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Jonathan Lethem

“Jonathan Lethem’s extraordinary career is a reminder of the not-so-distant past when working novelists published their new creations regularly and with a seemingly free-flowing hand,” Michael Greenberg writes in the New York Times Book Review. “If one book wasn’t up to snuff, there would be another to redeem it a year or two later. It was all part of the ebb and flow of a lifetime of work.

 

“Twenty books ... read more ...

The Book: The Top Ten

How German Is It

How German Is It by Walter Abish (1980). Abish wields not pen, but scalpel, vivisecting Germany’s cult of appearances and culture of denial. His protagonist is Ulrich, whose father was executed for plotting against Hitler.

Housekeeping

Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson (1980). This is the story of Ruth and her younger sister, Lucille, who grow up haphazardly, first under the care of their competent grandmother, then of two comically bumbling great-aunts, and finally of Sylvie, their eccentric and remote aunt.

1982, Janine

1982, Janine by Alasdair Gray (1984). In a fleabag Scottish motel, divorced and depressed, Jock McLeish once again seeks consolation and strength through massive doses of alcohol and sadomasochistic sexual fantasies (some starring a woman named Janine). Through frank, complex language Gray takes us inside the addled mind of a powerless man seeking to impose some control over his life.

1984

1984 by George Orwell (1948). Orwell’s reputation as an antiauthoritarian arises in large part from this novel set in a totalitarian future in which citizens are constantly reminded “Big Brother is watching” as they are spied upon by the Thought Police and one another. In this landscape, Winston Smith is a man in danger simply because his memory works.

A Bend in the River

A Bend in the River by V. S. Naipaul (1979). A fictionalized account of the violence and political tyranny that gripped Zaire after its independence from Belgium, the novel focuses on an African of Indian descent named Salim who opens a small store at a bend in the Congo River.

A Clockwork Orange

A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess (1962). The linguistic virtuosity of this futuristic tale—told in nadsat, a russified English—lures us into an unwilling complicity in the drug-fueled bouts of ultraviolence committed by Alex and his droogs (comrades).

A Confederacy of Dunces

A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole (1980). “The funniest novel of the twentieth century,” said Donald Harington of this sprawling picaresque, which was awarded a Pulitzer Prize after Toole’s suicide. Its blustering, bumfuzzled antihero is Ignatius J. Reilly, an unintentionally hilarious, altogether deluded, and oddly endearing student of man who lives with his mother in New Orleans.

A Dance to the Music of Time

A Dance to the Music of Time by Anthony Powell (1951–75). Powell’s panoramic series of twelve freestanding novels, grouped in four “movements,” charts the careers of four public-school friends from 1921 to 1971 against the backdrop of rapidly changing London.

A Death in the Family

A Death in the Family by James Agee (1957). A Pulitzer Prize–winning work of autobiographical fiction tells the story of a Knoxville, Tennessee, family torn asunder by the father’s accidental death in 1915. In stunningly gorgeous prose, Agee chronicles the family’s life before and after the tragedy (as well as the larger community they live in), to depict the fragility of happiness, of family, and of life itself.

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New List

Sandra Cisneros

1. The Time of the Doves by Mercè Rodoreda (1962).
2. The Ten Thousand Things by Maria Dermout (1955).
3. Stones for Ibarra by Harriet Doerr (1984).
4. The Burning Plain and Other Stories by Juan Rulfo (1953).
5. Good Morning, Midnight by Jean Rhys (1939).
6. La Flor de Lis by Elena Poniatowska (1988).
 7. Borderlands/La Frontera by Gloria Anzaldúa (1999).
8. The Book of Embraces by Eduardo Galeano (1989).
9. Dreamtigers by Jorge Luis Borges (1964).
10. Maud Martha by Gwendolyn Brooks (1953).

Classic List

Lydia Millet

1. JR by William Gaddis (1975).
2. Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf (1925).
3. Voyage of the ‘Dawn Treader’ by C. S. Lewis (1952).
4. The Lorax by Dr. Seuss (1971).
5. Woodcutters by Thomas Bernhard (1984).
6. The War with the Newts by Karel Capek (1936).
7. Auto-da-Fé by Elias Canetti (1935).
8. Red the Fiend by Gilbert Sorrentino (1995).
9. Masquerade and Other Stories by Robert Walser (1878–1956).
10. Molloy, Malone Dies, and The Unnamable, a trilogy by Samuel Beckett (1951–54).

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