Year after year, readers of The Yale Review’s archive find powerful and prescient writing from some of the past two centuries’ greatest minds. 2023 was a year of cultural and political crisis, of struggle and loss, and yet, as the list of our top ten most-read archival pieces demonstrate, great literature has the power to bring joy and beauty even amidst turmoil. For the third year running, Virginia Woolf’s “How Should One Read a Book?” tops the list, while an incisive portrayal of Hitlerism by Leon Trotsky appears for the second time. Also represented are two literary giants we lost this year: the novelist Cormac McCarthy and the beloved poet and Nobel laureate Louise Glück. We hope you enjoy these gems from The Yale Review’s recent and distant past.
“How Should One Read a Book?” by Virginia Woolf
The celebrated author on the ethical imperative to read well.
“Sunrise” by Louise Glück
“This time of year, the window boxes smell of the hills”
“Bounty” by Cormac McCarthy
An early short story from an American master shows the first flowerings of his distinctive style.
“The Burning Heart” by Louise Glück
“No sadness is greater than in misery to rehearse memories of joy.…”
“Short Talks” by Anne Carson
A genre-bending meditation on art, gender, and the darkness of history.
“Hitler’s National Socialism” by Leon Trotsky
A legendary revolutionary offers a penetrating analysis of the persistent danger of fascism lurking within bourgeois society.
“Mock Orange” by Louise Glück
“It is not the moon, I tell you. / It is these flowers / lighting the yard.”
“As Has Been Said” by Marianne Moore
“before, some speak of things we know as new; / and you, of things unknown as things forgot”
“To Helen” by Charles Simic
“Tomorrow early I’m going to the doctor / In the blue suit and shirt you ironed. /
Tomorrow I’m having my bones photographed / With my heart in its spiked branches.”
“The First Eighteen Lines of The Waste Land” by Anthony Hecht
A spellbinding essay on “the desecration, sterility, and grief, both collective and individual, that lies at the core of The Waste Land.”