What Flannery Recommends: Fiction

Part 3: Fiction works that Flannery O’Connor recommends

“I suffer from generalized admiration or generalized dislike.” 

The Habit of Being by Flannery O’ Connor p. 241

In The Habit of Being: Letters of Flannery O’Connor (August 1, 1988) edited by Sally Fitzgerald, lovers and students of literature are treated to a rare treat, this 640 volume that contains her passing comments, recommendations and critiques on over 100 titles.

  • To read which authors Flannery O’Connor recommends, click here.
  • For books on the craft of writing that Flannery O’Connor recommends reading, click here.

We are sharing those recommendations with you now.

What Flannery Recommends, author recommendations from The Habit of Being

Diary of a Country Priest

Bernanos, George.

So far it seems to be only a slight framework of a novel to hang Bernanos’ religious reflections on. The diary form gives him leave to do this, otherwise he would have a hard time…Bernanos stands very high with Catholics, at least with the ones who read.

Cary, Joyce. Herself Surprised. The Horse’s Mouth. To be a Pilgrim. I must have liked them or I wouldn’t have read three…it must have been the most interesting one. He has gusto.

The Lament

Chekhov, Anton.

I Choose to Die

Cheney, Brainard.

I like it all but the song and dance.

Secret Agent

Conrad, Joseph.

Under Western Eyes

Conrad, Joseph.

I don’t have one perception about the novels, but I keep reading them hoping they’ll affect my writing without my being bothered knowing how.

A Sea Change

Dennis, Nigel.

A wonderful novel

Gothic Tales

Dinesen, Isak.

Some of them I like right much…I can’t take too much of her at one time

Murder in the Cathedral (play)

Elliot, T. S..

A marvelous play



More to my taste (compared to Alcestis…It’s a pretty untragic play with only 1 dead body & that eventually brought back from the shades of Heracles)

Poor Harriet

Fenwick Way, Elizabeth.

I enjoyed her and also my mamma enjoyed her

The Simple Truth

Fenwick, Elizabeth.

I liked it…Elizabeth is a lot better writer than she gets credit for

Oedipus Rex

Fitzgerald, Robert with Fitts, Dudley.

A very fine translation/I’m much taken with it…I think it must be the best, and it certainly very beautiful.

The Odyssey

Fitzgerald, Robert.

Arrived to my great improvement, I look forward to carnage at the end

Passage to India

Forster, E. M.

Still my favorite

Lord of the Flies

Golding, William.

I think you would like it

Summer Dust

Gordon, Caroline.

Impressionistic story. You read it and then you have to sit back and let your mind blend it together…She is a great student of Flaubert and is great on getting things there so concretely that they can’t possibly escape…this is real mastery doing, and nobody does it better than Caroline. You walk through her stories like you were walking through a complete world. And watch how the meaning comes from the things themselves and not from her imposing anything. Right when you finish reading that story, you don’t think you’ve read anything, but the more you think about it the more it grows.

The Malefactors

Gordon, Caroline.

With all my usual admiration for everything she writes. I look at it from the underside, thinking how difficult all this was to do because I know nothing harder than making good people believable.

The Tin Drum

Grass, Gunter.

I’m enjoying…That Grass is really something. I’ll be all year reading it…

The Simple Truth

Hardwick, Elizabeth.

I think she’s a mighty good writer

The Lime Twig

Hawkes, John

It came last Sunday and I read that afternoon and evening in a sitting that was unwillingly interrupted once or twice. The action seems to take place at that point where dreams are lightest (and fastest?), just before you wake up. It seems to me that you have retained all the virtues of the other books in this once, but added something that will hold the reader to the reading I can’t make any intelligent comments about this book an more than I could about the others; but I can register my sensations. You suffer this like a dream. It seems to be something that is happening to you, that you want ot escape from but can’t. It’s quire remarkable…Meanwhile, my admiration is 90% awe and wonder.

The Story Hour

Hay, Sara Henderson

I enjoyed them thoroughly—the poems— and thought the illustrations were funny too.

The Disinherited Mind

Heller, Erich.

I like, essays on Goethe, Nietzsche, Rilke, Spengler, Kafka and a few others


Heller, Joseph.

I enjoyed reading…I think it gets funnier after page 36.

The Old Man and the Sea

Hemingway, Ernest.

[Faulkner] says that Hemingway discovered God in the Creator in this one. What part I like in that was where the fish’s eye was like a saint in a procession; it sounded to me like he was discovering something new maybe for him.

The Living Novel, a Symposium

Hicks, Granville (ed).

I like the book very much and am glad to find myself in it/nine others in it of varying degrees of sense

A High Wind in Jamaica

Hughes, Richard.

Small enough to be perfect

The Fox in the Attic

Hughes, Richard.

(Implied it is as good as A High Wind in Jamaica) this other thing is part of something larger and can’t be judged by such standards

Portrait of a Lady

James, Henry.

You have to judge James by this book.

The Dead

Joyce, James.

The Dubliners

Joyce, James.

