The Colossus of Maroussi by Henry Miller (New Directions, $15). Miller sailed to Greece after gaining notoriety with Tropic of Cancer and Tropic of Capricorn. Having written two risqué books, it was time to seek out the birthplace of civilization, to write about ancient sites and other storytellers—and to avoid Englishmen at all costs.
The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoevsky (Modern Library, $12). A book about an innocent, Prince Myshkin, who falls in love with a photograph of a woman and then the real thing. He is cursed with being a beautiful human being not meant for this world, and is consequently enveloped in the dark madness of a corrupt yet inviting scenario.
Desolation Angels by Jack Kerouac (Riverhead, $15). A fantastic experimental work, in which Kerouac spends two months alone on a mountaintop trying to find himself, travels with his mom to California, and joins his pals Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso, and William Burroughs in Tangiers—and does away with punctuation, which I found absolutely mind-blowing. After reading it, I went back to On the Road, finding it wonderfully honest and disarming, but oddly quaint.
Rembrandt’s Jews by Steven Nadler (Univ. of Chicago, $20). This is a brilliant study of Amsterdam’s Golden Age, when there was an influx of refugees, many of them Jews, who would become Rembrandt’s customers and pay handsomely.
Mark Twain: A Life by Ron Powers (Free Press, $16). I wonder if Samuel Clemens would be so vitally remembered if he hadn’t heard the cry of the riverboat pilot on the Mississippi River: “Mark Twain!” Of course he would, because Kurt Vonnegut, who loved him dearly and would have loved this book, said so.
Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus by Ludwig Wittgenstein (Hard Press, $10). I love philosophy, and after a hideous grammar school humiliation I chose philosophy as something to do that sounded scholastic. What I gleaned from this book was that “the only thing of value is that which cannot be said.”