Literary Corner Cafe

Thursday, December 20, 2007

The Fifteen Best Books You've (Probably) Never Read (We'll Just Start With Five)

Summer in Baden-Baden by Leonid Tsypkin - This is definitely an "arty," literary novel. It's beautiful and it's terribly, terribly sad. Consisting of two seemlessly interwoven stories (one, the story of Dostoyevsky's disatrous honeymoon in Baden-Baden with his new bride, Anna Grigoryevna, the other the author's own pilgrimage to Dostoyevsky's last home in St. Petersberg), this book is like nothing I've ever read before. It's definitely a much overlooked classic of Russian literature.

Artemesia by Anna Banti - So many people have read Susan Vreeland's account of the life of Italy's Artemesia Gentileschi, others have read Alexandrea La Pierre's, but nothing comes close to Anna Banti's dreamy, hallucinatory book. Making this book all the more remarkable is the fact that the manuscript was destroyed in a fire and Banti, dedicated to her art and craft, rewrote it.

Sepharad by Antonio M. Molina - Linked stories of Spanish Jews in exile under the regimes of both Stalin and Franco, this is a gorgeous, elegiac, and very erudite book. We travel from Madrid to Paris to Russia and encounter such diverse characters as the author, himself, Primo Levi, and even Franz Kafka. Sepharad is not only beautiful and important, it's a book like no other.

The Debt to Pleasure by John Lanchester - Think a triple chocolate fudge cake with fudge frosting and double choclolate fudge ice-cream on top is decadently delicious? You might, but you won't after reading The Debt to Pleasure. This is the most darkly delicious book I've ever encountered and its protagonist, Tarquin Winot, is the most darkly delicious and unforgettable anti-hero. Not only will you learn the history of the peach in this fascinating book, you'll also see how a master author peels away his character's layers of veneer like an onion, slowly allowing his reader to savor each new revelation.

Woman in the Dunes by Kobe Abe - Freedom means doing what you want when you want to, right? Not in Kobo Abe's gorgeous Woman in the Dunes, it doesn't. Although recalling both Kafka and Beckett, Kobo Abe is truly in a class by himself. This book says so very much, but it does so in the most understated manner, making its impact all the greater. Definitely Japanese surrealism at its finest.

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