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  • Brian Boone 8:30 pm on 2017/08/28 Permalink
    Tags: teen books, the essentials, ,   

    50 of the Most Essential High School Stories 

    High school is a near-universal experience to which we can all relate. It’s also a complicated, messy time in life in which one grows from the end of childhood to the cusp of adulthood, so there’s a lot of feelings to unpack. The result is that hundreds of books have been written about high school…but these are the 50 most essential, the ones who really get it right and have something to say.

    Eleanor and Park, by Rainbow Rowell
    Rainbow Rowell’s first YA novel is set in Omaha, Nebraska, in the mid-1980s, where neither really fit in: Eleanor is a misfit redhead, and Park is half-Korean. Their romance blossoms over the pop culture they love, specifically comic books and mix tapes. Rowell adroitly addresses the deep psychological baggage both have, never dismissing it as mere “teenage” drama.

    The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky
    So much of high school is about hanging out with friends: there’s a lot of time to kill, and maybe you don’t want to go home, so you just sort of drive around and do stuff. This is where Chbosky’s book shines—those quiet moments of sitting around and making profound connections with your friends. It’s about putting yourself out there, not to be popular, but to make just one or two friendships that will matter and last.

    Me, Earl, and the Dying Girl, by Jesse Lewis
    This is a book about the deep love between a boy and a girl…and it’s not a romance. Greg wants only to stay completely neutral in high school, and avoid anyone getting mad at him; he just wants to make films with his best friend, Earl. He’s forced to address reality, emotions, and his own hidden humanity when a childhood friend develops cancer, and he becomes her official companion in her haunting final days.

    Drama, by Raina Telgemeier
    It’s not the class discussions and classes about high school that socialize us, it’s the activities. Those clubs where kids are free to find their tribe, or tribes, and bounce around with little to no consequence or commitment? They’re where we find people like us at a time when we might feel awkward and alone. This is particularly true with drama club, a beacon to so many teens outside the mainstream who want to make art. Telgemeier’s graphic novel encapsulates all that, plus the nostalgic backstage feelings that bond kids and actors for life.

    Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, by J.K. Rowling
    There are seven Harry Potter novels, of course, but this is the one packed with the most excruciatingly relatable teenage problems and growing pains. Harry, Ron, and Hermione start acting like moody adolescents and as they wade into the dating pool, and Harry and Ron realize for the first time that Hermione is a girl. And then there’s the Yule Ball. While Hermione goes with a Quidditch star, Harry and Ron can’t get the dates they want and end up sulking on the sidelines. It’s a whole new take on our favorite magical trio.

    The Outsiders, by S.E. Hinton
    Who knows teens better than a teen knows teens? Amazingly, S.E. Hinton was just 19 years old when she wrote this sad, violent, humanity-steeped story about the roughneck gang-like Greasers and the preppy, jerky Socs they have to deal with at school. It feels intense and realistic, like a more richly imaginedWest Side Story set against the rural backdrop of small-town Oklaoma.

    Will Grayson, Will Grayson, by John Green and David Levithan
    John Green and David Levithan joined forces on this, the alternating stories of two boys named Will Grayson. Eventually their stories merge, following a wild night starring the two Wills and one’s best friend, Tiny, who stages a musical about his own life and is dating the other Will Grayson, a shy kid struggling with his sexuality.

    Carrie, by Stephen King
    Stephen King brilliantly takes those feelings of being unsure about the insane, random, rapid changes our bodies go through in adolescence, and renders them terrifying. Carrie is about a young woman discovering her own self, trying to put parental control aside, and dealing with weird body stuff. She’s doused with blood by the end, of course, and a body count ensues, but hey, that’s just a metaphor for adolescence.

    Ghost World, by Daniel Clowes
    Plenty of artistic projects have given us a view of high school from the outsider’s perspective—perhaps because writers are often outsiders, and you write what you know. But Daniel Clowes’ sad, quiet, darkly hilarious Ghost World, and its main character Enid Coleslaw, offer a special kind of otherness: a sophisticated alienation. Enid is far wiser, funnier, and brutally critical of the world around her than her peers, and the reader can tell she’s been withering on the vine trapped in high school. Then she graduates into a world in which she’s still alienated, but even more anonymous.

