The Bacchae by Euripides (Plume, $15). Dangerous, androgynous Dionysus sweeps into Greece with his bacchants and destroys a king, who ends up bloodily dismembered by his mother and her playmates. This classic play about the brutal power of primeval nature exposes the fragility of social institutions.
Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë (Penguin, $7). An exercise in Romantic Gothicism and a tempestuous love story. But this book is also a brilliant architectural construction by a woman who died a year after it was published, to a disappointing reception. The nesting time frames were more complex than anything attempted before in a novel.
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A Passage to India by E.M. Forster (Harvest, $13). A tragicomic clash of civilizations under the British Raj. Christian, Muslim, and Hindu strive for mutual understanding and fail. A bitter public trial follows a humiliating muddle and an existential puzzle in the eerie Marabar Caves.
The Nude: A Study in Ideal Form by Kenneth Clark (Princeton, $35).A superb introduction to the history of the nude in Western art. Wonderfully written in a style of now vanished connoisseurship. Its lavish illustrations help train the eye in evaluating anatomical style and proportion.
The Wit and Humor of Oscar Wilde edited by Alvin Redman (Dover, $8). One of the most important books in my life. As an adolescent, I discovered its British edition (called The Epigrams of Oscar Wilde) in a secondhand bookshop in Syracuse, N.Y. It neatly arranges Wilde’s hilarious one-liners and imperious aesthetic commandments by theme.
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