August is a Wicked Month by Edna O’Brien

August is a Wicked Month by Edna O_Brien1965? Reads as so much more modern. A touch of the Jean Rhys about it. Banned in Ireland upon publication. A lovely little novel. Such a challenge to modern authors, especially female authors writing fiction on the problems of being a woman: challenge your reader like this. Don’t give your reader the usual tropes, character traits, clichés and plot lines. Turn things on their head.

The New York Times in 1965:

“The creation in fiction of convincingly attractive, intelligent, physically conscious women, who, in unhappy love or out of love, seek authenticity in themselves and others, is difficult and rare. Few recent instances come to mind: Yvonne in Malcolm Lowry’s magnificent novel “Under the Volcano”; Genevieve in Christiane Rocheforts’ “Warrior’s Rest”; Martha, the narrator’s mistress who deserved better, in Philip Roth’s “Letting Go”; various brilliant if occasionally too superior heroines in Doris Lessing’s books. And there are others. But it is a select group, and not one necessarily preferred. Stock heroines are often easier to take (and create), and being less sexual than sexy, less threatening as well.”

http://www.nytimes.com/books/00/04/09/specials/obrien-august.html

 I think this is what literary fiction is for: making the reader see the world differently, challenging their ideas, making them feel uncomfortable, and chipping away at tired and stale ideas. Very good read.

 Mr A

Why Tolstoy is 11.6% better than Shakespeare

novell

Of the 544 separate titles selected, each is assigned a reverse-order point value based on the number position at which it appears on any list — so, a book that tops a list at number one receives 10 points, and a book that graces the bottom, at number ten, receives 1 point.

In introducing the lists, David Orr offers a litmus test for greatness:

If you’re putting together a list of ‘the greatest books,’ you’ll want to do two things: (1) out of kindness, avoid anyone working on a novel; and (2) decide what the word ‘great’ means. The first part is easy, but how about the second? A short list of possible definitions of ‘greatness’ might look like this:

1. ‘Great’ means ‘books that have been greatest for me.’
2. ‘Great’ means ‘books that would be considered great by the most people over time.’
3. ‘Great’ has nothing to do with you or me — or people at all. It involves transcendental concepts like God or the Sublime.
4. ‘Great’? I like Tom Clancy.

From David Foster Wallace (#1: The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis) to Stephen King(#1: The Golden Argosy, a 1955 anthology of the best short stories in the English language), the collection offers a rare glimpse of the building blocks of great creators’ combinatorial creativity — because, as Austin Kleon put it, “you are a mashup of what you let into your life.”

The book concludes with an appendix of “literary number games” summing up some patterns and constructing several overall rankings based on the totality of the different authors’ picks. Among them (*with links to free public domain works where available):

TOP TEN WORKS OF THE 20TH CENTURY
  1. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
  2. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  3. In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust
  4. Ulysses* by James Joyce
  5. Dubliners* by James Joyce
  6. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  7. The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner
  8. To The Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
  9. The complete stories of Flannery O’Connor
  10. Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov
TOP TEN WORKS OF THE 19TH CENTURY
  1. Anna Karenina* by Leo Tolstoy
  2. Madame Bovary* by Gustave Flaubert
  3. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
  4. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
  5. The stories of Anton Chekhov
  6. Middlemarch* by George Eliot
  7. Moby-Dick by Herman Melville
  8. Great Expectations* by Charles Dickens
  9. Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky
  10. Emma* by Jane Austen
TOP TEN AUTHORS BY NUMBER OF BOOKS SELECTED
  1. William Shakespeare — 11
  2. William Faulkner — 6
  3. Henry James — 6
  4. Jane Austen — 5
  5. Charles Dickens — 5
  6. Fyodor Dostoevsky — 5
  7. Ernest Hemingway — 5
  8. Franz Kafka — 5
  9. (tie) James Joyce, Thomas Mann, Vladimir Nabokov, Mark Twain, Virginia Woolf — 4
TOP TEN AUTHORS BY POINTS EARNED
  1. Leo Tolstoy — 327
  2. William Shakespeare — 293
  3. James Joyce — 194
  4. Vladimir Nabokov — 190
  5. Fyodor Dostoevsky — 177
  6. William Faulkner — 173
  7. Charles Dickens — 168
  8. Anton Chekhov — 165
  9. Gustave Flaubert — 163
  10. Jane Austen — 161

https://www.brainpickings.org/2012/01/30/writers-top-ten-favorite-books/

Purity by Jonathan Franzen

Purity by Jonathan FranzenIt’s “dazzling, hilarious and problematic” according to The Guaridian (see below), and the internet is full of praise for Franzen’s latest Great American Novel. But outside of the Franzen fan club…

“Just as it’s impossible to watch a movie starring, say, Julia Roberts or Gwyneth Paltrow without ever losing awareness of their essential Julia-Roberts-ness or Gwyneth-Paltrow-ness, it’s impossible to read this novel without its author’s reputation looming on the periphery…

“On the one hand, I’m disinclined to recommend this book to my female friends – I suspect that they’d feel their time is too precious for a 576-page novel in which a grown man is repelled by the “steroidal ugliness” of his mother’s face due to her medication, or another man wonders, “Might it be possible, now that he was well into his 50s, to settle down with a woman without becoming bored?”

“On the other hand, if I’d been told Purity was a first novel by an unknown writer – male or female – I suspect I’d be dazzled by its rich scenes and crackling dialogue, its delicious observations about contemporary life, the breathtaking scope of its ambition. The person who wrote this, I’d think, has an amazing future.”

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/aug/26/purity-by-jonathan-franzen-review

 

A lot of the novel is a great read. It races along like the best of Airport novels / Beach Reads, or whatever the term is for big book that takes hold of you for a week, but the plot takes over, and the characters are a little wooden and shallow, more in service to the plot than to any attempt to delineate them. When rather woeful strains of symbolism creep in you might well be wondering what’s so new, what’s so different, what’s so good about this novel. Well, it’s got the internet in it, hasn’t it.

 But it is worth reading. Franzen is a really good writer. There are some great bits. Funny bits. Well observed bits. Though aren’t there bound to be in 600 pages of prose? I don’t think so. Franzen is rightly feted as one of the big beasts of American writing.

Yes, it is impossible to separate the novel form the author. This is the third instalment in the Jonathan Franzen Great American Tomes – “The Corrections” (pretty great), “Freedom” (amazing opening 100 pages) and then this (it’s kind of ok I guess) – which might make a reader wonder: what’s Franzen attempting to do in his fiction? Nothing great, I would say. He’s no Philip Roth. Not even an Updike or a Bellow. The other beasts of late 20th century American Fiction, such as Foster-Wallace, at least attempt it: to be great.

 

Mr A

 

No effort of the imagination?

FerranteInteresting article on Ferrante from LA Review of Books…

“WRITERS FROM Charlotte Brontë, Virginia Woolf, Jane Bowles, and Mary McCarthy to Emma Cline, Ottessa Moshfegh, Sheila Heti, and Robin Wasserman have written remarkable novels about female friendship, but no one has tackled the complex search for female personal identity, and the construction of a feminine self through lifelong friendship, that is at the core of Elena Ferrante’s project in the quartet of works known as the Neapolitan novels: My Brilliant Friend (2011), The Story of a New Name (2012), Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay (2013), and The Story of the Lost Child (2015).