    Blankets, by Craig Thompson
    A lot of high school kids have a super-religious phase, as spirituality offers a lot of answers—or at least comfort—in a very tumultuous time. Craig Thompson’s beautiful, heartbreaking graphic novel is about a devoutly religious teen’s difficulties in balancing his spiritual life with a budding long-distance romance, and his ever-increasing spiritual doubts.

    DC Trip, by Sara Benincasa
    The big “educational” overnight trip to Philadelphia, Colonial Williamsburg, or Washington, D.C., is a watershed moment on the level of prom to millions of high school kids each year. It gives them a chance to cut loose and feel free and independent for the first time without parental supervision; because, let’s be honest, the chaperones are merely ceremonial. Or, as is demonstrated in Benincasa’s hilarious look at a class trip to D.C., the teachers along for the ride are too busy sowing their wild oats, too.

    Before I Fall, by Lauren Oliver
    A teenage girl keeps living the same day over and over—a seemingly typical day of high school drama and boredom, except that she dies at the end, and has to keep living the day over and over until she gets it “right,” from repairing familial relationships to making amends for the girl whose life she and her clique make miserable. It’s Groundhog Day with higher stakes, and, you know, terrifying.

    The Rest of Us Just Live Here, by Patrick Ness
    While some kids in his seemingly normal high school are after a very important object of great power called the “Immortal Crux,” Mikey just wants to graduate, get with the girl he likes, and deal with his family’s problems. This book explores how a supernatural YA book might read if retold from the perspective of some random Hufflepuff.

    The Pigman, by Paul Zindel
    The Pigman is among the first ever “young adult” novels, in that it’s literature both about and for those in between people called teenagers. Themes that would come to define YA are present in The Pigman, too: teens questioning the grownup world, their values and struggle to create their own identity without killing their hearts. The action of the book concerns two high schoolers, John and Lorraine, who take turns reporting their experiences with a misunderstood old man named Mr. Pignati.

    The Virgin Suicides, by Jeffrey Eugenides
    Even more dreamy and sad than Sofia Coppola’s 2000 film adaptation, Eugenides’ first novel is brainy, beguiling, and mysterious. Set in tony Grosse Pointe, Michigan, in the 1970s, it’s the rare period piece that isn’t really about the period or at all nostalgic. It’s told from the point of view of several teenage boys trying to understand why their classmates, the five Lisbon sisters, all took their own lives.

    All the Bright Places, by Jennifer Niven
    So many YA novels are about escape, because being a teenager is about escaping: escaping high school, escaping the hometown, escaping family, escaping problems. In All the Bright Places, even Violent and Theodore’s not-so-cute meet-cute involves escape: It happens in the school bell tower, where both are poised to commit suicide. Instead, an unlikely and profound friendship/romance develops out of a need for human connection, both with each other and the world at large.

    Boy Proof, by Cecil Castelluci
    Victoria loves science fiction, particularly a movie called Terminal Earth. She models her life after the film’s protagonist, Egg, to the degree that she adopts the name. She’s also the kind of girl who wears a homemade cloak to school and doesn’t care that she’s going to get teased for it. She’s doing her own thing, and she doesn’t want to do it any other way. So much so that when a new boy moves to town who actually likes and understands Egg and where she’s coming from…she just might crack.

    Lies We Tell Ourselves, by Robin Talley
    Lies We Tell Ourselves is set in a just-segregated high school in 1959 Virginia, in the midst of the Civil Rights movement. This remarkable, character-driven drama (and love story), set against a volatile historical backdrop, follows an African American honors student attending a previously all-white school, who’s assigned to work on a school project with the daughter of the town’s leading segregationist.

