This is a list of books I’ve read and that I recommend.

It’s not a list of “the best books” – in fact it’s not an organized list at all. It’s a jumble of books, with everything mixed together: fiction, non-fiction, high literature, quickie fun reads. It’s a list of (about) 100 high points from my years of reading. Enjoy.

flannery-oconnor The Complete StoriesFlannery O’Connor
O’Connor’s short stories are jewels, typically set in the South (where she grew up), often portraying characters grappling with some moral flaw. One of the best American writers.

 

 


talk-talkTalk Talk,TC Boyle
A major work by one of America’s top prose stylists, built around a compelling story. Also good by Boyle are “Drop City,” “The Tortilla Curtain,” and “The Road to Wellville.”

 

 


Autobiography of Malcolm XThe Autobiography of Malcolm XMalcolm X, Alex Haley 
Damn, this is a great book. Malcom’s unflinching story of growing up black between the 1930s and the 1960s, evolving from street hustler to Muslim leader, is a must-read. An American classic that will survive the test of time. This book influenced me enormously.

 

 


nick-hornbyHigh Fidelity, Nick Hornby
Made into a successful movie, Hornby’s story of the love misadventures of a record shop owner who constantly makes songs lists is sheer fun. Hornby’s “About A Boy” is good, too.

 

 


maltese falconThe Maltese Falcon, Dashiell Hammett
One of the original noir detective novels. Hard-boiled private eye Sam Spade is an amoral character whose only allegiance is to himself – beware if you’re a scheming brunette who thinks she can pull a fast one.

 

 


milan-kunderaThe Unbearable Lightness of Being, Milan Kundera
This Czech-born writer writes deep and thoughtful novels with interesting characters and involving narrative lines. He’s written a lot of good books: “The Book of Laughter and Forgetting,” “The Joke,” “Life is Elsewhere,” “Laughable Loves.” They’re all wonderful reads.

 

 


steve-martinShopgirl, Steve Martin
A slight novella, but still emotionally evocative in its portrayal of a May-December romance. The book is better than the movie.

 

 

 


outsidersThe Outsiders, S.E. Hinton
Ah, be still my beating heart. What a book. This tale of angst among teen gangs is pure poetry. It’s written for a juvenile audience but I reread it as an adult and it holds up beautifully.

 

 


idiotThe Idiot, Fyodor Dostoevsky
The dark Russian novelist’s tale of the impossibility of being innocent in a corrupt society is a challenging but worthwhile read. Also worth the effort are “Crime and Punishment” and – probably his most enjoyable read – the short story “White Nights.”

 

 


white-palaceWhite PalaceGlenn Savan
Lightweight but very well done story of an unlikely romance between a young advertising writer and a waitress at a fast food joint. Quite entertaining. The book is far better than the forgettable movie with Susan Sarandon and James Spader. On a personal note, Glenn (now passed away) was a friend of mine. He wrote the book while we were waiting tables together, and showed me drafts of it in progress. He was a talented and well-schooled writer, having attended the Iowa Writer’s Workshop. Fortunately for me, he was a generous teacher who helped me quite a bit with my own writing. At the time I was writing a music column for a local paper, and Glenn went over my writing with me, sentence by sentence. I’ll always remember him fondly.

 


papillonPapillon, Henri Charriere
The ultimate action-adventure story. Tells the story of a Frenchman who escapes from the famed penal colony in French Guiana. He’s caught – he escapes! – he’s caught again! – he’s making love with the Indian girls in the South Pacific! A ton of fun.

 

 


steinbeckGrapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck
American lyricism at its most poetic and rough-hewn. This is the great American novel, exploding one of our central myths – that upward mobility is available to all – while telling the soul-stirring story of the Oakies fleeing the Dust Bowl. Most everything by the Pulitzer Prize-winner author is very good: “East of Eden,” “Tortilla Flat,” “The Winter of Our Discontent,” “Of Mice and Men.”

