Michael J. Rosen’s most recent books include two humor volumes that he edited: More Mirth of a Nation: The Best Contemporary Humor (HarperPerennial, $16) and 101 Damnations: The Humorists’ Tour of Personal Hells (St. Martin’s, $18).

Marcovaldo (Harcourt, $11) and its more intellectual counterpart Mr. Palomar (Harcourt, $12) by Italo Calvino. These two books, as well as every title on this list, reveal a new world by revoking the know-it-all world we blithely occupy. Calvino’s fascinated, fumbling characters queue at the crossroads of our own lives; back and forth, they consider the hazarded options, and each direction seems convincing. How the truth squirms.

The Dyer’s Hand by W.H. Auden (Knopf, $18). The world of writing, reading, and literature are beguilingly parsed in a dialectic that’s so exhilarating you come away from the many topics Auden considers with as much appreciation for the author as for his subjects.

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Mrs. Bridge (North Point Press, $10) and, to perpetuate the saga, Mr. Bridge (out of print) by Evan S. Connell. Intimate miniatures in the lives of a minor, privileged, Midwestern couple that slyly accumulate (think of the obsessive power of some visionary outsider artist) until they mirror the very life your own days frame.

The Man Who Loved Children by Christina Stead (with Randall Jarrell’s brilliant and lengthy appreciation; St. Martin’s Press, $16). A glorious tragedy with more velocity than Shakespeare himself managed. A vast novel of vitality and ardor: None is more replete with the data (corrupted, of course, by love) of family life.

A Lover’s Discourse by Roland Barthes (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $12). A book of semiotics, sure, but nonetheless the book we all wish to have written (or at least understood) about our giddy, baffling romances. Love’s vagaries have never had such a sympathetic ear or voice. The epiphanies are doubled with Richard Howard’s brilliant translation.

The Debt to Pleasure

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