Charles Portis, True Grit

True Grit by Charles Portis My rating: 4 of 5 stars Charles Portis, often hailed as a great but unsung American writer, died last month, so I read his most famous novel in memoriam. True Grit, published in 1968, is a Western and a bildungsroman. It is the elderly Mattie Ross's first-person recollection as she … Continue reading Charles Portis, True Grit

Alice Walker, The Color Purple

The Color Purple by Alice Walker My rating: 3 of 5 stars Alice Walker's 1982 Pulitzer-Prize-winning, Spielberg-filmed, Oprah-inspiring novel is a contentious contemporary classic. It remains widely read and loved but both the novel and its author have been scrutinized for every sin from New Age sentimentality to complicity with racism. In fewer than 300 … Continue reading Alice Walker, The Color Purple

Jack Kirby, Fourth World

Jack Kirby's Fourth World Omnibus by Jack Kirby My rating: 3 of 5 stars Jack Kirby (1917-1994) was and remains the most revered artist in the tradition of American superhero comics. Born to working-class Jewish immigrants in New York City, he was there as a hustling and prolific young artist at the superhero genre's foundation … Continue reading Jack Kirby, Fourth World

John Updike, Rabbit Is Rich

Rabbit Is Rich by John Updike My rating: 3 of 5 stars There are two kinds of male authors you love to hate. The first is well-known and easily explicable: Herman Melville, Mark Twain, Ernest Hemingway, Ralph Ellison, Cormac McCarthy. Their works are all masculine self-assertion and lighting out for the territory; they describe the … Continue reading John Updike, Rabbit Is Rich

Thomas Pynchon, V.

V. by Thomas Pynchon My rating: 4 of 5 stars Thomas Pynchon's astoundingly precocious 1963 debut is a double narrative. Its first plot, set largely in 1956, narrates the misadventures of ex-Navy sailor Benny Profane ("a schlemihl and human yo-yo") along with a company of bohemians called the Whole Sick Crew, as they drink and … Continue reading Thomas Pynchon, V.

Gertrude Stein, Three Lives

Three Lives by Gertrude Stein My rating: 3 of 5 stars One hallmark of modernism is a reversal in the priority of literature and painting. While theorists from antiquity through the 19th century debated in the abstract the relation between the two media, between word and image, literature pragmatically ruled over painting: the latter was … Continue reading Gertrude Stein, Three Lives

Osamu Dazai, No Longer Human

No Longer Human by Osamu Dazai My rating: 3 of 5 stars Back in the 1950s, Donald Keene thought he had to apologize to his Anglophone readers, in his "Translator's Introduction," for this classic 1947 Japanese novel's not being "Japanese" enough—for dealing in urban alienation, radical politics, and existential despair rather than cherry blossoms and … Continue reading Osamu Dazai, No Longer Human

Toni Morrison, Beloved

Beloved by Toni Morrison My rating: 4 of 5 stars The other day, someone trying to sell a gimmicky book Tweeted the boilerplate provocation that "no novels by white men" should be taught in American high schools for "the next 20 years." She then predictably pitted Ernest Hemingway against Toni Morrison to sharpen her point. … Continue reading Toni Morrison, Beloved

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

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