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.
Presidents show up in a lot of thrillers—usually as victims of assassination attempts, nefarious or feckless plotters with their corporate buddies, or thoughtful approvers of wild but necessary schemes to stop the bad guys. I have limited my list to novels in which the president is central to the story, and, although many recent books are excellent candidates, I have chosen mainly from among the classics, tales that set the templates for many of the works that have followed.
I love books that envision some sort of alternate version of our world. For me, the key ingredient in these stories is a feeling of realism. I always want to feel as if I’m reading something true, no matter how imaginative the scenario is.
The Kitchen Book and the Cook Book by Nicolas Freeling Freeling, a British crime writer, worked as a cook in restaurants and hotels in France and England for many years. This volume contains two short, lovely, memorable books: In The Kitchen Book, Freeling writes about his life in professional kitchens with understated, wry fluidity, conjuring a memorable group of characters with economy and wit.
Literary criticism is unlikely to change the world, but every now and then it throws up a work of real intellectual stature. Frank Kermode’s The Sense of an Ending is one such book, but here are five others:Eric Auerbach’s Mimesis (1946) has a claim to being one of the most monumental works of criticism of the modern era.
Carlin Romano covers scores of philosophers and their extremely serious works in his new book, America the Philosophical. Here he notes five of his favorite idiosyncratic philosophy books—off the beaten path, but fun and illuminating.
Along with my wife and, when they were little, our children, I have spent several multiyear stretches living in Asian countries. Our longest stays have been in Japan, Malaysia, and most recently in China.The theme for my selection is “Outsiders in Asia.
The Confessions of Nat Turner By William StyronNat Turner was a black slave who sparked a bloody uprising in Virginia in 1831 and left behind—after his capture and execution—a brief, cryptic account of what made him do it. Or maybe he didn’t leave the account, which was alleged by some to have been the work in part or whole of the lawyer, Thomas Gray, who proceeded to publish it.
Wake-up call, continental breakfast, the day’s newspaper ... and books to make the morning complete! It’s time again for the PEN World Voices Festival of International Literature, when writers like Herta Müller, Paul Auster, Michael Cunningham, Etgar Keret, Margaret Atwood, and Tony Kushner descend on New York City.
Windows on the World By Frédéric BeigbederStill one of the best 9/11 novels. The author breaks two rules with panache: that you have to be American, optimally a New Yorker, to write with authority about the World Trade Center (Beigbeder is from France, where this novel was first published in 2004); and that books published too closely on the heels of any such tragedy are bound to suffer from a lack of perspective and come out rubbish.
On the Beach By Nevil ShuteA post-apocalyptic Australian story revolving around nuclear fallout, euthanasia, and a fuel crisis in which the one bright beam of civilized hope is Seattle? Yes please. Who needs a description of Maui this summer? Not I, not when there’s an end-of-the-world Pearl Harbor portrayal inspired by then-recent events.
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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