Paul Murray suggests 6 reads that transport, captivate and inspire

The Irish novelist recommends works from Daniel Clowes, Marcel Proust and more

Paul Murray.
(Image credit: Paul Murray.)

Irish novelist Paul Murray is the author of "An Evening of Long Goodbyes" and "Skippy Dies," a 2010 National Book Critics Circle Award finalist. His new novel, the tragicomic family saga "The Bee Sting," has been longlisted for the 2023 Booker Prize.

Mason & Dixon by Thomas Pynchon (1997)

Written in rhapsodically gorgeous 18th-century prose, with cameos from George Washington, Samuel Johnson, and a robot duck, Pynchon's novel is a touching story of friendship, as the titular surveyors battle wilderness, slavers and the sinister forces of history in a nascent, already blood-soaked America. Buy it here.

Secondhand Time: The Last of the Soviets by Svetlana Alexievich (2013)

This kaleidoscopic account of the fall of the Soviet Union consists entirely of stories told to the author by quote-unquote ordinary people. An unsurpassable view of a civilization collapsing from the inside. It's the warmth of the storytellers' voices, however, that's unforgettable. Buy it here.

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The Complete Eightball by Daniel Clowes (2015)

I was first drawn to Clowes' Eightball comic by its rabid short satires, like "Art School Confidential." But this collection reveals how astonishing his range is, shifting from blisteringly funny one-pagers to surreal epics to short stories that rival anything in the American canon. The centerpiece, Ghost World, captures teenage ennui and alienation better than anything else I've read. Buy it here.

Essays by Michel de Montaigne (1580)

A 16th-century polymath who wore a medallion inscribed "What do I know?" Montaigne more or less created the essay form. Some are frivolous ("On Thumbs"); some get as close to the heart of things as anyone ever has ("On Experience"). Buy it here.

Milkman by Anna Burns (2018)

How do you tell the story of a place where nobody says what they're thinking? Burns' novel attacks the problem by leaning into ambiguity — removing all the names, so the cast is made up of Somebody McSomebody, Third Brother-in-Law, etc. The result is as labyrinthine and tense, and as hysterically funny, as Belfast itself. Buy it here.

In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust (1913-27)

Roll your eyes if you want to, but reading this is one of the most profound experiences you'll ever have in life. I brought a copy onto a plane full of skinheads who were on their way to a stag party. As I opened the book, the noise fell away and I was in turn-of-the-century Paris. I'd like to say the skinheads asked what I was reading and really got into it, but they stuck to their own thing. Buy it here.

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