New York City is rich with fascinating stories. Some are heartbreaking, some funny, and some so mysterious and odd, you would assume they are fictional.
One such story is the tragic tale of Mary Rogers—a young woman whose body was found floating in the Hudson River in 1841. Her story seems to be straight out of a Gothic mystery…perhaps because it inspired one.
I collect ghost stories. I don’t believe in ghosts—but I’ll read any and all types of haunting stories. One of my favorites, REBECCA by Daphne du Maurier, is a Gothic novel that doesn’t technically have a ghost but features many fundamentals of a classic ghost story. There’s a huge, labyrinthine old mansion, a spooky woman in black, a mysterious death, an eerie painting, and a dead woman whose haunting presence is felt in every corner of her former home, Manderley.
Whenever a charismatic politician makes us uncomfortable, whenever a high-profile candidate seems dangerously powerful, Robert Penn Warren’s 1946 classic novel ALL THE KING’S MEN experiences a resurgence in popularity. In bookstores across America, the novel is pulled from fiction shelves and set face-out on tables at the front of the store. Clever, ironic references appear on social media.
Ever since I read A THOUSAND ACRES, I have loved the work of Jane Smiley. That novel has it all: love, lust, rivalry, betrayal, loss, grief, conflict, wisdom. It reworks Shakespeare’s tale of King Lear—that “fond, foolish old man.” By locating her story in a farming community in contemporary Iowa, Smiley shows us how all the best stories are timeless. They deal with what it is to be human, to find our way through a world that is often hostile and always confusing.
Decades before Elena Ferrante gifted us with Lenù and Lila in her Neapolitan novels, Carmen Laforet gave us Andrea in NADA. The works have a great deal in common: in both, passionate young women try to wrench themselves from the poverty and close-mindedness of their society. The specter of World War II looms over both books, along with the reality that for many that war never ended but continued on in broken hearts and crooked streets all across Europe.
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I recently revisited Aravind Adiga’s THE WHITE TIGER to discern what about it so riveted and enchanted me when I first read it in college. I figured it had to be the first sentence. This was a book that enraptured me with its utterly distinct and unrelenting voice, and I thought it must have been the first sentence where I got a glimpse of that.
I picked up Colm Tóibín’s THE MASTER a few months after finishing his brilliant novel BROOKLYN. When I curled up with THE MASTER, I looked forward to falling into a similar story: one about an expatriate grappling with immigration, homesickness, and growing up.
I am not a surfer. I have never spent a day on big, rough waves in Hawaii or on small but perfect waves in Tonga. I am, however, a rubbernecker. If there’s a stretch of beach where I can watch surfers bob up and down in wetsuits waiting for a break, I’m there. William Finnegan’s Pulitzer Prize-winning memoir, BARBARIAN DAYS: A SURFING LIFE, is the literary equivalent of sitting on the beach on a day with good breaks.
It’s always surprising to us which books wind up on the banned books list each year. They might be banned for violence or drug use or “inappropriate” sexual relationships. But we believe that everyone who has the desire should have the opportunity to read these books and judge the content for themselves.
Banned Books Week was launched in 1982 in response to a sudden increase in challenges to books in schools, bookstores, and libraries. Each September, publishers, librarians, booksellers, and readers celebrate the freedom to read and raise awareness about the problems of book censorship. We’ve collected some of the most challenged books here based on BannedBooksWeek.org and the American Library Association.
There are few writers with the depth and range to give us historical fiction about a presidential assassination; a dystopian novel about a reality TV competition; a moving and magical serial novel about death row inmates; a thousand-plus-page epic about an evil shape-shifting clown; an inspiring and enlightening memoir on the writing life; an eight-volume fantasy Western saga; numerous award-winning short-story collections—the list goes on and on. The writer I am talking about, of course, is the one and only Stephen King. He never ceases to delight and chill us with the power of his imagination. His writing holds a mirror up to his readers and asks: Who are we? What do we desire most and what are we willing to do to get it? What do we truly fear?