Saul Bellow said there is no place in heaven for men who read boring books. True enough. But if you are going to write fiction then you have to grapple with some of those boring books and come to terms with if not the masters the very good people who have written fiction. When I was learning to write fiction (still am) I had one book shelf. It is an old oak bookcase I picked up at some rummage sale. When I moved around apartments in Chicago I would drag my bookcase along that slowly filled with the fiction I was reading. Over the years the bookcase became a repository for classic and near classic fiction and then it became a historical record of the young fiction writer.
I do agree with Saul Bellow but I wonder how many people do read these books now? I put the list out there as a historical note and a sort of question. If these are the boring books that might or might not get you into heaven, how many people writing fiction have read them and more importantly how many people not writing fiction have read them. For better or for worse, here are some of the authors in my bookcase.
Hemingway, Faulkner, Fitzgerald, Woolfe, Faulkner, Virginia Woolfe, Conrad, Joyce, London, Orwell, Rand, Hammett, James, Wilde, Tom Wolfe, Mitchell, Dinesen, Caldwell, Wilson, Kerouac, Steinbeck, Sinclair, Ford, Ishiguro, McCuller, Trumbo, Salinger, Huxley, Tolkien, Bronte, Hawthorne, Bukowski, Miller, Whitman, Pynchon, Sartre, Goulding, Lawrence, Maxwell, Burroghs, Perkins, Dickens, Tolstoy, Lowry....
Well, this gives you an idea. I don't think I could go back and read a lot of those books. Some of them you have to read at a certain point in your life like Joyces's Ulysees which seemed only to make sense to me on the back of a CTA bus in Chicago. Others you read because someone told you have to like Malcom Lowry's Under the Volcano which by the end you feel like you have been on a bender much like his character. And some you read because you were very curious about this strange beast called fiction and how did these men and women do it.
The books are dusty and I rarely go to the bookcase anymore. But, when I stare at the shelf, I do get glimmers of that young man trying to write fiction while running down the backstreets of the city.