• The Westing Game

    Ellen Raskin

    I never read this when I was younger, but I kind of wish I had. It’s a complicated mystery based around the occupants of an apartment building who discover they’ve all been named heirs to a $2 million estate, except they need to compete against each other (in pairs dictated by the bizarre will) on a strange riddle in order...more

  • The Sweet Life in Paris

    David Lebovitz

    Only recently did I get with the program and start reading David Lebovitz’s blog — I’ve tried to make up for lost time by making his butterscotch pudding several times in the last few weeks. I assumed this book would basically be a printed “best of” the blog (which would further help me catch up on what I’ve been missing),...more

  • The Woman in the Dunes

    Kobe Abé

    An entomologist seeks out a remote seaside village for an insect expedition and as night falls seeks shelter from the villagers. They offer him shelter with a widow who lives in a house inside a deep sand pit and he wakes up in the morning to discover they have removed the ladder, trapping him. In time he discovers that a...more

  • Dance of the Happy Shades

    Alice Munro

    I was partway through this collection of short fiction when I had to check to see if this was Munro’s first collection of stories (which it is). So often her stories seem to leave no stone to untouched, and, even though it’s not as long as a novel, you still have the sense that the narrative is entirely complete at...more

  • Infinite Jest

    David Foster Wallace

    I’m hesitant to say much about the end of Infinite Jest, mostly because I feel not having much knowledge about the book before I started reading it made things more interesting — though I guess the How-to on the Infinite Summer blog did say some pretty specific, though not plot-oriented, things about the book.

    I’d heard rumblings that the ending was a...more

  • Infinite Jest (½)

    David Foster Wallace

    It seems right after the ¼ mark, the chapters start getting more epic in length (as well as a greater number of lengthy endnotes). But also subtle threads begin appear, tying all these separate stories together a little bit more. Eventually the story starts moving into this place where it seems like everything is actually connected somehow… while at...more

  • Infinite Jest (¼)

    David Foster Wallace

    I hadn’t read anything by David Foster Wallace when I first heard about the Infinite Summer project and in general find that I don’t love brilliant dead white dudes as much as other people do. But I like projects and novels that play with the idea of a novel and felt aimless in my reading patterns, so I jumped...more

  • The Elegance of the Hedgehog

    Muriel Barbery

    Luckily I had some warning from Helena that the ending of this novel might be disappointing, so I wasn’t too annoyed when I felt letdown by it as well. The Elegance is definitely still worth a read, at least if the idea of two closet intellectuals unknowingly living in the same fancy Paris apartment building trading off solitary philosophies...more

  • The Unbearable Lightness of Being

    Milan Kundera

    I first read this book years and years ago; long enough ago that when I recently saw the movie version, I could barely remember what parts of the story seemed the same or totally different. On my last day in Vienna I spied a copy in a bookstore and bought it as a souvenir, since I’d been to the...more

  • Averno

    Louise Glück

    I remembered reading Louise Glück before but I didn’t go back and refresh my memory on what I said about The Seven Ages until after I read this book. I think I have to deduce that I’m not that into her poetry as I could almost say the exact thing this time around.

    The title refers to the lake in...more

  • Modern Life

    Matthea Harvey

    There are many interesting takes on “modern” life in this collection of poems. From the kind of anachronistically futurist Robo-Boy placed in a banal contemporary setting to the militarily apocalyptic series that maps words found between future and terror in the dictionary. The two semi-abecedarian series ascend the alphabet in one and descend in the other but maintain the...more

  • Brideshead Revisited

    Evelyn Waugh

    For some reason I always assumed this novel was first of all science fiction and secondly a sequel, and it definitely is neither. Not sure where I got confused — maybe I was thinking of Eraserhead?

    Set between the wars in upper-class England, it is instead an über-nostalgic story of middle-class Charles Ryder’s relationship with the more upper-crust Flyte family and...more

  • Art and Fear

    Paul Virilio

    It’s a little ridiculous how long I’ve been reading this book, considering it’s less than 100 pages long. It doesn’t even feel so dense but running at such a blistering pace that it’s a difficult to continually put it down and pick it back up again, as it becomes necessary to constantly backtrack to get back up to speed. I...more

  • The Omnivore’s Dilemma

    Michael Pollan

    I read The Botany of Desire years ago and since then it seems like Pollan has been popping up everywhere, both due to this book and last year’s In Defense of Food.

    Like The Botany of Desire, this book looks at four representative categories, this time different food chains: industrial, organic, local, and personal. The trail of corn...more

  • The Fatal Eggs

    Mikhail Bulgakov

    It’s been many years since I last re-read The Master and Margarita… [I believe this link is for the Michael Glenny translation — there’s some debate as to the best one… I own the Burgin/Tiernan O’Connor, but I’ve heard some people like the Mirra Ginsberg even though that is a translation of the censored version of the book.]...more

  • Reading Lolita in Tehran

    Azar Nafisi

    An intriguing concept, pairing a memoir about living through the Iranian Revolution and the resulting totalitarian regime with literary criticism of Western literature as an attempt to put it all into perspective. Unfortunately Nafisi’s effort fell flat to me, mostly because the writing feels too weak for the task.

    The structure of the book itself is confusing, as she shifts around...more

  • The Grapes of Wrath

    John Steinbeck

    I managed to get through all my schooling without ever reading The Grapes of Wrath (or any other Steinbeck novel), and since all sorts of people keep saying how “timely” it is, my curiosity got the best of me. Initially it felt like slogging through required reading until a certain point where I was amazed at “how timely!” it is....more

  • Wide Sargasso Sea

    Jean Rhys

    Years ago I read Jane Eyre for the sole purpose of reading Rhys’s retelling of it from the perspective of the woman locked in the attic. Luckily the book stands solidly on its own so my now hazy memories of Jane Eyre didn’t get in the way.

    This critical edition includes all sorts of letters and essays and excerpts...more

  • Sleepwalking Land

    Mia Couto

    I love how this book describes a meandering journey that somehow always seems to stay in the same place as it progresses. Really, it’s two meandering journeys: in one, an old man and a young boy, refugees from Mozambique’s long civil war, seek refuge in a crashed and charred bus. While the duo never venture far from the bus, the...more

  • Unaccustomed Earth

    Jhumpa Lahiri

    I have to admit I felt bored with the first part of this short story collection. Not really because the stories themselves were boring to me — Lahiri has a consistently elegant storytelling approach that I enjoy — but because the consistency itself pulls it down as a collection. It’s almost like each story arcs in such a similar fashion that they seem to...more