Sloane Crosley is the author of the recent New York Times best-seller I Was Told There’d Be Cake, a collection of personal essays about life as a young New Yorker.
Birds of America by Lorrie Moore (Picador, $14). This was one of those groundbreakingly hip story collections that make a mark every few years, and it had a huge impact on me. It’s a wonderfully dark book that showcases Moore’s trademark trick of grabbing your heart with one hand and keeping you at arm’s length with the other.
The Chosen by Chaim Potok (Fawcett, $8). Better known as the classic tale of two Jewish boys growing up in 1940s Brooklyn, The Chosen is to me the first real novel that I took from my father’s bookshelf and read voluntarily. It’s an amazing experiment in making the differences between two boys feel as epic and charged as debates about Zionism. Plus it has an ending that will make you weep.
Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami (Vintage, $14). This is a magnificently subtle take on the classic tale of first love. It may lack the creepy trademark cat images and general whimsy of Murakami’s later books, but in many ways it’s his most memorable and sexy work of fiction.
The Garden Party and Other Stories by Katherine Mansfield (Penguin, $14). This is a profoundly beautiful collection about class struggle in early 20th-century New Zealand, related largely from the perspective of its children. A complete treasure of a book, it includes two or three stories that made me want to write in the first place.
Slouching Towards Bethlehem by Joan Didion (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $14). This is what essays can and should do. A book that’s part politics, part rumination, and part “What the hell just hit me?” No one on the planet has ever regretted reading it. Even now, every time I picture Joan Didion, I picture her in “Goodbye to All That,” standing on the sidewalk in Manhattan and eating a peach.
On the Edge of Reason by Miroslav Krleza (New Directions, $18). A droll philosophical novel about a Croatian man who, one day, decides to speak his mind during a dinner party and conversational and social chaos ensue. Imagine Larry David but not funny and involving war and exile. Massively quotable.