The ferocity of Ferrante’s writing style is what strikes most readers first. Her language is muscular, never orotund. It feels spoken, almost confessional. There appears to be no mitigation between her consciousness and the words on the page. In a 2015 interview in the Paris Review she said that sincerity is “the engine of every literary project.” She went on to say that she strives for literary truth in her writing, which she defines as “entirely a matter of wording” and “directly proportional to the energy that one is able to impress on the sentence.” This is a skill Ferrante says she has acquired over the years.

Not everyone agrees. Writing in The New York Review of Books, Tim Parks, the writer, critic, and translator of many leading Italian authors (Alberto Moravia, Antonio Tabucchi, Italo Calvino) claimed he can’t read more than 50 pages of Ferrante’s writing and finds it “wearisomely concocted, determinedly melodramatic.” He cites the scene of a fight between two neighbors. The women grapple with each other and roll down the stairs “entwined.” One of their heads hits the floor of the landing — “a few inches from my shoes,” reports Elena, “like a white melon that has slipped from your hand.” Parks comments: “As in a B movie, a head hits the floor a few inches from our hero’s shoes. Then comes the half-hearted attempt to transform cartoon reportage into literature: ‘like a white melon that has slipped from your hand.’” He finds Ferrante makes “no effort of the imagination,” simply “announces melodrama.” Indeed, he is “astonished that other people are not irritated by this lazy writing.”

James Wood has suggested that Ferrante’s writing is influenced by second-wave feminist writers such as Margaret Drabble and Hélène Cixous, and Ferrante has acknowledged her familiarity with the work of Cixous, Luce Irigaray, and Julia Kristeva. In a 2015 interview, when asked what fiction or nonfiction has most affected her, Ferrante also names Donna J. Haraway and “an old book” by Adriana Cavarero, Relating Narratives: Storytelling and Selfhood (1997). This is a useful clue. In her book, Cavarero directly addresses the subject of female identity. She posits that identity is not an innate quality we master and express, but rather the outcome of a relational practice, something given to us from another, in the form of a narratable “life-story.”

 

https://lareviewofbooks.org/article/elena-ferrante-the-mad-adventures-of-serious-ladies/#!

Fingersmith by Sarah Waters

Fingersmith by Sarah WatersBig in plot. But is there any more to it than that?

“Why should any contemporary novelist not only set a novel in the 19th century, but also take the novel of the time as a model for this new work of fiction? Waters is not the only one to do so. Novels such as Charles Palliser’s The Quincunx and Michel Faber’s The Crimson Petal and the White have also tried not only to imagine a Victorian setting but to imitate a Victorian literary form. Earlier this year there was DJ Taylor’s Kept, its subtitle “A Victorian Mystery”. Like Fingersmith, this has a villain who plans to steal a young woman’s inheritance, and she too is kept locked up by a nefarious mad doctor.

“It is above all plot for which Waters and these other pasticheurs return to the 19th-century novel. Victorian novels deal elaborately in plot. This is not only true of the so-called “sensation novels” of Wilkie Collins and Mary Elizabeth Braddon, in which Waters is clearly steeped. Dickens used minutely contrived plots to establish connections between reaches of society that were politely assumed to be separate. So did the greatest Victorian novelist of ideas, George Eliot. Even the resolutely unsensational and subtle Middlemarch has a plot in which stolen legacies, concealed illegitimacy, blackmail and (in effect) murder are revealed.

“A sense of plot depends on just this sense of hidden deeds and surreptitious schemes. In the opening chapter of Fingersmith, Sue recalls how Gentleman revealed his plan to her and her fellow tenants of a thieves’ den (taken straight out of Victorian “Newgate novels”). He is going to trick an innocent heiress, Maud, into marrying him, and then make off with her fortune. Sue will become Maud’s maid, nicely placed to chaperone her as Gentleman performs his seduction. She will get a cut of the profits. This is his plot, ostensibly. Yet the plot of the novel must run deeper. Sue herself senses something awry. “‘I don’t know,’ I said. ‘It seems a rum sort of plot to me.'” The chapter ends with a further nudge to the reader that a different kind of plot will unfold. Sue remembers how, when she agreed to the scheme, her adoptive mother, Mrs Sucksby, smiled, “but her face seemed troubled. I could almost have said she was afraid.

“Perhaps she was.

“Or perhaps I only think that now, when I know what dark and fearful things were to follow.”

This glancing ahead to what is to come (called prolepsis) is often used by novelists who relish their own plots (Fielding and Dickens are peculiarly addicted to it). Sue’s narrative is peppered with these hints at, as she puts it, “what happened later”. As in Jane Eyre or Great Expectations, the first-person narrator withholds her knowledge for the sake, as we say, of a good story. She knows in advance the narrative surprise that comes at the end of the novel’s first section, yet we must be allowed to experience it with a little of the jolt that she is supposed to have felt.”

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2006/jun/10/sarahwaters

 So, what’s the point of pastiche? If not to comment on the style or form that is copied?

 I don’t feel Waters does anything more than give us what we already had: a big baggy Victorian novel. I don’t feel Waters has done anything new. She has, to be fair, put together a well written and well plotted novel, but why do again, what has been done before by Collins, Dickens et al? why should a reader pick up Fingersmith now and turn its pages? It tells us nothing of Waters’ time, of the world she lives in. maybe we catch glimpses of the era in which the novel is set, but it is an uninteresting and clichéd modern picture of a historical time period.

 Many novelists of the twentieth century are critical of readers who read for plot and nothing else, and so are critical of their predecessors (and contemporaries) who write for plot and little else. Modern writers, they argue, should have moved on from merely arranging characters and events to give the reader a frisson of pleasure at the end of every chapter, and a shock every few hundred pages. If there is more to the novel than that, you won’t find it in Fingersmith. A throwback to Victorian novels with nothing really to say to a modern reader other than enjoy the ride.

 

Mr A

 

38 Years on Books: The Essential Michiko Kakutani Reader

new york times

For nearly four decades, Michiko Kakutani, who has decided to step down as chief book critic of The New York Times, has anointed new talent, charted the peaks and valleys of literary careers and memorialized writers when they’re gone. She has stayed up all night reading embargoed memoirs by ex-presidents and novels about boy wizards. She has chronicled the changing landscape of technology and its impact on reading; culture in the wake of 9/11; fiction in an era of war.

Below are highlights from Kakutani’s tenure at The Times — her reviews of major novels and autobiographies, her obituaries and appreciations, her profiles and essays. Together they represent a vigorously led life of the mind, a crash course in contemporary literature and a tour through the zeitgeist of the turn of the millennium.

Breakouts

Not all of these books were debuts, but all of them found their authors at a new stage of ambition and relevance.

“Less Than Zero” by Bret Easton Ellis (1985)

Mr. Ellis has a good ear for the sort of dumb exchange of non sequiturs, bad jokes and half-hearted shrugs that pass for conversation between Clay and his friends; and while his descriptions of Los Angeles carry a few too many echoes of Raymond Chandler, Joan Didion and Nathanael West… they nonetheless demonstrate a keen eye for grim details (the dead fish in the Jacuzzi, the cigarette butt stubbed out on the kitchen floor, and so on) and a sure sense of the absurd.

“Infinite Jest” by David Foster Wallace (1996)

It also shows off the 33-year-old Mr. Wallace as one of the big talents of his generation, a writer of virtuosic talents who can seemingly do anything, someone who can write funny, write sad, write serious, write satiric, a writer who’s equally adept at the Pynchonesque epic and the Nicolson Bakeresque minute, a pushing-the-envelope postmodernist who’s also able to create flesh-and-blood characters and genuinely moving scenes.

