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  • Jeff Somers 6:00 pm on 2018/08/02 Permalink
    Tags: , don delillo, , noises off, ,   

    Don DeLillo’s Novels, Ranked 

    Reading Don DeLillo, the cult novelist who ascended to literary superstardom, can be a tense, exhausting experience. The universes he creates for us are threatening, chaotic, and mercurial. There are few happy people in them, and fewer happy accidents. Suspicious of society and institutions and overstuffed with reference, allusion, and wordplay, his novels are equal parts brilliance and unease.

    Brilliance isn’t equally distributed, of course—even DeLillo has his minor works. Which of his books belongs on top, and which at the bottom? Here’s how we see it—starting with the cream of the crop.

    White Noise
    This 1985 novel broke DeLillo into the big-time, and for good reason: it’s awesome. It gave English the wonderful phrase “airborne toxic event,” and it is that event that translates the growing paranoia, unease, and suburban malaise of the novel’s first section into physical form. Exploring the exciting field of Hitler studies, death and mortality, and madness, DeLillo makes you feel like the universe is a slowly constricting trap that will eventually crush you. This is where all of the author’s tricks, tics, and obsessions came together as perfectly as possible.

    Libra
    The Kennedy assassination is an event DeLillo might have invented if it hadn’t actually happened. The way he makes Lee Harvey Oswald—a man who is largely invisible and mysterious even though he actually existed—into a compellingly original character without compromising authenticity is genius. Sometimes this one is overshadowed by other titles, but arguably it and White Noise are DeLillo’s masterworks.

    Underworld
    Huge, complex, and slippery, this one sparks the most debate among DeLillo fans—some people think it’s his best, some people think it’s an indulgent whole with brilliant parts. We’re in the former camp—the prologue, published separately as Pafko at the Wall, is a near-perfect short story that sets up the themes of the novel; from there, the story splits into a non-linear narrative spanning several decades. It’s as if DeLillo tried to paint an emotional picture of the 20th century by starting at its end and then moving inexorably backwards, stripping everything away until we get to the kernel of it all.

    The Names
    DeLillo’s grand investigation into the power of words and language, this sprawling novel was published a few years before White Noise and is usually lumped in with his 1970s work despite hitting shelves in 1982. It’s one of those books with a plot that comes together in fragments as DeLillo introduces and follows several characters, centered on a businessman who becomes involved with a string of ritualistic murders being committed by a “language cult” while traveling in Greece and the Middle East. Challenging and cerebral, the central question of the novel concerns how far context and words go towards shaping perception and, therefore, reality?

    Great Jones Street
    A trippy, deliriously fun novel, published in 1973, drips with the 1960s hangover so many were experiencing at the time. Following a rock star modeled on Bob Dylan (supposedly) there’s not so much a plot as a series of brilliant, often hilarious vignettes that startle and amaze. It’s a short novel, which works in its favor, and it’s often wrongfully downgraded because it lacks DeLillo’s later dour paranoia and density—but it’s a fantastic book that deserves to be read more widely.

    Mao II
    DeLillo’s lengthy consideration of terrorism and the potential link between violence and the stories we tell ourselves, this one is also divisive, mainly because it doesn’t have much of a plot and can be perceived as DeLillo disappearing into himself—but when you’re as strong a writer as DeLillo, you can get away with that. Its seemingly prophetic vision of terrorist acts to come (it was published in 1991) grant the book gravitas, as terrorism and violence chip away at individual liberties and take art’s place as as a driving cultural force.

    Point Omega
    Saying that a book is one of DeLillo’s best means less when you consider the thin, mostly subjective lines separating them. Point Omega gets lost in the shuffle sometimes, seen as a bit of throat-clearing. It’s short—almost a novella—concerning itself with two men who seek to reshape their reality and fail. With echoes and references to the Iraq War and Bush-era propaganda, it’s one of the few DeLillo novels to feel dated despite its relatively recent vintage. Yet it’s far from a poor effort, and the questions it asks about the vanity of trying to change reality are haunting.