 

 


of human bondageOf Human Bondage, Somerset Maugham
A master storyteller who writes great literature that’s also entertaining, and who makes it all seem easy. Eminently readable.

 

 

 


Curtis SittenfeldPrep, Curtis Sittenfeld
Sittenfeld’s closely observed story of a young woman in a cloistered prep school was a surprise hit. After a slow beginning, the book’s insight about class and the struggle for identity makes it an involving read.

 

 


Carol ShieldsThe Box Garden, Carol Shields
Introspective, nuanced, psychologically sophisticated. Shields’s portrait of a woman’s emotional battles is quality literature.

 

 

 


David LodgeTherapy, David Lodge
This English author writes witty, fast-paced novels with authentic characters and solid stories. Also good by Lodge are “Changing Places” and “Nice Work.”

 

 

 


Jane WagnerThe Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe, Jane Wagner
This is a Broadway play available in book form. (The play was performed brilliantly as a one-woman show by Lilly Tomlin.) Full of funny, wacky insights into modern life.

 

 


David HalberstamThe Fifties, David Halberstam
The authoritative account of American life in the 1950s. Halberstam masterfully interweaves trends in politics, entertainment, and middle class life to reveal that the ’50s weren’t as placid as they seem. Also fantastic is Halberstam’s influential chronicle of the Vietnam War, The Best and the Brightest.

 

 


Robert KursonShadow Divers, Robert Kurson
Enthralling non-fiction account of divers who get obsessed when they discover the wreck of a hitherto unknown WWII-vintage German submarine.

 

 

 


Dean Martin Dino: Living High in the Dirty Business of Dreams, Nick Tosches
Tosches offers plenty of flashes of prose brilliance in this bio of the boozy, emotionally distant Dean Martin. A good story, well told. Also very interesting is Tosches’s bio of Jerry Lee Lewis.

 

 


James Patterson Kiss the Girls, James Patterson
Short chapters, short paragraphs, short sentences: the modern detective pulp novel at its most commercial.

 

 

 

 


Truman CapoteIn Cold Blood, Truman Capote
Wow, this is a hell of a book, a true non-fiction masterpiece. Although it chronicles a horrible crime, much of the prose is close to musical. Capote was a virtuoso stylist.

 

 

 


Barbara KingsolverThe Poisonwood Bible, Barbara Kingsolver
Kingsolver’s well-written tale of a missionary family’s move to Africa in 1959 is full of vivid detail; you can see the grasslands and feel the searing heat. A story of real hardship, and ultimately, change.

 

 


Lucille BallBall of Fire: The Tumultuous Life and Comic Art of Lucille Ball, Stefan Kanfer
Kanfer wastes no words in this essential guide to the iconic comedienne’s life. No, she wasn’t the greatest human being.

 

 

 


James HynesThe Lecturer’s Tale, James Hynes
Set in academia, this story of the supernatural and the interpersonal is a rollicking fun read.

 

 

 


David BrooksBobos in Paradise, David Brooks
A right-leaning Op/Ed writer for The New York Times, Brooks is an astute social observer. “Bobos,” short for “bourgeois Bohemians,” is Brooks’s term for affluent Americans who prefer a kind of hippie veneer. In other words, a fair portion of the Boomer generation.

 

 


Walter Winchell Winchell, Neal Gabler
A supreme biography. Gabler details the rise and fall of media maven Walter Winchell, who was a giant in America’s cultural landscape in the 1930s and ’40s.

 

 

 


word freak Word Freak, Stefan Fatsis
Fatsis went inside the sub-culture of Scrabble, profiling its eccentric personalities. Along the way he played competitively himself, and he brings us inside his very personal struggle to push his game higher.

 

 


HL Mencken The American Scene, A Reader, H.L Mencken
Mencken, one of America’s top social observers in the early 20th century, was a brilliant, free-thinking curmudgeon who wrote it as he saw it. Much of his writing has a funny, biting irony. One of my heroes.

 

 


Cuckoo's Nest One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Ken Kesey
Set in a mental ward, this tale of rebellion at any cost – the protagonist battles the demonic, all-powerful Big Nurse – is a wonderful read.

