Content Section

Book Beast

The Most Unreliable Narrators

Sophie Hannah, the author of the new novel ‘The Orphan Choir’, has always preferred the sketchy storyteller. Why should a narrator openly tell us everything when we haven’t earned that privilege?
Popperfoto/Getty

What is an unreliable narrator? Asking that question, or hearing someone else ask it, always activates my contrary streak (which is sizeable enough that some might say it constitutes almost my whole personality!) In many of the best novels I’ve read that feature unreliable narrators, their unreliability—for which some readers condemn them—is a much-needed defense against the other characters in the book, who are often reliably repellent.

Fictional Marriages Gone Wrong

Jean Hanff Korelitz, the author of the new novel 'You Should Have Known,' on her favorite books about failed marriages.
Peter Dazeley/Getty

Obviously, I know everything there is to know about marriage. Who else but a self-appointed expert would commit the hubris of writing a novel like You Should Have Known, in which a marriage counselor has, to put it bluntly, no idea what’s going on in her own 18-year marriage, nor even, really, the first thing about her husband? And then there’s the fact that I’ve actually made it to my own Silver Anniversary and beyond (26 years and 7 months of marriage, not that I’m keeping track).

Five Great Literary Homes

The debut novelist Stuart Nadler, whose book ‘Wise Men’ is out in paperback, picks his favorite literary descriptions of domesticity.
John Greim/Getty

Our culture is packed full at the moment with aspirational domesticity––home improvement television shows, inside peeks at celebrity houses, a general collective madness for expensive mid-century sofas and artisanal hand-woven rugs and organic wallpaper.

True Detective: Medieval Edition

Medieval scholar Eric Jager, whose new book is ‘Blood Royal,’ about a true story of murder in 15th-century Paris, picks five books about medieval crime that you probably missed but shouldn’t.
Culture Club/Getty

The Murder of Charles the Good, Count of Flanders By Galbert of BrugesThis is the earliest surviving journal of its kind, about a brutal assassination and its causes and consequences. In 1127, Charles the Good was attacked in church by the rival Erembald family, who sliced their victim up with swords while he was at prayer.

How To Be a Man

T Cooper, the author of ‘Real Man Adventures,’ picks his favorite books about the subject of masculinity.
Bureau L.A. Collection/Sygma/Corbis

I am a man. A fact I don’t take for granted, by the way—as I was not born a man. But you know what? It turns out nobody else is born a man either. Sure, roughly half of us humans are born male—but only a fraction of that fraction actually grow into men.

Toro Bravo’s Favorites

Food writer Liz Crain and four-time James Beard nominee John Gorham, owner of the Portland restaurant Toro Bravo, on their favorite cookbooks. Their very own, ‘Toro Bravo: Stories. Recipes. No Bull’ is out now.
Getty

One of my favorite things to do on a lazy weekend morning is to wake up, make a press of coffee, grab a bunch of cookbooks from the kitchen and get back in bed with both. John likes to go through a stack of cookbooks as much as I do although he probably has three times as many as I do.

What Are Whorestoricals?

The author of ‘Room,’ ‘Slammerkin,’ and ‘Astray’ picks five of the best historical fictions about the oldest profession.
Rue des Archives/Collection Bourgeron, via Getty

Considering that I have no personal experience of either selling it or paying for it, I’ve been oddly preoccupied (as both reader and writer) with prostitution all my life. For me it’s the ur-job, the original trade, the one that stands for all the other bargains in which we rent out our time or energy.

How to Read a Novel

John Freeman, the former editor of Granta and author of the new book ‘How to Read a Novelist,’ knows his literary reviews—he has written for almost 200 publications around the world. He picks his favorite books of criticism, from Updike to Edwidge Danticat.

Hugging the Shore by John Updike. For 20 months, between marriages, John Updike lived alone in Boston, “my foam-rubber reading chair three paces from my dining table and two paces from my bed.” Hugging the Shore, Updike’s fourth collection of assorted prose, grew out of this period, and shows what marvelous things can be done with readerly solitude.

