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The Tiger Writer

When Gish Jen delivered the Massey lectures in American history at Harvard in 2012, the daughter of Chinese immigrants examined the East-West divide, not only in child-rearing but in fiction writing. Almost every novelist has had to contend with the question of “what is fiction,” and Jen picks her favorite lectures on writing, from Nabokov’s attention to detail, to a meditation on Edwidge Danticat’s immigrant experience, to Toni Morrison’s own Massey lecture.
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I have always loved reading writers on writing, and the lectures they give especially. The fact that these are typically addressed to a particular audience, and in response to a particular need or occasion seem to give the writers a special license, with results for the reader that are a bit like a raft trip.

For the Birds

Forget the Bible—for author Terry Tempest Williams, there are two books that matter above all others: her Sibley and Peterson bird field guides.
Image: Louis Gakumba

The cover is green linen with the title printed in forest green letters, A Field Guide to Western Birds. An imprint of a swift appears as the heart of the book. The backside of the book offers a seven-inch ruler to gauge the size of any bird viewed.

Jackie Collins’s Erotic Picks

Fifty what? Puh-lease. Before E.L. James ever appeared on the scene, Jackie Collins was already taking over the publishing world with her raunchily fun novels of sex and intrigue in Hollywood. Her latest is ‘The Power Trip’, and she has sold well over 500 million copies of her books.
Image: Pascal Le Segretain/Getty

Here are my picks for five majorly sexy and erotic novels involving interesting and complex characters and a ton of erotic sex. Get reading and have fun!Portnoy’s Complaint by Philip RothWhen Portnoy’s was first published in 1969 it sparked much controversy and turned Roth into a major celebrity.

Remembrance of Friends Past

Sarah Manguso’s latest elegy for a friend is one in a long line of autobiographical writing putatively devoted to other subjects. Here are her five favorite examples of such works.
Image: Andy Ryan/Farrar, Straus & Giroux

Sarah Manguso’s latest book might be subtitled An Elegy for a Friend, but it is also a memoir about her grief. The Guardians tells the story of Harris, Manguso’s best friend who escaped from a psychiatric hospital and jumped under a train.

Sam Lipsyte’s Bilious Picks

The leading practitioner of the literary equivalent of a black comedy, whose new collection of stories is ‘The Fun Parts,’ is out to defy the idea that funny can’t be serious. He picks his favorite humorous yet weighty novels.
Image: Ceridwen Morris

Sabbath’s Theater By Philip RothThis is one of Roth’s best, and master of puppets Mickey Sabbath is a beautiful outrage. You will never feel the same way again about art, death, love, and sniffing your friend’s daughter’s underwear.

The Essential Bildungsromans

The hazards of growing up today include sexting and cyber-bullying, as Emily Bazelon, the author of ‘Sticks and Stones,’ knows. She picks her favorite coming-of-age stories.

Fun Home By Alison BechdelBechdel’s graphic novel is a gripping exploration of her father’s hidden sexuality and ambiguous death, and the effects that the tortuous course of his life—and her parents’ fraught marriage—had on her own emerging identity.

Poetry of the People

The poet Paul Muldoon, whose new collection is “The Word on the Street: Rock Lyrics,” picks his favorite rock-and-roll books.
Oliver Morris/Getty

Who I Am By Pete TownshendThe great tilter at, and of, windmills is a wonderfully literate commentator not only on his own turbo-charged band but the generally turbulent milieu of rock and roll. We might not be in the least surprised that he’s been banned for life from Holiday Inns because of leaving a Lincoln Continental in a swimming pool, but we might be ever so slightly surprised that he held the Everly Brothers in such esteem.

Must Reads On Religion

Pulitzer Prize–winning historian Garry Wills would love it if the Pope was not replaced—he picks his favorite Catholic books.
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The Trinity By St. AugustineAugustine, the only major thinker of Late Antiquity who was monolingual (Latin) and could not read the original Trinitarian speculations of the Greek Fathers, so he had to look inside himself for the image of God.

The Essay Tradition

Phillip Lopate, the great practitioner of the personal essay, contemplates the form and picks his five favorite collections.

I did not come to essay writing immediately, but fell in love with the form after fiddling around with fiction and poetry, even publishing books in those two genres. In time I came to see the essay as so capacious and flexible that it could accommodate the storytelling impulse of fiction and the associative, quicksilver moves of poetry, enabling me to draw on my training in both.

Andrew O’Hagan’s Favorite Essays

The celebrated Scottish writer, whose book “The Atlantic Ocean: Reports From Britain and America” is finally available in the U.S., picks his most treasured books.
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Slouching Towards Bethlehem by Joan DidionI read this in Glasgow in one big sitting when I was a teenager, and I couldn’t speak for like a week and a half. These essays capture the moral temperament of the 1960s and the weather as well as the inner life of the author.

The Art of Nonfiction

Pulitzer winner Tracy Kidder and his longtime editor Richard Todd have been friends for 40 years, and they have loved talking about one topic: nonfiction. In ‘Good Prose: The Art of Nonfiction,’ they record that obsession. Here are six of their favorite narratives, essays, and memoirs.

Colorful stylists, whatever their other virtues, make dangerous models. Aspiring writers might look instead to the pure. Here are six works of nonfiction to cleanse the palate of the reader dining on too-rich prose.Reporting By Lillian RossThis is the collection in which Ross’s classic profile of Hemingway appears—as fresh as it was in 1950 and more valuable, especially for its preservation of the literary manners of a disappeared era.

Read These F**king Books

‘Go The F**k to Sleep’ author Adam Mansbach returns with a novel about New York's graffiti scene. He picks his favorite books on the Big Apple.
John Moore/Getty; inset: Matthew L. Kaplan

New York Jew By Alfred KazinA dense memoir, both lyrical and incisive, from one of the great intellectuals of the 20th century. Though it’s brimming with famous writers—Kazin’s collaborators on the slew of magazines and journals he founded and wrote for—the real star here is the New York Public Library, where Kazin first discovered himself.

A Haiti Book Bag

The author of the new book ‘Farewell, Fred Voodoo: A Letter from Haiti,’ picks the five essential reads about the colorful and troubled country.
Thony Belizaire/AFP/Getty

Haiti: The Aftershocks of History By Laurent Dubois I’ve written about Haiti for a long time now, and thought about it for a long time, and whenever I get blue, or stuck, or think I’m over it, Laurent Dubois, newer to the scene than I and far more erudite, publishes a new book on Haitian history.

André Aciman’s Favorite Novellas

The author of ‘Alibis: Essays on Elsewhere’ picks the short novels that move him most—and they’re about unconsummated loves.

Everyone knows what a novella is, but try to define the genre. The easiest and most flat-footed definition would be the one I frequently use: a novella is a long short story that is not a novel. But this can hardly pass for a definition.

Pete Hamill’s Christmas Book Bag

Think of Pete Hamill and you think of Brooklyn. Perhaps it’s time to add Christmas to that association? The author of the new ‘The Christmas Kid: And Other Brooklyn Stories’ tells us what he’s been reading—you should curl up with these books during your Christmas nights, too.

Winter Journal By Paul Auster More than simply a memoir by one of the finest American novelists. This is also a reflection on time, age, mistakes, work, the closing of some doors, and the opening of others. For me it’s a perfect book for a season usually marked by reflection, regret, and, yes, hope.

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Need a book recommendation? We get asked all the time, but we've left the task to the experts: every week, great writers pick their favorite books and tell you why they are must-reads.

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