An acquaintance asked me the other day what were some of my favorite, most treasured books. This spurred me on to make an “inventory,” as it were.
What follows is by no means a complete list, but, for my own sake, as a follow up to my friend’s query, I took a look at my bookshelves.
Alexander Gilchrist, “Life of William Blake”; 2 volumes (1880). My parents bought me a beautiful reprint edition of this work as a birthday present in 1972. It cost $35 then, which seemed expensive.
Adrian Van Sinderen, “Blake: The Mystic Genius” (1949). My friend John Ferris bought this book in a used bookstore in the 1960’s. I had a keen desire to own my own copy, but could never find one. Then, a few years ago, I finally found an inexpensive copy in the Strand Bookstore.
Blake, “Songs of Innocence and of Experience” (Orion Press) with Blake’s original illustrations (plates). This is a gorgeous edition; the printing and colors are fantastic. It doesn’t seem to be available anymore. I bought in 1968, just published, in a bookstore in Copley Square for $18. That seemed expensive then.
Blake, “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell.” A beautiful illustrated edition with introduction and commentary by Sir Geoffrey Keynes, published by Oxford University Press; purchased at the Strand Bookstore for $15.00.
Blake, “Poetical Sketches.” A slender facsimile edition, published in 1927, in good condition. I bought it for $7.50.
“William Blake: Poet, Printer, Prophet” by Sir Geoffrey Keynes (Orion Press, 1964); priced at $15.00.
“William Blake’s Illustrations to the Grave.” A fragile oversized paperback which I bought in the 1970’s that I have had trouble finding shelf space for and which I am almost afraid to handle. It was not expensive and has marvelous monochrome illustrations.
E. D. Hirsch, Jr., “Innocence and Experience.” Criticism on William Blake, published in the 1960’s; one of the best and most interesting works of criticism I have read. I bought this book in paperback in 1968 when a senior in college. I lost it on a streetcar in Boston. I managed to find a hardcover edition in the Strand Bookstore a little while later. It cost me $3.50.
Horace Traubel, “With Walt Whitman in Camden.” I have eight of the nine volumes that exist; six of these nine volumes were published posthumously. (I have read all nine.) I believe I have one of the most complete sets that any person or institution, including libraries, has. I have been unable to find and purchase Volume 4.
Walt Whitman, the complete correspondence; seven volumes. I had a very hard time finding a couple of the earlier volumes to complete my collection, but finally succeeded in obtaining them.
“Walt Whitman’s Blue Book.” A facsimile edition of “Leaves of Grass” with Whitman’s own edits in his handwriting (with tipped in pages, very costly from a book production standpoint). This exquisite two volume book, published in the 1960’s, is very hard to find now. A priceless book with excellent commentary and textual material. On the Internet, there are a couple of editions available priced at around $300. I recently got it at the Strand Bookstore for $90, which I considered a coup.
“The Diary of Samuel Sewall.” A Capricorn Giant paperback priced at $1.95.
Herman Melville. “Israel Potter: His Fifty Years of Exile.” Hardcover published in Boston in 1925; in excellent condition; bought used for $5.
Herman Melville. “Israel Potter: His Fifty Years of Exile.” Paperback published by Sagamore Press in the American Century Series, with an introduction by Lewis Leary; bought used for 75 cents.
Hawthorne, “The Scarlet Letter”; Modern Library edition.
Theodore Dreiser, “An American Tragedy.” A first edition (two volumes) given to me by a friend whom I was visiting in Paris. The gift took me totally by surprise.
“A Sister Carrie Portfolio” by James L. W. West III (University Press of Virginia, 1985).
Floyd Dell, “Moon-Calf.” A Sagamore Press paperback in the American Century Series, published in 1957.
Walter Duranty, “The Curious Lottery and Other Tales of Russian Justice” (1929) in a reprint edition.
Langston Hughes, “The Big Sea” and “I Wonder as I Wander.” Two fine paperback editions published by Hill and Wang; priced at $12.95 and $14.00, respectively.
The complete O’Neill-O’Flaherty novels (five books) by James T Farrell, published by the University of Illinois Press in fine paperback editions.
Djuna Barnes, “Nightwood,” in hardback.
