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There are few writers whose books I enjoy starting quite as much as Graham Greene. His writing is crisp, cinematic, and hooks one from the outset. His output was fairly staggering and covered quite a range, but The Power and the Glory is generally considered his masterpiece, and rightly so. A whisky priest, a fanatical police lieutenant, a fanged mestizo, a setting worthy of Orson Welles, and a narrative that never sags—with an insightful introduction by John Updike to boot. Sign me up.
This collection of Pullman’s beautifully rendered retellings of the Grimms’ classic tales is truly wonderful—full of wonders—and has become a bedtime-story standby in my household. Reader beware: even tales with innocent titles such as The Goose-Girl can lead to some awkward questions from 4-year-olds about how a decapitated horse’s head could talk and whether being rolled to death in a nail-studded barrel is really a fitting punishment for any crime.
And speaking of crime and punishment, Dostoyevsky’s novel of that name is one of my all-time favorites. Yes, it’s chock-full of big questions about justice, morality, and human nature, but what sticks with me is the vivid depiction of a sweltering, fetid, feverish Saint Petersburg in the days leading up to Raskolnikov’s foul deed. Anyone who has lived through an August heat-wave in New York City with no A/C, a job that doesn’t pay the bills, and a neighbor who blasts Seal’s 1991 hit “Crazy” every morning at 6:30 a.m. will know why Raskolnikov started thinking about that axe.
As a New Yorker, reading stories from the city’s past is much like thumbing through childhood pictures of your lover (who may be losing interest in you). Reading John O’Hara’s The New York Stories is like finding out that all those birthdays, baths, and Christmas mornings were shot by Annie Leibovitz. Great characters and razor-sharp dialogue set amid streets and buildings that time has certainly changed, but still spark a flutter of recognition. And I love the cover.
Kafka is great. If this is news to you, read this book immediately. If you already know this, then you know these stories are well worth reading again. I still think of “The Penal Colony” every time I hear the word harrowing.
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