Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov (Vintage, $16). Nabokov's great novel is best known for its ethically challenging narrator, whose affection for an underage love object is profane and repellent. But Lolita also contains some of literature's most loving, lasting descriptions of America's midcentury independent motels.
The Hotel New Hampshire by John Irving (Ballantine, $8). I became an Irving convert with The World According to Garp, the novel that preceded this one. But I loved The Hotel New Hampshire too, especially for its refrain "Sorrow floats," which, like the "Under Toad" repeatedly mentioned in Garp, becomes a compelling, illuminating shorthand for certain feelings we have about the ways of this world.
Eloise by Kay Thompson (Simon & Schuster, $19). I've been reading Eloise and its various sequels to my daughter in recent years, and the books still pack a great entertainment wallop for the younger set. The illustrations are as incredible as the text. Are these works based on the early life of Liza Minnelli, Thompson's goddaughter? You be the judge!
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The Shining by Stephen King (Anchor, $8). I also love the movie, because it is flashy and because Jack Nicholson and Shelley Duvall are excellent in it. But just because the movie is great doesn't mean the book isn't better. In the novel, there's nuance to and context for the horror that never really made it to the screen.
I Hotel by Karen Tei Yamashita (Coffee House, $20). This wouldn't be a fair and balanced list if I didn't include a very challenging, should-be-better-known book from a small, independent press. If you want to be riveted by a beautiful and important dream novel about Asian-Americans on the West Coast, and the part that they played in the culture of the Bay Area, then this is the book for you.
The Invention of Everything Else by Samantha Hunt (Mariner, $15). This 2008 novel about the last days of the inventor Nikola Tesla is set in the Hotel New Yorker, and it has a lot to do with physics, magic, and the sheer beauty of language. Hunt has a new novel, Mr. Splitfoot, coming out in January, and based on past experience I am sure that one will be great, too.
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