fiction
The Book of Disquiet by Fernando Pessoa
May 20
The Book of Disquiet by Fernando Pessoa

This fictional diary and journal by the Portuguese writer Fernando Pessoa is one of Nobel Prize-winning Jose Saramago’s and Patti Smith’s favorite books. I see why. The dazzling prose, poetry, intelligence, and intimate vignettes by the author or his brilliant, reclusive alternative ego’s inner and external experiences is an incredible read.

I recommend reading this book the same as I suggest reading Proust, i.e., the writing is so rich that it’s best to read no more than six or seven pages a day.

Learn more or purchase The Book of Disquiet by Fernando Pessoa.

The Invention of Morel by Bioy Casares
May 14
The Invention of Morel by Adolfo Bioy Casares

The Invention of Morel by Adolfo Bioy Casares is one of Jorge Luis Borges’, Octavio Paz’s, and Roberto Bolano’s favorite books. Borges’ praised it a masterpiece of plotting and compared it to Kafka’s The Trial. Octavio Paz called it perfect.

What attracted me was the utter strangeness of the story. I had no idea what was going on for some time and was in suspense until the end. I loved the story, though it got a little repetitive, even for short novel. I did appreciate the inventiveness and creativity. It’s a cult classic ahead of its time.

Learn more or purchase The Invention of Morel by Adolfo Bioy Casares.

exit west Mohsim Hamid
March 30
Exit West by Mohsin Hamid

The premise of this story is terrific, but I was surprised the narrative was so boring after the buzz and positive reviews Exit West has received. The characters are uninteresting and there’s almost no dialogue. And Hamid would have flunked a show don’t tell writing test.

However, there are other opinions:

“This is the best writing of Hamid’s career… Readers will find themselves going back and savoring each paragraph several times before moving on. He’s that good. … Breathtaking.” —NPR.org

Learn more or purchase Exit West by Mohsin Hamid.

The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick
February 17
The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick

“This harrowing, Hugo Award-winning novel is the work that established Philip K. Dick as an innovator in science fiction while breaking the barrier between science fiction and the serious novel of ideas. In it Dick offers a haunting vision of history as a nightmare from which it may just be possible to awake.”

Weird, confusing, brilliant, absorbing, creative = Philip K. Dick.

Learn more or purchase The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick.

Plot against America by Philip Roth
February 17
The Plot Against America by Philip Roth

A sad day when The Plot Against America by Philip Roth reflects our contemporary political situation. A prescient novel by a fine writer.

“Roth has written a magnificent novel, arguably his best work in a long time. It is tempting to equate his scenario with current events, but resist, resist. Of course it is a cautionary tale, but, beyond that, it is a contribution to American letters by a man working at the top of his powers.”

Learn more or purchase The Plot Against America by Philip Roth.

 

January 13
Ashenden Or The British Agent by W. Somerset Maugham

Ashenden Or The British Agent by W. Somerset Maugham influenced Ian Fleming and John Le Carre. The collection is a compelling read that carries the ring of truth. 

“Ashenden: The British Agent is founded on Maugham’s experiences in the English Intelligence Department during World War I, but rearranged for the purposes of fiction. This fascinating book contains the most expert stories of espionage ever written. For a period of time after it was first published the book became official required reading for persons entering the secret service.

The plot follows the imaginary John Ashenden who during World War I is a spy for British Intelligence. He is sent first to Geneva and later to Russia. Instead of one story from start to finish, the chapters contain individual stories involving many different characters. All of the people whom Ashenden meet during his travels have their own reason for being involved in the spy game, and each are more complex than they first look.”

Click to learn more or purchase Ashenden Or The British Agent by W. Somerset Maugham

 

 

January 13
The Pyramid by Henning Mankell

The Pyramid is one of my favorites. #RIP Henning Mankell

Everyone loves a good mystery. And, for twenty-five years, Henning Mankell has been one of the best crime writers of his generation before he passed away in 2015. 

“Revealing a side of Wallander that we have never seen, the long stories collected in The Pyramid are vintage Mankell. Here, we see Wallander on his homicide first case as a twenty-one-year-old patrolman, as a young father facing unexpected danger on Christmas Eve, as a middle-aged detective with his marriage on the brink, as a newly separated investigator solving the brutal murder of a local photographer, and finally as a veteran detective, with his signature methodical and instinctive work style, discovering unexpected connections between a downed plane and the assassination of a pair of spinster sisters. In these five riveting tales we watch Kurt Wallander come into his own not only as a detective but as a human being.”

Learn more or purchase The Pyramid by Henning Mankell

 

 

January 13
The Berlin Stories by Christopher Isherwood

The Berlin Stories by Christopher Isherwood are insightful and poignant stories give us a peak into German attitudes as Hitler and the Nazi party come to power.

