The Books That Samuel Beckett Read and Really Liked (1941–1956)

becket list 1

Samuel Beck­ett, Pic, 1″ by Roger Pic. Via Wiki­me­dia Com­mons

Clad in a black turtle­neck and with a shock of white hair, Samuel Beck­ett was a gaunt, gloomy high priest of mod­ernism. After the 1955 pre­miere of Samuel Beckett’s play Wait­ing for Godot (watch him stage a per­for­mance here), Ken­neth Tynan quipped, ”It has no plot, no cli­max, no denoue­ment; no begin­ning, no mid­dle and no end.” From there, Beckett’s work only got more aus­tere, bleak and despair­ing. His 1969 play Breath, for instance, runs just a minute long and fea­tures just the sound of breath­ing.

An intense­ly pri­vate man, he man­aged to mes­mer­ize the pub­lic even as he turned away from the lime­light. When he won the Nobel Prize in 1969 (after being reject­ed in 1968), his wife Suzanne, fear­ing the onslaught of fame that the award would bring, decried it as a “cat­a­stro­phe.”

A recent­ly pub­lished col­lec­tion of his let­ters from 1941–1956, the peri­od lead­ing up to his inter­na­tion­al suc­cess with his play Wait­ing for Godot, casts some light on at least one cor­ner of the man’s pri­vate life – what books were pil­ing up on his bed stand. Below is an anno­tat­ed list of what he was read­ing dur­ing that time. Not sur­pris­ing­ly, he real­ly dug Albert Camus’s The Stranger. “Try and read it,” he writes. “I think it is impor­tant.” He dis­miss­es Agatha Christie’s Crooked House as “very tired Christie” but prais­es Around the World in 80 Days: “It is live­ly stuff.” But the book he reserves the most praise for is J.D. Salinger’s Catch­er in the Rye. “I liked it very much indeed, more than any­thing for a long time.”

You can see the full list below. It was orig­i­nal­ly pub­lished online by Cam­bridge Uni­ver­si­ty Press in 2011. Books with an aster­isk next to the title can be found in our col­lec­tion of 700 Free eBooks.

Andro­maqueby Jean Racine: “I read Andro­maque again with greater admi­ra­tion than ever and I think more under­stand­ing, at least more under­stand­ing of the chances of the the­atre today.”

Around the World in 80 Days* by Jules Verne: “It is live­ly stuff.”

The Cas­tle by Franz Kaf­ka: “I felt at home, too much so – per­haps that is what stopped me from read­ing on. Case closed there and then.”

The Catch­er in the Rye by J.D. Salinger: “I liked it very much indeed, more than any­thing for a long time.”

Crooked House by Agatha Christie: “very tired Christie”

Effi Briest* by Theodor Fontane: “I read it for the fourth time the oth­er day with the same old tears in the same old places.”

The Hunch­back of Notre Dame* by Vic­tor Hugo

Jour­ney to the End of the Night by Louis-Fer­di­nand Céline

Lautrea­mont and Sade by Mau­rice Blan­chot: “Some excel­lent ideas, or rather start­ing-points for ideas, and a fair bit of ver­biage, to be read quick­ly, not as a trans­la­tor does. What emerges from it though is a tru­ly gigan­tic Sade, jeal­ous of Satan and of his eter­nal tor­ments, and con­fronting nature more than with humankind.”

Man’s Fate by Andre Mal­raux

Mos­qui­toes by William Faulkn­er: “with a pref­ace by Que­neau that would make an ostrich puke”

The Stranger by Albert Camus: “Try and read it, I think it is impor­tant.”

The Temp­ta­tion to Exist by Emil Cio­ran: “Great stuff here and there. Must reread his first.”

La 628-E8* by Octave Mir­beau: “Damned good piece of work.”

Note: An ear­li­er ver­sion of this post appeared on our site in March, 2015.

via Cam­bridge Uni­ver­si­ty Press

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Samuel Beck­ett Directs His Absur­dist Play Wait­ing for Godot (1985)

Mon­ster­piece The­ater Presents Wait­ing for Elmo, Calls BS on Samuel Beck­ett

Rare Audio: Samuel Beck­ett Reads Two Poems From His Nov­el Watt

Jonathan Crow is a Los Ange­les-based writer and film­mak­er whose work has appeared in Yahoo!, The Hol­ly­wood Reporter, and oth­er pub­li­ca­tions. You can fol­low him at @jonccrow. And check out his blog Veep­to­pus, fea­tur­ing lots of pic­tures of bad­gers and even more pic­tures of vice pres­i­dents with octo­pus­es on their heads.  The Veep­to­pus store is here.

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