    Americana
    If Americana were by a different author, it might be forgotten by now; it’s loose to the point of parody, and overstuffed with philosophical nattering that doesn’t seem to truly connect to its strange road trip narrative. As the first novel DeLillo published, however, it’s fascinating—all the standard stuff is in it, and sometimes there are glimpses of the brilliance to come. It’s not so much a bad novel as a forgettable one, with the ultimate fate of being solidly in the middle.

    Zero K
    DeLillo’s most recent novel lands in the middle of the pack mainly due to its undercooked feel; relatively short, the unanswered questions and dangling philosophical participles it leaves on the table leave you wanting a few hundred more pages. Still, the writing is sharp. DeLillo inspires dread in a way few writers can, and the story, an unsettling journey through mortality, family, and possibly the end of the world, builds a lot of suspense, even if the payoff isn’t all there.

    End Zone
    Mainly notable as the novel with which DeLillo crystallized his style, this goofy sophomore effort uses a football game as an extended metaphor for nuclear war (or vice versa), and gets extra points for being really, really funny. But there’s not much of a story here, and after meandering about for a while, it sort of just stops dead in its tracks. Another plus that elevates it, though, is the fact that’s it’s one of the easiest DeLillo books to read, and a great place for newbies to start.

    Falling Man
    Like the Kennedy assassination, 9/11 seems like an ideal historical event for a DeLillo novel—but perhaps because he dealt with many of these themes earlier in Mao II, there’s something missing. This story of a man who survives the collapse of the Twin Towers would rank with some writers’ best work, but for DeLillo, it’s an uncharacteristically restrained, showing only the occasional bit of his magic.

    Players
    Your mileage will vary on this one; some people rank it much higher, but we suspect that’s largely because of the absolutely brilliant opening sequence, which depicts an act of brutal violence observed in a piano bar on a jetliner; it’s all downhill from this bravado performance. Well, not all downhill, as it’s still a pretty readable chronicle of the lives of two bored, affluent people who willfully seek chaos and violence. But it feels very much like DeLillo is still warming up with this one.

    Cosmopolis
    A novel set entirely in a lavish limousine as its occupant is driven a short way through a traffic-jammed Manhattan on his way to a haircut might seem like a ludicrous premise for a novel, but if anyone could pull it off, DeLillo could. Unfortunately, he doesn’t quite make it work—it’s a tour de force of nihilism, but to what end?

    Ratner’s Star
    The last of DeLillo’s early 1970s works, this ambitious mess of a novel reads like DeLillo is aping Pynchon and not quite pulling it off. There are so many ideas and so many crazy tangents, the reading experience can be headache-inducing. If there are some seeds of the DeLillo To Come in there, generally speaking the next page will cover them over.

    Running Dog
    Like Players, which directly precedes it, Running Dog shows flashes of what’s to come. It’s a dreary novel about a journalist trying to track down a porn film starring none other than Adolph Hitler; one gets the feeling that, having had such a fantastic idea for a book, DeLillo just assumed whatever he came up with would be great.

    Amazons
    Co-written with Sue Burke and published under a pseudonym (DeLillo has never officially claimed it), this story of the first female to play for a pro hockey team sold well, and is often hilarious. But DeLillo has all but disowned it, and unless your curious enough to try to figure out why, consider it an appendix to his body of work.

    The Body Artist
    Published after Underworld, you get the feeling, reading this one, that DeLillo was exhausted, and maybe should have waited a bit longer before pushing out another book. Like a late-era Twin Peaks episode, it tells the story of a grieving widow who finds a strange man in her house who echoes conversations she had with her suicidal husband as she becomes increasingly disconnected from the world. Much as you will become increasingly disconnected from this novel.

    What’s your favorite Don DeLillo novel?

    The post Don DeLillo’s Novels, Ranked appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

     
  • Brian Boone 5:00 pm on 2018/01/04 Permalink
    Tags: , , , don delillo, , , , , , , , , , ,   

    6 Classic Books That Almost Had Completely Different Titles 

    Have you ever written a book? It’s very, very hard. Writers have to come up with thousands of perfect words and arrange them just so to create a thrilling and original narrative that also expresses their worldview via memorable and compelling characters. Doing all that requires a set of long-form expression skills, which is quite the opposite of coming up with a title—or encapsulating the entire novel into a handful of well-chosen words. A lot of writers can’t make a book and then also come up with a great title—the latter could and maybe should be up to editors and the marketing department. Here are some beloved classic novels whose authors nearly cursed with a terrible title. 

