Paul Harding

After years as the drummer of the Massachusetts-based rock band Cold Water Flat, Paul Harding followed his degree in English and his time at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop into crafting his debut novel, Tinkers. His story of elderly clockmaker George Washington Crosby’s reflections upon his impoverished childhood in rural Maine garnered Harding the Pulitzer Prize and a passionately devoted fan base. He now returns with Enon, a semi-sequel in which George’s grandson Charlie combats dreadful tragedy with wit and kindness. This week, Harding delves into the books that inspired his own beginnings as a writer, and celebrates some of his favorite fiction with trademark wonder.

The Magic Mountain
By Thomas Mann

“Colossal, glacial, with twice the normal gravity of earth, a mile above sea level. Mann promises, ‘We shall tell it at length, in precise and thorough detail — for when was a story short on diversion or long on boredom simply because of the time and space required for the telling,’ and he’s not kidding. It’s bizarre and eccentric and a masterpiece. The perfect winter novel, too.”

Absalom, Absalom!
By William Faulkner

“It may be that The Sound and the Fury or As I Lay Dying are very slightly superior to it, but this is the one that haunts me and freaks me out and that I reread every three or so years because I always think, Wait, that can’t be as good as I remember it being, and then it’s even better when I go back to it. Every time. It’s so dense and beautiful; Faulkner applies an infinity of aesthetic psi to the material so that you can only absorb so much of it with every reading, and that changes every time, so the book changes every time, too, which is largely what it’s about.”

Terra Nostra
By Carlos Fuentes

“I think I’ve veered away from some of Fuentes’s ideas about history and cosmology over the years, but this was the book that made me sit up, flabbergasted, and say, That’s it; I want to write books! He gets all of Western history on a grand literary carousel, sets it spinning, and has the characters do laps around it all, sometimes meeting themselves, even, always trying to contradict apparent determinism, always fighting for freewill, as long as the odds against look.”

War and Peace
By Leo Tolstoy

“Many of the so-called great books of the canon really are great, even though everyone says they are. This book is magnificent and lusty and resplendent and funny and a delight and deserves its singular representation.”

The Country of the Pointed Firs
By Sarah Orne Jewett

“I’m evangelical about this book. I think it is one of the great American novels, one of the great novels, period. It’s brevity and quietness and precision are all aspects of a sublime aesthetic, dramatic exploration of the old idea of I and thou. It treats tact as something holy, sacred, as grace. In fact, I think I’m going to go reread it right now.”