Philip Pullman’s 40 favorite books

Via Bookslut and A Different Stripe: The London Times has published an annotated list of children’s author Philip Pullman’s favorite books. Some of these picks are not particularly surprising, coming from writer whose best-known novels (the His Dark Materials series) offer a sustained indictment of organized Christianity: he lists William James’ The Varieties of Religious Experience; Richard Dawkins’ The Ancestors’ Tale; Elaine Pagels’ The Gnostic Gospels and a couple of other books that examine received religious ideas in one way or another. And as far as his other selections go, you can’t fault his taste: Maus, Elizabeth Bishop’s poems, Pessoa’s The Book of Disquiet. Though I’m a bit surprised not to see Paradise Lost here, given how important it is to His Dark Materials.

Anyway: it’s fascinating, I think, to see how a writer responds to a request like this. It makes me wonder: did Pullman actually try to come up with a list of his true personal favorite books here? Or did he select the titles carefully in order to try to give a certain kind of impression of himself as a writer or a reader? It seems like there would always be strong temptation for a writer to fudge in this kind of situation, knowing that there will be an audience ready to dissect choices and pass judgment—I’d imagine at least some writers might choose at least a few titles not because they’re absolute favorites, but instead because they’ll reflect well on them in the eyes of readers and critics. Pullman’s list seems believable to me, like it could actually fairly accurately reflect his interests and tastes—but then again, the fact that it so closely matches my largely media-derived idea of who Pullman is makes me wonder about the self-consciousness of the effort. There’s no way to know—and I’m not sure it matters much in any case, as it certainly wouldn’t change my (fairly high) opinion of Pullman’s books.


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