 

 

 


Salinger Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger
This novel of teenage angst transcends adolescence and seems to actually capture real human experience on paper. A classic, of course, but one that lives and breathes. Also fabulous by the hyper-reclusive Salinger is Franny and Zooey and Nine Stories.

 

 


Delillo End Zone, Don Delillo
Fantastic, funny book. Set in a small college in Texas, this slender book by one of America’s great novelists is as much about style – that inimitable Delillo archness – as about metaphor, though it’s also rich in metaphor. And don’t miss Delillo’s masterpiece, White Noise – a major achievement that’s as humorous as it is deep.

 


On writing well On Writing Well, William Zinsser
This book has been reprinted a gazillion times, and is found in every bookstore in America. More than a great instructional book, it has a tone of voice that keeps you company and urges you on. I’ve read it three times, and still pick it up from time to time. Also good is Sol Stein’s “Stein On Writing.” Stein isn’t the writer that Zinsser is, but his scholarly dissection of the craft of writing is very helpful. While you’re at it, pick up Ben Yagoda’s The Sound on the Page, which talks about voice and style in writing.


Tennessee Williams Collected Stories, Tennessee Williams
Oh God, Tennessee, I worship you. These stories are overflowing with humanity, insights into the perversity of human experience, and a full-blooded dark humor. What a dude – a dude among dudes. And if you’re renting movies, don’t miss Williams’s The Night of the Iguana with Richard Burton and Ava Gardner.

 

 


Kurt Eichenwald Conspiracy of Fools, Kurt Eichenwald
Eichenwald takes the arcane story of how Enron pushed itself into collapse and makes it novelistic and compulsively readable. Also good are Eichenwald’s Serpent on the Rock, about corruption at Prudential Securities, and The Informant, about a price-fixing scandal at Archer Daniels Midland.

 

 


Separate Peace A Separate Peace, John Knowles
Full of portent, telling a cracking good story – suspense, betrayal, inner conflict – Knowles’ masterwork is more than just high school English class classic.

 

 

 


Sebastian Junger A Perfect Storm, Sebastian Junger
Yes, the non-fiction book can be a great narrative. Junger, a gifted storyteller, brings us along on a doomed ship off the New England coast. Also good (though not quite as good as ‘Storm”) is Junger’s A Death in Belmont.

 

 


Jonathan Franzen The Corrections, Jonathan Franzen
Virtuosically well written, “The Corrections” is literary high art that’s fun to read. I also enjoyed Franzen’s memoir, The Discomfort Zone, though it’s not at the level of The Corrections.

 

 


Godless Godless, Pete Hautman
Written for a young adult audience, “Godless” pulls no punches in its questioning of organized religion. Very creative, exceptionally well done.

 

 

 


Sexy  Sexy, Joyce Carol Oates
Sure, she’s one of America’s literary lions, but she also writes books for the juvenile audience. This wonderful, sparely written novel aimed at the teen set is honest and unafraid. Of the several I’ve read by her, I enjoyed this the most because it’s pared down; when her prose is stripped to its core, the sharp, disciplined poeticism of her style shines through.

 


Devil Wears Prada The Devil Wears Prada, Lauren Weisberger
Shallow, light, but tasty: chick lit as page-turner. The movie is a good time, in fact probably better than the book.

 

 

 


Sophie Kinsella The Undomestic Goddess, Sophie Kinsella
This English chick lit author has a wicked sense of humor and a good sense of story. Fun.

 

 

 


Bridget Jones Bridget Jones’s Diary, Helen Fielding
Wonderfully fun chick lit. This acerbic mock diary of Helen’s love misadventures is funny and, despite being over the top, authentic.

 

 

 


Waiting for Godot Waiting for Godot, Samuel Beckett
This short, absurdist, existentialist play (available in book form in every bookstore) is a must-read for every truly culturally literate person. “Let’s go” / “we can’t” / “why not?” / “we’re waiting for Godot.”