    Where the Wild Horses Are, by Maurice Sendak
    Where the Wild Things Are is a universally beloved childhood favorite. That’s probably because it’s a lot of fun, but also a little bit scary, and Maurice Sendak never coddles or placates the reader. The friendly monsters called “Wild Things” are so well and mysteriously named that its perplexing that Sendak only called the book what he did to solve a problem. He’d initially planned to write Where the Wild Horses Are. Except that when he sat down to illustrate, he had a really hard time drawing horses. Horses became “Things” and the book’s name changed, too.  

    Tomorrow is Another Day, by Margaret Mitchell
    Let’s get real: Gone with the Wind is a powerful, epic tale of war, love, self-respect, proto-feminism, and believing in onself…but it’s also a bit of a soap opera. As such, Margaret Mitchell nearly stuck her Pulitzer Prize-winning Civil War novel with a number of soapy titles, such as Tote the Weary Load, Bugles Sang True, and Not in Our Stars. Still, the book almost went to print under the name Tomorrow is Another Day…even though that’s a total spoiler for the book’s moving final line. Ultimately Mitchell found the best title from “Non sum qualis eram bonae sub regno Cynarae,” a poem by 19th century French poet Ernest Dowson. 

    Something That Happened, by John Steinbeck
    John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men is history’s second-best Great Depression novel, second only to Steinbeck’s The Grapes of WrathAs such, it’s a sad tale about desperate men doing desperate things, and Steinbeck reportedly wanted to make sure that the novel didn’t judge the characters one way or the other for the book’s violent conclusion. He tried to express that by going full objective journalism for the title, which is so nonjudgmental that it’s kind of hilarious. He changed his mind when he found some words that said the same thing, that humans are victims of fate, only more poetically. They were in a poem, in fact: Robert Burns’ “Of Mice and Men.” 

    The Last Man in Europe, by George Orwell
    Up until a few months before publication, Orwell was going to call, his novel about a future dystopian totalitarian state in which Big Brother was always watching The Last Man in Europe. At virtually the last minute, Orwell’s publishers asked him to come up something more commercial than what sounds like a book about the last human alive after a zombie apocalypse. His solution: the blunt, ominous far-off futuristic year in which the scary book took place: 1984.  

    Trimalchio in West Egg, by F. Scott Fitzgerald
    F. Scott Fitzgerald suggested many high-fallutin’ titles for what ultimately became The Great Gatsby, his book about the rise and fall of the personification of the American Dream in the Jazz Age. Under the Red, White, and Blue was a little too on the nose, as was Gold-Hatted Gatsby. The High-Bounding Lover was just a little-too-1920s. Fitzgerald also really wanted to call his book Trimalchio in West Egg. The latter part reflects the book’s setting; the first part is a literary reference to Trimalchio, a character who enjoys life in obscene excess in the 1st century Roman book The Satyricon. 

    Panasonic, by Don DeLillo
    DeLillo’s meditation on modern life and its many pollutants was titled Panasonic reportedly up to the last round of galleys. But then the Matsushita Corporation, which controlled the trademark of the well-known consumer electronics company, wouldn’t grant permission. So White Noise it was.

    What working titles of classic books are you glad were ultimately revised?

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  • Brian Boone 2:00 pm on 2017/08/07 Permalink
    Tags: alison lurie, casey lewis, don delillo, , dorm room essentials cookbook, , ethan trex, , , foreign affairs, free stuff guide for everyone, gina meyers, goodnight dorm room: all the advice I wish i got before going to college, harlan cohen, keith riegert, kingsley amix, knack dorm living, , , , on beauty, peter sander, , samuel kaplan, school daze, scott dikkers, , streeter seidell, the big u, the college humor guide to college, the idiot, the naked roommate, the pretty good jim's journal treasury, , , , wonder boys,   

    These 20 Books Are Absolute Dorm Room Essentials 

    So you’re headed off to college in the fall. Congratulations! It’s going to be both a lot of work and a tremendous karmic shift! You’ll be on your own, and also living in a very small dormitory room with a person who is, in all likelihood, a complete stranger. Regardless, books are both an escape and an olive branch—the books you’ll need to best understand, appreciate, and enhance the college-going experience.

