A list by James Mustich
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James Mustich
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In the Vineyard of the Text
Ivan Illich
The book has now ceased to be the root-metaphor of the age,” writes Ivan Illich, “the screen has taken its place.” But just as there was a time before screens, Illich makes clear in this enlightening volume, there was a cultural age before books as well. The centrality of books to our idea of cultur...show more
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The World According to Garp
John Irving
"In the world according to Garp, an evening could be hilarious and the next morning could be murderous,” we read at the end of the penultimate chapter of this teeming, tumultuous book. It’s an apt summary of what has come before. The story of the novelist T. S. Garp and his mother, Jenny Fields, of ...show more
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Desert Solitaire
Edward Abbey
Written in the middle of the 1960s, yet composed largely from journals kept a decade earlier during the author’s summers as a backcountry ranger at the Arches National Monument (“among,” as he puts it, “the hoodoo rocks and voodoo silence of the Utah wilderness”), Desert Solitaire evokes the paradox...show more
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Things Fall Apart
Chinua Achebe
Composed in English and published in 1958, two years before Nigeria declared independence, Things Fall Apart was the first African novel to attain a wide international readership. It is a short, sparely told tale that nevertheless embraces themes of enormous import: fate and will, the determining i...show more
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My Dog Tulip
J. R. Ackerley
When first published in England in 1956, Tulip was considered shocking because of what one reviewer called its “scatological and gynaecological detail.” But while the messy details are certainly present in abundance (chapter 2, for example, is entitled “Liquids and Solids”), to be put off by them is...show more
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The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
Douglas Adams
To say that Douglas Adams’s The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is a book that captured the zeitgeist of the late 1970s and the 1980s is an understatement. Beginning as a BBC comedy radio series, it would mutate into versions in print, on stage, in comics, and on screens small and big, becoming an ...show more
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The Berlin Stories
Christopher Isherwood
Populated by offbeat characters—mainly expatriates drawn to the shabbily chic cafés of the city—The Berlin Stories vivifies a bawdy world of vice and debauchery that is drunk on gossip, rumor, and a burgeoning terror. Set in Berlin in the early 1930s, the stories depict a desperately carefree world...show more
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The Remains of the Day
Kazuo Ishiguro
The Remains of the Day tells, in the first person, the story of Stevens, a proper British butler who has spent three decades in service at Darlington Hall. Stevens has been devoted to his career, playing a reliably unobtrusive role in polishing the etiquette of the upper class while pursuing—in acti...show more
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Life Among the Savages
Shirley Jackson
In this slightly fictionalized account of her own family’s life, Shirley Jackson (author of the horrifying story “The Lottery,” which you may remember from a school anthology) plumbs the depths of domestic bliss, recounting her life with husband and four children under ten, in one of the funniest, m...show more
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The Name of the Rose
Umberto Eco
The year is 1327, a time of political intrigue and theological wrangling between the furtive powers of the papacy and the earthly forces of the Holy Roman Empire. At an unnamed Franciscan abbey—housing a labyrinth in which is hidden the greatest library in Christendom, including forbidden works of u...show more
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Bright Air, Brilliant Fire
Gerald Edelman
After winning the 1972 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his work in immunology, Dr. Gerald M. Edelman set out to discover how the phenomenon of mind emerges from the brain’s bundle of tissue. Bright Air, Brilliant Fire summarizes for a general audience Edelman’s researches and speculations,...show more
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The Book of Ebenezer Le Page
G. B. Edwards
Chronicling in his cranky, funny, and vivid voice his life on the English Channel island of Guernsey, fisherman and tomato grower Ebenezer Le Page bears witness to a twentieth century that has seen the island’s traditions overwhelmed by war, tourism, and modernity. Along the way, he delivers a long,...show more
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A Visit from the Goon Squad
Jennifer Egan
What kind of novel would Marcel Proust have written if he’d listened to the Rolling Stones instead of Beethoven’s late quartets? The answer might well be something very much like A Visit from the Goon Squad, Jennifer Egan’s virtuosic and open-hearted tale of music and mortality. Like the music it ev...show more
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Travels with Lizbeth
Lars Eighner
Lars Eighner became homeless in 1988. He took to scavenging food and other necessities for himself and his dog Lizbeth from the big trash containers called Dumpsters. The book sometimes reads—quite wonderfully—as if written by an eighteenth-century man of letters who, under some bookish spell, has v...show more
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The Worm Ouroboros
E. R. Eddison
C. S. Lewis called E. R. Eddison’s heroic romances “irreplaceable” works of art. His extravagance of language and invention mark The Worm Ouroboros (1922), a precursor of The Lord of the Rings, as a landmark in high fantasy. Set in an environment surprisingly hospitable to life despite great kingdom...show more
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Tuck Everlasting
Natalie Babbitt
Age has its despairs, yet without its dimension, our lives lose their shape: A timeless life, without growth or change, would be drearier than the day is long. That’s the profound truth that illuminates this extraordinary fable, in which a young girl named Winnie finds herself catapulted into great ...show more
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The Poetics of Space
Gaston Bachelard
This book is beloved by readers and writers, thinkers and dreamers the world over, despite its sometimes recondite rhetoric and its always French intellectual élan. Metaphorically and metaphysically rich, Poetics follows the imagination into spaces that nourish and inspire it, “inside” realms within...show more
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The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution
Bernard Bailyn
There was nothing inevitable about the American Revolution. Bailyn illuminates the radical beliefs that inspired the unprecedented effort to champion individual liberty against the power of the state. Tracing the animating principles of the revolutionary movement back to eighteenth-century European ...show more
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