 

 


James Joyce Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, James Joyce
Light and dark intermingle lyrically in this story of an Irish schoolboy who transcends his parochial upbringing. At one point the protagonist, Stephen Dedalus, spends days and days in a dark mood – it goes on for many pages – only to find relief by going to Catholic confession. Suddenly, his mood is light and spring-like. It’s almost funny, yet it fully captures the reality of the character’s emotions. Also highly readable by Joyce is his collection of short stories, The Dubliners.


Mark Twain Letters From the Earth, Mark Twain
Kept from publication during his life – it would have caused a riot – this caustic and very funny book takes a pair of sharp scissors to Christian orthodoxy. Also supreme by Twain, of course, is “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” a book that will stand for the ages because of how it chronicles the moral growth of Huck as he comes to understand Jim, the runaway slave. Twain is a foundational American writer and humorist.


Ray Bradbury A Medicine for Melancholy, Ray Bradbury
They call it science fiction but this collection of stories, and most of Bradbury, far transcends the robots and space ship genre. I find his prose style to be surprising and fresh – usually as entertaining as the stories themselves. Other must-read titles by Bradbury are Fahrenheit 451 and Something Wicked This Way Comes. Trivia about Bradbury: as a very young man he had no typewriter, so he had to go to the LA County Library and rent one for ten cents an hour. The experience taught him to write quickly.


Al Franken I’m Good Enough, I’m Smart Enough, and Doggone It, People Like Me!, Al Franken
I love Al Franken. This mock diary of a dysfunctional person who attempts to rally himself with smile-faced platitudes from self-help therapists is laugh-out-loud funny. Also, run don’t walk to get Franken’s hysterical Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot. Franken is now U.S. Senator for Minnesota.


Anne Frank Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl, Anne Frank
This is a fabulous, deeply special book – I think of it as a sacred book. Written while the teenaged Frank’s family was hiding in an attic from the Nazis, her level of perception is crystalline. I read it as a teen and enjoyed it, and read it again as an adult (a version that included the supposedly racy parts taken out when first published) and was deeply impressed.

 


Den of ThievesDen of Thieves, James B. Stewart
It’s amazing how interesting Stewart makes this non-fiction account of Wall Street corruption in the 1980s: rapscallions like Ivan Boesky and Michael Milliken come to life. Stewart now pens a column about the financial sector for The New York Times.

 

 


Dreaming of BabylonDreaming of Babylon, Richard Brautigan
A funny spoof of the hard-boiled detective genre, featuring a down-on-his-luck detective with only one bullet in his gun. The detective’s problem (or one of them) is that every time he comes close to solving the case, he starts daydreaming of the glorious gardens in the ancient city of Babylon. Unique and very fun.

 


BukowskiWomen, Charles Bukowski Bukowski’s stories of drinking and womanizing have a tossed-off quality, yet they’re still compulsively readable. I used to buy his books at a bookstore with a feminist owner, and she always clucked her tongue in disapproval as she took my money.

 

 


Bright Lights, Big CityBright Lights, Big City, Jay McInerney
Captures a moment in time in 1980s-era New York City party life: plenty of cocaine, late night clubbing, everything focused on the surface. But the book – which is a ton of fun – ultimately finds something deeper in its protagonist.

 

 


hornblowerCaptain Horatio Hornblower, C.S. Forester
Action adventure books (a multi-volume set) set on the high seas in an English war ship. Along with its exciting battles, Forester creates a nuanced Captain Hornblower, full of self-doubt.

 

 


Young Pitcher The Young Pitcher, Zane Grey
Naive fiction written in the early 1900’s, aimed at young male readers. Yet Grey’s tale of Peg Ward, a college freshman hoping for glory on the ball field, is far more charming than standard pulp fiction.

 

 


Tom RobbinsEven Cowgirls Get the Blues, Tom Robbins
What happened to Tom Robbins? The master of the wacky, reality-stretching yarn – always chock full of laugh-producing similes – churned out a bunch of great titles, then kind of petered out. Cowgirls is one of his best, but he’s got others: Still Life with Woodpecker, Jitterbug Perfume, Skinny Legs and All.