Henry Miller, “The Time of the Assassins: A Study of Rimbaud”; a New Directions paperback, priced at $1.40, which I bought in the 1960’s.
Henry Miller, “Letters to Emil,” edited by George Wickes. A New Directions paperback priced at $12.95.
Alfred Perles, “My Friend Henry Miller” (1956). A rare book.
The novels of Richard Yates in fine Vintage paperback editions.
Charles Pierre, “Green Vistas” (Northpoint Press, 1981). A book of poems by a former friend who gave me two copies of the book upon publication.
Samuel Johnson, the complete essays, three volumes; published by Yale University Press.
“Johnsonian Gleanings,” 11 volumes. A collection of biographical miscellanies about Samuel Johnson. Hard to come by. I purchased it over the Internet at a very reasonable price.
Samuel Johnson, “The Lives of the Poets”; 3 volumes. I have been intending to read this work, but tried it recently and found it hard going. Still, I am very glad to own it. A new edition was published recently for something like $300. I got this edition, a very good one published in the 1960’s by Octagon Press, from the Strand Bookstore recently for around $60.
Penguin paperbacks of Shakespeare’s plays, published in the 1960’s. They cost 65 cents back then.
Shakespeare, “As You Like It,” in a Folger Library edition (Washington Square Press); priced at 35 cents. I have three or four Folger Library paperbacks of Shakespeare. I treasure them, love the cover art.
Daniel Defoe, “A Journal of the Plague Year.” A Signet Classic paperback from my high school days that was priced at 50 cents.
William Wordsworth, “The Prelude or Growth of a Poet’s Mind” (text of 1805). Bought used in hardback; published by Oxford University Press.
Charles Dickens, “David Copperfield.” A nice edition with big print that was reasonably priced. I bought it in the early 1980’s in a now defunct bookstore on the Upper East Side, where I was living at the time. (I hate small print.)
Edgar Johnson, “Charles Dickens: His Tragedy and Triumph.” A two-volume biography that I bought in a Manhattan used bookstore for something like $3, in perfect condition.
Novels of George Gissing. Victorian novelist who should be better known. I have about eight or so of his novels in Harvest Press quality paperback editions which I treasure; they were hard to find and relatively expensive. I bought them one by one via the Internet.
Robert Louis Stevenson, “Treasure Island” (Everyman’s Library paperback); priced at $1.95.
D. H. Lawrence, “Sons and Lovers.” Modern Library edition from my college days.
W. Somerset Maugham, “Cakes and Ale.” A Penguin paperback priced at $9.95.
Malcolm Muggeridge, “Winter in Moscow” (1934).
“Lyrics of the French Renaissance.” A beautiful bilingual edition published by Yale University Press that I purchased recently.
George Orwell, “A Collection of Essays.” A Doubleday Anchor Book priced at $1.45. It was required in my freshman composition course.
Arthurian Legends by Chrétien de Troyes, translated by Ruth Harwood Cline. From the 12th century. I have all five of the paperback books of Chrétien’s poems in Cline’s magnificent translations.
Marcel Proust, “Jean Santeuil.” A precursor novel to “Remembrance of Things Past.” I got this real nice edition (English translation) in some used bookstore in Manhattan. I haven’t read it in its entirety, but am very glad to own it.
Marcel Proust, “Pleasures and Regrets.” Picked up by me in a used bookstore.
Marcel Proust, “On Reading.”
“Platero and I.” An old battered 1960’s paperback of mine of this prose poem by the Spanish poet Juan Ramon Jiménez, translated by William H. and Mary M. Roberts. The best translation, I believe; hard to come by now.
Francisco Garfias, “Juan Ramon Jiménez.” A biography in Spanish. I bought it in a Latin American bookstore in Manhattan in the mid-1970’s for $2.75.
Knut Hamsun, “On Overgrown Paths.” Picked up by me in a used bookstore.
“Poems of The Elder Edda” (University of Pennsylvania Press). Old Norse poetry in splendid translations.
Tolstoy, “War and Peace,” unabridged, 4 volumes, in Russian. I bought it in The Four Continents Bookstore, a Russian bookstore on lower Fifth Avenue. At that time, Soviet books were cheap.
