Feature

Paul Theroux's 6 favorite books

The novelist and travel writer recommends works by Gustave Flaubert, Nathanael West, and more

The Day of the Locust by Nathanael West (New Directions, $13).

The ultimate novel of Hollywood, written by a native (and the author of the masterpiece Miss Lonelyhearts). I read this when I was young, and my admiration fueled my ambition to be a writer. It is funny, wicked, satirical, and wholly in the American grain.

Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert (Penguin, $13).

Emma Bovary, married to a good-hearted drudge, has a healthy libido, a shopping addiction, and an unhealthy sense of romance. Flaubert's landmark work is both a romantic novel and a critique of romantic novels, and in its writing and observation it is modern and memorable.

Crowds and Power by Elias Canetti (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $19).

This is one of those books that explain everything — in this case, the way humans gather in groups, how they seize power, and the symbols they value. It is a study in tyranny and in other forms of domination — among them, a mother serving food. Canetti put 30 years into writing it, and he deserved the Nobel Prize in literature he won decades later.

A House for Mr. Biswas by V.S. Naipaul (Vintage, $17).

This is Naipaul's masterpiece and a classic of family life. Much of it is based on Naipaul's own family. Hilarious most of the time and full of conflict, it is one of the few books that have caused me to laugh out loud.

Civilization and Capitalism, 15th–18th Century, Vol. 1 by Fernand Braudel (Univ. of Calif., $48).

Have you ever wondered where coffee came from and when Europeans began to drink it — or tea, or chocolate? Or when men began to wear trousers rather than robes? This book answers those and many more such questions, demonstrating the ingenuity, the opportunism, the bravery, the imagination, and the salesmanship of people throughout the world.

Henry David Thoreau by Laura Dassow Walls (Univ. of Chicago, $35).

There are many good Thoreau biographies; this one, due in July, is outstanding. Thoreau had a mind so original and opinions so startling, his Concord neighbors (including Emerson) did not know what to make of him. This sympathetic and exhaustive biography illuminates the man and his times.

— Novelist and travel writer Paul Theroux is the author of dozens of books, including The Mosquito Coast and The Great Railway Bazaar. Mother Land, his latest novel, portrays a family whose matriarch is nearing 100 and still driving everyone mad.

Recommended

The daily gossip: September 24, 2021
Elon Musk and Grimes.
Daily gossip

The daily gossip: September 24, 2021

The daily gossip: September 23, 2021
Jane Goodall.
Daily gossip

The daily gossip: September 23, 2021

Melvin Van Peebles, multitalented 'godfather of modern Black cinema,' dies at 89
Melvin Van Peebles
In Memoriam

Melvin Van Peebles, multitalented 'godfather of modern Black cinema,' dies at 89

The daily gossip: September 22, 2021
Nicole Richie.
Daily gossip

The daily gossip: September 22, 2021

Most Popular

Jimmy Fallon and Nicole Kidman almost make it through interview without awkwardness
Jimmy Fallon and Nicole Kidman
Last Night on Late Night

Jimmy Fallon and Nicole Kidman almost make it through interview without awkwardness

Democrats are governing like Republicans
A donkey.
Picture of W. James Antle IIIW. James Antle III

Democrats are governing like Republicans

After Biden huddles, Democrats moderately optimistic about passing progressive agenda
Joe Biden
Dems in Disarray

After Biden huddles, Democrats moderately optimistic about passing progressive agenda