    The Pretty Good Jim’s Journal Treasury, by Scott Dikkers
    Everyone who went to college remembers it as an exciting time of self-discovery, new friendships, and working really, really hard. We tend to forget about all of the downtime and boredom of college—class is only a few hours a day, after all. This is where the droll comic strip collection by Scott Dikkers, a founder of The Onion, traffics—a guy named Jim does all the boring, mundane stuff one does in college. Much of Dikkers’ “Jim’s Journal” (which ran in lots of college newspapers in the ’90s) concerned the protagonist’s low-stakes experience with higher education.

    Lucky Jim, by Kingsley Amis
    Countless authors, past and present, have also been college professors and academics. And as the old adage goes, you write what you know. The result is the subgenre of the campus novel, which details the unique experience of being in college, either for a few years or forever, including its unique politics, quirks, challenges, and maddening hypocrisies. Kingsley Amis’s Lucky Jim, published in 1954, is among the first major campus novels, and it’s a rightful classic of the genre, detailing the wryly humorous life of an academic who becomes a lecturer at an English university despite not really wanting the job.

    The Secret History, by Donna Tartt
    There are certain things in Donna Tartt’s breakout novel that are universal college experiences: arguing with professors to allow you to take their classes, finding your tribe of like-minded individuals, and looking up to the most charismatic students on campus.

    White Noise, by Don DeLillo
    Don DeLillo’s classic novel is told through the eyes of a contented professor and patriarch of a large, blended, technology-addicted family who leads a small northeastern college’s Hitler Studies program. While the themes of the novel deal with the omnipresence of chemicals in our food, air, and bodies, DeLillo also nails the day-to-day of college life, as well as how it feels to live in a university town, particularly how it’s both charmingly unchanging and always exciting due to the constant influx and outflux of new students and teachers.

    Free Stuff Guide for Everyone, by Peter Sander
    Almost everyone in college is poor. Tuition, books, and living expenses cost a lot of money, and 18-year-olds don’t have much of that, because they lack earning power due to being 18, not-yet-college-educated, and having to spend the majority of their time going to class and studying. To make it through with your health and happiness intact, you’re going to have to get a little scrappy and a little shameless and seek out deals and bargains wherever you can. A book like this one will clue you in to all sorts of free and discounted necessary items.

    Goodnight Dorm Room: All the Advice I Wish I Got Before Going to College, by Samuel Kaplan and Keith Riegert
    Not a parody of Goodnight, Moon, likely because the book Goodnight, Moon is larger than the average dorm room. Rather, this is a swift and funny advice guide to everything “they” won’t tell you about going to college. And it’s important stuff, too, from how to exploit the goodwill of TAs who want you to succeed, to what stuff you should definitely and not definitely bring with you to fill out your tiny, tiny dorm room.

    Dorm Room Essentials Cookbook, by Gina Meyers
    Man or woman cannot survive on cafeteria food and ramen alone. Also, most college dorms don’t allow hotplates. But you’ve gotta eat, and eat well, so you’ve got to get creative. This cookbook shows you how to use the tools at hand and affordable ingredients to prepare all kinds of snacks, meals, and desserts.

    Knack Dorm Living: Get the Room—and the Experience—You Want at College, by Casey Lewis
    That dorm room is small, but this book just might be a good investment of both limited space and money. Written by Lewis when she was a seen-it-all-in-college, done-it-all-in-college college senior, it’s full of easy-to-follow and crucial tips on what to take to college, what to buy when you get there, and how to effectively and efficiently organize what little time, space, and money you’ve got.

