Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky (Dover, $3.50). This is a book that never leaves me. Dostoyevsky thrusts the reader so far into the point of view of the St. Petersburg dropout Raskolnikov that you feel you are actually becoming the murderous loner as you read.
Tender Is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald (Scribner, $15). There has never been a more poetic book written about failure, about being a disappointment to yourself, or what marrying a crazy person can do to a man’s life. I find Fitzgerald’s last completed novel wrenching, full of longing and a sense of loss. But with its lingering descriptions of the south of France and expatriate life in the ’20s, it is seductive as well.
The Little Friend by Donna Tartt (Vintage, $16). Donna Tartt is a master of description. In her second novel, the author of The Secret History follows a Mississippi seventh-grader who is investigating the hanging of her brother 12 years earlier. Some passages are so accomplished they amaze me.
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A Personal Matter by Kenzaburo Oe (Grove, $13). Kenzaburo Oe’s words slice your heart open as you depart on a bender with Bird, a 27-year-old father and husband who is trying to avoid facing up to the birth of an abnormal child. This 1964 novel is a slender masterpiece from the 1994 winner of the Nobel Prize for literature. It is told with heartbreaking economy.
The Sea by John Banville (Vintage, $14). Banville is the Nadia Comaneci of metaphor. This novel about an aging art critic returning to a seaside Irish village after the death of his wife was the 2005 Man Booker Prize winner. It’s a melancholy classic, thin on plot, all about mood and language.
Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace (Back Bay, $18). I am reading this 1,100-page novel now. It is by turns riveting, hilarious, exasperating, awe-inspiring. The late David Foster Wallace used words like “impasto.” He used them like an irreverent painter, like the French expressionist Chaim Soutine.
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