Perfect, however, “Infinite Jest” is not: this 1,079-page novel is a “loose baggy monster,” to use Henry James’s words, a vast, encyclopedic compendium of whatever seems to have crossed Mr. Wallace’s mind. It’s Thomas Wolfe without Maxwell Perkins, done in the hallucinogenic style of Terry Gilliam and Ralph Steadman.

“CivilWarLand in Bad Decline” by George Saunders (1996)

In many respects, Mr. Saunders’s America is simply a nightmare vision of the future, an America only a few farcical steps removed from the country glimpsed every night on television. It’s a place where angry vigilantism has replaced respect for the law, a place where great expectations have turned to sour disappointment, and the good, the bad and the appalling are all recycled into tacky merchandise available at your local store.

“White Teeth” by Zadie Smith (2000)

It’s a novel that announces the debut of a preternaturally gifted new writer — a writer who at the age of 24 demonstrates both an instinctive storytelling talent and a fully fashioned voice that’s street-smart and learned, sassy and philosophical all at the same time. This, “White Teeth” announces, is someone who can do comedy, drama and satire, and do them all with exceptional confidence and brio.… In what will surely rank as one of her generation’s most precocious debuts, Ms. Smith announces herself as a writer of remarkable powers, a writer whose talents prove commensurate with her ambitions.

“A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius” by Dave Eggers (2000)

Dave Eggers’s new book, “A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius,” is part autobiography, part postmodern collage, a novelistic “memoir-y kind of thing” that tells the sad, awful, tragic story of how the author’s mother and father died within weeks of each other and how he became a surrogate parent to his 8-year-old brother, and tells it with such style and hyperventilated, self-conscious energy, such coy, Lettermanesque shtick and such genuine, heartfelt emotion, that the story is at once funny, tender, annoying and, yes, heartbreaking — an epic, in the end, not of woe, though there’s plenty of that too, but an epic about family and how families fracture and fragment and somehow, through all the tumult and upset, manage to endure.

“The Corrections” by Jonathan Franzen (2001)

In his new novel, “The Corrections,” Mr. Franzen has brought a family and its problems center stage to try to write a sort of American “Buddenbrooks.” In doing so he has harnessed his penchant for social criticism and subordinated it to his natural storytelling instincts, while at the same time, shucking off the influence of other writers to find an idiosyncratic voice of his own. Though often self-indulgent and long-winded, the novel leaves the reader with both a devastating family portrait and a harrowing portrait of America in the late 1990’s — an America deep in the grip of that decade’s money madness and sick with envy, resentment, greed, acquisitiveness and self-delusion, an America committed to the quick-fix solution and determined to try to medicate its problems away.

“A Brief History of Seven Killings” by Marlon James (2014)

How to describe Marlon James’s monumental new novel “A Brief History of Seven Killings”?

It’s like a Tarantino remake of “The Harder They Come” but with a soundtrack by Bob Marley and a script by Oliver Stone and William Faulkner, with maybe a little creative boost from some primo ganja. It’s epic in every sense of that word: sweeping, mythic, over-the-top, colossal and dizzyingly complex. It’s also raw, dense, violent, scalding, darkly comic, exhilarating and exhausting — a testament to Mr. James’s vaulting ambition and prodigious talent.

Heavyweights

If it was a major book by a major author, chances are that Kakutani reviewed it.

“The Sportswriter” by Richard Ford (1986)

Frank Bascombe, the protagonist of Richard Ford’s powerful new novel, is a sportswriter the way Walker Percy’s famous hero, Binx Bolling, was a moviegoer.… Like Harry, the hero of the author’s last novel (“The Ultimate Good Luck”), Frank is an observer, a loner who’s wary of getting too involved in the lives of others; and in telling his story — or rather, in allowing Frank to tell it himself in his own rambling, philosophical voice — Mr. Ford has succeeded in writing his finest book to date, a book that can stand alongside such works as Mr. Percy’s “The Moviegoer” and Richard Yates’s “Revolutionary Road” as a devastating chronicle of contemporary alienation.

“Beloved” by Toni Morrison (1987)

“Beloved” possesses the heightened power and resonance of myth — its characters, like those in opera or Greek drama, seem larger than life and their actions, too, tend to strike us as enactments of ancient rituals and passions. To describe “Beloved” only in these terms, however, is to diminish its immediacy, for the novel also remains precisely grounded in an American reality — the reality of black history as experienced in the wake of the Civil War.

“London Fields” by Martin Amis (1990)

If one were to characterize “London Fields” further, one might add that it’s a comic murder mystery, an apocalyptic satire, a scatological meditation on love and death and nuclear winter — “Bonfire of the Vanities” crossed with “Gravity’s Rainbow,” as narrated by Al Goldstein and Jonathan Swift.

“Rabbit at Rest” by John Updike (1990)

Although he lacks the refined upper-middle-class tastes of the Maples and the author’s other suburban sophisticates, Rabbit remains the quintessential Updike hero — torn between sexual urgencies and vague spiritual illusions, between freedom and responsibility, a yearning for independence and an old-fashioned sense of duty. There is nothing forced or synthetic about Mr. Updike’s portrait of him, as there was in his recent depiction of characters in “The Witches of Eastwick” and “S.”; rather the reader has the sense that Mr. Updike knows Rabbit intimately, that Rabbit is someone palpably real. Indeed, he comes across as the author’s doppelgänger — the other self Mr. Updike might have become had he remained in his hometown, Shillington, Pa., and never become a writer.

“The Stories of Vladimir Nabokov” (1995)

In this sumptuous volume of 65 short stories… the reader is treated to a glorious recapitulation of the sorcerer’s entire career. His fascination with the elusive transactions made between life and art, his obsession with memory and the practice of nostalgia, his own experience of expatriation, and his love of games and puzzles and coincidence — all can be found in these pages, pushed, prodded and honed into a variety of shapes, into whimsical fables, old-fashioned character sketches, Poe-like exercises in the macabre, and clever, Postmodernist confections.

“The Moor’s Last Sigh” by Salman Rushdie (1995)

Filled with allusions to everything from “Tristram Shandy” to “The Lone Ranger,” from “Paradise Lost” to “Alice in Wonderland,” and crammed full with puns, wordplay, vulgar jokes and lyrical asides, “The Moor’s Last Sigh” is many books at the same time: a demented family saga, a twisted Bildungsroman, an exploration of the uses and misuses of art and a dark historical parable that rivals Mr. Rushdie’s 1981 masterpiece, “Midnight’s Children,” in scope, inventiveness and ambition.

“Mason & Dixon” by Thomas Pynchon (1997)

Certainly “Mason & Dixon” could have used some judicious editing; as it stands, its enormous bulk and intermittent longueurs will prove daunting to many readers. Still, its flaws are exuberant flaws of excess, and the reader who perseveres will be amply rewarded. In fact, as the novel rumbles along, it gathers a cumulative momentum, its density and garrulity impressing upon the reader a sense of the arduousness of Mason and Dixon’s journey and the long, aching curve of their lives.

“Underworld” by Don DeLillo (1997)

In an earlier book, a Don DeLillo character spoke about a Joycean novel, a novel “in which nothing is left out,” a novel that would capture the nervous spin and drift of recent American history and freeze forever in words a past that never stops happening.

