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The 100 Decisive Books in the Life of Henry Miller


Books accompanied Miller throughout his life and as such he wanted them to be acknowledged and attributed the merit that he thought they had lost.

A question apparently as simple as ‘what’s your favorite book?’ can be complicated if the person who is asked has made writing one of their fundamental activities in life. Usually, those people afford importance to everything concerning language, in almost all of its forms, and which leads them to develop a sensibility and criteria that lead them to ponder these issues in a unique way because their personal cosmogony, writing and language occupy an essential and even vital place.

“What is your favorite book? Is the question, but that is a problem for a writer. Favorite for what? To inspire me? To learn? A favorite when? In childhood or as an adult? Why a favorite? For the story? For its handling of narrative technique? For its effect on literature?"

As we can see, the answer is not simple and, in some cases, responding to it requires the writing of another book.

This is what Henry Miller did. In 1952 he published The Books in My Life. An “autobiobibliographic” text in which Miller sought to reclaim books as the means of communication of the world, something that appears obvious but in his era (and which is not so different from in our own) was a truth that was more reverenced that practiced. In that respect he wrote in the book’s preface:

"The principal aim underlying this work is to render homage where homage is due, a task which I know beforehand is impossible of accomplishment. Were I to do it properly, I would have to get down on my knees and thank each blade of grass for rearing its head. What chiefly motivates me in this vain task is the fact that in general we know all too little about the influences which shape a writer’s life and work. The critic, in his pompous conceit and arrogance, distorts the true picture beyond all recognition. The author, however truthful he may think himself to be, inevitably disguises the picture. The psychologist, with his single-track view of things, only deepens the blur. As author, I do not think myself an exception to the rule. I, too, am guilty of altering, distorting and disguising the facts  — if ‘facts’ there be. My conscious effort, however, has been — perhaps to a fault– in the opposite direction. I am on the side of revelation, if not always on the side of beauty, truth, wisdom, harmony and ever-evolving perfection. In this work I am throwing out fresh data, to be judged and analyzed, or accepted and enjoyed for enjoyment’s sake. Naturally I cannot write about all the books, or even all the significant ones, which I have read in the course of my life. But I do intend to go on writing about books and authors until I have exhausted the importance (for me) of this domain of reality."

The work is in some ways impressive because it offers a precise itinerary of a reading life, following those “reading days” that for some people like Miller began in childhood and finish almost with life itself, a kind of parallel course to existence that receives the ups and downs of life and sometimes even provokes them. And all of this in the best irreverent style that characterized his work.

At the end, Miller added an appendix, “The 100 books that most influenced me,” a rigorous and exquisite selection that is worth following with the dual purpose of getting to know a little more about Miller, but also for learning from him, without forgetting the saying that each should follow their own path, even between books.

