Literary Corner Cafe

Monday, February 18, 2008

The Fifteen Best Books You've (Probably) Never Read (The Third Five)

This post presents the final five of the "Fifteen Best Books You've (Probably) Never Read," compiled by three of our editors.

Two Lives by William Trevor - Okay, I "sort of" cheated here, as master writer, Trevor's Two Lives consists of two distinctly different novellas - Reading Turgenev (Booker nominated) and My House in Umbria, however the volume I have contains both, so I "cheated" and called them one. Both novellas focus on women who live a fantasy life because they simply can't face living their own. Most people seem to prefer Reading Turgenev, though both novellas bear Trevor's trademark spare prose, tragedy, and deep insight into what it means to be human.

Mariette in Ecstasy by Ron Hanson - It's hard to believe the author of this book about a young Canadian postulant usually writes Westerns. Mariette in Ecstasy is absolutely flawless, perhaps one of the most flawless books I've ever read. The prose, especially the description, is beyond beautiful, but the plot is stunning as well. As you read more and more deeply into this book, you'll wonder more and more just exactly who Mariette is, and where the line is drawn that separates madness from faith.

The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare by G.K. Chesterton - If you haven't read this slim volume, you're really denying yourself the most wonderful experience. Written in 1907, it's author called it "a very melodramatic sort of moonshine." Although the book contains such histerically funny goings-on as an elephant chase and a hot air balloon race, it's actually a very serious look at society in a London that never really was. But, who is the man called "Thursday?" Read it and find out.

By the Lake by John McGahern - Devoted fans of Irish fiction may have read this lovely book, but we've found it all-too-overlooked. The novel tells the story of the Ruttledges, a farming couple who've left the London rat race for a more peaceful life in a small Irish village. Sometimes criticized as "slow," we find the book to be, not slow or underplotted, but graceful and meandering. It's filled with colorful characters, however, people who simply come to life. This is an intimate book rather than a sweeping epic. Pick it up when you really want to get to know the "people on the pages." And a bonus - the cover art is gorgeous.

Oh Pure and Radiant Heart by Lydia Millet - We think you'd just love this book, if only you'd heard of it. You don't have to love science fiction or science (Robert Oppenheimer, Enrico Fermi, and Leo Szilard figure prominently) to love this novel, which takes place in the American Southwest. It's both whimsical and deep, and the characters couldn't be more real. This lyrically written book bears a quality of magic and that makes it, not only special, but totally memorable.

If you have a "must read" book that you'd like for others to know about, we'd love to hear from you.


John Self said...

I don't know By the Lake, in fact I'm pretty sure McGahern never published a novel by that title in the UK - must be one of those curious incidents of different titles in different countries. When was it published?

Literary Corner Cafe said...

It was published in the US in April 2003 by Vintage. I think it was originally called "That They May Face the Rising Sun," which is a much better title, really. I don't know why the US feels they have to change them.