Some Books on My Shelves

Creative Nonfiction: An ongoing and highly selective compilation

To compile such a list is to have the thrill of visiting old friends, however briefly, and that mix of anticipation and chagrin that arises from thinking of all those fine books waiting to be read.  What follows is not comprehensive, and arrives accompanied with apologies to those whose books are on my shelves but whose titles escaped my racing eye.  Please send along suggestions for additions.

Note: Writers prior to 1700 would have been baffled by our familiar distinction between fiction and nonfiction.  They understood every work of writing as set down to make an argument.  What mattered was not the “fact” or “fiction” of the piece but the effectiveness with which the writer made his or her argument, which is another way of saying the effectiveness with which the writer told his or her story.

Faith / Spirituality / Philosophy

  • The Bible (Revised Standard Version (RSV) for information and ease of reading, the King James version for elegance)
  • Augustine’s Confessions (I prefer the Pine-Coffin translation)
  • Boethius, Consolations of Philosophy
  • Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
  • Henry David Thoreau, Civil Disobedience
  • Walt Whitman, Specimen Days / Democratic Vistas
  • Mark Twain, Letters from the Earth
  • Vine Deloria, Jr., God is Red
  • William James, Varieties of Religious Experience
  • Harold Bloom, The American Religion
  • Heinrich Zimmer, Myths and Symbols of India
  • Mircea Eliade, The Sacred and the Profane
  • Mircea Eliade, Myth of the Eternal Return
  • Elaine Pagels, The Gnostic Gospels
  • The Diary of Anne Frank
  • Primo Levi, Survival at Auschwitz
  • Thomas Merton, Seven Storey Mountain
  • Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation
  • Thomas Merton,  Asian Journals
  • Kathleen Norris, Dakota:  A Spiritual Journey
  • Nora Gallagher, Practicing Resurrection
  • Alain Hadot, Philosophy as a Way of Life
  • Peter Brown, Body and Society
  • Peter Brown, Augustine of Hippo

The Peripatetic Mind

  • Montaigne, Essays
  • Pascal, Pensées
  • Hazlitt, Lamb, Blake
  • Emerson, Essays
  • William Carlos Williams, In the American Grain
  • Walker Evans / James Agee, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men
  • Octavio Paz, Labyrinth of Solitude
  • Joan Didion, Collected Essays
  • E.B. White, Collected Essays
  • Wendell Berry, Recollected Essays
  • Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida
  • John D’Agata, Halls of Fame
  • John Berger, Ways of Seeing
  • Bernard Cooper,. Maps to Anywhere
  • Albert Goldbarth, Many Circles
  • Guy Davenport, Geography of the Imagination
  • Ander Monson, Vanishing Point
  • Primo Levi, The Periodic Table

Literature of Travel and Exploration

  • Cabeza de Vaca, Adventures in the New World
  • Bernal Diaz, Conquest of Mexico
  • Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America
  • Frances Trollope, Domestic Manners of the Americans
  • Edwin Bryant, What I Saw in California
  • Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire
  • Mary McCarthy, Stones of Florence
  • John Wesley Powell, The Exploration of the Colorado and Its Canyons

Civil Rights / Activism

  • Frederick Douglass, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, A Slave
  • Henry David Thoreau, Civil Disobedience
  • Wendell Berry, What Are People For?
  • Norman Mailer, The Executioner’s Song
  • Sister Helen Prejean, Dead Men Walking
  • James Baldwin, The Price of the Ticket (collected essays)
  • Dee Brown, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee
  • Barbara Kingsolver, Animal,Vegetable, Miracle
  • Abraham Verghese, My Own Country
  • Luis Urrea, The Devil’s Highway
  • Richard Rodriguez, Hunger of Memory
  • Maxine Hong Kingston, Woman Warrior
  • Rebecca Solnit, Savage Dreams


  • Ulysses Grant, Memoirs
  • Geronimo:  His Own Story
  • J.R. Ackerley, My Father, Myself
  • Clark Blaise, I Had a Father
  • Vladimir Nabokov, Speak, Memory
  • Beryl Markham, West with the Night
  • Patricia Hampl, A Romantic Education
  • Patricia Hampl, The Florist’s Daughter
  • Eudora Welty, One Writer’s Beginnings
  • Eva Hoffman, Lost in Translation
  • Nick Flynn, Another Bullshit Night in Suck City
  • Susan Brind Morrow, The Names of Things
  • Mark Doty, Firebird
  • Pam Houston, Waltzing the Cat
  • Scott Momaday, The Names
  • Gary Paul Nabhan, The Desert Smells Like Rain
  • Tobias Wolff, This Boy’s Life
  • Beryl Markham, West with the Night
  • Shirley Abbott, Love’s Apprentice:  The Romantic Education of a Modern Woman

On Writing

  • John Gardner, On Moral Fiction
  • Eudora Welty, The Eye of the Story
  • Flannery O’Connor, Mystery and Manners

Nature and Place

  • E.O. Wilson, On Human Nature
  • Rachel Carson, Silent Spring
  • Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek
  • James Galvin, The Meadow
  • Barry Lopez, Desert Notes
  • Alison Hawthorne Deming, Writing the Sacred into the Real
  • Loren Eisley, The Immense Journey
  • Jeanne Watsuki Houston, Farewell to Manzanar
  • Aldo Leopold, Sand County Almanac
  • Charles Darwin, Voyage of the Beagle
  • Stephen Weinberg, The First Three Minutes
  • John Steinbeck and Ed Ricketts, Log of the Sea of Cortez

History / Cultural Commentary

  • Edmund Wilson, Patriotic Gore
  • Jared Diamond, Guns, Germs and Steel
  • Anne Fadiman, The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down
  • Truman Capote, In Cold Blood
  • Lewis Hyde, The Gift
  • Evan Connell, Son of the Morning Star