Science Fiction That Matters

The author of the new e-book ‘Ajax Penumbra 1969’ and the debut novel ‘Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore,’ now out in paperback, shares his passion for science fiction, ‘my essential genre.’

We range widely, we readers of fiction, but I think we all need a home. Mine is science fiction. It’s my home shelf, my homeland, my home planet, my essential genre. Without science fiction, without the influence these books have had on me over the years, I'm not sure I would care much about reading or writing today.

The Best Books ’Bout Texas

The author of the new Texas novel ‘All the Land to Hold Us’ picks his favorites set in the Lone Star State.

1. Goodbye to a River by John Graves (Also anything else by John Graves.) A magnificent natural history of a place, a classic down-the-river narrative in which Graves and his dog float on a section of a river about to be buried by a dam.

Pride and Prejudice

The author of the phenomenally successful ‘Hitler’s Willing Executioner’ and the new book ‘The Devil That Never Dies,’ about the resurgence of anti-Semitism, picks the most important books about prejudice.

1. The Nature of Prejudice by Gordon W. Allport. The classic about prejudice that was the gold standard when published and remains so today. A comprehensive survey of the issues and brimming with insight. 2. Slavery and Social Death by Orlando Patterson.

My YA Favorites

Luke Kelly, the grandson of children’s author Roald Dahl, on his favorite young adult fictions from childhood and now. His new children’s book, with illustrator Yoko Tanaka, is ‘Blanket and Bear, a Remarkable Pair.’

The world of young adult fiction is a bridge to adult fiction and a world entirely unto itself. My taste in YA works was highly influenced by growing up with seven sisters—six of them dominatingly older than me—mixed with a dash of the swashbuckling masculinity that comes from being sent off to English boarding schools from the age of 7.

Five Dangerous Mentors

Megan Abbott’s newest novel, ‘Dare Me,’ out in paperback today, imagines the world of high-school cheerleading, where teenagers follow their coaches and best friends down dark, twisted paths of loyalties. Here the crime novelist celebrates her biggest inspirations—the books that were her own dangerous mentors.

Prime of Miss Jean Brodie By Muriel Spark“Give me a girl at an impressionable age, and she is mine for life.” For any writer tackling the theme of dangerous mentors, it begins with Spark’s novel, and so it was for me. For the six pupils under the tutelage of the seductive, witty and poisonous Miss Brodie in 1930s Edinburgh, the risks extend well beyond the classroom, culminating in disillusionment and ultimately betrayal for some and far worse for her most devoted disciple, the lamentable Mary Macgregor.

The Great Wild West

Ivan Doig, the great chronicler of the Montana landscape whose new novel is ‘Sweet Thunder,’ picks his favorite books on the American West.

The American West as Living Space By Wallace StegnerOnce when I asked a prominent historian what he thought of the many writings by Stegner, novelist and English-department star at Harvard and Stanford, about the background and the West, he didn’t hesitate: “He hits the nail on the head every time, damn him.

The Best of the ’80s

The poet and cultural critic Wayne Koestenbaum’s new book, ‘My 1980s and Other Essays,’ explores, among other things, the age of Ronald Reagan and MTV. Here are five of his favorite books from the decade.

The Morning of the Poem (1980) By James SchuylerSchuyler, a New York School poet, is less famous than his friends John Ashbery and Frank O’Hara, but his poetry, like theirs, is funny, ribald, noisy, erudite, and hospitable to every tangent and whim.

About Book Bag

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.

Latest From

Books

Philippa Gregory: What Are You Reading?

‘The White Queen’ author Philippa Gregory usually doesn’t read historical fiction, a genre she’s mastered. But she’s making an exception for two books.

  1. Larry McMurtry: May the Books Flourish! Play

    Larry McMurtry: May the Books Flourish!

  2. R.I.P. Seamus Heaney Play

    R.I.P. Seamus Heaney

  3. Jackie Collins Does Cher Play

    Jackie Collins Does Cher

Hot Reads

Book Bag

How I Write

Longreads

The Big Idea

American Dreams