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Mary Gaitskill

Mary Gaitskill is the author of the acclaimed story collections Bad Behavior and Because They Wanted To. Her second novel, Veronica, has just been published by Pantheon.

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The Tales of Chekhov by Anton Chekhov (13 volumes; various publishers). Vladimir Nabokov describes him better than I could: “Chekhov’s books are sad books for humorous people; that is, only a reader with a sense of humor can really appreciate their sadness.” Further, it is “this pathetic dimness, all this lovely weakness” that is “worth treasuring in the glare of those strong, self-sufficient worlds…promised by the worshippers of totalitarian states.”
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Pastoralia by George Saunders (Riverhead, $14). These stories at first glance are nothing like Chekhov’s, but look closer. In their cacophonous brightness, they, too, have a pathetic dimness, a lovely weakness that absurdly dreams of being powerful, self-sufficient, even totalitarian. Saunders’ characters are rapacious and vengeful, but hilariously and heartbreakingly so.
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Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov (Vintage, $14). If Chekhov wrote sad books for humorous people, Lolita is a tragedy for people with a great sense of humor—or a comedy for those with a great sense of tragedy. It is alive with so much feeling, thought, and beauty that you can’t see it in all its dimensions at once, any more than you could see a living forest in its entirety—let alone an enchanted one.
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To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf (Harvest, $12). Woolf’s 1927 novel is intellectual and terrifically precise about emotions and perceptions that are almost impossible to identify, let alone be precise about. Yet it is also suffused with a vague and iridescent verbal haziness that is gorgeous to see and sense on the page.
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Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami (Knopf, $26). One of the deepest, strangest books I have ever read, Kafka is distinguished by a rich and fantastical plot that stands in striking and beautiful contrast to the clarity and humility of Murakami’s prose. There is very little in the way of poetry or metaphor in the language, and that very lack stresses the poetry of the story.
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Housekeeping

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