Ishmael Reed, Mumbo Jumbo

Mumbo Jumbo by Ishmael Reed My rating: 4 of 5 stars Thomas Pynchon's freewheeling narrator of Gravity's Rainbow (1973) tells us, "Well, and keep in mind where those Masonic Mysteries came from in the first place. (Check out Ishmael Reed. He knows more about it than you will ever find here.)" Similarly, the underground cult classic … Continue reading Ishmael Reed, Mumbo Jumbo

William Shakespeare, Hamlet

Hamlet by William Shakespeare My rating: 5 of 5 stars Why is this bizarre, disorderly, long, and poorly transmitted tragedy from the turn of the seventeenth century the central work of the western literary tradition, its hero the keystone in the arch of modern literature? Because the distance he created between himself and the world … Continue reading William Shakespeare, Hamlet

Toni Morrison, Paradise

Paradise by Toni Morrison My rating: 5 of 5 stars Paradise was not well received upon its publication in 1997—influential critics like Michiko Kakutani, James Wood, and Zoë Heller disparaged it, and even Oprah's audience, instructed to read it for the talk show host's book club, demurred, prompting Oprah to call Morrison to offer the … Continue reading Toni Morrison, Paradise

Elaine Pagels, The Gnostic Gospels

The Gnostic Gospels by Elaine Pagels My rating: 4 of 5 stars In this 1979 classic of popular non-fiction, religious scholar Elaine Pagels explains to a broad audience the theological significance of the trove of early Christian writings discovered at Nag Hammadi in 1945. Not only that, but she also places these documents in their … Continue reading Elaine Pagels, The Gnostic Gospels

Marilynne Robinson, Gilead

Gilead by Marilynne Robinson My rating: 3 of 5 stars I found Marilynne Robinson's second novel, Gilead (2004), to be literally stunning. That is, every time I picked it up to read a few pages I would become dazed with boredom or would even fall asleep, knocked out by the novel's descriptive vagueness and tonal … Continue reading Marilynne Robinson, Gilead

Albert Camus, The Rebel

The Rebel: An Essay on Man in Revolt by Albert Camus My rating: 4 of 5 stars The Rebel is Albert Camus's answer, written in 1951, to the painful question of why the human attempt to overcome oppression, to destroy all religiously and socially prescribed hierarchies, led instead to fascism, communism, imperialism, and the softer … Continue reading Albert Camus, The Rebel

C. G. Jung, Answer to Job

Answer to Job by C.G. Jung My rating: 3 of 5 stars The back cover advertises Answer to Job as "one of Jung's most controversial works." He wrote it toward the end of his life, in the early 1950s, and according to the introduction to the 2010 edition by Sonu Shamdasani, he composed it in … Continue reading C. G. Jung, Answer to Job

William Shakespeare, King Lear

King Lear by William Shakespeare My rating: 5 of 5 stars What is King Lear about? "[T]he fierce dispute, / Betwixt damnation and impassion'd clay," wrote Keats, but both terms seem inapt: "clay"—as in the moist earth from which the Creator molded us—suggests a different image from the acid, sandy soil of the heathland where … Continue reading William Shakespeare, King Lear

Aldous Huxley, Brave New World

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley My rating: 2 of 5 stars Don't ask me why I didn't read Brave New World when I was sixteen the way everybody else did—the powers-that-be never assigned it to me in school, and I'm only now catching up to it on my own. I should have read it … Continue reading Aldous Huxley, Brave New World

William Faulkner, Light in August

Light in August by William Faulkner My rating: 5 of 5 stars Light in August, published in 1932, is Faulkner's seventh novel and generally considered one of the major works of his best period—roughly the 1930s—alongside The Sound and the Fury (1929), As I Lay Dying (1930), and Absalom, Absalom! (1936). Light in August is … Continue reading William Faulkner, Light in August