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Best books ... chosen by David Rabe

David Rabe is the award-winning author of the plays <em>Streamers, Sticks and Bones,</em> and <em>HurlyBurly.</em> His novel <em>Dinosaurs on the Roof</em> and his recent plays <em>The Black Monk</em&g

To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf (Harvest, $13). I knew nothing about this novel when I found a copy in a used-book store in the mid-’60s. It’s been read and reread. This family, their friends, their ordinary secrets, and the ending—as the Ramseys reach the lighthouse and Lily completes her painting—remain mysterious and thrilling each time.

The Wrecking Crew: How Conservatives Rule by Thomas Frank (Holt, $16). Lucid, witty, and footnoted, this book decodes a number of puzzles. One example: Frank cuts through the fog surrounding the creation of enormous deficits by “fiscal conservatives.” His explanation is their strategy of “defunding the Left.”

One Man’s Justice by Akira Yoshimura (Harcourt, $23). In this haunting novel, a Japanese officer in U.S.-occupied Japan is hunted as a war criminal for having executed an American POW who flew bombing raids over cities. The narrative, by almost undetectably shifting perspective again and again, finds ­absolute morality eroded.

At Day’s Close by A. Roger Ekirch (Norton, $17) It’s difficult for us to imagine a world without 24/7 access to electric light. Night is not night as it once was. Imagine a permanent blackout. Night after night. Ekirch brings that other midnight world with its dangers, phantoms, and illicit opportunities to detailed, researched life.

Song of Napalm: Poems
by Bruce Weigl (Atlantic Monthly, $11). Weigl served with the 1st Air Cavalry in Vietnam. Whether he writes of events on the ground, or in the haunted space of aftermath he carried with him, his poems here and in What Saves Us convey a fierce, visceral immediacy that is strangely meditative.

When in Florence
by Richard Cortez Day (out of print). The stories in this collection are linked by the city, by the fact that a minor character in one is the main character in another, by interest in intellectual longing, synchronicity, and physicist David Bohm’s notion of “implicate order.” Italians and Americans, moderns and ancients mix in ways that are sometimes ghostly, sometimes realistic, but always beautifully crafted.

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