I had the pleasure in 2014 of rereading a monsoon-rain-warped paperback edition of Italo Svevo’s hilarious 1923 self-published masterpiece, “Confessions of Zeno.” Svevo inspired James Joyce to give birth to Leopold Bloom, and “Confessions” explores its protagonist’s Zen-like satisfaction in treating each cigarette as if it is his last (because he really, really is going to quit after this one).
Meghan Daum’s new book, “The Unspeakable,” is thrillingly good. In essays that range in subject matter from her complicated relationship with her dying mother to playing charades with the Hollywood elite at Nora Ephron’s house to her near death from a bacterial infection, Daum’s powers as one of the most emotionally exacting, mercilessly candid, deeply funny and intellectually rigorous writers of our time are on glorious display.
A novella, I know, but I would save it from a burning house before everything else I’ve ever read.
The imagined world of ‘Anna Karenina’ feels more human, more real and deeper than any other novel I know. It’s an immense, amazing achievement. When you open Tolstoy, there’s an observation about life on almost every page that’s heart-stopping.
‘Anna’ is really a great book, a much greater one than ‘War and Peace’. In ‘Anna Karenina’, there is far more of the great and necessary sympathy that sees all people in their own eyes, and refrains from dismissing them. And nearly always the knowledge of man goes so deep.
I first read ‘The Quiet American’ maybe thirty years ago, and ever since then, I have turned to it, my uncertain Bible, a gospel for those who can’t be sure of a thing, every few months. Like any friend, it changes as I change, growing as I slowly come to know myself and the world a little better; and like any friend, it’s always the same, really.
This book floored me as a younger reader. I think it drove me into writing thrillers, because I realized I couldnt do anything at his level. So I decided to try something I might be capable of doing well. I had read a few thrillers and thought I might be able to write in that genre.
People ask me what they should read, and I tell them that ‘The Known World’ is the best novel of the last twenty-five years, and that Edward P Jones is our contemporary Steinbeck.
‘Reef’ is a novel that is so beautiful in its evocation of Sri Lanka, a lost paradise of sorts, that it fills me with nostalgia for something I never even had.