4 Books I Routinely Turn to for Comfort of Varying Degrees
Starting with hilarity and working our way down to misery, as a sort of template for life on this planet, we have:
The Fan Manby William Kotzwinkle
Here we are trapped in the mind of the quintessential stoned hippie, who lives in mountains of trash and defeats landlords like a kind of modern Quixote. First published in the era itself—1974—this one remains bark-out-loud hilarious, as, for example, when our intrepid hero, Horse Bardoties, has one of his DORKY days, in which he repeats this mysterious mantra, over and over, for a whole fat chapter.
The Informationby Martin Amis
As wickedly funny a satire of the writer's life as anything I've ever encountered. Plus, it has the virtue of Amis' fluid improvisatory prose, one gorgeous sentence flowing into the next, and all in the service of a story to make you squirm even as you laugh aloud.
A book I revisit every decade or so, reading straight through, not only for the majesty and beauty of Cheever's prose but to discover a whole hidden history of an era. The 61 stories here run in chronological order, from "Goodbye, My Brother" to "The Jewels of the Cabots," and they are imbued with joy and sorrow in equal measures. Plus, we have the staunchly anti-academic Cheever's two-page introduction, in which he muses on his beginnings in an era "when the city of New York was still filled with a river light, when you heard Benny Goodman quartets from a radio in the corner stationery store, and when almost everyone wore a hat."
Disgraceby J.M. Coetzee
To my mind, perhaps the greatest novel of our era, and one, like his Age of Iron, that rends your soul. David Lurie, Coetzee's protagonist, is disgraced for a fling with a student, but then, in the countryside of post-apartheid South Africa, discovers what true disgrace and humiliation are—and what the human soul requires above all. Read it with a martini in hand and maybe a cigarette and an oozing steak. I sob every time I reach that grueling and beautiful final scene
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T.C. Boyle is the author of 12 novels including most recently, The Women , a New York Times bestseller, and nine collections of short stories, including Wild Child . A member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, he lives near Santa Barbara, California, and is Distinguished Professor of English at the University of Southern California.