Herman Melville, The Confidence-Man: His Masquerade

The Confidence-Man by Herman Melville My rating: 4 of 5 stars This 1857 novel, Melville's last, aside from the unfinished and posthumously published Billy Budd, takes place in a single setting—a Mississippi steamboat called the Fidèle—over the course of one day, April 1, All Fools' Day. It begins most mysteriously— At sunrise on a first of … Continue reading Herman Melville, The Confidence-Man: His Masquerade

Toni Morrison, Song of Solomon

Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison My rating: 5 of 5 stars In her memorial remembrance of her late friend Toni Morrison, Fran Lebowitz observed that "Toni would always take into account the problems that the person you were angry at had." She was speaking of how Morrison behaved as a friend, but a great … Continue reading Toni Morrison, Song of Solomon

Jane Austen, Emma

Emma by Jane Austen My rating: 4 of 5 stars She knew the limitations of her own powers too well to attempt more than she could perform with credit; she wanted neither taste nor spirit in the little things which are generally acceptable, and could accompany her own voice well. —Jane Austen, Emma Jane Austen's … Continue reading Jane Austen, Emma

Rudyard Kipling, Kim

Kim by Rudyard Kipling My rating: 5 of 5 stars Many readers of my generation were introduced to Rudyard Kipling's Kim (1901) by a later novel, Michael Ondaatje's The English Patient (1992). Ondaatje's warmly lyrical and fragmentary narrative concerns three figures—a Canadian nurse, a Canadian thief, and a Sikh sapper—gathered in a ruined Italian monastery at … Continue reading Rudyard Kipling, Kim

Jayinee Basu, The City of Folding Faces

The City of Folding Faces by Jayinee Basu My rating: 4 of 5 stars A phenomenology of contemporary reading: Oscar Wilde said that only shallow people do not judge by appearances. In the library I plucked a strange little book from the "new" shelf. It's glossy, white, and almost hand-sized. It has a strange bluish, … Continue reading Jayinee Basu, The City of Folding Faces

Christopher Isherwood, Prater Violet

Prater Violet by Christopher Isherwood My rating: 3 of 5 stars Prater Violet, set in the 1930s and published in 1945, is Christopher Isherwood's novella of filmmaking. The short roman à clef is based on Isherwood's own experience working on the 1934 film Little Friend, directed by the emigrant Austrian Jewish director, Berthold Viertel. In … Continue reading Christopher Isherwood, Prater Violet

Gore Vidal, Myra Breckinridge

Myra Breckinridge by Gore Vidal My rating: 3 of 5 stars When last we left Gore Vidal, we were worried about his politics. He was long considered a lion of the left for his sexual dissidence and his resistance to the religious right and to neoconservative imperialism; but worldwide events since his death in 2012 … Continue reading Gore Vidal, Myra Breckinridge

Vladimir Nabokov, The Defense

The Defense by Vladimir Nabokov My rating: 4 of 5 stars The Defense, originally titled The Luzhin Defense, is Nabokov's third novel. It was published in Russian in Berlin in 1930 under the name V. Sirin, Nabokov's pseudonym from his émigré years. This 1964 English translation was done by Michael Scammell in collaboration with the … Continue reading Vladimir Nabokov, The Defense

Iris Murdoch, A Severed Head

A Severed Head by Iris Murdoch My rating: 3 of 5 stars This strange 1961 novel—which succeeded The Bell, a far more conventionally realist novel, in Murdoch's oeuvre—seems to have a cult following, as indicated by recent recommendations by Susan Scarf Merrell in The New York Times and Gabe Habash in The Millions. As Habash … Continue reading Iris Murdoch, A Severed Head

Franco Moretti, Far Country: Scenes from American Culture

Far Country: Scenes from American Culture by Franco Moretti My rating: 2 of 5 stars This short book is a selection of lectures from a course in literary history that Franco Moretti, now retired, used to teach at Stanford University. Moretti is best known for advocating computational approaches to the humanities—for his paradigm of "distant … Continue reading Franco Moretti, Far Country: Scenes from American Culture