 


The Body FarmThe Body Farm, Patricia Cornwell
This best-selling detective author churns ’em out as fast as her adoring readers can consume them. If you’re stuck on an airplane – or if you want an escape from it all – Cornwall is the ticket.

 

 

 


Erik Larson, Devil in the White CityDevil in the White City, Erik Larson
Superb non-fiction book. Intertwines two narratives set in the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, with suspense and Larson’s top-flight prose style. The book sold about 1.5 zillion copies – with good reason.

 

 


James MaguireThe Thurber Carnival, James Thurber
I adore James Thurber. While some of his humor is dated, much of it is timelessly fresh, and his crystal clear prose is the model of style and efficiency. He has a supreme ability to underplay a joke. I’ve read some of these stories many times. His darkly-shaded short story “One is a Wanderer” is one of my all-time favorites.

 


Doris Kearns GoodwinNo Ordinary Time, Doris Kearns Goodwin
This non-fiction account of Franklin Delano Roosevelt grappling with WWII puts you right inside the Oval Office. Goodwin is a great storyteller.

 

 

 


Cold MountainCold Mountain, Charles Frazier
A highly enjoyable book. Frazier’s novel intertwines two stories: a deserter from the Confederate army making his way across the South, hoping for a reunion with his loved one; and his beloved Ada’s struggles to survive on a hard-scrabble farm. The book is a sensuous treat. We see, hear, feel – definitely feel – both these epic struggles.

 


Dating GameDating Game, Danielle Steel
This pulpy page-turner seems written specifically for middle-aged women. But the appeal of this story of a woman in midlife dealing with starting over after her marriage disintegrates goes beyond its target audience.

 

 

 


Charles DickensA Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens
Dickens’s story of the French revolution has it all: adventure, suspense, love, revolution, vivid characters, great writing. “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…”

 

 


Sherlock HolmesThe Hound of the Baskervilles, Arthur Conan Doyle
Who doesn’t love the Sherlock Holmes stories? I love the precise details and odd insights into human behavior.

 

 

 

 


Marcel Proust, Rembrance of Things PastRemembrance of Things Past, Marcel Proust
I only got through one of the volumes in this seven-volume work, but it’s not to be missed. There’s a great passage in which Swann, who’s romantically obsessed with Odette, thinks he sees her on a crowded street. As Proust describes Swann’s flutter of emotions, it timelessly evokes what it’s like to catch a glimpse of someone you’re infatuated with.
Funny thing about Proust, he adored long sentences. His writing approach seemed to be: why should a sentence ever end? Why not just use yet another comma? Like this 137-word monster from “Swann’s Way”:
“Unlike so many people, who, either from lack of energy or else from a resigned sense of the obligation laid upon them by their social grandeur to remain moored like houseboats to a certain point on the bank of the stream of life, abstain from the pleasures which are offered to them above and below that point, that degree in life in which they will remain fixed until the day of their death, and are content, in the end, to describe as pleasures, for want of any better, those mediocre distractions, that just not intolerable tedium which is enclosed there with them; Swann would endeavour not to find charm and beauty in the women with whom he must pass time, but to pass his time among women whom he had already found to be beautiful and charming.”


Dan BrownThe Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown
Have you heard of this book? Maybe with a bit more publicity, it could catch on. Kidding aside, what a shocker: a mega-mega-hit that criticizes organized religion. The times they are a-changin’.

 

 

 


Great GatsbyThe Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald
Class struggle, greed, love, betrayal, murder. Yes, old sport, you’ve got a story there.

 

 

 


Portnoy's ComplaintPortnoy’s Complaint, Philip Roth
Roth’s portrait of a horny Jewish boy is frank and very, very funny. Also good by the Pulitzer Prize-winning author is “The Human Stain.”

