“If a favorite book is a touchstone you find yourself returning to again and again—something that nourishes your soul at different stages in your life, that you open at random and find yourself ensnared all over again,” says the American author, whose books include the short-story collections The Shell Collector and Memory Wall and the novel All the Light We Cannot See, awarded the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2015, “then these are my three.” Here, Doerr, who served as guest editor for the 2019 Best American Short Stories collection, out now from Mariner Books, recommends his favorite titles. “They’re unusual, unorthodox, and under-appreciated,” he says, “but my library would be much poorer without them.”
Platero and I, by Juan Ramón Jiménez
I love mosaics, literary and otherwise, and Platero and I, by Spanish Nobel Prize winner Juan Ramón Jiménez, is a glittering example: a 1916 novel constructed out of little vignettes that are as much prose poems as they are chapters. In each, the poet relates an adventure in the Andalusian countryside with his remarkable silver donkey, Platero. Along the road, Jiménez’s prose carries you back to a slower time, when humans were more connected to the birds and animals they lived beside, and the natural world glowed with meaning.
Autobiography of Red, by Anne Carson
What a crazy, amazing, dazzling, weird book. Is it a novel? A long poem? Maybe an essay? Is it whimsical or serious? A fairy tale or a realistic coming-of-age story? Whatever it is, it’s electrifying and super-strange. Our main character, Geryon, is a boy who is also a red demon with wings, though you forget about the wings most of the time. His story is devastatingly sad, but told in language that offers bright zings of pleasure and brings you into deep contact with the mysteries of being alive.
Memoirs of Hadrian, by Marguerite Yourcenar
It’s Rome in the second century C.E., and 60-year-old Emperor Hadrian has been diagnosed with an incurable illness, so he writes an autobiography for his adopted grandson, Marcus Aurelius. Every page of this book rings with bright, deep wisdom: about love, sleep, beauty, and impermanence. This is a demanding novel, so you’ll want to leave your smartphone somewhere else (preferably drowned at the bottom of a Roman aqueduct), but it is utterly rewarding; one of the most soulful, skillful novels ever written.