    Avalon High, by Meg Cabot
    Harry Potter inspired a whole mini-genre of books set in a high school for “special” kids: demigods, vampires, monsters. So whatever happened to good old-fashioned allegory? It’s alive and well in books like the Avalon High series. It’s set in a Maryland high school full of teen archetypes and stereotypes, except each character correlates to someone from the English legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table.

    The Reluctant Journal of Henry K. Larsen, by Susin Nielsen
    The diary format works so well for high school stories because it feels immediate, intimate, and authentic. That approach is needed for the gut-punch of Henry K. Larsen. It’s so many different books: a kid-at-a-new-school book, a survivor book, an issues book. Henry is forced to move and go to a new school after his brother is so mercilessly teased that he unleashes his anger and pain with a school shooting.

    The Chocolate War, by Robert Cormier
    Being in high school is an almost constant conflict between seeking out the comfort of fitting in, and the difficulty of finding and being one’s true self. Robert Cormier’s classic novel is about that, but within the strict confines of a Catholic school. Jerry is a new student who refuses to fall in line with the school’s methods for keeping order, in which the entire student body is complicit. Jerry must exhibit bravery beyond his years to stand up to the mob.

    Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, by Becky Albertalli
    Sixteen-year-old Simon is a closeted gay teenager happily disappearing into the theater department…until he leaves his email account open on a school computer, and wisecracking classmate Martin discovers a romantic thread of emails between Simon and a boy known only as “Blue.” Martin blackmails Simon into helping him get closer to a girl he likes, and Simon contemplates what coming out might mean.

    Forever, by Judy Blume
    Queen Judy, mistress of the middle-grade novel, was not a one-trick pony. She wrote respectful, realistic literature for kids of almost every age. Forever is one of her classics, dealing with the sensitive, agonizing subjects of young love…and sex. Katherine meets Michael, falls in love, and embarks on a sexual relationship with him, in a story that evokes all the excitement and tenderness of a budding relationship.

    Looking for Alaska, by John Green
    Green has a gift for writing about the teenage experience in incredibly relatable ways. Throughout his work, Green is most adept at describing the sparkling, tingly feelings of teenage crushes bordering on love. In this semi-autobiographical novel, a guy trades his regular life for one at boarding school. He finds the crackling existence he wanted, due in no small part to the enchanting but deeply troubled Alaska Young.

    Anna and the French Kiss, by Stephanie Perkins
    There are so many great romantic comedy movie tropes here, scaled down into high-school life. A high school senior named Anna is about to make things official with a nice guy, until she’s sent to boarding school in Paris. Things in Paris are, of course, marvelous, and she meets a delightful French boy named Etienne—only he’s taken. That’s just one of the many romantic entanglements in this fun and frothy take on high school heart-stuff.

    Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging, by Louise Rennison
    High school life isn’t that much different for British kids, unless you count the grade names. Georgia leads a proudly messy life, as she and her best friend Jas spy on boys they like and try to compete with older, more provocative girls for attention and affection. A charming novel that captures the intensity of high school–era relationships, from those indelible best friend connections to “true love.”

    Boy Meets Boy, by David Levithan
    Levithan’s novel is about a time much like our own, only more progressive in terms of issues of sexual identity. It’s set in a small New Jersey town where homosexual, bisexual, and transgender teens have been completely normalized.  This is the setup for a sweet, romantic connection between Paul, a high-school sophomore, and Noah, the handsome, green-eyed new kid in town who’s a little reluctant to fall in love since he last got burned.

    Hey Nostradamus!, by Douglas Coupland
    With modern classics like Generation X and Girlfriend in a Coma, Coupland has given voice to the disaffected and those going through the motions of a hollow modern existence. In Hey, Nostradamus, he writes about high school students who feel the same way, and the desperate measures they take to change things. The story is told in tandem by four disparate characters, including a secretly pregnant and married girl, on what will ultimately be the most tragic day of all of their lives.

    Carry the Sky, by Kate Gray
    A book about high school doesn’t have to be about the kids, you know. There are lots of teachers working in those classrooms, and to hear stories from their points of view is fascinating. Carry the Sky is about a fancy boarding school in 1983 Delaware, where physics teacher Jack and rowing coach Taylor work. The teachers are linked by personal tragedies, but must overcome or put their overwhelming grief to the side in order to help their ill-equipped students deal with the terrible things happening in their lives.

