On the inextricable relationship between reading and writing, essayist and activist Susan Sontag once said: “Reading usually precedes writing. And the impulse to write is almost always fired by reading. Reading, the love of reading, is what makes you dream of becoming a writer.”

Sontag’s love of reading filled her otherwise sparse Manhattan apartment with as many as fifteen thousand books, of which she wrote in her journals, “My library is an archive of longings.” Not just a voracious reader, she was also enamored with the act of re-reading, and would regularly return to old favorites for new insights.

Viewing each reading as a unique exploration in self-discovery, Sontag writes: “I’m re-reading pieces of things that have always been important to me, and am amazed at my evaluations.” Listed below are her favorite re-reads.


Under Western Eyes by Joseph Conrad

The Divine Comedy by Dante (also rec’d by Patti Smith)

The Journals of André Gide by André Gide

I finished reading this at 2:30 a.m. of the same day I acquired it —I should have read it much more slowly and I must re-read it many times — Gide and I have attained such perfect intellectual communion that I experience the appropriate labor pains for every thought he gives birth to! Thus I do not think: ‘How marvelously lucid this is!’ — but: ‘Stop! I cannot think this fast! Or rather I cannot grow this fast!’ For, I am not only reading this book, but creating it myself, and this unique and enormous experience has purged my mind of much of the confusion and sterility that has clogged it all these horrible months.

The Immoralist by André Gide (also rec’d by Carl Sagan)

Faust by Goethe

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley (also rec’d by Janelle MonáeJohn Lennon)

The Beast in the Jungle by Henry James

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce

On the Nature of Things by Lucretius

The Summing Up by W. Somerset Maugham

Muirhead’s Guide to London by Findlay Muirhead

Three Lives: Stories of the Good Anna, Melanctha, and the Gentle Lena by Gertrude Stein

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy (also rec’d by Bruce SpringsteenErnest Hemingway & Philip Roth)

(via Brain Pickings)

Categories: Activists Writers

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