A Life in Books: Julia Alvarez

My Five Most Important Books

1. CHILDHOOD: "The Arabian Nights." The heroine was a brown, feisty girl who saved all the women in her kingdom with stories.

2. Teens: "Leaves of Grass" by Walt Whitman. Behold El Señor Whitman, a Latino-sounding fellow with his long rhetorical lines.

3. Twenties: "The Woman Warrior" by Maxine Hong Kingston. A beautiful, lyrical memoir about coming from somewhere else and reinventing yourself, while still bearing the burden of the past.

4. Thirties: "Middlemarch" by George Eliot. Writing in the 1870s, Eliot had more to say to me than the hotshots of the 1980s.

5. Forties: "Disgrace" by J. M. Coetzee. An intense and sparse novel about how we become human after our world falls apart.

A classic book that, upon revisiting, disappointed: "The Arabian Nights," I'm sorry to say. There are too many dull stories, plus all the kowtowing to the male ego is enough to make your hair curl.

A book that you always return to: T. S. Eliot's "The Four Quartets," a long, mystical poem that reboots my spirit.