40 favourite books selected for the Waterstone's Writer's Table
by Elizabeth Bishop
How simple some great poetry can seem - as x` as water, and as necessary. Bishop is incomparable: “Awful, but cheerful,” she said.
THE ANATOMY OF MELANCHOLY
by Robert Burton
A vast rickety structure of learning, wit, sense, nonsense, bizarre anecdotes, kindness, and wisdom. A humane guide and antidote to this terrible affliction.
A PERFECT SPY
by John le Carré
A perfect blend of form, subject, sensibility and moral power. Le Carré's best book, and one of the finest English novels of the 20th century.
THE WOMAN IN WHITE by Wilkie CollinsFor sheer plotting genius, Collins had no rival. If you've never read this, I can promise you one of the most gripping stories of all time.
by Lionel Davidson
The best thriller I've ever read, and I've read plenty. A solidly researched and bone-chilling adventure in a savage setting, with a superb hero.
THE ANCESTOR'S TALE
by Richard Dawkins
Dawkins at his very best: a beautiful clarity of exposition, and an unslaked sense of wonder at the grandeur, richness and complexity of nature.
THE COMPLETE BRIGADIER GERARD STORIES
by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Everyone knows Sherlock Holmes, but Brigadier Gerard is a marvellous creation - proud, valiant and absurd.
THE LETTERS OF VINCENT VAN GOGH
On the evidence of these honest, revealing and very moving letters, the greatest painter was a great writer as well; and his brother was a saint.
ART AND ILLUSION
by E.H. Gombrich
This is all about the mysterious business of looking and seeing, and E.H. Gombrich looked deeper and saw more than almost any other writer on art.
THE COMPLETE FAIRY TALES
by the Brothers Grimm
The fountain, the origin. Read one of these stories every day and your narrative taste will be purified, strengthened and refreshed.
THE CASTAFIORE EMERALD
Hergé was the best at everything: plots, draughtsmanship, jokes, characterisation, timing - he could do the lot, and this is his best book.
THE PRIVATE MEMOIRS AND CONFESSIONS OF A JUSTIFIED SINNER
by James Hogg
A brilliant, chilling and subtle account of religious derangement. Every self-righteous fundamentalist ought to read this, but of course they won't.
COUNT MAGNUS AND OTHER GHOST STORIES
by M.R. James
I don't believe in ghosts, but I'm frightened of them. They don't come any scarier than in these superb examples of the classic English ghost story.
THE VARIETIES OF RELIGIOUS EXPERIENCE
by William James
The most interesting thing about religion: not whether it's true, but what it feels like, explored by a psychologist of great intelligence and sympathy.
FINN FAMILY MOOMINTROLL
by Tove Jansson
The delight of the Moomin world always trembles on the brink of melancholy; its subtle and fascinating atmosphere is a triumph of the storyteller's art.
by Rudyard Kipling
A story about a boy in India, who ... But no summary can do this marvellous, rich and unforgettable novel anything like justice.
THE MARQUISE OF O
by Heinrich Von Kleist
A very strange writer: intense almost to the point of madness, but what a penetrating mind, and what sharpness and clarity of vision.
A VOYAGE TO ARCTURUS
by David Lindsay
As literature, this is tosh. Nevertheless, it's a work of epic moral grandeur, and one of the very few fantasies to do something truly original and important with the genre.
THE MAGIC PUDDING
by Norman Lindsay
The best thing yet to come out of Australia, and that includes Shane Warne. If anyone can read this without laughing, heaven help them.
edited by Kathleen Lines
Every household needs a collection of nursery rhymes, which are the foundation of every kind of success with language. This has always been my favourite.
VENICE FOR PLEASURE
by J.G. Links
Whether in prospect or in retrospect, or there in one's hands in the city itself, the most informative and engaging guide to the past and present of Venice.
THE CALL OF CTHULHU
by H.P. Lovecraft
Preposterous, overblown, absurd in every way - yet with an originality that looks more powerful and convincing each time I dip into it.
by Thomas Mann
How could a 25-year-old know so much, and write so perceptively? The first of Mann's great novels, and still astonishing today.
THE MAN WITHOUT QUALITIES
by Robert Musil
The greatest condition-of-Europe novel, but much more than a profound diagnosis - it's enormously funny, apart from anything else. I never tire of it.
THE BEST OF MYLES
by Flann O'Brien
The best collection of the funniest newspaper columns ever written. It's as simple as that. After this, read his The Third Policeman.
THE GNOSTIC GOSPELS
by Elaine Pagels
We live in Gnostic times. This is a clear account of the strange and intoxicating religion that nearly supplanted orthodox Christianity in its earliest years.
THE EMPEROR'S NEW MIND
by Roger Penrose
This is an age of great writing about science, and here is some of the finest. Penrose's knowledge is awe-inspiring in its reach and completeness.
THE BOOK OF DISQUIET
by Fernando Pessoa
The very book to read when you wake at 3am and can't get back to sleep - mysteries, misgivings, fears and dreams and wonderment. Like nothing else.
by John Cowper Powys
Powys evoked the English landscape with an almost sexual intensity. Hardy comes to mind, but a Hardy drunk and feverish with mystical exuberance.
EXERCISES IN STYLE
by Raymond Queneau
A pointless anecdote told in 99 different ways, or a work of genius in a brilliant translation by Barbara Wright. In fact it's both. Endlessly fascinating and very funny.
WE DIDN'T MEAN TO GO TO SEA
by Arthur Ransome
Ransome never strayed beyond the realistic, but what an exciting story this is: danger, courage, skilful seamanship, and a real respect for his young protagonists.
by Rainer Maria Rilke
The deepest mysteries of existence embodied in the most delicate and precise images. For me, the greatest poetry of the 20th century.
by John Ruskin
The best way to read this great and life-enhancing writer is in short and well-chosen excerpts. Earnest, unfashionable, no doubt; but profoundly wise and truthful.
THE COMPLETE MAUS
by Art Spiegelman
The complete answer to all those who still doubt the potential of comics. Spiegelman is a genius, and no other form could have told this story so well.
WALLACE STEVENS (POET TO POET)
edited by John Burnside
Wallace Stevens speaks more interestingly, and more memorably, about the things that matter most to me than any other poet. I can't imagine being without his work.
THE NEW BIOGRAPHICAL DICTIONARY OF FILM
by David Thomson
Opinionated, slightly cranky, vastly entertaining, endlessly informative. Of all the reference books I have, this is always the hardest to put down.
COUNTRY OF THE BLIND AND OTHER SELECTED STORIES
by H.G. Wells
In these short stories we can feel a whole genre just beginning to spread its wings, and test its strength, and take to the air.
by Geoffrey Willans and Ronald Searle
As any fule kno, this is the best marriage of writer and illustrator since ... well, since William Blake, really. Still funny after 50 years.
by P.G. Wodehouse
Wodehouse had the extraordinary ability to evoke innocence without being in the least boring, all in a prose style that lightens the spirits like champagne.
THE ART OF MEMORY
by Frances A. Yates
Yates re-imagined the whole intellectual world of the Renaissance, and laid bare the odd and secret beliefs buried in the foundations of the times we still live in today.
© 2008 Philip Pullman
Philip Pullman's Writer's Table will launch in selected Waterstone's stores on Thursday September 4. Find out more at www.waterstones.com/writerstable