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David Denby's 6 favorite books
The veteran New Yorker film critic recommends Tolstoy, Sontag, and Roth
David Denby, film critic and staff writer at The New Yorker, is worried about the future of film: His new book is titled, Do the Movies Have a Future?
David Denby, film critic and staff writer at The New Yorker, is worried about the future of film: His new book is titled, Do the Movies Have a Future?
Casey Kelbaugh
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nna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy (Bantam, $7). What is there to say except that it's the greatest of all realist novels? Tolstoy, like Virgil, is completely adequate (by which I mean amazingly capable) for any situation that he chooses to look at — love, sexual disgust, family, social life high and low, physical labor, despairing death.

Notes From the Underground by Fyodor Dostoyevsky (Dover, $4). Tolstoy's opposite — the partial view, the embittered view. The narrator is a retired civil servant, still young but full of disgust. This is among the greatest of meta-novels — a book about creating a voice in which the voice keeps undermining itself. 

Reborn: Journals and Notebooks, 1947–1963 by Susan Sontag (Picador, $15). A fascinating, often funny look inside the gradual self-creation of a formidable literary intellectual. Sontag's journals take us from her ambitious but naïve school years to mid-career in New York and Paris. You can laugh at the solemnity of her self-demands and also be awed by how literally she took issues of integrity and sexual defiance. 

The Immoralist by André Gide (Vintage, $13). Even in translation, Gide's 1902 novel is so ripely sensual that the awakening to sunshine, to sex, to bodily pleasure — with all its attendant selfishness and even cruelties candidly admitted — is startling. It hasn't lost its shocking power: Remaking yourself in this way is as dangerous and as disruptive as it was a hundred years ago. 

The Gramophone Classical Music Guide 2012 (Gramophone, $35). This yearly guide to recorded classical music, put together by England's best music magazine, is the most useful and reliable work of its kind. It's a selected listing, with eloquent descriptive notes, of thousands of recordings, but so shrewdly updated that it never loses relevance.

Portnoy's Complaint by Philip Roth (Vintage, $15). Here is the ultimate comic narrative of a soul whose inventive libido does battle with his guilt, and who has to re-enact for himself, again and again, the outrages that will make him feel like a human being.

— David Denby's new bookDo the Movies Have a Future?, offers a rousing defense of the role traditional cinema can play in our digital age

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