Ah, Wilderness!, All Gods Chillun Got Wings, and Long Days Journey Into Night by Eugene ONeill. ONeill was my high school literary hero. Im still in awe of how he could take a rough and often wretched past and remake it as a nostalgic comedy in Ah, Wilderness!; a brutal naturalistic work like Journey; and, in the most stunning leap, to reimagine his parents marriage as mixed in All Gods Chillun. There was something terrible and wonderful in each transformation: It meant you could make any kind of story from any experience.
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Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy (Penguin, $16). When I read Anna Karenina, I broke it down into the basic architecture and engineering, to understand how you made something on this scale. Its more like building a city than telling a storythough as a story, Tolstoys novel is incredibly alive and deeply felt.
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Molloy, Malone Dies, The Unnamable by Samuel Beckett (Grove, $14). I wrote my college thesis on this trilogy of novels as a kind of reverse commedia, a nihilistic one. Its purity of vision, beauty of line, and heartbreaking humor are extraordinary.
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The Untouchable by John Banville (Vintage, $13). As a stylist, Banville is nearly as fluent as Nabokov, and many of his books seem to aspire to simply be precious, useless objects, like Fabergé eggs. With The Untouchable, however, which tells the story of Cambridge spy Anthony Blount, that mandarin style gains great force through its match with the character. Blounts was not merely a double life, but a sextuple one, at least: communist and courtier, bisexual husband and father, actor and critic.
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The Great Gatsby
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