Amor Towles Harry Mathews’s “Cigarettes.” The only American-born member of the experimental confederacy Oulipo, Mathews often wrote about shattering conventions, and thus his work can be somewhat uneven. But in “Cigarettes” he gives us a sly, inventive and entertaining novel which is a racy investigation of midcentury New York society.
Anne Rice “Kings Row,” by Henry Bellamann. It’s so terribly sad to me that Bellamann’s novels have been all but forgotten today. I regard this as a lost American classic. It was a great success upon its release and made into a film that featured a young Ronald Reagan. I discovered it after stumbling across the film, and then I rushed out to obtain a copy of the novel. It’s such a rich exploration of how we survive in a world full of ugliness, loneliness and suffering. As soon as I finished it, I went right to Amazon and posted a five-star review.
Phillip Lopate “Earthly Days,” by Jose Revueltas (1949), an amazing, modernist, brutally honest novel about the Communist Party’s attempt to radicalize peasants in Mexico. A cult classic in Mexico, but just recently issued here in Matthew Gleeson’s fine translation by Archive 48.
Simon Gray’s four-volume “The Complete Smoking Diaries,” which consists of “The Smoking Diaries,” “The Year of the Jouncer,” “The Last Cigarette” and “Coda” (the last being one of the most virtuosic and heartbreaking books ever written). The tetralogy is much admired in England but virtually unknown in America.
A true, bestselling story from the battlefield that faithfully portrays the horror, the madness, and the trauma of the Vietnam War
More than half a million copies of Chickenhawk have been sold since it was first published in 1983. Now with a new afterword by the author and photographs taken by him during the conflict, this straight-from-the-shoulder account tells the electrifying truth about the helicopter war in Vietnam. This is Robert Mason’s astounding personal story of men at war. A veteran of more than one thousand combat missions, Mason gives staggering descriptions that cut to the heart of the combat experience: the fear and belligerence, the quiet insights and raging madness, the lasting friendships and sudden death—the extreme emotions of a “chickenhawk” in constant danger.
John Cleese’s huge comedic influence has stretched across generations; his sharp irreverent eye and the unique brand of physical comedy he perfected now seem written into comedy’s DNA. In this rollicking memoir, Cleese recalls his humble beginnings in a sleepy English town, his early comedic days at Cambridge University (with future Python partner Graham Chapman), and the founding of the landmark comedy troupe that would propel him to worldwide renown.
Cleese was just days away from graduating Cambridge and setting off on a law career when he was visited by two BBC executives, who offered him a job writing comedy for radio. That fateful moment—and a near-simultaneous offer to take his university humor revue to London’s famed West End—propelled him down a different path, cutting his teeth writing for stars like David Frost and Peter Sellers, and eventually joining the five other Pythons to pioneer a new kind of comedy that prized invention, silliness, and absurdity. Along the way, he found his first true love with the actress Connie Booth and transformed himself from a reluctant performer to a world class actor and back again.
Gurwitch’s popular Web site (www.firedbyannabellegurwitch.com) entices people to turn in their best tales of their worst firings; the cream of that crop is gathered in this star-studded collection of misery. The book is divided into chapters with titles like “The Job So Terrible You Can Only Hope to Be Fired” and “The Time You Deserved to Be Fired,” but mostly it’s just tales of horrible things happening to funny people. Gurwitch’s own piece—in which she’s canned from her role in a play written and directed by an officious Woody Allen, who told her “You look retarded”—is par for the course, with its droll humor and dash of celebrity. Comedians Bill Maher, D.L. Hughley, Bob Saget and Andy Borowitz all get in their zingers, while Illeana Douglas composes a poem that ranges from getting fired as a coat check girl (“How is it/possible to be fired hanging coats?/I have arms. I know what coats are”) to high farce with borderline psychotic filmmakers. The few noncelebrities invited to share their woes are generally less funny, though they tend to be more unpredictable, such as the ex–White House chef who provides a nice recipe for seared scallops.
In fascinating detail, Ivan Solotaroff introduces us to the men who carry out executions. Although the emphasis is on the personal lives of these men and of those they have to put to death, The Last Face You’ll Ever See also addresses some of the deeper issues of the death penalty and connects the veiled, elusive figure of the executioner to the vast majority of Americans who, since 1977, have claimed to support executions. Why do we do it? Or, more exactly, why do we want to?
The Last Face You’ll Ever See is not about the polarizing issues of the death penalty — it is a firsthand report about the culture of executions: the executioners, the death-row inmates, and everyone involved in the act. An engrossing, unsettling, and provocative book, this work will forever affect anyone who reads it.
Hailed by George Saunders as “a true original—a wise and wildly talented writer,” Lee Durkee takes readers on a high-stakes cab ride through an unforgettable shift. Meet Lou—a lapsed novelist, struggling Buddhist, and UFO fan—who drives for a ramshackle taxi company that operates on the outskirts of a north Mississippi college town. With Uber moving into town and his way of life vanishing, his girlfriend moving out, and his archenemy dispatcher suddenly returning to town on the lam, Lou must finish his bedlam shift by aiding and abetting the host of criminal misfits haunting the back seat of his disintegrating Town Car. Lou is forced to decide how much he can take as a driver, and whether keeping his job is worth madness and heartbreak.
The New York Times Book Review has just turned 125. That got us wondering: What is the best book that was published during that time? We’d like to hear from you. For the month of October we’ll take nominations, in November we’ll ask you to vote on a list of finalists and in December we’ll share the winner.
All the Light We Cannot See
The Catcher in the Rye
A Confederacy of Dunces
The Fellowship of the Ring
A Fine Balance
A Gentleman in Moscow
Gone With the Wind
The Grapes of Wrath
The Great Gatsby
The Handmaid’s Tale
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
To Kill a Mockingbird
A Little Life
One Hundred Years of Solitude
A Prayer for Owen Meany
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
Choosing books by mood and emotion
You can mix our mood sliders into great combinations – try unpredictable, lots of sex and optimistic and check what comes up. Flip the slider setting from optimistic to unusual and the books offered are quite different.
Click on a book cover that intrigues you and you can find out more. No need to wade through long reviews, or complicated plot summaries. There’s a short comment designed to convey the essence of the book, what it feels like to read. You can get a direct experience of the author’s voice in a sample paragraph. And there are a few Parallels – other books and sometimes tv shows, songs and even paintings which have some similarities with this one.
Choosing from the world map
Spin the globe and choose a book by the country it is set in. Click on an area – say Africa or Europe – and then click on a specific country. You will find places – and books – you maybe never knew about.
Choosing by character and plot
You can choose the main character’s race, age, sexuality and/or gender. Or pick a favourite plot shape and discover the range of different types of read that use it.
Starting from a familiar bestseller
You won’t find the biggest bestsellers on Whichbook as everyone knows about them already. But you can use your enjoyment of a current bestseller to see titles with a similar mood that you might try next.
Bibliophiles do not approach bookshelves lightly. A stranger’s collection is to us a window to their soul. We peruse with judgment, sometimes admiration and occasionally repulsion (Ayn Rand?!). With celebrities now frequently speaking on television in front of their home libraries, a voyeuristic pleasure presents itself: Are they actually really like us?
From the comments:
My brother-in-law once found a complete set of the works of Anthony Trollope in excellent condition.
The price seemed a little high, so he declined. The next day, he changed his mind and returned, only to find that the collection had been purchased by a lady who needed “Three yards of red books.”