An unabashed fan of reading recommends some of her favorite books.
The prolific literary critic, essayist, and novelist Prose (Mister Monkey, 2017, etc.) follows up Reading Like a Writer (2006) with an eclectic collection of previously published pieces that continue her clarion call for how books can “transport and entertain and teach us.” She sets the stage for the essays with “Ten Things that Art Can Do,” enthusiastically arguing that art is essential to life. She deftly mixes biography and critical analysis to demonstrate how Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein challenges us “to ponder the profound issues raised by the monster and by the very fact of his existence.” Prose’s love of and fascination with Great Expectations, Cousin Bette, Middlemarch, Little Women, and New Grub Street, “so engrossing, so entertaining, so well made,” and Mansfield Park, “arguably the greatest of Austen’s novels,” will have readers anxious to revisit these classics. As a fine practitioner of the art of the short story, Prose feels a kind of “messianic zeal…to make sure that [Mavis] Gallant’s work continues to be read, admired—and loved.” Poet Mark Strand’s “remarkable” collection Mr. and Mrs. Baby offers us distant echoes of “the dark comedy of Kafka and Beckett, the lyrical imagination of Calvino and Schulz.” Prose also praises the work of Elizabeth Taylor, Paul Bowles, Alice Munro, and Charles Baxter. She loves how Mohsin Hamid’s Exit West, about refugees, can “alchemize the raw material of catastrophe into art.” Nonfiction is represented here too, as in Gitta Sereny’s “so controversial, so profoundly threatening” Cries Unheard, about an 11-year-old killer, or Diane Arbus’ Revelations, where the photographer “employed the grotesque as a staging ground in her quest for the transcendent.” My Struggle, the six-volume autobiographical work of Karl Ove Knausgaard, is “dense, complex, and brilliant.” Others discussed include Jennifer Egan, Vladimir Nabokov, and Edward St. Aubyn as well as Roberto Bolaño's 2666—"literary genius."
As Prose implores: “Drop everything. Start reading. Now.”