Steve Fishman, a contributing editor at New York magazine, is the author of Karaoke Nation, or How I Spent a Year in Search of Glamour, Fulfillment, and a Million Dollars (Free Press, $25).
Humboldt’s Gift by Saul Bellow (Penguin, $15). This is the Bellow to read. All the great stuff is in this one: the narrator who wants and wants, the serial objects of desire (women), the snub-nosed business-oriented brother, the gorgeous talker Humboldt, and also the brilliant throwaway lines that other writers would kill for…all that before Bellow wanders off into a cannibal theme.
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy (Modern Library, $10). Tolstoy’s prose is pedestrian and often ponderous. But his relentless descriptive energy, his full characters, and above all his Anna—so wonderfully and modernly unhappy—make this a treat.
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Bobos in Paradise by David Brooks (Touchstone Books, $14). Sly and funny, this book caught that touchstone moment when we found ourselves at cocktail parties lamenting, with a heartsick laugh, how we’d once been liberal, rebellious, but now, what with the kids and the cars, hugged the moderate middle, though, of course, we still preferred whole grains and natural fibers.
Selling Ben Cheever by Ben Cheever (Bloomsbury USA, $15). Hapless Ben, who has assigned himself the role of less-famous son, takes a series of low-end jobs and gets surprising uplift out of it. You come away knowing a lot more about the meaning of work—and adulthood—in America, though Cheever himself doesn’t really achieve either.
The Emperor: Downfall of an Autocrat by Ryszard Kapuscinski (Vintage, $12). This is the story of the fall of the dictator Selassie in Ethiopia. Very little of it strikes the reader as literally true. Yet the madcap landscape of dictatordom, personal and political, is searing. And in its essence the book feels true.
Anti-Intellectualism in American Life
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