With his astonishing new novel, DeLillo has written that book, or at least a close approximation of it. “Underworld” is an amazing performance, a novel that encompasses some five decades of history, both the hard, bright world of public events and the more subterranean world of private emotions in which individuals are connected by a secret calculus of hope and loss. It is the story of one man, one family, but it is also the story of what happened to America in the second half of the 20th century.

“American Pastoral” by Philip Roth (1997)

Certainly the vexing relationship between fathers and children, and the mind-boggling disparity between one’s expectations of the world and its grim reality are perennial issues for Mr. Roth’s heroes, but in “Pastoral,” they are turned from purely personal dilemmas into broader social ones. We are made to contemplate the demise of the immigrant dream cherished by men like Seymour’s father, the souring of the generational struggle during the 60’s, and the connections between assimilation and rootlessness and anomie.

“Birds of America” by Lorrie Moore (1998)

Like the writer-heroine in one of these stories, Ms. Moore is a skilled craftsman, capable of doing “quasi-amusing phone dialogue,” “succinct descriptions of weather” and “screwball outings with the family pet” with her left hand. The stories in this volume, however, also attest to far deeper gifts. They attest to Ms. Moore’s ability to map the emotional landscape of people in transition, people who have run smack up against the limits and limitations of their lives, people who feel themselves to be outsiders in their own families and marriages.

“The Year of Magical Thinking” by Joan Didion (2005)

In this book, the elliptical constructions and sometimes mannered prose of the author’s recent fiction give way to the stunning candor and piercing details that distinguished her groundbreaking early books of essays, “Slouching Towards Bethlehem” and “The White Album.” At once exquisitely controlled and heartbreakingly sad, “The Year of Magical Thinking” tells us in completely unvarnished terms what it is to love someone and lose him, what it is to have a child fall sick and be unable to help her.

It is a book that tells us how people try to make sense of the senseless and how they somehow go on.

“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” by J. K. Rowling (2007)

It is Ms. Rowling’s achievement in this series that she manages to make Harry both a familiar adolescent — coping with the banal frustrations of school and dating — and an epic hero, kin to everyone from the young King Arthur to Spider-Man and Luke Skywalker.

“Life” by Keith Richards (2010)

Mr. Richards’s prose is like his guitar playing: intense, elemental, utterly distinctive and achingly, emotionally direct. Just as the Stones perfected a signature sound that could accommodate everything from ferocious Dionysian anthems to melancholy ballads about love and time and loss, so Mr. Richards has found a voice in these pages — a kind of rich, primal Keith-Speak — that enables him to dispense funny, streetwise observations, tender family reminiscences, casually profane yarns and wry literary allusions with both heart-felt sincerity and bad-boy charm.

“Go Set a Watchman” by Harper Lee (2015)

The depiction of Atticus in “Watchman” makes for disturbing reading, and for “Mockingbird” fans, it’s especially disorienting. Scout is shocked to find, during her trip home, that her beloved father, who taught her everything she knows about fairness and compassion, has been affiliating with raving anti-integration, anti-black crazies, and the reader shares her horror and confusion. How could the saintly Atticus — described early in the book in much the same terms as he is in “Mockingbird” — suddenly emerge as a bigot? Suggestions about changing times and the polarizing effects of the civil rights movement seem insufficient when it comes to explaining such a radical change, and the reader, like Scout, cannot help feeling baffled and distressed.

Politics, History and Current Events

The world of books is as wide as the world itself, and the critic’s job extends to intepreting both. Kakutani embraced this role with enthusiasm and acumen.

“My Life” by Bill Clinton (2004)

The book, which weighs in at more than 950 pages, is sloppy, self-indulgent and often eye-crossingly dull — the sound of one man prattling away, not for the reader, but for himself and some distant recording angel of history.

In many ways, the book is a mirror of Mr. Clinton’s presidency: lack of discipline leading to squandered opportunities; high expectations, undermined by self-indulgence and scattered concentration.

Books About the Bush Administration and the Iraq War (2006)

Taken together with earlier volumes, these books create a cumulative and, in many respects, surprisingly coherent portrait of the Bush White House and its management style. Authors as disparate as the Reagan administration economist Bruce Bartlett, the New Yorker investigative reporter Seymour M. Hersh, the Weekly Standard editor Fred Barnes and the New York Times reporter James Risen point to ways in which this administration has discarded past precedent, and illuminate its penchant for circumventing traditional processes of policy development and policy review.

“Team of Rivals” by Doris Kearns Goodwin (2005)

In an appealing but awkward new book, “Team of Rivals,” Doris Kearns Goodwin tries to look at Lincoln through his relationships with his former political rivals turned cabinet members . . . The result is a book that gives us a portrait of Lincoln as a virtuosic politician and managerial genius — a sort of visionary C.E.O. whose magnanimity, wisdom, humor and shrewd political instincts helped him to hold together a contentious cabinet and even more contentious coalition of Republicans, moderate Democrats and border-state Unionists, and thereby wage a successful war to preserve the Union and emancipate the slaves.

“Known and Unknown: A Memoir” by Donald Rumsfeld (2011)

For all the copious spin in this volume, Mr. Rumsfeld wittingly or unwittingly ratifies several aspects of the Bush administration described in earlier books and news reports: namely that toxic in-fighting between the Pentagon and State Department undermined the handling of the war in Iraq; and that the decision-making process within the Bush White House and the National Security Council was often fuzzy, if not downright dysfunctional.

“On China” by Henry Kissinger (2011)

Lurking beneath Mr. Kissinger’s musings on Chinese history is a not-so-subtle subtext. This volume, much like his 1994 book, “Diplomacy,” is also a sly attempt by a controversial figure to burnish his legacy as Nixon’s national security adviser and secretary of state. It is a book that promotes Mr. Kissinger’s own brand of realpolitik thinking, and that in doing so often soft-pedals the human costs of Mao’s ruthless decades-long reign and questions the consequences of more recent American efforts to press human-rights issues with the Chinese.

Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” (2013)

He began slowly, with magisterial gravity, talking about what it was to be black in America in 1963 and the “shameful condition” of race relations a hundred years after the Emancipation Proclamation. Unlike many of the day’s previous speakers, he did not talk about particular bills before Congress or the marchers’ demands. Instead, he situated the civil rights movement within the broader landscape of history — time past, present and future — and within the timeless vistas of Scripture.

Literature by Iraq and Afghanistan War Veterans (2014)

Even as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan morph into shapeless struggles with no clear ends in sight, they have given birth to an extraordinary outpouring of writing that tries to make sense of it all: journalism that has unraveled the back story of how and why America went to war, and also a profusion of stories, novels, memoirs and poems that testify to the day-to-day realities and to the wars’ ever-unspooling human costs.

“Hitler: Ascent 1889-1939” by Volker Ullrich (2016)

How did Adolf Hitler — described by one eminent magazine editor in 1930 as a “half-insane rascal,” a “pathetic dunderhead,” a “nowhere fool,” a “big mouth” — rise to power in the land of Goethe and Beethoven? What persuaded millions of ordinary Germans to embrace him and his doctrine of hatred? How did this “most unlikely pretender to high state office” achieve absolute power in a once democratic country and set it on a course of monstrous horror?

Books About Donald Trump (2016)

To read a stack of new and reissued books about Mr. Trump, as well as a bunch of his own works, is to be plunged into a kind of Bizarro World version of Dante’s “Inferno,” where arrogance, acquisitiveness and the sowing of discord are not sins, but attributes of leadership; a place where lies, contradictions and outrageous remarks spring up in such thickets that the sort of moral exhaustion associated with bad soap operas quickly threatens to ensue.

