
I’d need poetry.  I’d need at least 100 books of poetry. I’m taking Gluck’s most recent collection because it’s the poetry collection I’ve read most recently.  And, of course, because Gluck is a great poet.  But really, if I got started on the poets I’d take with me, I wouldn’t know where to stop…
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Stanislaw Lem
If speculative fiction is the last surviving instance of the novel of ideas, this to me is the greatest of them all.
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The Complete Stories

Flannery O'Connor
I’d have to cut the pages out of The Habit of Being (O’Connor’s collected letters) and sneak them in among the pages of The Complete Stories. She’s the goddess, right? And I’d need both books.
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Pastoralia: Stories

George Saunders
I love George Saunders. I truly love George Saunders. What else need be said?
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To The Lighthouse

Virginia Woolf
It’d be good to be reminded, as I pass my days sitting on a beach under a coconut tree, of all the life, all the beauty and sorrow, all the mystery; all that can be contained within a relatively modest number of pages. It’d be good to be continually reminded, as I grew older, about how much rampant life, how much emotion and conflict and joy and disappointment, can be conveyed in a novel so perfectly, symmetrically structured.
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