The Favorite Books of America’s Best Authors

There’s a reason accomplished writers always say you must read much to write well. Reading opens you to new styles and stirs your creativity. So whether you’re looking for titles to add to your summer reading list or you just want to see how their picks line up with yours, here are the favorite reads of some of our country’s finest writers. (Like many people, many of these authors could not bring themselves to pick just one favorite, or even 10 favorites, in some cases, so we have highlighted one that just seems to fit them.)

  1. Huckleberry Finn, Ernest Hemingway:

    In a magazine article listing 17 of his favorite books, “Papa” included this Mark Twain classic. He once said of it, “It’s the best book we’ve had. All American writing comes from that.”

  2. Crime and Punishment, Joyce Carol Oates:

    The National Book Award-winning author of them has cited Dostoyevsky’s essential novel as her favorite. She has claimed a feeling of “writerly kinship” with James Joyce, and referred to the works of Sylvia Plath as “near-perfect works of art.”

  3. Le Morte d’Arthur, John Steinbeck:

    He gave us The Grapes of Wrath and Of Mice and Men, but John Steinbeck wouldn’t have been the same without the influence of his favorite book as a young man, Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur. The 1485 book was a masterpiece of Arthurian literature.

  4. The Golden Argosy, Stephen King:

    Americans who write him off as simply a purveyor of gore do so to their own loss. King is an exceptional writer, which is why his recommendation of this collection of short stories from luminaries like Hemingway and Aldous Huxley is an endorsement with serious heft.

  5. The Wigwam and the Cabin, Edgar Allan Poe:

    This book was written by William Gilmore Simms, a man Poe considered the best American novelist the country had produced as of his era. Poe called Wigwam “decidedly the most American of the American books.”

  6. Moby Dick, Ray Bradbury:

    How anyone could declare Moby Dick their favorite book with a straight face is beyond us, but then again, Ray Bradbury was one of a kind. The author behind Fahrenheit 451 said of Herman Melville’s tome, “Quite obviously its impact on my life has lasted for more than 50 years.”

  7. Don Quixote, William Faulkner:

    Biographer Stephen B. Oates listed among Faulkner’s favorite works Shakespeare, the Old Testament, and Balzac. But it’s easiest to see the influence of Miguel de Cervantes on his stories that made almost-fantastical adventures out of the ordinary events of life, just like the famous character who tilted at windmills.

  8. Anna Karenina, Norman Mailer:

    Two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Mailer favors this Tolstoy classic, which is considered by many one of the greatest novels of all time. When asked who his favorite fictitious hero was, he said Anna Karenina was probably “the protagonist from whom he learned the most.”

  9. Jane Eyre, Alice Walker:

    Oprah Winfrey asked Walker to name her favorite book for her viewers. Walker refused to limit herself to one, instead picking three: Women who Run with the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estes, The Great Cosmic Mother: Rediscovering the Religion of the Earth by Monica Sjoo and Barbara Mor, and this Charlotte Bronte tale.

  10. The Magic Mountain, John Irving:

    Hollywood is especially fond of Irving’s work, turning five of his novels into films. But probably few movie moguls would be familiar with Irving’s favorite novel, Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain, an important piece of German literature about a sanatorium in the Swiss Alps.

  11. The Screwtape Letters, David Foster Wallace:

    American readers and moviegoers may be familiar with C.S. Lewis through his Chronicles of Narnia stories. But he was also a gifted theologian and philosopher, who penned this book of satirical letters from one demon to another, a favorite of American literary heavyweight David Foster Wallace.

  12. The Green Bay Tree, Tennessee Williams:

    Playwright and author Williams was a voracious reader and was no doubt influenced by dozens of books. But upon entering Missouri University in 1929, he answered in an interview that his favorite book was The Green Bay Tree by Louis Bromfield, a shocking book for its time due to its homosexual protagonist.

  13. Moby Dick, Cormac McCarthy:

    McCarthy is another gifted American writer who ranks a 160-year-old book about whaling at the top of his list of books. The Road author channeled Captain Ahab in Blood Meridian with a soliloquizing giant character named Judge Holden.

  14. Aurora Leigh, Emily Dickinson:

    Beloved American writer Emily Dickinson so cherished this verse novel about a Victorian-era woman struggling to be a great poet that when its author, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, died in 1861, Dickinson wrote three poems for her as a tribute.

  15. Turtle Moon, Jodi Picoult:

    Picoult calls Alice Hoffman her “all-time favorite writer.” So though this bestselling author of Nineteen Minutes may mention Life of Pi and The Great Gatsby among her favorites, it seems Turtle Moon holds the top spot in her heart.

  16. Seize the Day, Jonathan Franzen:

    Probably just to be difficult, Franzen picked 28 books as his “favorite” fiction novels for interested Oprah Book Clubbers. But Seize the Day — a tale of a miserable man with a dysfunctional family and generally disastrous life — could almost have been written by Franzen himself.

  17. Warlock, Thomas Pynchon:

    Pynchon, a famously reclusive author, does not do the “meet the author” interviews where readers get to hear what his favorite book or color is. But in the December ’65 issue of Holiday magazine, Pynchon crowned Oakley Hall’s western “one of our best American novels” and his favorite “neglected” book.

  18. The Abolition of Man, Dean Koontz:

    Casting another vote for a C.S. Lewis work is Dean Koontz, a New York Times bestselling author several times over. He told one interviewer that Lewis’ 1943 book of observations on values and natural law was a major influence on his Frankenstein graphic novel series, and reportedly told another that he reads Abolition every single year.

  19. Illuminations, Michael Chabon:

    Chabon is one of the best American writers working today and already has one Pulitzer for fiction under his belt. But when asked to name his favorite nonfiction book, Chabon says he has reread Walter Benjamin’s Illuminations more than anything, which contains an essay that “feels as if it was made out of something more evanescent than words.”

  20. Thus Spoke Zarathusa, Jack London:

    It seems an odd way of showing it, but Jack London enjoyed Nietzsche’s book extolling his beliefs in the “superman” so much that he dedicated two novels to it, in which he criticized Nietzsche’s theories.