    The Naked Roommate: And 107 Other Issues You Might Run Into in College, by Harlan Cohen
    Not only are dorm rooms small, but they have to be shared with another person, who could not only be a stranger, but also literally quite strange. (Hence the title.) Cohen’s book offers pre-emptive advice on all sorts of challenges a naive, inexperienced-to-the-ways-of-the-world college freshman may experience, such as the times when it’s okay to shoot for a C, how to find a campus job, and how to navigate both long-term relationships and more “temporary” ones.

    The College Humor Guide to College, by Ethan Trex and Streeter Seidell
    Nobody these days does college humor better than, uh, College Humor. The comedy website publishes all manner of silly videos and ridiculous articles about the absurd notion of being a young person alive in the world, feeling their way around with almost zero preparation. In many ways, this droll parody of college prep books feels a lot more realistic than the real ones do. This is a good one to have in college if only as a way to share it with others and knowingly laugh at the relatable parts.

    A guidebook about the city where the college is located
    For many, college is the first time to be out there on one’s own. It’s tempting and perfectly acceptable to just kick around campus and the surrounding neighborhoods—there’s certainly plenty for freshmen to do and explore. Or, you can mingle with the townies and check out a bit more of the area that surrounds the college. Getting out there and trying new things is what college is all about, but with a safety net, which is what a guidebook about that college town totally is. It’s a guidebook to fun and adventure!

    Fangirl, by Rainbow Rowell
    College isn’t all partying and making new BFFs. At least not for everybody. This marvelous novel by the author of Eleanor & Park is about the difficult segue from teenhood to college life. It’s about a University of Nebraska freshman named Cath with social anxiety disorder, which precludes a social butterfly life and encourages her to stay at home writing fan fiction about a boy wizard…until she realizes that college is the best place to exercise and hone her writing skills.

    On Beauty, by Zadie Smith
    Having a Zadie Smith book on your dorm room’s sole shelf is a great conversation starter, and it’s a clue to others about how cool you are, because you’ve read Zadie Smith. The novel itself is an enlightening look at college—it touches on sexual, identity, and class issues, as well as how professors aren’t always the sage geniuses one would assume they are. It’s also a college-level text, as On Beauty was inspired by the structure and some of the plot points of E.M. Forster’s Howard’s End.

    Wonder Boys, by Michael Chabon
    It’s set in Pittsburgh, as is usually the case with Chabon’s novels, which is a beautiful and perfect college town. That’s just one of the blessings protagonist Grady Tripp takes for granted. He’s essentially a lost college freshman, but all grown up: He’s an established writer and college professor, he smokes too much marijuana, is having relationship trouble, he’s got writer’s block so bad he can’t finish his next book, and he’s just a little bit jealous of the young talent coming up behind him. Chabon’s prose is crackling, and he’s a great place to start in the world of “grown-up” fiction.

    Joe College, by Tom Perrotta
    Ah, the joys of working your way through college. In this dark and yet surprisingly optimistic book from the author of Election and The Leftovers, a Yale student named Danny doesn’t get to go on a debauched Spring Break trip with his friends: He’s stuck driving his dad’s lunch truck in New Jersey. That’s a plot device to get the reader into Danny’s head, where lots of college issues humorously and dramatically wrestle for attention.

    Foreign Affairs, by Alison Lurie
    Time for the semester abroad! Well, at least it is for the two American professors at the heart of this charming, Pulitzer Prize winning campus novel-meets-fish-out-water tale. Vinnie leaves his Ivy League environs to study playground rhymes and winds up in a family tree-tracing project. Fred, meanwhile, abandons his studies of English poetry to pal around with an esteemed actress.

    The Idiot, by Elif Batuman
    This almost stream-of-consciousness novel is told from the point-of-view of a Turkish-American freshman from New Jersey who is extremely happy to be away from her dull home life and attending the glorious Harvard University. This one shows how overwhelming college and all of its assorted social and academic entanglements can be. But, you know, in a good way.

    The Big U, by Neal Stephenson
    No matter how complicated and overwhelming college life gets, it could always be worse. This first novel from sci-fi icon Neal Stephenson demonstrates that. It’s about a Remote Sensing professor named Bud who works at American Megaversity, an eight-tower complex which pretty much makes the college a bubbled world unto itself. Hey, that’s like real college, only real college has way fewer electromagnetic weapons and radioactive rats.

