When I am very busy, I read voraciously. Lately I’ve been devouring books. Lucky for me that each one was a complete pleasure, worth the effort. Many of the books were brief. In no particular order they are:

City of Thieves by David Benioff (seen above). Slick writing and excellent storytelling propel this novel, which at first glance is narrated by a Hollywood writer curious about what his grandfather did during the war. When the grandfather begins his story of the siege of Leningrad, the book assumes a fresh immediacy and the reader surrenders completely to its narrative drive.

Youth Without Youth by Mircea Eliade. For years I had been told that this writer was required reading for any literate person, although I had not read his work. I bought Youth Without Youth from the University of Chicago Press catalog. University presses offer more than scholarly works. Typically, novels in university press catalogs are almost certain to be classics. Youth Without Youth explores the mind and memory of an elderly professor whose grasp of languages and literature is commanding. For much of the novel, he exists in a dream state. The writing is beautiful, even magical. Francis Coppola has made a film of this novella.

Last Night at the Lobster by Steward O’Nan. The title of this novel reveals everything, but it doesn’t ruin the pleasure of reading about the demise of a chain restaurant that management has decided to eliminate. Told from the point of view of the manager, a chubby guy with no upward mobility, whose dedication to the marginal characters who serve meals and tend bar, surpasses his concern for himself. Unlikely characters and their intertwined lives make this a compelling read. O’Nan never patronizes the working-class men and women who populate his fiction. Some are noble, some not, but their lives are told beautifully.


Tall Man, The Death of Doomadgee by Chloe Hooper. I sought this book and found it in, of all places, the anthropology section of a chain bookstore. On its cover is a quote from Philip Roth, a writer whose name doesn’t appear with any frequency on others’ work. A brutal killing of a young Aboriginal Australian, the policeman who was charged with taking a life, and the settlement where the death occurred form the spine of this book. Tall Man, while recounting a celebrated political case, confronts the history of Australia—forced separation of children from families, colonies within colonies for political dissidents, and much worse—with eyes open wide. Despite its subject, this is a passionate book about a difficult case.

Restless by William Boyd. Every time I finish a book by Boyd, a brilliant writer and gifted storyteller, I have the same thought: Damn, he’s good. Boyd’s prose seduces. I find myself rereading sentences, whole paragraphs even. Restless is set in Oxford in the mid-1970s. Ruth is a young woman who’d rather teach English to foreign students than complete her dissertation when her mother, a woman in her 70s, begins behaving peculiarly. To explain herself, she gives her daughter a manuscript describing what the older woman did during the war. The mother Ruth thought she knew is a more complicated figure than Ruth had imagined. Intricately plotted, Restless is a feast for an intelligent mind.

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