Interview With Barack Obama (2017)

Last Friday, seven days before his departure from the White House, Mr. Obama sat down in the Oval Office and talked about the indispensable role that books have played during his presidency and throughout his life — from his peripatetic and sometimes lonely boyhood, when “these worlds that were portable” provided companionship, to his youth when they helped him to figure out who he was, what he thought and what was important.

Controversies

When the literary world was roiled by intense debates, most often surrounding ideas of truth and authenticity, Kakutani weighed in with authority.

“Dutch: A Memoir of Ronald Reagan” by Edmund Morris (1999)

Back in 1985, when President Ronald Reagan selected Edmund Morris as his official biographer, the writer vowed he would produce “a substantial, scholarly book.” Fourteen years later, after years of worrying he didn’t “understand the first thing” about his subject, Mr. Morris has produced a book that is anything but scholarly or substantial. He has produced a bizarre, irresponsible and monstrously self-absorbed book — a Ragtime-esque “memoir” featuring a self-annotating narrator out of a Philip Roth novel and childlike hero out of “Being There.” Even worse, this loony hodgepodge of fact and fiction is being sold not as a novel but as “the only biography ever authorized by a sitting President.”

“A Million Little Pieces” by James Frey (2006)

If the memoir form once prized authenticity above all else — regarding testimony as an act of paying witness to history — it has been evolving, in the hands of some writers, into something very different. In fact, Mr. Frey’s embellishments and fabrications in many ways represent the logical if absurd culmination of several trends that have been percolating away for years. His distortions serve as an illustration of a depressing remark once made by the literary theorist Stanley Fish — that the death of objectivity “relieves me of the obligation to be right”; it “demands only that I be interesting.”

Appraisals and Appreciations

It’s a tradition at The Times for critics to assess the legacy of major cultural figures soon after they die, framing their influence beyond the obituary. Here are just a few of the towering figures brought into focus by Kakutani.

Saul Bellow (2005)

Cutting back and forth in time, while draping every manner of philosophical digression upon the armature of his characters’ lives, Mr. Bellow conjured both the busy mental life of his heroes — men who live, quite willfully, in their heads — and their daily, creaturely existence, their hectic encounters with tempestuous women, fast-talking pitchmen, professional jokesters, bumblers, bureaucrats and poseurs.

John Updike (2009)

Mr. Updike’s strongest work remained tethered to the small town and suburban worlds he knew firsthand, just as many of his heroes shared the same sort of existential fears the author acknowledged he had suffered as a young man. . . . Their fear of death threatens to make everything they do feel meaningless, and it also sends them running after God — looking for some reassurance that there is something beyond the familiar, everyday world with “its signals and buildings and cars and bricks.”

Lou Reed (2013)

If Mr. Reed provided a literary bridge to the Beats (and through them, back to the Modernists, and the French “decadents” Rimbaud and Verlaine, and even Poe, the subject of his 2003 project “The Raven”), he also created a bridge forward to punk and to glam, indie, new wave and noise rock.

Gabriel García Márquez (2014)

In novels like “One Hundred Years of Solitude,” “The Autumn of the Patriarch” and “Love in the Time of Cholera,” Mr. García Márquez mythologized the history of an entire continent, while at the same time creating a Rabelaisian portrait of the human condition as a febrile dream in which love and suffering and redemption endlessly cycle back on themselves on a Möbius strip in time.

Oliver Sacks (2015)

Animated by a self-deprecating sense of humor and set down in limber, pointillist prose, Dr. Sacks’s autobiographical accounts are as candid and searching as his writings about his patients, and they suggest just how rooted his compassion and intuitive understanding — as a doctor and a writer — were in his youthful feelings of fear and dislocation.

https://mobile.nytimes.com/2017/07/27/books/38-years-on-books-the-essential-michiko-kakutani-reader.html?referer=https://t.co/To10tZdgIu

 

65 Books You Need To Read In Your 20s

GREAT NOVELS:

1. The Emperor’s Children, by Claire Messud

The best 9/11 novel that's much more than a 9/11 novel. Weirdly relatable, even though the characters are all pretty much upper-class pseudo-intellectuals.

npr.org

The best 9/11 novel that’s much more than a 9/11 novel. Weirdly relatable, even though the characters are all pretty much upper-class pseudo-intellectuals.

2. What She Saw…, by Lucinda Rosenfeld

Important twenties life lesson: Dating losers is not a life sentence. (Thank god.)

goodreads.com

Important twenties life lesson: Dating losers is not a life sentence. (Thank god.)

3. The Deptford Trilogy, by Robertson Davies

A wondrously insane and magical (in that it is actually about a magician) three-book series.

penguin.com.au

A wondrously insane and magical (in that it is actually about a magician) three-book series.

4. The Secret History, by Donna Tartt

The best time to read The Secret History is probably while you're still in college, because it is about a secret society at a small liberal arts college gone horribly awry, but it is also worth picking up a few years later to be reminded about the intensity of college friendships, and also Ancient Greek.

npr.org

The best time to read The Secret History is probably while you’re still in college, because it is about a secret society at a small liberal arts college gone horribly awry, but it is also worth picking up a few years later to be reminded about the intensity of college friendships, and also Ancient Greek.

5. Giovanni’s Room, by James Baldwin

A timeless story of masculinity, desire, and heartbreak that has become particularly resonant for young gay men.

booksbenread.tumblr.com

A timeless story of masculinity, desire, and heartbreak that has become particularly resonant for young gay men.

6. A Visit from the Goon Squad, by Jennifer Egan

These interwoven narratives (some of which were published as stand-alone stories in magazines such as the New Yorker) are brilliantly crafted, wryly tender portraits of life and love and the small tragedies of everyday modern life.

rookiemag.com

These interwoven narratives (some of which were published as stand-alone stories in magazines such as the New Yorker) are brilliantly crafted, wryly tender portraits of life and love and the small tragedies of everyday modern life.

7. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, by Junot Díaz

A book about the search for meaning even when life might be meaningless. (Also, my colleague Ariane says: "Yunior is also the dopest narrator you will ever encounter.")

xoxothereader.blogspot.com

A book about the search for meaning even when life might be meaningless. (Also, my colleague Ariane says: “Yunior is also the dopest narrator you will ever encounter.”)

8. Lucy, by Jamaica Kincaid

A powerful coming-of-age story of an introspective 19-year-old girl from the West Indies who becomes an au pair in the U.S.

Via invite.cl

A powerful coming-of-age story of an introspective 19-year-old girl from the West Indies who becomes an au pair in the U.S.

9. The Moviegoer, by Walker Percy

The story of Binx Bolling is kind of like what might have happened if Dick Whitman never became Don Draper, and instead started wandering around first New Orleans, and then the country, on a neverending spiritual and existential quest.

Via openroadmedia.com

The story of Binx Bolling is kind of like what might have happened if Dick Whitman never became Don Draper, and instead started wandering around first New Orleans, and then the country, on a neverending spiritual and existential quest.

10. White Teeth, by Zadie Smith

In addition to White Teeth being perhaps the ultimate 20th century British immigrant novel, it will also, possibly, inspire you to greatness: Smith finished it during her final year at Cambridge and was 24 (!!!) when it was published.

jameskennedymonash.blogspot.com

In addition to White Teeth being perhaps the ultimate 20th century British immigrant novel, it will also, possibly, inspire you to greatness: Smith finished it during her final year at Cambridge and was 24 (!!!) when it was published.

11. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, by Michael Chabon

Jews, New York, World War II, superheroes, comics, Nazis, love: It's all here, in spades. One of the leading contenders for Great American Novel status.

mytruebirdcalling.blogspot.com

Jews, New York, World War II, superheroes, comics, Nazis, love: It’s all here, in spades. One of the leading contenders for Great American Novel status.

12. Infinite Jest, by David Foster Wallace

Because you'll never have time to read it later.

amazon.com

Because you’ll never have time to read it later.

13. Bright Lights, Big City, by Jay McInerney

You read this book because even though they used typewriters and did way more cocaine than is even remotely healthy, it's still a perfectly told story about being young and thinking you're way too smart for what you're doing. Also it's possibly the only book ever written in the second person that actually works.

jaymcinerney.com

You read this book because even though they used typewriters and did way more cocaine than is even remotely healthy, it’s still a perfectly told story about being young and thinking you’re way too smart for what you’re doing. Also it’s possibly the only book ever written in the second person that actually works.

14. The Namesake, by Jhumpa Lahiri

A beautifully told coming-of-age story that is also about how to reconcile in-betweenness: of culture, of place, of time.

inesawolf.wordpress.com

A beautifully told coming-of-age story that is also about how to reconcile in-betweenness: of culture, of place, of time.

15. Call Me by Your Name, by André Aciman

Says my friend Chris: "Super-duper gay sexy but also gorgeous."

tumblr.com

Says my friend Chris: “Super-duper gay sexy but also gorgeous.”

16. The Rachel Papers, by Martin Amis

The Rachel Papers is "a fairly essential 'leaving adolescence and discovering that everything is still confusing and awful' kind of novel," says my colleague Jack, which seems like a pretty decent recommendation.

etsy.com

The Rachel Papers is “a fairly essential ‘leaving adolescence and discovering that everything is still confusing and awful’ kind of novel,” says my colleague Jack, which seems like a pretty decent recommendation.

17. Song of Solomon, by Toni Morrison

You almost definitely read this in high school English class, but you will almost definitely also have a much different perspective on Milkman and his family and their struggles a few years later.

libraries.usc.edu

You almost definitely read this in high school English class, but you will almost definitely also have a much different perspective on Milkman and his family and their struggles a few years later.

18. The Sun Also Rises, by Ernest Hemingway

Another English syllabus special, Hemingway's tight prose and peerless storytelling are somehow more resonant when you are reading it on your own. Or as my colleague Matt put it: "I couldn't keep my eyes open for more than five pages of Hemingway growing up, but for some reason I picked this up in my post-graduation haze and was mesmerized."

npr.org

Another English syllabus special, Hemingway’s tight prose and peerless storytelling are somehow more resonant when you are reading it on your own. Or as my colleague Matt put it: “I couldn’t keep my eyes open for more than five pages of Hemingway growing up, but for some reason I picked this up in my post-graduation haze and was mesmerized.”

19. Never Let Me Go, by Kazuo Ishiguro

The ultimate dystopian love story. If it doesn't make you cry, your heart may be made of stone.

meggarr.wordpress.com

The ultimate dystopian love story. If it doesn’t make you cry, your heart may be made of stone.

20. A Home at the End of the World, by Michael Cunningham

A classic "queer Bildungsroman," as my colleague Kevin says.

vandellobooks.com

A classic “queer Bildungsroman,” as my colleague Kevin says.

21. The Sandman Series, by Neil Gaiman

Gaiman's dark, tragic comic series originally ran as a 10-book series from 1989 to 1996 but has now entered the graphic-novel pantheon.

themaneatingbookworm.blogspot.com

Gaiman’s dark, tragic comic series originally ran as a 10-book series from 1989 to 1996 but has now entered the graphic-novel pantheon.

22. The Group, by Mary McCarthy

How is it possible that a novel written in 1963 about a group of post-collegiate friends in New York City IN THE 1930S could still be so relevant? Probably because the struggles of being in your twenties — particularly, how much do you care about the opinions of other people, and what does success mean? — have been the same since the dawn of time.

npr.org

How is it possible that a novel written in 1963 about a group of post-collegiate friends in New York City IN THE 1930S could still be so relevant? Probably because the struggles of being in your twenties — particularly, how much do you care about the opinions of other people, and what does success mean? — have been the same since the dawn of time.

23. Quicksand and Passing, by Nella Larsen

These two novellas written by a half-black, half-Danish woman in the 1920s capture the complications of that time — sexism and racism chief among them — while also being the beautifully told (and timeless) stories of deeply flawed young women.

npr.org

These two novellas written by a half-black, half-Danish woman in the 1920s capture the complications of that time — sexism and racism chief among them — while also being the beautifully told (and timeless) stories of deeply flawed young women.

24. Pastoralia, by George Saunders

I'll let my colleague Aylin's boyfriend explain this pick: "It just illustrates in such a breathtakingly beautiful, memorable way how easy it is for people to inflict pain on each other and how terrible it is to fall between the cracks in America, which it's easier than ever to do now. I don't know, I feel like reading it made me feel more compassionate toward people." Aw!

amazon.com

I’ll let my colleague Aylin’s boyfriend explain this pick: “It just illustrates in such a breathtakingly beautiful, memorable way how easy it is for people to inflict pain on each other and how terrible it is to fall between the cracks in America, which it’s easier than ever to do now. I don’t know, I feel like reading it made me feel more compassionate toward people.” Aw!

25. Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline

Says my colleague Krutika: "It's the perfect mix of childhood nostalgia for anyone who's in their twenties right now, and futuristic dystopian action/adventure where everyone's unwittingly more earnest and sincere than they mean to be."

profunduslibrum.blogspot.com

Says my colleague Krutika: “It’s the perfect mix of childhood nostalgia for anyone who’s in their twenties right now, and futuristic dystopian action/adventure where everyone’s unwittingly more earnest and sincere than they mean to be.”

26. A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, by Dave Eggers

The title is astonishingly accurate, but also, Eggers' work is a terrific window into what one of my friends calls "MTV lit." (This is not pejorative.)

books.simonandschuster.ca

The title is astonishingly accurate, but also, Eggers’ work is a terrific window into what one of my friends calls “MTV lit.” (This is not pejorative.)

27. The Bell Jar, by Sylvia Plath

My friend Julia puts it well: "What the protagonist Esther Greenwood goes through pretty much speaks to my whole generation and the next. College graduates who don't know what they want to do as a career, are not excited about things their parents say they should be, want to have sex but not babies... all of it. It also encourages young people to be unafraid to voice their feelings and opinions. Makes me wish Sylvia Plath could have read her own book without prejudice — it might have helped."

poetsorg.tumblr.com

My friend Julia puts it well: “What the protagonist Esther Greenwood goes through pretty much speaks to my whole generation and the next. College graduates who don’t know what they want to do as a career, are not excited about things their parents say they should be, want to have sex but not babies… all of it. It also encourages young people to be unafraid to voice their feelings and opinions. Makes me wish Sylvia Plath could have read her own book without prejudice — it might have helped.”

28. Main Street, by Sinclair Lewis

A book about an ambitious, difficult woman who is forced by circumstance (like being born in the wrong decade, in Minnesota) to keep settling for less than what she wants. But she doesn't stop trying her hand at finding utopia.