    A second copy of what you’re currently reading
    Talk about an icebreaker. “Hey, what’s that you’re reading,” a roommate, hallmate, classmate, or random person in “the Quad” asks. You tell them, you show them, you lend them your copy because it’s so good. Boom, friends for life.

    A copy of your favorite book from childhood
    For when you’re homesick.

    What books should every college student read?

    The post These 20 Books Are Absolute Dorm Room Essentials appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

     
  • Brian Boone 7:00 pm on 2016/05/25 Permalink
    Tags: americana, , , don delillo, , the futuuuure,   

    4 Times Don DeLillo Predicted the Future 

    Most of us would consider Don DeLillo to be among the Great American Novelists, the author of towering works of classic, cerebral, (but approachable) American-flavored fiction such as White Noise and Underworld. And now, with his cryonics-themed new novel Zero K, DeLillo goes all-in on science fiction. But he’s actually been doing it for years. Good sci-fi—or speculative fiction, the more descriptive umbrella title purveyors of the genre prefer—attempts to depict the future based on where humanity seems to be headed at the time of writing. By that definition, that’s DeLillo. He’s uncannily nailed the future many times before, particularly in the four novels below.

    White Noise (1985)
    A recurring motif in White Noise is media saturation. Jack Gladney and his large, blended family (which also are more common today than in 1985), always have at least two televisions blaring somewhere in their house, transfixing children and adults alike. DeLillo writes, “For most people there are only two places in the world. Where they live and their TV set. If a thing happens on television, we have every right to find it fascinating, whatever it is.” This passage also demonstrates how technology has made the world smaller…by choking it with information. “What good is knowledge if it just floats in the air? It goes from computer to computer. It changes and grows every second of the day. But nobody actually knows anything.” In that quote, DeLillo has predicted both the rise of the Internet and online culture.

    Another main theme of the novel is an increased awareness and fear of “toxic” products in daily life, far before that was a commonplace worry. (There’s a chemical leak in the novel, or as DeLillo calls it, an “Airborne Toxic Event”—a phrase which has made its way into the vernacular.) This fear that pollution and toxins are omnipresent preceded the present-day “green” movement by decades.

    Mao II (1991)
    In Mao II DeLillo contrasts isolation (one character is a reclusive writer, another is homeless) with crowds (terrorists, angry mobs). DeLillo calls his shot in the last line of the prologue: “The future belongs to crowds.” And the future, or rather the present, does. In spite of, or maybe because of, the lonely Internet culture DeLillo suggested in White Noise, culture is in the midst of a new kind of tribalism. Crowds are a very alluring way to connect with something bigger, or something important, like the righteous and dedicated groups in Mao II. DeLillo’s novel shows crowds of homeless people living in parks, a gigantic sea of mourners at a funeral, and a mass wedding at a baseball stadium. Today we’ve got “crowdsourcing,” “crowd funding,” social media, massive protests, and massive grassroots campaigns for perceived political outsiders. Over twenty years ago, DeLillo saw this coming.

    Cosmopolis (2003)
    Cosmopolis unfolds over the course of one day, primarily through the lens of one character. Eric Packer, a young hedge fund manager, rides in the back of an absurdly well-appointed limo through Manhattan on route to a haircut. He’s delayed by a traffic jams owing to a presidential motorcade and an anti-Wall Street riot. By the end of the novel, Packer has lost billions when the foreign money markets crumble. Wall Street protestors? Financial meltdown? Those things happened for real in 2008 and 2009—DeLillo just got the order of the two things reversed.

    Americana (1971)
    DeLillo’s first novel concerns TV executive David Bell, who helps produce tone-deaf documentaries about indigenous peoples. David and his cohorts find ways to make their productions as easy as possible, caring less about the truth and more about whether it makes for good TV or not. Eventually growing disenchanted, David leaves his corporate job behind to hit the road and make a documentary about the experience. Once more, he learns how easy it is to manipulative the truth of nonfiction film in favor of artificially constructing a more palatable, more commercial story. In other words, DeLillo’s 1971 novel is about…reality television.

