Erin Morgenstern is the best-selling author of The Night Circus and The Starless Sea. That second novel, now out in paperback, features a magical underground library and mentions or alludes to many of her favorite works, including the six below.
The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters (2009).
I tend to be a setting-focused writer, so I gravitate to books with settings that become part of the story. My favorite house stories are the ones, like this English ghost story, where the house feels like a character: a living, breathing creature that’s so much more than just a building.
The Castle of Crossed Destinies by Italo Calvino (1973).
I love a good fantasy, but I’m even more fond of stories that take reality and tip it ever so gently over into the fantastical. I’m also fascinated by the ways Calvino plays with structure and how stories are told, in this case laid out as tarot cards upon a table.
The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler (1939).
A few years ago, I went through a noir phase and read all the Chandler and Hammett I could get my hands on. I love how mystery can propel a narrative, especially when that mystery is dimly lit and wearing something slinky and drinking a martini.
The Secret History by Donna Tartt (1992).
A whydunit more than a whodunit, The Secret History grabbed me from its perfect first sentence, and across 500 pages and beyond, I don’t think it ever let go. Tartt’s celebrated debut also allowed me to work the phrase “bacchanalian murderousness” into The Starless Sea.
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle (1962).
I first read A Wrinkle in Time at age 9 or 10, and of all the story’s wondrous elements, it’s the beginning that stays with me the most: In the attic of a regular house on a stormy night, an unhappy girl is shivering under a patchwork quilt just as something is about to change.
The Odyssey by Homer.
This is one of the books that I return to over and over again, and I now have two copies of Emily Wilson’s wonderful new translation so that I can take notes in the paperback. I was hoping to keep the hardcover pristine — but it has been nibbled on by a kitten.
This article was first published in the latest issue of The Week magazine. If you want to read more like it, you can try six risk-free issues of the magazine here.