I, Claudius and Claudius the God by Robert Graves (Vintage, $16, $15). A classic tragedy—republican turns dictator—written in the form of a false document, the rediscovered diary of the crippled Emperor Claudius. A touch overwritten, but breathtaking in its ambition and humanity.
Wine Dark Sea by Robert Aickman (out of print). Aickman wrote “strange tales”—short stories with a touch of Jorge Luis Borges mingled with a very upper-class English consciousness. He glorified in the freedom to leave stories unresolved. You don’t know what’s happening sometimes, and that makes them all the more tantalizing.
The Godfather by Mario Puzo (New American Library, $17). It’s not the Italian connection that makes me admire Puzo’s work so much. It’s the courage he showed in depicting the nuclear family—supposedly the rock of society—as something much darker and, fundamentally, evil. He always described this book as a deliberate commercial shot and thought the less of it for that. Writers know nothing sometimes.
The Ghost Writer by John Harwood (Mariner, $14) Harwood has deep and interesting roots in writers who interest me, notably British ghost-story writer M.R. James. The Ghost Writer is James for the 21st century, a troubling yet intellectual work of a kind rarely written today.
The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle (Signet, $5). When I think of crime, I think of that monstrous dog on the moors. This, more than Agatha Christie, Dashiell Hammett, and Raymond Chandler, is what crime should be about. Decent coves in a glorious English setting behaving with a murderous intent, as only the English can.
Christ Stopped at Eboli by Carlo Levi (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $14). The doctor, writer, and painter Carlo Levi wrote this memoir while on the run from the Nazis in wartime Florence. It tells of his time in political exile in the south of Italy during the Mussolini era. It revealed a side of the unknown, almost pagan, south that still rings true today.