Reading Matters

Novelist Allan Gurganus on four books that changed his life

By Dannye-Romine Powell

I recently asked Hillsborough novelist Allan Gurganus to share with Reading Matters four books that have changed his life.

Here’s what he said:

  • The King James Bible was the first masterpiece I encountered. Every household had one. The Good Book showed me how much one book can truly matter. We value it was much for the stained-glass beauty of its language as for its rules of conduct. I consider Christ’s parable ‘The Prodigal Son’ the most complex short-short story ever told.
  • Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe made me both a Boy Scout and an existentialist. The work proves that, stranded, we must all make up everything as we go. Crusoe finds his loyal friend Friday as a bonus late in his solitude. First he had to learn to live as a complete and independent soul.
  • The Collected Stories of Anton Chekhov, all eight hundred and some, are what I would take to Crusoe’s island. Chekhov (1860-1904), grandson of a Russian serf but trained as medical doctor, was born a democrat. Nobody is better at blending suffering and humor. Chekhov proves that laughter is temporarily curative but that our souls are truly created by suffering, a universal tax.
  • Middlemarch by George Eliot confers on any reader an honorary citizenship to the village of its name. The hidden theological mission of this perfect book is to show how one virtuous life--- that of a smart underrated young widow, Dorothea Brooke---can secretly redeem all her mortal neighbors. Sentence for sentence, the book is pure protein, a marvel of humane organization and forgiving wit.

Allan Gurganus, a native North Carolinian, is the author of many works of fiction including “Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All” and, most recently, “Local Souls.”

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