    Prep, by Curtis Sittenfeld
    What is it about boarding schools that make them so interesting to those of us who didn’t attend them? Is it simply that they seem an exotic walled world, or are they a merely an esteemed-if-classist relic of the past somehow surviving into today? Set at an elite East Coast prep school, Prep follows Lee, a Midwestern scholarship student and audience surrogate who must navigate the intricate politics and social system of the old school and its old money, all the while pulling further and further away from her parents.

    Special Topics in Calamity Physics, by Marisha Pessl
    Pessl’s debut is presented like a syllabus, each chapter title alluding to a classic work. The plot: deadpan genius Blue van Meer, the perennial new kid in town owing to her father’s peripatetic ways, has all the advanced knowledge and study skills necessary to succeed at a prestigious private school, but lacks the pro-level social skills necessary to launch herself socially. But when she catches the eye of a charismatic, beautiful teacher—one we learn, in the book’s earliest pages, will not survive—her life radically changes.

    Moonhead and the Music Machine, by Andrew Rae
    In this graphic novel‚ Joey Moonhead has an actual moon for a head; when he loses interest or attention, it floats away. As can be expected, Joey Moonhead is heavily teased, but he at least wins a friend in Ghost Boy, so named because he’s “invisible” at school, concealed under a white, ghostlike sheet. And if all goes well, Joey just might rock the talent show and win the school over by playing an awesome instrument of his own invention.

    Acceptance, by Susan Coll
    High school isn’t all cliques, romantic drama, and finding one’s true identity—it’s also about the stress and anticipation of what comes next. Acceptance is an amusing look at those high school kids who are already overachieving and burning out before they’ve even left home. Focusing on three juniors and their college admissions counselor, the book follows their trudge through SAT prep courses, AP classes, AP exams, college essay writing…

    What Happened to Goodbye, by Sarah Dessen
    Mclean Sweet is a teenager who wants to be somebody new, so she creates a new identity every time she has to move to a new town for her father’s work. As many do in high school, she has tried on a few different personas and goes all in each time, be her new style goth, peppy preppy, or student government go-getter. What Happened to Goodbye finds her moving to yet another new place and testing out her most risky personality choice yet: her real one.

    Firecracker, by David Iserson
    In this very funny novel by Iserson, a writer for New Girl and Saturday Night Live, entitled rich girl Astrid is a little too smart and conniving for her own good. She gets kicked out of school after being betrayed by somebody, and she’s determined to find out who did it, even with the newfound distractions of public school and a potential love interest.

    A Separate Peace, by John Knowles
    Knowles semi-fictionalized his experiences attending Exeter to create this classic, tragic coming-of-age tale about boys in a Northeastern boarding school during World War II. Narrator Gene is roommates with his good-hearted but ill-fated friend, Finny, of whom he is also supremely jealous. They take part in a tree-jumping club, which leads to Finny breaking his leg. Bad things continue to happen to Finny, for which Gene feels both guilt and, for the first time in his life, the emptiness of loss. Readers will grow up a little alongside Gene.

    Whale Talk, by Chris Crutcher
    As a direct challenge to and comment on his school’s elite sports program, varsity jacket–coveting T.J. Jones puts together his own ragtag, super-inclusive swim team. Never mind that only one of them can even swim very well, and that they don’t actually have a swimming pool at their school. Like the characters themselves, Whale Talk has a lot of heart.

    The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie
    Fourteen-year-old Arnold Spirit, Jr., lives on the Spokane Indian Reservation in Washington state. He’s witty and a gifted artist, but suffers from a stutter, a lisp, and, subsequently, a good deal of bullying, both physical and verbal. He decides to break out of his life as a target by using his smarts to gain entrance to a predominantly wealthy, white school off the reservation, which changes his life in more ways than anticipated.

