From prose and poetry:
If you're looking for a novel to add to your list, I'd highly recommend Khaled Hosseini's A Thousand Splendid Suns. We seem to find it so easy to cast people in the role of "Other," whether because of race or gender, nationality or socio-economic level, or religious or political beliefs, forgetting our common humanity. Works like these can break down those barriers, forcing us to relate to each other on an individual level, fostering understanding and compassion. If you enjoy this novel, you might also like Hosseini's The Kite Runner, or Azar Nafisi's Reading Lolita in Tehran, or the movie House of Sand and Fog, with the great actor Ben Kingsley.
Perhaps no one points out human inconsistencies and foibles with more irony and wit than Henry Fielding (although he and Oscar Wilde might have to fight it out for first place). Here’s a great passage from Joseph Andrews, an 18th century novel that proves that, although social customs may change and technology may advance, human beings remain pretty much the same:
‘Why,’ says Adams very gravely, ‘Do not you believe in another world?’ To which the Host answered, ‘yes, he was no Atheist.’ ‘And you believe you have an immortal Soul?’ cries Adams:
He answered, ‘God forbid he should not.’ ‘And heaven and hell?’ said the Parson. The Host then bid him ‘not to profane: for those were Things not to be mentioned nor thought of but in Church.’ Adams asked him, ‘why he went to Church, if what he learned there had no Influence on his Conduct in Life?’ ‘I go to Church,’ answered the Host, ‘to say my Prayers and behave godly.’ ‘And dost not thou,’ cry’d Adams ‘believe what thou hearest at Church?’ ‘Most part of it, Master,’ returned the Host. ‘And dost thou not then tremble,’ cries Adams, ‘at the Thought of eternal Punishment?’ ‘As for that, Master,’ says he, ‘I never once thought about it: but what signifies talking about matters so far off? The Mug is out, shall I draw another?’
Billy Collins, America's Poet Laureate for two terms, is one of my favorite poets. He sees poetry in the everydayness of life, and when I read his poetry I catch myself smiling and nodding my head, thinking, “Yes, it’s just like that.” His poetry is accessible, yet deep; often funny, but always profound; unpretentious and full of surprising imagery.
Here are a few of my favorite lines from his collection The Trouble with Poetry:
From “Drawing Class”:
“the intelligent little trinity
Of my fingers gripping the neck of the pencil” (9-10)
From “The Trouble with Poetry”:
“But mostly poetry fills me
with the urge to write poetry
. . . the longing to steal,
to break into the poems of others
with a flashlight and a ski mask.” (21, 25-27)
Mary Oliver, who won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1984 for her collection American Primitive, is very much a poet of nature, yet I am most drawn to her poems about people.
A few of her great lines:
From “When Death Comes”
“When it’s over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was a bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.” (21-23)
From “In the Backwater Woods”:
“To live in this world
you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it
against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.” (28-36)