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

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

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

Renata Adler, Speedboat

Speedboat by Renata Adler My rating: 4 of 5 stars Almost every member of American literature's last unambiguously major generation, the giants passing from the scene, was born in the 1930s: Carver (b. 1938), DeLillo (b. 1936), Didion (b. 1934), McCarthy (b. 1933), Morrison (b. 1931), Oates (b. 1938), Pynchon (b. 1937), Roth (b. 1933), … Continue reading Renata Adler, Speedboat

Joan Didion, Play It as It Lays

Play It as It Lays by Joan Didion My rating: 5 of 5 stars She had announced her willingness to cause her subjects pain in Slouching towards Bethlehem, but at the heart of Didion's sense of morality and her sense of style, which cannot be separated, hurting the reader's feelings is also part of the … Continue reading Joan Didion, Play It as It Lays

Jean-Paul Sartre, Nausea

Nausea by Jean-Paul Sartre My rating: 2 of 5 stars In the Existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre's classic 1938 first novel, you can find many of the characteristics of the last decade or two's contemporary fiction: fragmentation, negative affect, indifference to plot or style, veiled autobiography, and a general conviction of ambient meaninglessness lit only by … Continue reading Jean-Paul Sartre, Nausea

Samuel R. Delany, Babel-17

Babel-17 by Samuel R. Delany My rating: 4 of 5 stars In a coruscating epistolary critique of The Bluest Eye, innocuously titled "Letter to Q——" in the 2005 collection About Writing, Samuel R. Delany tabulates what he sees as the many flaws of Toni Morrison's classic first novel. The gravamen of his indictment is that Morrison … Continue reading Samuel R. Delany, Babel-17