    Speak, by Laurie Halse Anderson
    At a high school party the summer before her freshman year, Melinda is raped, calls the police, but runs away before telling them—or the other kids—why she made the call. From that point forth, Melinda is an outcast, a victim of the shocking cruelty her classmates are capable of. This book is a demonstration of how even high school politics can override decency and justice.

    Every Day, by David Levithan
    Each morning, a conscious being known only as A wakes up in a new body, and must live the life of whoever’s body it is. A abides by a policy of doing no harm, until they wake up in the body of a teenager named Justin, and instantly fall in love with Justin’s girlfriend, Rhiannon. A keeps switching bodies, of course, and plotting how they can somehow find themselves together with Rhiannon again. It’s a wildly imaginative, experimental novel about the transcendent power of love.

    Election, by Tom Perrotta
    This cutting satire of high-school archetypes, stereotypes, and politics centers on a student-body election. Running for office are Tracy Flick, driven overachiever, and Paul Warren, popular football hero persuaded by a teacher to run simply to stop Tracy Flick. Messing things up for everybody is Tammy, Paul’s rebellious, outspoken sister, who decides to run, too. Perrotta clearly cribbed from the zaniness of the 1992 Clinton-Bush-Perot presidential election.

    To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, by Jenny Han
    This book has been presented and marketed as a romantic coming-of-age comic novel, but it’s actually a horror novel. It’s about a girl overcome by undying, all-encompassing crushes that feel like love. Lara Jean Song processes these feelings by writing long, intricate, intimate love letters to the objects of her affection, keeping them in a hatbox instead of sending them. So what’s so bad about that? Somebody takes the letters and mails them, leaving her to deal with the fallout.

    Stargirl, by Jerry Spinelli
    Everyone remembers the “weird kid” in high school (or maybe they were the weird kid), the one who didn’t care about fitting in, like everyone else seemed to. What makes them so special, anyway? Are they faking it? Not Stargirl, as she chooses to call herself, at least for awhile. She’s a charming eccentric who’s already got it all figured out, and she likes the quirky clothes she wears, playing the ukulele for strangers, and carting around a pet rat. It’s when she starts worrying about what other people think that the trouble begins.

    Literally, by Lucy Keating
    Literally is a meta, mind-bending book about a practically-perfect-in-every-way girl named Annabelle whose life gets a little confusing when she finds out acclaimed YA author Lucy Keating—as in the author of Literally, the book we’re talking about right now—is writing a book centered on Annabelle. It would seem everything Annabelle knows about her life is wrong, as she’s merely the creation of an author, and may not quite have the free will she thinks she does in this novel that’s stranger than fiction.

    The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas
    The Hate U Give is both a literal look at the tough issues some teens face at an age when they should be sheltered from life and death concerns, and an exploration of being torn between powerful and opposite forces. Starr is 16 and lives in a rough neighborhood, but attends a private, predominantly white school far, far away in the suburbs. Her standing in both worlds is threatened after she witnesses a police officer shoot her childhood friend.

    Lock & Key, by Sarah Dessen
    Ruby feels awkward and out of place, but she has a right: she’s a fish-out-of-water several times over. After being abandoned by her mother, she’s sent to live with the rich sister she barely knows, and to navigate a new world. She must learn the fine art of self-reliance while also accepting help when it’s needed.

    Dare Me, by Megan Abbott
    Here’s a book that’s sympathetic to the cheerleaders and mean girls. Dare Me both humanizes and subverts the typical way cheerleaders are written in teen stories, in which they’re almost always the villains, ruling the school with fear and bullying. That seems to have worked just fine for varsity cheerleaders Addy and Beth in the past, until a new coach divides, conquers, and unites them again, even as the police get involved in some very bad, bad things.

    Thirteen Reasons Why, by Jay Asher
    A high school boy named Clay comes home one day to find a package on his porch filled his cassettes made by a girl named Hannah—an acquaintance and former crush object who recently took her own life. The tapes detail exactly how Hannah arrived at the decision to commit suicide. Clay comes to understand a girl he knew only on a superficial level much more deeply, albeit far too late.