 

 

 


LolitaLolita, Vladimir Nabokov
A strange book. Nabokov’s story of a middle-aged man’s lust for a young girl isn’t the most enjoyable read, but it’s a must-read to be fully culturally literate.

 

 

 


William GoldingLord of the Flies, William Golding
This must be the high school novel, but still, I love the way it reveals that we have only a thin veneer of civilization over our primordial impulses.

 

 

 


Aldous HuxleyBrave New World, Aldous Huxley
Huxley’s dystopian vision of the future, in which all people are graded on scale of one to five, and “a gram is better than a damn” (a reference to mood altering drugs suggestive of Prozac) is a horrifying but insightful. And somehow, even fun to read.

 


19841984, George Orwell
This can be seen as the companion book to Huxley’s “Brave New World”: a dark vision of a totalitarian future. The book was exceptionally prescient in forecasting government spin and an omnipresent watchful eye. While you’re exploring Orwell, “Animal Farm” is also a great read.

 

 


Stephen KingCell, Stephen King
The master horror writer imagines a world in which cellphones turn much of the world into zombies. Most of this book is quite entertaining – the open is great – but I found the end to just sort of grind into boredom. I admire King but I’m not a big fan.

 

 

 


William KotzwinkleSwimmer in the Secret Sea, William Kotzwinkle
Really a special book, a novella. Tells the story of a young couple’s efforts to come to terms with the death of their newborn in natural, intimate prose. Touching without being cloying.

 

 


HeinleinStranger in a Strange Land, Robert Heinlein
Towering science fiction classic portrays life among modern earthlings through the eyes of a visitor from another planet. Highly philosophical, including an attempt to explain the nature of humor. Is all humor an expression of pain?

 

 


The NotebookThe Notebook, Nicholas Sparks

Pure schmaltz, a weepy boy-loves-girl story that sold something like 1.5 billion copies. You won’t respect yourself for turning the pages, but you’ll turn them.

 

 

 


Woody GuthrieWoody Guthrie: A Life, Joe Klein
Simply put: Woody Guthrie is the American dude: compulsively creative, traveler, poet, songwriter, social activist. This biography is a superb rendition of his rich life.

 

 

 


VonnegutSlaughterhouse-Five, Kurt Vonnegut
Vonnegut’s books are easy to read, but that doesn’t mean they’re not deep. Using his experience as a survivor of the U.S. firebombing of Dresden in WWII, he wrote this powerful anti-war novel, one that’s funny and poignant. Most of Vonnegut’s books are good.

 

 


Black Like MeBlack Like Me, John Howard Griffin
The journalist Griffin, a white man, used hair dye and make-up to make himself appear to be a black man. His non-fiction account of traveling through the South in the late 1950s is a biting indictment of racism. Very interesting.

 

 

 


Native SonNative Son, Richard Wright
Wright’s story of a young black man in Chicago in the 1930s who murders a white woman is a classic about American race relations. It’s also a good read.

 

 

 


DuneDune, Frank Herbert
Wildly imaginative, this is one of the best-selling science fiction works of all time. Driving the sprawling plot is a vast power struggle on the desert planet of Arrakis over control of Melange (a crucial substance). Watch out for those giant worms.

 

 


Lord of the RingsThe Hobbit, Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien
Don’t confuse the movie, a Hollywood special effects confection, with this powerful work of literature – the two are very different things. Tolkien’s masterpiece is, at heart, about the corrupting nature of power. I love the scene in which two best friends exchange the all-powerful ring; even these close friends experience a flicker of distrust. In the movie it’s glossed over with a few sparkles of light.

 


Confederacy of DuncesConfederacy of Dunces, John Kennedy Toole
Toole committed suicide in 1969, so he never saw publication of his first and only novel. What a comic masterpiece it is. Its hero, a 30-year-old medievalist who lives at home with his mother in New Orleans, is adept at avoiding reality. But reality (or really, surreality) intrudes, in a story that’s a one-of-kind mix of melancholy and humor.