The Books in My Life

1. Ancient Greek dramatists

2. Arabian Nights (for children)

3. Elizabethan playwrights (except Shakespeare)

4. European playwrights of the 19th Century

5. Greek Myths and Legends

6. Knights of King Arthur’s Court

7. Abèlard, Pierre, The Story of My Misfortunes

8. Alain-Fournier, The Wanderer

9. Andersen, Hans Christian, Fairy Tales

10. Anonymous, Diary of a Lost One

11. Balzac, Honoré de, Seraphita

12. Balzac, Honoré de, Louis Lambert

13. Bellamy, Edward, Looking Backward

14. Belloc, Hilaire, The Path to Rome

15. Blavatsky, Mme. H. P., The Secret Doctrine

16. Boccaccio, Giovanni, The Decameron

17. Breton, André, Nadja

18. Bronte, Emily, Wuthering Heights

19. Bulwyer-Lytton, Edward, Last Days of Pompeii

20. Carroll, Lewis, Alice in Wonderland

21. Céline, Louis-Ferdinand, Journey to the End of the Night

22. Cellini, Benvenuto, Autobiography

23. Cendrars, Blaise, Virtually the complete works

24. Chesterton, G.K., Saint Francis of Assisi

25. Conrad, Joseph, His works in general

26. Cooper James Fenimore, Leatherstocking Tales

27. Defoe, Daniel, Robinson Crusoe

28. De Nerval, Gérard, His works in general

29. Dostoievsky, Feodor, His works in general

30. Dreiser, Theodore, His works in general

31. Duhamel, Geoges, Salavin Series

32. Du Maurier, George, Trilby

33. Dumas, Alexander, The Three Musketeers

34. Eckermann, Johann, Conversations with Goethe

35. Eltzbacher, Paul, Anarchism

36. Emerson, Ralph Waldo, Representative Men

37. Fabre, Henri, His works in general

38. Faure, Elie, The History of Art

39. Fenollosa, Ernest, ‘The Chinese Written Character as a Medium for Poetry’

40. Gide, André, Dostoyevsky

41. Giono, Jean, Refus d’Obéissance

42. Giono, Jean, Que ma joie domeure

43. Giono, Jean, Jean le Bleu

44. Grimm Brothers, Fairy Tales

45. Gutkind, Erich, The Absolute Collective

46. Haggard, Rider, She

47. Hamsun, Knut, His works in general

48. Henty, G. A., His works in general

49. Hesse, Hermann, Siddhartha

50. Hudson, W. H., His works in general

51. Hugo, Victor, Les Misérables

52. Huysmans, Joris Karl, Against the Grain

53. Joyce, James, Ulysses

54. Keyserling, Hermann, South American Meditations

55. Kropotkin, Peter, Mutual Aid

56. Lao-tse, Tao Teh Ch’ing

57. Latzko, Andreas, Men in War

58. Long, Haniel, Interlinear to Cabeza de Vaca

59. M, Gospel of Ramakrishna

60. Machen, Arthur, The Hill of Dreams

61. Maeterlinck, Maurice, His works in general

62. Mann, Thomas, The Magic Mountain

63. Mencken, H. L., Prejudices

64. Nietzsche, His works in general

65. Nijinsky, Diary

66. Nordhoff & Hall, Pitcairn Island

67. Nostradamus, The Centuries

68. Peck, George Wilbur, Peck’s Bad Boy

69. Percival, W. O., William Blake’s Circle of Destiny

70. Petronius, The Satyricon

71. Plutarch, Lives

72. Powys, John Cowper, Visions and Revisions

73. Prescott, William H., Conquest of Mexico

74. Prescott, William H., Conquest of Peru

75. Proust, Marcel, Remembrance of Things Past

76. Rabelais, Gargantua and Pantagruel

77. Rimbaud, Jean-Arthur, His works in general

78. Rolland, Romain, Jean-Christophe

79. Rolland, Romain, Prophets of the New India

80. Rudhyar, Dane, Astrology of Personality

81. Saltus, Edgar, The Imperial Purple

82. Scott, Sir Walter, Ivanhoe

83. Sienkiewicz, Henry, Quo Vadis

84. Sikelianos, Anghelos, Proanakrousma

85. Sinnett, A. P., Esoteric Buddhism

86. Spencer, Herbert, Autobiography

87. Spengler, Oswald, The Decline of the West

88. Strindberg, August, The Inferno

89. Suarès, Carlo, Krishnamurti

90. Suzuki, Daisetz Teitaro, Zen Buddhism

91. Swift, Jonathan, Gulliver’s Travels

92. Tennyson, Alfred, ‘Idylls of the King’

93. Thoreau, Henry David, Civil Disobedience & Other Essays

94. Twain, Mark, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

95. Van Gogh, Vincent, Letters to Theo

96. Wassermann, Jacob, The Maurizius Case (Trilogy)

97. Weigall, Arthur, The Life and Times of Akhnaton

98. Welch, Galbraith, The Unveiling of Timbuctoo

99. Werfel, Franz, Star of the Unborn

100. Whitman, Walt, Leaves of Grass

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