Lila by Marilynne Robinson
This isn’t my favorite Marilynne Robinson book by a long shot, but even not-the-best Marilynne Robinson is waaaayy ahead of most books out there.
Red or Dead by David Peace
Very few books make me want to stand up and yell and start building shit. This is one of them.
The Art of Flight by Sergio Pitol
Not actually published yet (March 2015), I read this book while editing the translation. It is mostly awesome and makes me realize how badly the English language has missed Sergio Pitol.
Suspended Sentences by Patrick Modiano
A great first bite of the Modiano apple. I can’t wait to get to more.
Last Words from Montmartre by Qiu Miaojin
A little East Asia, a little French philosophy, a little Clarice Lispector. A bracing, deep, sensual read.
Paris by Marcos Giralt Torrente
First novels don’t get much better than this. Giralt started his career doing a damn good impression of Javier Marías, and now he’s on another level.
Father and Son by Marcos Giralt Torrente
And this is a good idea of where Giralt has managed to climb since Paris.
Life and Times of Michael K by JM Coetzee
Reminds me of Kafka’s “The Burrow.” One of my favorite Kafka stories of all time.
Capital by Thomas Piketty
An essential economics book. An essential guide to where we are and how we got here. I’m certain this is already being used as a textbook, and it should be taught for decades to come.
Postwar by Tony Judt
I could say the same about this book. A great book to read alongside Piketty. Tries to tell the story of postwar Europe in one fell swoop, and does a better job than anything else I’ve ever read.
Reappraisals by Tony Judt
Drawer-clearing essay collections have a bad rap where I’m from. But when it’s Judt, it’s like having a grad-level course in European intellectual movements. And You want to read Judt on anything, again and again and again.
The Drowned and the Saved by Primo Levi
If you’re not already convinced of this book’s importance, I don’t know what I could possibly say.
What Would Lynne Tillman Do? by Lynne Tillman
Read this book, spend a week in Lynne Tillman’s mind, never come back, be a better person for it.
Trans-Atlantyk by Witold Gombrowicz
Gombrowicz didn’t write that many novels, but he made each one count. Life in Buenos Aires by the stranded Pole who thought Borges was overrated.
The Bourgeois by Franco Moretti
Moretti packs a hell of a lot into this book. Genuinely new takes on 19th-century books and ideas that you probably thought were exhausted.
The Whole Equation by David Thomson
Nobody loves Hollywood like David Thomson. I’m talking about a 40-year-old marriage that’s been difficult, but you just can’t quit it. And he tells the whole damn story, like a man in loveship and hateship.
Varieties of Exile by Mavis Gallant
Te read Mavis Gallant is to understand that some people actually do have ESP, or have lived multiple lives, or somehow have been granted entry into the thoughts and minds of other people.
The Iliad by Homer
A cornerstone of the edifice we call reality.
My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante
Very solid first book of an acclaimed writer’s magnum opus.
The Pleasure of the Text by Roland Barthes
The book that introduced jouissance to the English language. I always want to be reading a book of Barthes’ when I’m writing something important.
The Prison-House of Literature by Fredric Jameson
An amazing, concise, brilliant synthesis of the two major literary theoretical movements to come out of linguistics.
Proust and Signs by Gilles Deleuze
A fascinating, original theory of Proust.
On Being Blue by William H. Gass
Possibly my favorite Gass book. Literary criticism that manages to propel itself into a purely creative work of art.
The Sense of an Ending by Frank Kermode
A pretty original theory of how stories function.
Augustus by John Williams
I think this is generally regarded as the third-best novel John Williams wrote. And it would be the first-best book of just about anyone else.
Confessions of Felix Krull by Thomas Mann
This was the book Mann was writing when he passed away. So in other words, he died right at the apex of a 50-year-long literary prime. I’ve never read a book that succeeded in conning me.
The Art of Cruelty by Maggie Nelson
This book doesn’t really work overall, and a lot of the writing could have been much better. But the parts where Nelson is on, she’s really on, and these parts are thought-provoking and introduced me to many important thinkers. Anyone interested int he legacy of modernism would do well to read this.
The Underdogs by Mariano Azuela
The novel of the Mexican Revolution. Possibly the greatest Mexican novel ever. A little Conrad, a little Fuentes.
Literchoor Is My Beat by Ian MacNiven
Inspiring tale of the man who created New Directions.
Kissing the Mask by William T. Vollmann
The last Vollmann book I really, really liked. Read it alongside Seiobo There Below.
Tlooth by Harry Mathews
Reading this meant there are no longer any Harry Mathews novels in the world that I haven’t read. I could only wait so long. And yes, I know he’s rumored to be working on one.
The Wallcreeper by Nell Zink
When I joked that this woman might be Helen DeWitt, people took it seriously. Because she’s that good, and she is a damn lot like DeWitt.
The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony by Roberto Calasso
This book is a brick, and intense, and god damn erudite. It tells you a lot about where myths come from, and where our myths come from.
Let Me Tell You by Paul Griffiths
Ophelia’s side of Hamlet, in her own words—literally. This is an Oulipian-themed work where Griffiths only used words given to Ophelia. The result is an amazingly personal, evocative voice that reminded me of The Testament of Mary.
The Testament of Mary by Colm Toibin
The best book under 100 pages I read this year. Toibin is a writer who can write in the voice of freaking Mary Magdalene and live up to it.
The Albertine Workout by Anne Carson
Another great response to Proust.
A Million Windows by Gerald Murnane
Murnane’s newest book proves that he’s still enlarging on the creative vision he’s been espousing for virtually his entire career. Truly like nothing else out there.
A Lifetime on Clouds by Gerald Murnane
Murnane’s second novel. About a teenage boy and his masturbation fantasies. In my opinion, far better than Portnoy.
Clarice: The Visitor by Idra Novey
Beautiful poems born of translations of Clarice Lispector.
La Grande by Juan Jose Saer
The masterwork from one of the most masterful Argentine writers to ever live.
Balzac: A Biography by Graham Robb
This is really how biographies should be written. Erudite, with a novelist’s command of language, but never descending to something hackneyed, like trying to write a novel starring Balzac.
The Human Comedy (Selected Stories) by Honoré de Balzac
One should read a little Balzac every year. This stuff is still relevant, and it’s still thrilling.