What’s in your personal canon?

Posted May 10, 2017 by Lory in discussions / 53 Comments

I first encountered the “My Personal Canon” idea via this post from Melissa of The Bookbinder’s Daughter. Then Jillian tagged me on Twitter saying she would like to see my list. Well, how could I resist such an invitation? Here is my very personal take on the topic.

As I understand it, these are lists of books that have had a significant impact on us, and that we also consider “great” or of lasting value for others, whether they’re part of the traditional canon or not. That helped to narrow down my list, because as I looked back I found that I was wanting to include books that I’d read more than once, until they made a sort of imprint on my soul. (Every book on this list has been read so many times I’ve lost count.) The result may not be very highbrow, but these are books that have truly shaped me and my reading life.

After some deliberation, I have not included any non-fiction, including biographies and memoirs, on the list. That would involve a somewhat different set of parameters, and might be a project for another time.

So, here you go … and please, tell me, what would be in your personal canon?

  1. The Oz books by L. Frank Baum
  2. Greek Myths and Norse Gods and Giants by Ingri and Edgar Parin D’Aulaire
  3. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll
  4. The Princess and the Goblin and The Princess and Curdie by George MacDonald
  5. Complete set of “rainbow” Fairy Books edited by Andrew Lang
  6. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
  7. The Earthsea Trilogy by Ursula K. LeGuin
  8. Watership Down by Richard Adams
  9. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
  10. We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson
  11. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
  12. Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis
  13. Right Ho, Jeeves by PG Wodehouse
  14. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
  15. Gaudy Night by Dorothy Sayers
  16. Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones
  17. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
  18. What’s Bred in the Bone by Robertson Davies
  19. Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry
  20. A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare



53 responses to “What’s in your personal canon?

  1. What a splendid list! And such a lot of fantasy, topped by books on, naturally, the Emerald City! I think my canon would overlap significantly with yours, Lory, particularly the Le Guin, and anything by DWJ and Austen.

    My main criterion for inclusion would be to consider anything I’ve read, or would read, multiple times. And I’d include stuff I’ve enjoyed relatively recently and not just in my youth.

    Anyway the upshot is that I’m tempted to post my own canon sometime soon along these lines or using the meme Books that Built the Blogger that I’ve seen elsewhere.

  2. Jo

    Ooohh I like the idea of this, but I would be so worried about missing books off it. My list would also include Jane Eyre, Little Women and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, as well as Bow Down Shadrach by Joy Cowley and Every Secret Thing by Marie Munkara.
    I’m going to stop now, before I spiral out of control and start over-analysing the list lol

  3. What a great list, and idea! I love your books and many would appear on my list as well, but it would take me forever to put one together — I’d be afraid of missing half of them. Perhaps it will be a project…

    • This was an off-the-top-of-my-head sort of list (and I actually posted it five days early by mistake, so lost the opportunity to ponder and edit during that time). So consider that you could take a whack at it without too much forethought…but if you want more time to create a definitive list, we’ll still be interested whenever you’re ready.

  4. Oh my! What a lovely list! LITTLE WOMEN and JANE EYRE. Those two are in my canon as well. I so want to read Watership Down! I have a feeling I will LOVE it. And I adore that Baum leads tour list. I’ve only read one by him, and I can’t get it out of me. Also, I love that you’ve included a Norton Anthology of poetry. 🙂

    Thank you so much for doing this. It’s so enriching to see a collection of the books that has dented the soul of another.

    (How much fun was THIS to compile? I think writing such a list is like looking through old boxes of letters.)

  5. I’ve actually thought about this a lot–for the most part, my canon are books I discovered early and kept on rereading. I think it has to do with encountering something that affects you while your brain is still forming…we share some of the same, though I Watership Down never really got me the way it did so many others.

    • It’s an utter mystery to me why some books become touchstones for me (or another person) and others leave us unmoved — but I love seeing what each individual person would choose. As Jillian said above, “It’s so enriching to see a collection of the books that has dented the soul of another.”

  6. I’m with you on the Oz books and Pride & Prejudice! I’d also have to add the Laura Ingalls Wilder series to my personal canon, because I still read those. 🙂 Great post!

    • Well, one prosaic reason is it’s simply one of the two Shakespeare plays I’ve read, seen, and been involved in productions of most often (#1 being Twelfth Night), so it’s gotten most under my skin. Beyond that, I find that the mixing and merging of the three worlds of the fairies, mortal lovers and mechanicals has a lot of deeper meaning to ponder.

  7. I love your choices! I was tagged for this too but haven’t had time to put my list together yet. Little Women and Watership Down will definitely be on it. 🙂

  8. What a great list! It’s possible that I would also have Jane Eyre and Little Women on mine, but I do know for sure that I’d have many of L.M. Montgomery’s books. I am not much of a re-reader, but hers I could re-read forever.

  9. This is a neat idea. I will have to borrow it for a future post. I’ve thought about my favourite books before, but describing a ‘personal canon’ invokes a different way of thinking, about how a book personally impacted me. The first ones that come to my mind are The Hobbit and White is for Witching. Looking at your list makes me think I would probably also include The Haunting of Hill House. I read We Have Always Lived in the Castle first, and certainly enjoyed it, but something stuck with me more in Haunting.

    • It was interesting to think in these terms — there are books that definitely impacted me but that I”m not sure I would consider of lasting value. And then there are those that are indisputable classics but that left me relatively unmoved. I hope to see your list soon!

  10. A Midsummer Night’s Dream would be on my list as well, but if I had to include only one Austen, I would choose Persuasion over Pride and Prejudice. Another book I would include is Jostein Gaarder’s Sophie’s World. That was the first book that really got me thinking about philosophy and different ways to look at the world. Though I am no longer in the targeted age group, I still refer back to it and reread parts of it on a fairly regular basis.

  11. This is really interesting! And I wonder if, should you do this again in say ten years, it would have changed at all? Perhaps not much, or at least not the core.

    It’s always nice to read someone’s list of important or beloved books and find so many that I love too. 🙂

    • It surely would change in ten years! I think I should make an effort to take more time for rereading, so more books have a chance to “sink in.”

  12. This is such an amazing idea! Far from being a list of all the books you’ve ever read (which would surely be enormous), it’s just the ones that have had an impact on who you are as a person. I will definitely be putting some thought into this, thanks for sharing!

  13. I completely agree with your criteria for choosing. Several of these would be in my personal canon: Little Women, Gaudy Night (or possibly all four Harriet Vane novels), maybe the Oz books, possibly the MacDonald books, both Shakespeare titles plus Romeo and Juliet. I’ll have to think about which other books I would add; I think my list would be pretty long! Is it all right if I post my own list?

    • I am so pleased there are so many kindred spirits who love the same books I do! I decided to somewhat arbitrarily stop at 20, and tried not to think about all the books I left off…

      Please do post your own list — as I mentioned, this is just an idea I picked up from other bloggers and I’m sure everybody is happy if it spreads further.

  14. I love this idea! From your list, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Great Expectations,
    A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Twelfth Night would probably all make my own (Twelfth Night is my favorite of the Bard’s). I’d need to give some thought to what else would make it. Hmmm….

  15. I love this idea. It seems like a great way to really think about the books that have affected you and in turn, why. I love quite a few of the ones you do. “We Have Always Lived in the Castle” and “Pride and Prejudice” would probably be two of mine, too.

    Have you seen that they’re making a movie of “We Have Always Lived in the Castle”? I hope it’s good! It’s being released in August, I think.

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