“A classic of 20th-century fiction, The Berlin Stories inspired the Broadway musical and Oscar-winning film Cabaret.First published in the 1930s, The Berlin Stories contains two astonishing related novels, The Last of Mr. Norris and Goodbye to Berlin, which are recognized today as classics of modern fiction. Isherwood magnificently captures 1931 Berlin: charming, with its avenues and cafes; marvelously grotesque, with its nightlife and dreamers; dangerous, with its vice and intrigue; powerful and seedy, with its mobs and millionaires–this is the period when Hitler was beginning his move to power. The Berlin Stories is inhabited by a wealth of characters: the unforgettable Sally Bowles, whose misadventures in the demimonde were popularized on the American stage and screen by Julie Harris in I Am A Camera and Liza Minnelli in Cabaret; Mr. Norris, the improbable old debauchee mysteriously caught between the Nazis and the Communists; plump Fraulein Schroeder, who thinks an operation to reduce the scale of her Buste might relieve her heart palpitations; and the distinguished and doomed Jewish family, the Landauers.”

Learn more or purchase The Berlin Stories by Christopher Isherwood

 

 

January 13
Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh

Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited showcases his superb writing and storytelling.

So many unforgettable characters in Brideshead Revisited, Evelyn Waugh’s evocative tale of an aristocratic, Catholic and English family told from the point of view of the agnostic and artistic Charles Ryder.

“In this classic tale of British life between the World Wars, Waugh parts company with the satire of his earlier works to examine affairs of the heart. Charles Ryder finds himself stationed at Brideshead, the family seat of Lord and Lady Marchmain. Exhausted by the war, he takes refuge in recalling his time spent with the heirs to the estate before the war–years spent enthralled by the beautiful but dissolute Sebastian and later in a more conventional relationship with Sebastian’s sister Julia. Ryder portrays a family divided by an uncertain investment in Roman Catholicism and by their confusion over where the elite fit in the modern world. Although Waugh was considered by many to be more successful as a comic than as a wistful commentator on human relationships and faith, this novel was made famous by a 1981 BBC TV dramatization. Irons’s portrayal of Ryder catapulted Irons to stardom, and in this superb reading his subtle, complete characterizations highlight Waugh’s ear for the aristocratic mores of the time. Fervent Anglophiles will be thrilled by this excellent rendition of a favorite; Irons’s reading saves this dinosaur from being suffocated by its own weight.”

Learn more or purchase Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh

 

 

January 13
Suspended Sentences by Patrick Modiano

In Suspended Sentences Patrick Modiano captures each narrator’s confusion, solitariness, and memory in three subtle mysteries.

Although little actually happens in each novella, I found myself drawn so close to these characters that a strange power haunted my own sense of being. I understand why he won the Nobel Prize in Literature.

“Although originally published separately, Patrick Modiano’s three novellas form a single, compelling whole, haunted by the same gauzy sense of place and characters. Modiano draws on his own experiences, blended with the real or invented stories of others, to present a dreamlike autobiography that is also the biography of a place. Orphaned children, mysterious parents, forgotten friends, enigmatic strangers—each appears in this three-part love song to a Paris that no longer exists. In this superb English-language translation of Afterimage, Suspended Sentences, and Flowers of Ruin, Mark Polizzotti captures not only Modiano’s distinctive narrative voice but also the matchless grace and spare beauty of his prose.
 
Shadowed by the dark period of the Nazi Occupation, these novellas reveal Modiano’s fascination with the lost, obscure, or mysterious: a young person’s confusion over adult behavior; the repercussions of a chance encounter; the search for a missing father; the aftershock of a fatal affair. To read Modiano’s trilogy is to enter his world of uncertainties and the almost accidental way in which people find their fates.”

Learn more or purchase Suspended Sentences by Patrick Modiano

 

 

January 13
A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James

A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James explores the fictional history of the attempted assassination of Bob Marley.

A variety of narrators tell the story of 1970s Jamaican culture, poverty, violence, and politics before a free concert by Marley.

The book is too long, and I got tired of the unlikable characters; but wow, what a stunning epic Marlon James has created. The writing is brilliant and makes a reader wonder how someone can be this talented. This is an incredibly dark tale that is on many best of 2014 lists. Not for the faint of heart!

“On December 3, 1976, just before the Jamaican general election and two days before Bob Marley was to play the Smile Jamaica Concert, gunmen stormed his house, machine guns blazing. The attack nearly killed the Reggae superstar, his wife, and his manager, and injured several others. Marley would go on to perform at the free concert on December 5, but he left the country the next day, not to return for two years.

Deftly spanning decades and continents and peopled with a wide range of characters—assassins, journalists, drug dealers, and even ghosts—A Brief History of Seven Killings is the fictional exploration of that dangerous and unstable time and its bloody aftermath, from the streets and slums of Kingston in the 70s, to the crack wars in 80s New York, to a radically altered Jamaica in the 90s. Brilliantly inventive and stunningly ambitious, this novel is a revealing modern epic that will secure Marlon James’ place among the great literary talents of his generation.”

Learn more or purchase A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James