 


Helen ThomasFront Row at the White House, Helen Thomas
One of my heroes, Thomas is an intrepid reporter who has covered the White House from JFK to George Bush. This non-fiction account of her career is the inside scoop.

 

 

 


Laura HillenbrandSeabiscuit, Laura Hillenbrand
I resisted reading this one for a long time – c’mon, a book about a racehorse? When I finally broke down I was very glad I did. Narrative nonfiction as art form.

 

 

 


Marilyn MonroeMarilyn, Barbara Leaming
Leaming’s well-researched biography of the troubled Marilyn Monroe is a fascinating read. She skips Marilyn’s early years, devoting greater detail to her more interesting career years.

 

 


John IrvingThe World According to Garp, John Irving
Odd plot twists and equally odd characters combine – somehow – to give this highly readable book a realistic quality. What a fun book.

 

 

 


Albert CamusThe Stranger, Albert Camus
A weird book, to be sure. This 1942 existential classic seems divorced from reality (or all too real?) as it tells of a murder, a trial, and in the end, the protagonist’s decision about God. Does anything mean anything? Only if the individual thinks it does, argues Camus.

 

 


Ayn RandThe Fountainhead, Ayn Rand
Rand’s ultimate thesis was that all of life is determined by the individual. Or, as she put it, “man’s ego is the fountainhead of human progress.” She exemplifies that theory in this tale of a young architect who refuses to compromise.

 

 


Ernest Hemingway The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway
Chapter after chapter, everyone hangs out and drinks in Paris cafes in the 1920s. The book is probably overrated as a classic, but Heminway’s clean, well-lit style still makes it an enjoyable read.

 

 


Catch-22 Catch-22, Joseph Heller
Wonderful book. Set in WWII, this crew of bomber pilots faces a no-win situation known as “Catch-22”: They can request to be grounded if they can prove they’re crazy, but if they ask to be grounded, that proves they’re not crazy (because it shows they fear for their safety – a sign of sanity). My favorite character is a pilot who always chooses to do the least pleasant thing, because he feels it makes his time last longer.


Tom Wolfe The Bonfire of the Vanities, Tom Wolfe
A rollicking good story set in New York City in the 1980s: greed, ambition, media hype. Delicious satire, and a lot of fun.

 

 

 


John Grisham The Firm, John Grisham
Grisham ain’t deep but his legal thrillers are reliable entertainment. A bunch of his are good: “The Rainmaker,” “The Street Lawyer,” “The Last Juror,” “The Client.” His non-fiction book, “The Innocent Man,” is also good.

 

 

 


Deliverance Deliverance, James Dickey
Great, well-written story about four regular guys who get attacked on a float trip on an isolated Southern river, forcing them to struggle for survival. The book is better than the movie, but the movie’s pretty good.

 

 


Henry Miller Tropic of Capricorn, Henry Miller
Miller’s frank sexual details made this title controversial when first published in the 1930s, but that only obscured the fact that it’s high-quality literature. An enjoyable read.

 

 

 


Woody Allen Woody Allen: A Biography, John Baxter

Highly interesting account of Allen’s metamorphosis from stand-up comic to major filmmaker.

 

 

 


Ragtime Ragtime, E.L. Doctorow
Historical fiction set mostly in New York in the early 1900s. Colorful story, vividly told, celebrating the American melting pot.

 

 

 


Ursula K. Le Guin The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula K. Le Guin
Entertaining science fiction with a psychological-philosophical bent. Le Guin is a master.

 

 

 

 


Jeffrey Toobin The Run of His Life: the People versus O.J. Simpson, Jeffrey Toobin
You’d think the story of the O.J trial would be so well worn as to be unreadable, but Toobin’s telling makes it larger and deeper. His pacing is great and he provides a compelling exploration of race and the criminal justice system. Anytime you see that Toobin byline – he writes for The New Yorker – it’s worth reading.

 


Walden Walden and Other Writings, Henry David Thoreau
Not all of this is particularly readable, but Thoreau’s material about life on Walden Pond, finding value in the simple life, is great.