Tolstoy, “Resurrection.” In Russian. One of my all time favorite novels. Also bought at the Four Continents Bookstore.
Tolstoy, “Master and Man and Other Parables and Tales” (Everyman’s Library). A friend borrowed this book from me and carried it around for a few days, ruining the dust jacket, which annoyed me considerably.
“Leo Tolstoy,” introduction by Michel-R. Hofmann. An album published as a slim volume in 1969 in Geneva and reissued in English translation. My younger brother gave me the book as a gift from his personal library.
Dostoyevsky, “Poor Folk and The Gambler” (Everyman’s Library).
Dostoyevsky, “Winter Notes on Summer Impressions” (Criterion Books, 1955), with a foreword by Saul Bellow. Bought at the Gotham Book Mart in Manhattan for $5.00.
“Anton Chekhov’s Life and Thought: Selected Letters and Commentary” (1974) by Simon Karlinsky. Bought at a discount at the Columbia University Bookstore. A book which absolutely engrossed me, both Chekhov and the editorial commentary.
Chekhov, “Late Blooming Flowers.” A novella in paperback. Made into a fine Soviet film.
Chekhov’s stories in Russian. Another cheap Soviet edition from the Four Continents Bookstore.
Pushkin, poetry in Russian. Ditto.
Walter Arndt, “Pushkin Threefold.” Published in the UK in 1972. I bought it at the Strand Bookstore for $4.95.
“Fables of Aesop,” edited by Joseph Jacobs (Mayflower Books, 1979). A little book which I bought at Scribner’s Bookstore in Manhattan for $2.98.
Peter Abelard, “The Story of My Misfortunes.” I consider myself lucky to own this fine hardcover book. I can’t recall where I bought it. It was probably at the Strand Bookstore. I first learned about Abelard in a medieval history course with the great Norman F. Cantor.
“The Gospel According to Thomas” (Harper & Row, 1959). I bought this Gnostic gospel in the Harper & Row bookstore on Fifth Avenue and 53rd Street using my employee discount.
Jesse Lyman Hurlbut, D.D. “Hurlbut’s Story of the Bible.” A treasured book with color illustrations that Mrs. Shedd, my Sunday School teacher in the sixth grade, introduced me to and which I have owned since boyhood.
“Meister Eckhart.” A collection of his writings in a translation by Raymond B. Blakney in a Harper & Row paperback; sadly, not read by me yet.
“The Journal of George Fox,” edited by Rufus M. Jones. Paperback published by Friends United Press.
Albert Schweitzer, “Out of My Life and Thought: An Autobiography.” Paperback priced at $12.95.
Dorothy Day, “The Long Loneliness: An Autobiography.” Paperback published by Harper & Row; priced at $7.95.
Aldous Huxley, “The Perennial Philosophy.” An ink stained paperback given to me by my friend Bill Dalzell, a printer. The book, which was sort of a Bible for my friend Bill, is a compendium of excerpts from the works of mystical writers.
Walter Ciszek, S.J. with Daniel L. Flaherty, S.J. “With God in Russia.” A paperback in the Image Books series of Doubleday; priced at $2.45. This book bowled me over; I couldn’t put it down.
Jean Paul Sartre, “Anti-Semite and Jew.” A hardback that I bought at Salter’s book store in the Columbia University neighborhood.
“The Hours of Etienne Chevalier” by Jean Fouquet.” A gorgeous art book. One doesn’t seem to be able to find it anymore. I bought it as a Christmas present for my mother in the early 1970’s for the price of around twelve of thirteen dollars, which seemed expensive to me then.
Halsey Stevens, “The Life and Music of Bela Bartók.” A paperback which I purchased in the 1980’s for $4.50 and enjoyed reading very much.
“Little Pictures of Japan” (1925) and “Nursery Friends From France” (1927). Two treasured children’s books, inherited from my parents’ collection; edited by Olive Beaupré Miller.
Anna Sewall, “Black Beauty.” A nice Grosset & Dunlap edition.
“Medieval History” by my former professor Norman F. Cantor.
“Feudalism” by F. L. Ganshoff. A college history book of mine; priced at $1.65.