21stcenturylearning.sharepoint.com

A book about an ambitious, difficult woman who is forced by circumstance (like being born in the wrong decade, in Minnesota) to keep settling for less than what she wants. But she doesn’t stop trying her hand at finding utopia.

29. His Dark Materials trilogy, by Philip Pullman

The classic fantasy series — if you've only seen The Golden Compass, the film based on the first book in the series, you owe it to yourself to read the books (which are so much better).

librossargantana.com

The classic fantasy series — if you’ve only seen The Golden Compass, the film based on the first book in the series, you owe it to yourself to read the books (which are so much better).

30. Generation X, by Douglas Coupland

To understand where everyone a little older than you is coming from.

tumblr.com

To understand where everyone a little older than you is coming from.

31. The Fortress of Solitude, by Jonathan Lethem

About comics and superheroes and coming of age in a nearly unrecognizable Brooklyn.

socionaut.blogspot.com

About comics and superheroes and coming of age in a nearly unrecognizable Brooklyn.

32. Housekeeping, by Marilynne Robinson

An important book to read to learn about being lonely.

breakingoutofdreams.blogspot.com

An important book to read to learn about being lonely.

33. I Love Dick, by Chris Kraus

I'll let my friend Emily handle this one: "Readers will be rewarded with most psychologically astute sex scene ever written, plus a thorough, impassioned and wholly unique analysis of the power dynamics of heterosexual sex and love, how heterosexuality works to keep women unrepresented and unable to fully represent themselves, and how that affects the world." Whew! (Also, sorta fun to read this one on the subway, IYKWIM.)

therumpus.tumblr.com

I’ll let my friend Emily handle this one: “Readers will be rewarded with most psychologically astute sex scene ever written, plus a thorough, impassioned and wholly unique analysis of the power dynamics of heterosexual sex and love, how heterosexuality works to keep women unrepresented and unable to fully represent themselves, and how that affects the world.” Whew! (Also, sorta fun to read this one on the subway, IYKWIM.)

34. On the Road, by Jack Kerouac

So that you'll realize the way you felt about this book in high school has totally changed.

etsy.com

So that you’ll realize the way you felt about this book in high school has totally changed.

35. Even Cowgirls Get the Blues, by Tom Robbins

I love what my friend Evie says about this book: "It is kind of a primer on absurdist literature and speaks volumes to self-doubt and discovery and body image and feminine identity reclamation. Plus, it has that sense of humor that you have in your twenties when you think you are SO FUCKING CLEVER, and sometimes you actually are."

bibliopolis.com

I love what my friend Evie says about this book: “It is kind of a primer on absurdist literature and speaks volumes to self-doubt and discovery and body image and feminine identity reclamation. Plus, it has that sense of humor that you have in your twenties when you think you are SO FUCKING CLEVER, and sometimes you actually are.”

36. Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, by Haruki Murakami

Two complicated, brilliant, and intertwined yet distinct narratives (Hard-Boiled Wonderland and The End of the World) about a surreal dystopia.

underground-reality.blogspot.com

Two complicated, brilliant, and intertwined yet distinct narratives (Hard-Boiled Wonderlandand The End of the World) about a surreal dystopia.

GREAT MEMOIRS:

37. Bossypants, by Tina Fey

This whole book is filled with brilliance — about work, about being a woman, about being a mom, about being a boss — but one of my favorites is what Fey writes about Amy Poehler: “Amy made it clear that she wasn’t there to be cute. She wasn’t there to play wives and girlfriends in the boys’ scenes. She was there to do what she wanted to do and she did not fucking care if you like it.”

npr.org

This whole book is filled with brilliance — about work, about being a woman, about being a mom, about being a boss — but one of my favorites is what Fey writes about Amy Poehler: “Amy made it clear that she wasn’t there to be cute. She wasn’t there to play wives and girlfriends in the boys’ scenes. She was there to do what she wanted to do and she did not fucking care if you like it.”

38. Kitchen Confidential, by Anthony Bourdain

Will immediately quash your fantasies of opening your own restaurant unless you are a masochist, in which case this book will be your how-to.

jipaban.com

Will immediately quash your fantasies of opening your own restaurant unless you are a masochist, in which case this book will be your how-to.

39. How to Lose Friends and Alienate People, by Toby Young

Young's memoir about his (mis)adventures in the New York media scene can seem a bit petulant, but he does manage to capture pretty perfectly that world's bizarre rituals and petty status obsessions.

oxfam.org.uk

Young’s memoir about his (mis)adventures in the New York media scene can seem a bit petulant, but he does manage to capture pretty perfectly that world’s bizarre rituals and petty status obsessions.

40. The Dirt, by Mötley Crüe and Neil Strauss

You think your twenties were wild? HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA.

npr.org

You think your twenties were wild? HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA.

41. Lunar Park, by Bret Easton Ellis

Technically a novel, but more of a fictionalized memoir: "It's about what happens when you reach your career goals yet you still find yourself haunted by ghosts," says my colleague Michael. Also, it's important to read Bret Easton Ellis before you get too old.

thefringemagazine.blogspot.com

Technically a novel, but more of a fictionalized memoir: “It’s about what happens when you reach your career goals yet you still find yourself haunted by ghosts,” says my colleague Michael. Also, it’s important to read Bret Easton Ellis before you get too old.

42. Just Kids, by Patti Smith

One of my favorite books of the last few years, maybe ever. Smith's memoir is about falling in love — with a man, with New York, with her adult self — and will make you long for a New York that you never knew.

npr.org

One of my favorite books of the last few years, maybe ever. Smith’s memoir is about falling in love — with a man, with New York, with her adult self — and will make you long for a New York that you never knew.

43. Another Bullshit Night in Suck City, by Nick Flynn

For learning that trauma is traumatic.

tvivf.wordpress.com

For learning that trauma is traumatic.

44. Oh the Glory of it All, by Sean Wilsey

I love what my friend Alex says about this book: "It's just a fab memoir about growing up in San Francisco, but mostly the dude had a TERRIBLE childhood. And I think terrible childhood books are best for people in their twenties (file under whining, quit yer)." I would also add that it's a fascinating window into a rarefied S.F. world of non–Silicon Valley wealth, and Wilsey manages the neat trick of making us empathize with him despite his family's comfortable finances.

npr.org

I love what my friend Alex says about this book: “It’s just a fab memoir about growing up in San Francisco, but mostly the dude had a TERRIBLE childhood. And I think terrible childhood books are best for people in their twenties (file under whining, quit yer).” I would also add that it’s a fascinating window into a rarefied S.F. world of non–Silicon Valley wealth, and Wilsey manages the neat trick of making us empathize with him despite his family’s comfortable finances.

45. I Don’t Care About Your Band, by Julie Klausner

These hilarious interconnected essays about finding and losing (mostly losing) love as a twentysomething in New York City take place in the recent past, but something tells me they are timeless.

thegirlfromtheghetto.wordpress.com

These hilarious interconnected essays about finding and losing (mostly losing) love as a twentysomething in New York City take place in the recent past, but something tells me they are timeless.

46. Wild, by Cheryl Strayed

For how, and why, to be brave. And also how to hike for over 1,000 miles alone after your mother's death, your divorce, and your recovery from a bit of a heroin addiction.

goodbooksguide.blogspot.com

For how, and why, to be brave. And also how to hike for over 1,000 miles alone after your mother’s death, your divorce, and your recovery from a bit of a heroin addiction.