    What is your favorite DeLillo novel?

     
  • Jenny Shank 3:00 pm on 2015/09/18 Permalink
    Tags: , don delillo, falling man, favorite authors, libra, , , , , zero k   

    Where to Start Guide: Don DeLillo 

    The National Book Foundation has announced that Don DeLillo will receive its 2015 Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters at the National Book Awards on November 18. Previous recipients of this lifetime achievement award include Philip Roth, Arthur Miller, Ray Bradbury, and Toni Morrison. This means it’s the perfect time to dig into DeLillo’s fiction and discover what the fuss is all about. DeLillo has published 16 novels and is set to release a new one, Zero K, in May.

    I first discovered DeLillo’s work when I read his story “The Angel Esmeralda” in the Best American Short Stories 1995. Fascinated by this tale of nuns trying to save a neglected girl in the South Bronx and a miracle that ensued, I took a deep dive into DeLillo’s works. The first thing that drew me to DeLillo was the sheer inventiveness and beauty of his prose—he dazzles at putting two words together in a way they haven’t been put together before. However, it was his singular vision of America, including his ruminations on fame, crowds, academia, and the American dream, that kept me reading deep into his catalogue. If you’re a first time reader of DeLillo, these are my top picks from his works that just might turn you into a super fan.

    White Noise 
    One of my favorite aspects of DeLillo’s writing is the way he investigates completely different subcultures with each book, from football (1972’s End Zone), to rock music (1973’s Great Jones Street), to math prodigies (1976’s Ratner’s Star). With his 1985 National Book Award winner White Noise, DeLillo delivered his take on the campus novel, set at a Midwest institution called The-College-on-the-Hill, and starring Jack Gladney, a professor of Hitler Studies who has been married five times to four different women. DeLillo’s riffs on consumerism, mortality, and the modern family are not to be missed. This is probably DeLillo’s funniest book, and it’s the title that won him both a wide audience and a position as the prime exemplar of “postmodern literature.”

    Libra
    One of the defining moments of the American experience in the 20th century was the assassination of John F. Kennedy, and DeLillo investigates this horrific event through his fictionalized account of the life of Lee Harvey Oswald in 1988’s Libra. DeLillo portrays Oswald not as a monster but as a deeply flawed man, driven to extreme actions by the pressures of his life and frailties of his mental health.

    Mao II
    DeLillo’s tenth novel, Mao II, concerns a reclusive novelist named Bill Gray. DeLillo himself is moderately reclusive. In his early years he shied away from interviews and accepted his National Book Award with the statement: “I’m sorry I couldn’t be here tonight, but I thank you all for coming,” instead of a speech. In Mao II, Bill Gray believes he’s living in a time when terrorism, instead of art, has become the dominant force in the culture, and DeLillo presciently writes, “Beckett is the last writer to shape the way we think and see. After him, the major work involves midair explosions and crumbled buildings. This is the new tragic narrative.” Mao II won the 1992 PEN/Faulkner Award.

    Underworld
    Now that you’ve warmed up on some of DeLillo’s early novels, it’s time to tackle his magnum opus, Underworld, a book I flat-out loved, despite the fact that it contains plenty of loose ends and wild goose chases as it covers a huge swath of American history, from the 1950s to the 1990s. The opening fifty or so pages was previously published as the novella Pafko at the Wall, and it’s the finest baseball writing I’ve ever read, harkening back to a time when America believed in its innocence, despite the dark threads that were already woven through its history.

    Falling Man
    As a reader smitten with DeLillo’s expansive style, his change in direction toward shorter minimalist works that began with The Body Artist in 2001 was a bit of a shock to me. But now that I’ve read several of DeLillo’s spare recent works, I appreciate that he was nimble enough to reinvent his style late in his career. When you consider DeLillo’s body of work, he’s long been concerned with acts of terrorism, which makes it only natural that he would weigh in on the 9-11 attacks, as he does in 2007’s Falling Man.

    Will Zero K continue DeLillo’s minimalist mode or find him back in loose, baggy monster territory? DeLillo fans are on the edges of our seats as we wait to find out.

     
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