Study these stories, you can learn an awful lot from them

The Odyssey: a Modern Sequel

Kazantzakis, Nikos.

a wonderful book, just finished Book I and felt I was in the presence of something

The Lotus and The Robot

Koestler, Arthur.

I recommend it highly

The Velvet Horn

Lytle, Andrew.

I was entirely taken with it. I didn’t follow all the intricacies of the symbolism but it had its effect without working it all out/very readable. I usually can’t read a book that long.

The End of Pity

Macauley, Robie.

I want you to see…Not all the stories in this one are good but the good ones are as good as anybody’s

The Legend of Two Swimmers

Macauley, Robie.

The Chevigny Man

Macauley, Robie.

The Good Soldier

Maddox Ford, Ford.

I like…

The Assistant

Malamud, Bernard.

I don’t like his novel as well as his stories but it’s still a good novel

The Magic Barrel

Malamud, Bernard.

I have discovered a short-story writer who is better than any of them, including myself. / The stories deal with Jews and they are the real thing. Really spiritual and very funny.

The more I read it the better I like it.

The Voices of Silence

Malraux, Andre.

I am working my way through it slowly. It is really fine.

The Mechanical Bride

Marshall, Herbert.

Has to be read completely and slowly…I appreciate the book…the meat is in the text and has to be read carefully

The Book of Knowledge

Mee, Arthur.

the only good things I read when I was a child were the Greek and Roman myths which I got out of a set of child’s encyclopedia

The Wandering of Desire

Montgomery, Marion.

Wonderful. 100% solid and alive throughout. The Southern writer can outwrite anybody in the country because he has the Bible and a little history, but you’ve got more of both than most and a splendid gift besides. IT all adds up to a really fine novel and I’ll be proud to say the same or something similar to … all I can say is you’ve done it.

Under the Net

Murdoch, Iris.

Well written but I don’t remember it

Bend Sinister

Nabokov, Vladimir.

I Have always like Nabokov, I have forgotten everything about it except that I was impressed, even possibly influenced

The Real Life of Sebastian Knight

Nabokov, Vladimir.

If you don’t know Nabokov, you ought to

Dr. Zhivago

Pasternak, Boris.

Really something/it is a great book.

Lanterns on the Levee

Percy, Walker.

Percy’s masterpiece…now in its 16th printing


Pirandello, Luigi.

Ship of Fools

Porter, Katherine Ann

May not be a great book but it is in many ways a fine one. It has a sculptural quality. I admire the bulldog in it the same way I would admire a bulldog carved to perfection. Essence of bulldog…

Humorous Tales

Poe, Edgar Allen.

These were mighty humorous…this is an influence I would rather not think about

Morte d’Urban

Powers, J. F.

[The review] was so favorable someone might have thought I was in your employ. I chiefly said that it was a novel and all the people who said otherwise were nuts. I thought it really hung together as a whole piece and that it was worth holding onto for ten years or however long you held on to it.

Prince of Darkness

Powers, J. F.


The Presence of Grace

Powers, J.F.

I admire your stories better than any of the others I know of even in spite of the cat who, if my prayers have been attended to, has already been run down

Remembrance of Things Past

Proust, Marcel.

I am eating through it like a mole. I think it would make good Iceland reading for either you or the Caption. Maybe you could keep him quiet with it.

The Leopard

Purdy, James.

this is very fine.

The Nephew

Purdy, James.

I really think it is quite a good book, on a small scale

(Title not given)

Ripley, Dillon.

I certainly have enjoyed his book and if you are speaking with him, tell him he has one ardent fan in the state of Georgia.

They Don’t Dance Much

Ross, James.

Very fine book

Troilus and Cressida

Shakespeare, William.

His clotted, odd, inspired…

The Girls of Slender Means

Sparks, Muriel.

Which came at 12 o’clock noon and I finished before I went to bed. I really did like it, better than the others.

The Foundling

Spellman, Cardinal Francis.

If we must have trash this is the kind of trash we ought to have.

Lie Down in Darkness

Styron, William.

I find it very impressive so far

much too much the long tedious Freudian case history, though the boy can write and there were overtones of better things in it.

The Man of Letters in the Modern World

Tate, Allen.

A Meridian book worth reading—that I think is very fine.

A Long Fourth

Taylor, Peter.


The Straight and Narrow Path

Tracy, Honor.

Too long but better sustained than most funny books

Domestic Manners of the Americans

Trollope, Frances Milton.

I like [Anthony] Trollope. Have you ever read his mother’s account of her visit to American in the 1830s? Shouldn’t be missed.

Kristin Lavransdatter

Undset, Sigrid

Remember being much gripped with that love and that writing, although in those days I wasn’t thinking of it as writing…could she have done it without returning to the 13th century

All the King’s Men

Warren, Robert Penn.

I suggest you read…

The Loved One

Waugh, Evelyn.

Right length for that kind of book.

Sword of Honor

Waugh, Evelyn.

I really liked this last one…of Waugh’s best.

Check back next week for the round-up of authors that Flannery O’Connor recommends.

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