47. Lit, by Mary Karr

Karr's memoir about her alcoholism is like a punch in the gut, in the best possible way. And as my friend Jess says, this book "will teach you to be honest with yourself."

npr.org

Karr’s memoir about her alcoholism is like a punch in the gut, in the best possible way. And as my friend Jess says, this book “will teach you to be honest with yourself.”

48. I’m with the Band, by Pamela Des Barres

Des Barres spent much of the '60s as a rock 'n' roll groupie, and this classic memoir is a good reminder that a narcissist by any other name (aka rock star) is still a narcissist.

beatbooks.com

Des Barres spent much of the ’60s as a rock ‘n’ roll groupie, and this classic memoir is a good reminder that a narcissist by any other name (aka rock star) is still a narcissist.

49. Dear Diary, by Lesley Arfin

Arfin revisits her funny, dark diary entries from the ages of 12 through 25. There's lots to relate to here, and also some deeply cautionary tales.

tumblr.com

Arfin revisits her funny, dark diary entries from the ages of 12 through 25. There’s lots to relate to here, and also some deeply cautionary tales.

POETRY:

50. The Complete Poems of Anne Sexton, by Anne Sexton

Sexton was a revolutionary: She wrote frankly and breathtakingly about incredibly personal and controversial topics — including her mental illness, drug addiction, and abortion — until her suicide in 1973 at age 45.

wellreadweare.wordpress.com

Sexton was a revolutionary: She wrote frankly and breathtakingly about incredibly personal and controversial topics — including her mental illness, drug addiction, and abortion — until her suicide in 1973 at age 45.

51. Actual Air, by David Berman

You may know Berman best as the lead singer of the Silver Jews, but in 1999 he published a slyly sweet book of poetry that takes on everything from Abraham Lincoln to his ex-girlfriend.

opencity.org

You may know Berman best as the lead singer of the Silver Jews, but in 1999 he published a slyly sweet book of poetry that takes on everything from Abraham Lincoln to his ex-girlfriend.

52. The Collected Poems of Kenneth Koch, by Kenneth Koch

For fans of Frank O'Hara who are ready for something a little more exuberant.

ebookstore.sony.com

For fans of Frank O’Hara who are ready for something a little more exuberant.

53. Alien vs. Predator, by Michael Robbins

Michael Robbins is maybe my favorite contemporary poet. Here is a verse from a poem he published on The Awl last year:Maybe it’s Maybelline. Why can’t you be true?You re-gifted the VD I wrapped up just for you.My penis and my brain team up to penis-brain you.It is now my duty to completely drain you.

goodreads.org

Michael Robbins is maybe my favorite contemporary poet. Here is a verse from a poem he published on The Awl last year:

Maybe it’s Maybelline. Why can’t you be true?

You re-gifted the VD I wrapped up just for you.

My penis and my brain team up to penis-brain you.

It is now my duty to completely drain you.

54. The Collected Poems of Audre Lord, by Audre Lord

Audre Lorde called herself a "black, lesbian, mother, warrior, and poet," and her poems — about race, sexuality, love, loss, parenthood, politics, and death — are emotional and angry and warm all at once.

Audre Lorde called herself a “black, lesbian, mother, warrior, and poet,” and her poems — about race, sexuality, love, loss, parenthood, politics, and death — are emotional and angry and warm all at once.

ESSAYS THAT WILL MAKE YOU THINK AND/OR LAUGH:

55. Me Talk Pretty One Day, by David Sedaris

Because it's sometimes instructive to realize that your awkward, quirky upbringing can become the stuff of best-selling essays.

beattiesbookblog.blogspot.com

Because it’s sometimes instructive to realize that your awkward, quirky upbringing can become the stuff of best-selling essays.

56. How to Be a Woman, by Caitlin Moran

Moran's book is a sharp, wise, and, most of all, hilarious exploration of modern-day womanhood, feminism, and being generally kick-ass. (Also, this Tumblr.)

theatlanticwire.com

Moran’s book is a sharp, wise, and, most of all, hilarious exploration of modern-day womanhood, feminism, and being generally kick-ass. (Also, this Tumblr.)

57. My Misspent Youth, by Meghan Daum

The titular essay in this collection was published in 1999 in The New Yorker, when the 29-year-old Daum realized that she was totally, utterly broke and needed to leave New York, and her lament is the timeless one of the upper-middle-class liberal arts college graduate who cannot live in the New York of their fantasies: "I spend money on Martinis and expensive dinners because, as is typical among my species of debtor, I tell myself that Martinis and expensive dinners are the entire point — the point of being young, the point of living in New York City, the point of living."

autostraddle.com

The titular essay in this collection was published in 1999 in The New Yorker, when the 29-year-old Daum realized that she was totally, utterly broke and needed to leave New York, and her lament is the timeless one of the upper-middle-class liberal arts college graduate who cannot live in the New York of their fantasies: “I spend money on Martinis and expensive dinners because, as is typical among my species of debtor, I tell myself that Martinis and expensive dinners are the entire point — the point of being young, the point of living in New York City, the point of living.”

58. Slouching Towards Bethlehem, by Joan Didion

The Bible for anyone who's fancied themselves a writer, ever. Didion has probably said what you wanted to say, and earlier and better.

The Bible for anyone who’s fancied themselves a writer, ever. Didion has probably said what you wanted to say, and earlier and better.

59. Up in the Old Hotel, by Joseph Mitchell

Mitchell was a New Yorker writer whose essays about the city in the 1930s to the 1960s are each gems of keenly observed daily life. Wherever you live, these will make you look at your everyday surroundings a little differently.

januarymagazine.blogspot.com

Mitchell was a New Yorker writer whose essays about the city in the 1930s to the 1960s are each gems of keenly observed daily life. Wherever you live, these will make you look at your everyday surroundings a little differently.

GENERAL LIFE HOW-TOS:

60. How to Cook Everything, by Mark Bittman

No task — whether making pasta or scrambling an egg — is too basic for this book of basics, and sometimes you really need to start with the basics.

theglazedcucumber.wordpress.com

No task — whether making pasta or scrambling an egg — is too basic for this book of basics, and sometimes you really need to start with the basics.

61. How’s Your Drink?, by Eric Felten

As my colleague Ray says, "You gotta learn how to drink like a person sooner or later."

cookwithclaire.org

As my colleague Ray says, “You gotta learn how to drink like a person sooner or later.”

62. The Elements of Style, by Strunk & White

To know how to write.

girlwithasatchel.blogspot.com

To know how to write.

63. Letters to a Young Contrarian, by Christopher Hitchens

However you feel about Hitchens' work, this little volume is incredibly instructive in teaching you how to write things without giving a shit about what other people think. Or to learn how to just not give a shit about what other people think, generally.

coreysbook.wordpress.com

However you feel about Hitchens’ work, this little volume is incredibly instructive in teaching you how to write things without giving a shit about what other people think. Or to learn how to just not give a shit about what other people think, generally.

64. Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, by Betty Edwards

My colleague Summer says that this book is "so great for creativity in general and encouraging everyone to draw like they did as children." (And not just for lefties!)

engagingright.blogspot.com

My colleague Summer says that this book is “so great for creativity in general and encouraging everyone to draw like they did as children.” (And not just for lefties!)

65. He’s Just Not That Into You, by Greg Behrendt and Liz Tuccillo

Because sometimes clichés are true, and it's important to figure out when.