    Twisted, by Laurie Halse Anderson
    Tyler was average in every way, and he was fine with it. Until he does something not-so-average: graffitis the school, gets busted, and has to spend the summer doing physical labor to pay his debt. By the fall, he’s buff and earning attention from girls for the first time. But, while Tyler seems to be becoming a man, he may not be quite ready.

    Slave Day, by Rob Thomas
    Before bringing series like Veronica Mars and iZombie to television, Thomas was a YA author. Slave Day is set in Texas’s Robert E. Lee High school, and centers on a very loaded school activity in which students and faculty auction themselves off as “slaves” to raise money for a dance. Things threaten to come to a head between those who are angered by the practice and those who insist it’s good clean fun.

    The post 50 of the Most Essential High School Stories appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

  • Jeff Somers 7:15 pm on 2017/08/02 Permalink
    Tags: , the essentials   

    45 Novels Written In the 19th Century That Deserve a Place on the Modern Bookshelf 

    When discussing novels to read, there’s always a focus on the new and the upcoming. New is always exciting, the idea that you’re going to encounter something you’ve never seen before. But if you haven’t read older books, they’re new to you, which is more or less the same thing—and when it comes to novels, new is certainly not always better.

    The fifty books on this list were all published more than a hundred years ago, and yet remain fresh and exhilarating reads. There’s a temptation, of course, to mutter the names Dickens, Tolstoy, and Twain and assume you’ve covered the 19th century—but a deeper dive proves the novel was alive and well in the 1800s.

    The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain
    You really can’t discuss 19th-century American literature without discussion of Twain and his two most enduring works. Still controversial more than a century after publication, both novels remain hilarious examples of Americana while carrying potent social commentary, especially concerning race in America—commentary that is still, sadly, applicable. Twain’s skill in couching serious criticisms of the world he lived in within an entertaining and engrossing adventure remains unparalleled in American literature.

    The Last of the Mohicans, by James Fenimore Cooper
    Considering how much Twain disliked Cooper’s writing (devoting an entire essay to the subject of Cooper’s “offenses”), it’s fitting to follow Twain on this list with The Last of the Mohicans, chronologically a sequel to Cooper’s The Deerslayer. Often cited as the first truly successful American novel, set during the French and Indian War, it continues the story of Natty Bumppo’s adventures and is often seen as an allegory for the rise of America itself, as both a country and a symbol.

    Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott
    It seems strange today, but the concept of “childhood” as a separate and distinct period of life is pretty recent. Of course, the odds of surviving childhood have greatly improved fairly recently, too, so it’s not entirely surprising. Alcott’s Little Women is one of the earliest books to have all the features of young adult fiction: a focus on youthful characters and their struggles, a story that presents an idyllic starting point that becomes complicated by adult concerns, and a realistic approach to the concerns of youth. It’s easy to see the seeds of the genre in this wonderful book.

    McTeague, by Frank Norris
    It’s usually Norris’s later novel The Octopus that people are familiar with, but his debut is the more satisfying read. It’s a grim story of a romance soured by financial pressures and dreams deferred, descending rather alarmingly into insanity and murder. It’s an evergreen story; anyone who has ever bickered over money with a loved one will see themselves in it.

    The Scarlet Letter, by Nathaniel Hawthorne
    One of the most complex novels ever written, dealing subtly with issues of sin, justice, shame, and religion, this is one of those novels that many people encounter first in school. The tragic and thoughtful story of a 17th-century New England woman named Hester Prynne who is sentenced to wear a red letter “A” after being convicted of adultery, it uses its seemingly obvious symbolism to incredible effect, exploring life in America in ways that applied to both the 19th century when it was published as well as today.

