A Life in Books: Michael Cunningham

The novelist summoned the spirits of Virginia Woolf in his Pulitzer Prize-winning book "The Hours" and Walt Whitman in 2005's "Specimen Days." His picks:

My Five Most Important Books
1. "Mrs. Dalloway" by Virginia Woolf. We see her learning how to write a great novel by writing one.
2. "To the Lighthouse" by Virginia Woolf. Perfectly balanced and structured, a Bach cantata.
3. "Leaves of Grass" by Walt Whitman. It's the great ecstatic masterpiece of the 19th century.
4. "Black Tickets" by Jayne Anne Phillips. A book of short stories that are baroque and complicated.
5. "The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao" by Junot Diaz. I read living writers for fiction that matters in this world right now.

A major book you haven't read: I haven't read any Stendhal—not "The Red and the Black," not "The Charterhouse of Parma." It's shameful.

A major work you revisited with disappointment: The Narnia books by C. S. Lewis. I loved them as a kid. But the writing doesn't stand up. The Catholicism feels really oppressive.