“The Making of the Middle Ages” by R. W. Southern; priced at $1.95.
“The Carolingian Empire” by Heinrich Fichtenau; priced at $1.45.
“The Barbarian West” by J. M. Wallace-Hadrill; priced at $1.25.
“The Historian’s Craft” by Marc Bloch. An old paperback of mine, a book I have read several times and underlined profusely.
Emanuel Le Roy Ladurie, “The Peasants of Languedoc.” An English translation in hardback, purchased by me in the early 1980’s when I was writing an article about the author. I consider myself fortunate to possess this interesting and innovative book.
A. J. P. Taylor, “English History 1914-1945” (Oxford University Press).
Cecil Woodham-Smith, “The Great Hunger.” This book was going out of print in the late 1970’s when I was employed by Harper & Row, its U.S. publisher. An Irish-American friend had recommended it to me. We had an employee discount of fifty percent on books in the Harper & Row bookstore. I was about to buy “The Great Hunger” and went to the register to pay, but the sales lady in charge would not sell it to me. She said this was because they had only three copies left in stock. I was always casing out books in the store during lunch hours, and this woman did not seem to like me. I was very disappointed, but was able to buy the book later when it went back into print.
Francis Parkman, the complete works (13 volumes). The set was published by Little, Brown, and Company in 1903, Beautiful books in splendid condition. I bought this set at Argosy Books on East 59th Street in Manhattan. Marcia at Argosy Books, who knew I loved Parkman, made a point of contacting me about the set when it became available. The price was $200, expensive for me in the 1980’s. She lowered it to $175 because she said she wanted me to have the set.
“The Education of Henry Adams.” A Sentry Edition paperback priced at $2.45.
“The Oxford History of the American People” by Samuel Eliot Morison. Given to me as a Christmas gift by my older brother and his wife. On the inside cover, they wrote an inscription to me: “To the effervescent pedant.”
“Builders of the Bay Colony” by Samuel Eliot Morison. A beautiful paperback edition (Sentry Edition). Mine got ruined, the cover torn. I was able to obtain a replacement edition over the Internet.
Perry Miller, “Errand Into the Wilderness.” Purchased for a colonial history course that I took with David Hackett Fischer; priced at $1.60. A Harper Torchbooks paperback.
Edmund S. Morgan, “Visible Saints: The History of a Puritan Idea.” A paperback from my college days; priced at $1.45.
Edmund S. Morgan,” The Puritan Family.” A Harper Torchbooks paperback; priced at $1.95.
David Hackett Fischer (my former history professor), “Albion’s Seed.”
David Hackett Fischer, “Historians’ Fallacies: Toward a Logic of Historical Thought.”
Richard C. Wade, “The Urban Frontier: Pioneer Life in Early Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Lexington, Louisville, and St. Louis” (1959). A Phoenix Books paperback published by the University of Chicago Press which I purchased in college; priced at $2.45.
Lewis Henry Morgan, “League of the Iroquois.” First published in 1851 and republished in paperback in 1962. I consider myself very fortunate to have this book in the paperback edition, which retains the original illustrations. It was priced at $8.95.
E. Douglas Branch, “The Hunting of the Buffalo.” A Bison Book paperback published by the University of Nebraska Press.
Pitirim A. Sorokin, “A Long Journey.” Autobiography of the Russian-born Harvard sociologist who was one of my early heroes.
Pitirim A. Sorokin, “Leaves from a Russian Diary.” About Sorokin’s experiences during the Russian Revolution. A book I couldn’t put down.
Pitirim A. Sorokin, “Social and Cultural Mobility.” A big quality paperback, priced at $2.95; long out of print.
Pitirim A. Sorokin, “Hunger as a Factor in Human Affairs.” A posthumously published book that is hard to find. I have never liked Barnes & Noble, but I found this book in the Barnes & Noble store on Fifth Avenue and 18th Street, priced at $10. A book I treasure.
Jane Jacobs, “The Life and Death of Great American Cities.” A Vintage Book paperback priced at $8.95.
Tété-Michel Kpomassie, “An African in Greenland” (1983). A cheap paperback edition; priced at $4.95.
Vilhjalmur Stefansson, “Greenland: (Doubleday Doran & Company, 1944). Bought used by me in excellent condition for $6.
