New Zealand novelist Eleanor Catton is the author of The Luminaries, which won the 2013 Booker Prize. Her follow-up, Birnam Wood, is a current best-seller about a group of climate activists battling a U.S. billionaire over a remote tract of land.
'Who Cooked Adam Smith's Dinner? A Story of Women and Economics' by Katrine Marçal (2012)
In this highly readable book, Swedish journalist Katrine Marçal explodes the foundational myths of the free market, exposing capitalist pieties, immaturities, and self-deceptions and refocusing our attention on the deep interconnectedness of labor and love. Buy it here.
'Frankenstein' by Mary Shelley (1818)
It's hard to believe that Shelley was only 19 when she wrote this fearsome, deeply felt, up-to-the-minute contemporary, formally perfect novel. What would our culture look like without Frankenstein? I can't even imagine it. Shelley spawned whole genres and experiments. Buy it here.
'On the Abolition of All Political Parties' by Simone Weil (1950)
I have lent my support to political parties in the past, but after reading this, I vowed never to do it again. Weil argues persuasively that the endgame of party membership is losing the ability to think for yourself; a true citizenry should be discussing policies, not parties. She also offers an interesting alternative model. A book that speaks urgently to our times. Buy it here.
'Minor Detail' by Adania Shibli (2017)
Dispossession, occupation, memory, and control are all coolly interrogated in this spare and devastating novel about a woman who becomes obsessed with a "minor detail" of history: the rape and murder of a Palestinian woman in 1949. The exacting prose style filled me with such dread that I couldn't bear to stop reading. Buy it here.
'A Dark-Adapted Eye' by Ruth Rendell (1986)
This complex thriller had me wrong-footed right until the end. One of Faith Severn's aunts murdered another, and was hanged for it. Years later, Faith tries to piece together what really happened. I was blown away by the assurance and sophistication of this interwoven family story. Buy it here.
'The Vagrants' by Yiyun Li (2009)
I read this astonishing novel more than a decade ago and it has never let me go. Set in Communist China in the aftermath of an execution, the story raises urgent questions about censorship, the nature of protest, and the psychology of crowds. I am curious to reread it. I can only imagine that its powerful message will resonate all the more powerfully today. Buy it here.
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