Roughing It By Mark TwainTravel writing isn't what it used to be, but a young, smart-ass Mark Twain set a standard with his romp through the wacky West, published in 1872, that has rarely been surpassed. By horseback and hoof, Twain takes us from the Mormon Theocracy of Utah to the wide-open craziness in the Sierra mining fields.
The Deer Park By Norman MailerI want books you would enjoy reading even if you knew next to nothing about the movies. In that spirit, I start with a novel—Norman Mailer’s The Deer Park (1955)—about an Air Force flier who goes to Hollywood.
Bluets By Maggie NelsonFor inspiration and consternation, I often carry Maggie Nelson's Bluets. It is a book-length essay/poem/something that studies blue as a color, an emotion, a state of being, the meaning of sex, an existential mystery, and as art.
Think short stories are boring? Old-fashioned? Uneventful? Here are five contemporary collections guaranteed to change your mind. PU-239 and Other Russian Fantasies By Ken Kalfus Imagine Breaking Bad but with weapons-grade plutonium instead of meth.
The Pickwick Papers Dickens’s first novel—in which his exhilaration at finally bursting into fiction is palpable. He worked on a huge canvas, using a multitude of modes and styles, painting a picture of an England that was at once contemporary and mythic.
When you’ve really enjoyed a book, it’s great to come back to the characters again and see what they or their children did next. However, a trilogy is difficult to write, because the author has to revisit the same set of ideas and get more stories out them.
A novel is an entire world, a short story is a glimpse into a world. But in the very best short stories a glimpse can be a totally memorable experience—in fact, magical.The Angel on the Roof: The Stories of Russell Banks While Banks's ambitious novels are critiques of class in America, his short stories often take for their subject American masculinity, about which the writer is both enormously entertaining and relentless.
Besides being the creator of the “No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency” series, an author of more than 50 books (his novel The Importance of Being Seven from his “44 Scotland Street” series is out on paperback), an expert on bioethics and a professor of medical law at the University of Edinburgh, Alexander McCall Smith is also a big art fan.
The Man Who Liked Slow Tomatoes By K.C. ConstantineThe creator of Mario Balzic etched a portrait of a dying town in the coal district of Pennsylvania that touches the soul. His blue-collar characters—protagonist, victim, killer, suspect—are all presented with empathetic humanity.
A common pursuit of old men is the rekindling of those days when life was yet to be conquered. The scent of the woman who lived up the stairs. The sound of the crowd at the end of that 90-yard run. The taste of tears when the train finally pulled away.
On Becoming a Novelist By John GardnerI love a clarion call, so any writer who uncompromisingly declares that good suspense is about moral choices and consequences while bad suspense is about “just one damn thing after another,” has my ear.
Goodbye, Columbus (1959) by Philip Roth “Conversion of the Jews,” Roth’s classic tale of Jewish hypocrisy, was recommended to me by my sixth-grade English teacher. The story undermined my entire Hebrew-school education and sucked all the pleasure out of my bar mitzvah.
Harkness, a historian of science at the University of Southern California, was researching at Oxford University’s Bodleian Library when she discovered an ancient book of spells. That discovery inspired her first novel, A Discovery of Witches, about a young scholar named Diana Bishop who accidentally opens a magical manuscript, which threatens an underworld war involving demons, witches, and vampires.
“Literary thinking relies upon literary memory, and the drama of recognition,” Harold Bloom once wrote. Maggie Shipstead’s first book, Seating Arrangements, can be read as a Harvard-tinted, golf-club obsessed WASP comedy about a wedding on an island off Cape Cod.
All five of these books (except Mailer's) were written when their authors were in their mid-30s—old enough to write masterfully and have some grown-up distance on what was going on, but still just young enough to viscerally feel what was happening in real time.
Need a book recommendation? We get asked all the time. But look no further, because here's our answer. We've left the task to the experts: every week, great writers pick their favorite books and tell you why they are must-reads. What are you waiting for?
Laid aside for decades, Tolkien’s abandoned poem about King Arthur is finally released. Biographer John Garth reads the epic.