• Distant Star

    Roberto Bolaño

    Just about a year ago, I got less than a hundred pages into The Savage Detectives before I could go no further (and turned to ...more

  • On Photography

    Susan Sontag

    Although photography generates works that can be called art — it requires subjectivity, it can lie, it gives aesthetic pleasure — photography is not, to begin with, an art form at all. Like language, it is a medium in which works of art (among other things) are made. Out of language, one can make scientific discourse,

  • The Principles of Uncertainty

    Maira Kalman

    Maybe you saw these when they were posted as Maira Kalman’s blog on nytimes.com and now it’s only available as this book, which is not such a bad thing. It’s kind of a comic of paintings while also somewhat of a general elegy on the finiteness of life. People who have died are a recurring theme; even some of the people she mentions visiting back in 2006 have since passed on — Louise Bourgeois, Helen Levitt. But her sense of humor particularly tickles me. I read half of it before bed and the rest with breakfast.more

  • No Such Thing as Silence: John Cage’s 4′33″

    Kyle Gann

    John Cage’s 4'33" is one of the most misunderstood pieces of music ever written and yet, at times, one of the the avant-garde’s best understood as well. Many presume that the piece’s purpose was deliberate provocation, an attempt to

  • Tales from Outer Suburbia

    Shaun Tan

    The gorgeous art in this collection of stories would make this worth checking out on its own, but the stories are at times vaguely unsettling, examining the fantastically surreal edges of an otherwise banal world, while also remaining playful. In the end, it’s something kids would find entertaining, while adults may more appreciate...more

  • Just Kids

    Patti Smith

    A memoir for anyone who gets a little romantic about New York City in the 1960s and 1970s, Smith sketches out her early years in the city and her relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe. Early on they were lovers, but for most of their time together (and up until Mapplethorpe’s death from AIDS in 1989), they had...more

  • Plainwater

    Anne Carson

    After Anne Carson won me over at her Nox reading, I finally put this collection of poetry and essays on hold. It seems like several people have noted it as their favorite volume of hers. Right now I was drawn more to her essays than the various sections of verse, especially the two pilgrammages within “...more

  • Tell Me How Long the Train’s Been Gone

    James Baldwin

    It has been quite a long time since I read any James Baldwin, which suddenly seems like a pretty serious oversight. This may not be one of his best novels, but I liked it more than Mario Puzo did in his review for The New York Times when the book was...more

  • Nox

    Anne Carson

    I wanted to fill my elegy with light of all kinds. But death makes us stingy.

    Back when I was making a concerted effort to read more poetry, I enjoyed a few of Anne Carson’s books. I haven’t been spending much time in bookstores, or reading for that matter. But recently forces...more

  • Ways of Seeing

    John Berger

    Kind of the Camera Lucida on fine art, this book is based on the BBC documentary of the same name. Seven essays, three composed entirely of images and four primarily of text that aren’t too heavy with the...more

  • The Book of Lost Things

    John Connolly

    A modern take on traditional fairy tales, I found this at times predictable but mostly delightful. Even though I basically knew what eventually did happen at the end, I still set aside most of an evening to finish the last few chapters. There are a few moments, namely in the recreated fairy tales, that rang a bit problematic, but then I...more

  • Too Loud a Solitude

    Bohumil Hrabal

    After I only made it halfway through the last two books I’ve started, I figured I couldn’t go wrong with a book less than a hundred pages long. But I still think I have to thank a tranquil weekend away and the train ride home more than the brevity here.

    The majority of these eight chapters begin with a variation of...more

  • Elegy for Iris

    John Bayley

    I never saw the movie version of Bayley’s recollections of his life with Iris Murdoch. Just like Strange Big Moon, I got halfway through this book before I just didn’t want to pick it up again. In this case, I think only have read...more

  • Strange Big Moon

    Joanne Kyger

    I got really excited when I first got this book and read this on the first page:

    Confession merely enables you to go on acting like a coward, behavior does not change. As self awareness then condones further actions of the same sort.

    At the time this resonated strongly, but over time...more

  • Prague

    Arthur Phillips

    Phillips wears a little Kundera on his sleeve, perhaps specifically Life is Elsewhere. Though I haven’t read it myself, the title could easily be transposed to this story of a band of young...more

  • Stadt Alphabet Wien

    Martin Ulrich Kehrer

    I always forget to add the various books that come my way that aren’t actually books that I read, but most likely hold court on the coffee table or a prominent location on a bookshelf. Melanie brought me this one from Austria, and it documents Vienna’s incredible old signage, in...more

  • Atmopheric Disturbances

    Rivka Galchen

    I probably read more reviews of this book before starting it than I should have, as the reactions were mixed and some went into too much depth, so at times I was expecting something a little different. But ultimately I enjoyed this story of a middle-aged psychiatrist who believes that his wife has been replaced by an imposter and goes on...more

  • If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things

    Jon McGregor

    This is one of those novels that is hard to describe without the word “poignant,” as McGregor describes in fine detail the happenings on one block in a British city on one day that something tragic occurs with the block’s residents as witnesses. The build-up to this one event is a selective peering into of the neighbors’ secret...more

  • Carried Away

    Alice Munro

    After the semi-disappointment in Dance of the Happy Shades, I picked up this collection and worked my way through it over autumn in between other books. I’d probably read half of these seventeen favorites in their original collections, so reading this was a combination of fi...more

  • Slaughterhouse-Five

    Kurt Vonnegut

    I read Breakfast of Champions back in high school or early college but for some reason never branched out further. It’s hard to remember my exact reaction, but I’m guessing it was a...more