James Gray is the writer-director of the new film Two Lovers, starring Joaquin Phoenix and Gwyneth Paltrow. His previous films include Little Odessa and We Own the Night.
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy (Signet, $7). In my view, Anna Karenina is simply the best novel ever written. A book of authentic emotion, acutely observed and brilliantly executed, with astonishing sweep and power. My personal favorite moment is when Levin goes to the men’s club.
The Great War and Modern Memory by Paul Fussell (Oxford, $20). One of the best nonfiction works I’ve ever read. I’m a huge fan of virtually everything Fussell has ever done, but this unique book, which uses literature and social history to examine World War I, may be his best. Unflinching.
A Good Man Is Hard to Find and Other Stories by Flannery O’Connor (Mariner, $14). This was O’Connor’s first published collection. For me, she is the best writer in the Southern Gothic style. Her work has a marvelous complexity, morally ambiguous and macabre.
Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh (Back Bay, $15) I’ve chosen Waugh’s masterpiece, though I suppose I could just have easily named four other books of his. The story is haunting, filled with longing and love. Poor Sebastian Flyte is one of the most heartbreaking characters in literary history.
Babe: The Legend Comes to Life by Robert Creamer (Simon
& Schuster, $15). A truly wonderful and thoroughly detailed biography of Babe Ruth. Robert Creamer’s vivid book peaks, I think, with Chapter 28: “Kaleidoscope: Personality of the Babe.”
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain (Puffin, $5). If you haven’t taken a look at it recently, you should. I read it too early—high school—but picked it up again not too long ago and realized it’s as good as they say. A caustic book, but a very funny one, too. Essential.