Best books … chosen by John Burnham Schwartz
A film based on John Burnham Schwartz’s novel Reservation Road arrives in theaters this week. Schwartz’s new novel, The Commoner, will be published in January.
Independent People by HalldÃ³r Laxness (Vintage, $15). A ruminative, enchanted novel about a stubborn old sheep farmer and his daughter, who exist in abject poverty in Iceland early in the last century. This masterpiece by Iceland’s greatest modern writer is all the proof one needs that the world is more than it seems, that mysteries of the soul abound in even the grimmest of places.
Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee (Penguin, $14). Slim and hard and perfect as a steel blade, this novel wastes not a word, yet manages to tell us more about the morally gray racial and sexual frontiers of the new South Africa than many volumes written by other writers. Each rereading of this book increases my admiration for Coetzee’s rare talent for terse poetry.
The Transit of Venus by Shirley Hazzard (Penguin, $14). A transcendent work from a remarkable writer. Hazzard imbues her characters with more emotion, mystery, and possibility than they know what to do with; her sympathy for their failures, in the midst of such abundance, feels like the most honest kind of love.
Blindness by José Saramago (Harvest, $14). A work of almost pure allegory—about a city’s nameless population ravaged by a plague of blindness—that manages nonetheless to speak from a core of humanity that we, here in the land of the named, feel intimately, and are haunted by. A thrilling nightmare with flares of black comedy, this is one of those rare novels that will make you see differently.
The Road by Cormac McCarthy (Vintage, $15). In its combination of stark poetry of a ruined universe and its unforgettable depiction of a father’s love for his son, The Road is McCarthy’s triumph, better even than Blood Meridian, a book that understood violence as few others have, but that had no conception of love. This novel reaches deeper.
The Best and the Brightest by David Halberstam (Ballantine, $17). A classic in every sense of the word, by a great journalist who, at a ridiculously young age, changed the way that wars were reported in this country. Some truths, once told, cannot be forgotten. Some truth-tellers, too.