Farley Mowat, “People of the Deer.” I read this book avidly, then lent it foolishly to a woman I was trying to get to know better; she never returned it. I was able to eventually obtain a replacement copy priced at $13.95. The book is about Mowat’s experiences living with Inuit people in 1946-47.
Paul Bergman with Henry Fitts, “I Begged for Bread in Russia: An Autobiography” (1976). I found this book by serendipity in a barn like used bookstore somewhere in New England. It was priced at $1.95. The book held my interest.
Jeffrey Tayler, “Siberian Dawn: A Journey across the New Russia” (1999). A paperback priced at $16.00. One of the best travel books I have ever read.
Thomas S. Kuhn, “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.” A paperback which I purchased in college for $1.50. Kuhn’s theories are said by some critics to have not stood the test of time.
Ralph Colp, Jr., M.D., “To Be an Invalid: The Illness of Charles Darwin.” I think this book is better than the sequel (see below).
Ralph Colp, Jr., M.D., “Darwin’s Illness.”
“The Fireside Book of Baseball” and “The Second Fireside Book of Baseball.” From the 1950’s; gifts from my parents. Books that I devoured in my preadolescent years.
“The Long Season” by Jim Brosnan. A book that Brosnan, a Major League pitcher, actually wrote himself. I have an old battered paperback copy from the 1960’s, which I treasure. It was priced at 50 cents.
Peter Gammons, “Beyond the Sixth Game” (1985). I finally found this book in paperback (price, $5.95) after a long hunt. It had already gone out of print, but a bookstore in Manhattan still had a copy on their shelves. It’s mainly about the Boston Red Sox, but it also provides illuminating coverage of changes that were occurring in the game in the 1980’s.
John Thorn, “Baseball in the Garden of Eden: The Secret History of the Early Game” (2011). My younger brother gave me this book as a birthday gift, lifting me out of a temporary state of depression during which I hadn’t been reading at all.
“Official Major League Fact Book, 1998 Edition.” Published by The Sporting News, this book turned out to be very useful. It is crammed with historical facts about teams and players. It was priced at $19.95.
“An Encyclopedia of World History” by William Langer. Given to me as a gift by neighbors in Canton, Massachusetts upon my graduation from high school.
“Words into Type.” The all time greatest style manual by far. Leaves “The Chicago Manual of Style” far in its rear. I bought this book in the mid-1970’s, for about twelve dollars, on the recommendation of a publishing executive, an editor at Doubleday, who was teaching an adult education course on editing which I took at Hunter College. It is an indispensable book.
William Zinsser, “On Writing Well,” Second Edition. I wrote advertising copy for this book while working at Harper & Row, Publishers in the 1970’s.
Bill Walsh, “Lapsing into a Comma: A Curmudgeon’s Guide to the Many Things That Can Go Wrong in Print — and How to Avoid Them.” A very cleverly written style guide by the Copy Desk Chief on the Washington Post Business Desk. My older brother, who was living in a Washington suburb, gave me the book as a gift. Otherwise, I would have never heard of it.
“Webster’s New World Dictionary.” The best, in my opinion. I have used it long (since the late 1960’s) and have purchased several editions, with previous ones becoming worn out from use. With it, one does not need an unabridged dictionary.
“Webster’s Biographical Dictionary.” Given to me as a going away present by my boss, a dean at Columbia University.
“Webster’s New Geographical Dictionary.”
“The Oxford Russian-English Dictionary.”
The Learner’s Russian-English and English-Russian Dictionaries (two volumes in paperback; MIT Press). Purchased at the Columbia University Bookstore.
Amsco’s French Dictionary. An inexpensive paperback dictionary for use in schools that I have found very useful and that has become worn from use. I have found that, for my purposes, it supersedes other French-English, English-French dictionaries that I have owned or consulted in the past.
Mario Pei, “The Story of Latin and the Romance Languages.” Published in 1976.
“Soviet Prison Camp Speech.” A bilingual glossary of Russian words and phrases, many obscene, used in novels such as those of Solzhenitsyn. I purchased this unusual book at the Strand Bookstore. It’s a fun book to browse.
— Roger W. Smith