    The Red Badge of Courage, by Stephen Crane
    Many books have explored the true terror and dread of combat, but one of the first and most powerful to subvert the cliché of glorious warfare is Crane’s 1895 masterwork. What makes it so interesting is it explores the subject without succumbing to the temptation to become an anti-war screed, presenting the protagonist, Henry, as a young man who dreamed of glory but finds his first experience in combat to be terrifying. After fleeing the battlefield, he returns to his regiment seeking the “Red Badge of Courage”—that is, a wound—and behaves more bravely, only to discover his whole unit is considered expendable. Crane manages to make Henry’s inner struggle a noble one without undercutting the inhumanity of warfare.

    Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen
    Pride and Prejudice remains so powerful a template for romance fiction that it’s still used as the inspiration for new novels, films, and more to this day. The tale of vivacious Elizabeth Bennet and her unwitting ensnaring of proud, rich Mr. Darcy has launched a million first-date conversations, and contains multiple speeches and lines of dialogue worth memorizing. You could (and people have) rewrite this book today with modern slang and language and sell millions of copies.

    The Portrait of a Lady, by Henry James
    The essential irony of a young woman who revels in her independence losing that freedom because she inherits great wealth drives this classic novel. That Isabel Archer faces the consequences of her decisions even though they take her further and further away from her desires makes her one of the most interesting characters in American literature.

    Moby-Dick, by Herman Melville
    Moby-Dick has the distinction of being perhaps the most well-known novel no one has read. Its reputation for 19th-century density and complex language makes it fearsome. The trick to Moby-Dick? It is hilarious. There are more dirty jokes in this book than you can shake your peg-leg at (see what we did there), and the whaling stuff? Absolutely thrilling, once you get used to the rhythm of the language.

    The Turn of the Screw, by Henry James
    More than a century after its initial publication, no one totally agrees on what actually happens in this brilliant short novel. A young governess is hired to care for two children on an isolated estate, ordered by their uncle not to bother him in any way. She comes to have great affection for the children, especially young Miles, who has been mysteriously expelled from his boarding school. She begins to see two mysterious figures, a man and a woman, and learns that her predecessor and another employee were lovers and are both now dead; she becomes disturbed because no one else seems to notice the pair. Here we are a hundred years later and no one is entirely certain whether this is a ghost story, the story of a woman going insane—or both.

    Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll
    Lewis Carroll’s nonsensical story of a young girl falling down a rabbit hole and entering the strange, perilous world of Wonderland is so influential, so commonly referenced, reimagined, and reinterpreted, it transcends time. It might have been written yesterday as easily as 1865, and its clever wordplay and Carroll’s loose view of the rules of logic and language guarantee it will remain a fixture on bookstore shelves for a very long time to come.

    Captains Courageous, by Rudyard Kipling
    Kipling’s 1897 novel is the story of a spoiled rich American teenager named Harvey who is washed overboard in a storm and rescued by a fishing boat. The crew doesn’t believe his stories of wealth, but the Captain takes him on as a crew member. Harvey slowly accepts his fate and becomes a valuable member of the crew until they finally put into port and he contacts his parents. Celebrated as a testimonial to the American spirit, the book remains thrilling to anyone who has ever sat in a boring lecture or meeting and wished fate would intervene with a dose of adventure.

    David Copperfield, by Charles Dickens
    Speaking of Dickens and his dominance of the 19th century book-writing business, David Copperfield may well be his most beloved novel (it’s certainly one of his most adapted). Originally serialized, the story of the titular character’s life is largely autobiographical. Not many writers get the chance to fictionalize their own lives in such grand style, and no other Dickens novel exemplifies his wordy, fluid style like this one.

    Dracula, by Bram Stoker
    Stoker’s classic novel has been filmed so many times, it’s possible some don’t realize there’s a source novel. Stoker’s genius is using a series of diary entries and letters (plus a few newspaper clippings filling in background material) to limit the awareness of his characters, ratcheting up tension as the reader realizes they know more than the people they’re reading about. The result is an air of claustrophobic, gothic horror that has kept us reading for centuries.

    Emma, by Jane Austen
    Featuring one of literature’s great characters in the self-satisfied, well-intentioned, misguided Emma Woodhouse, Austen’s 1815 novel continues to be repurposed in the modern age (it was the basis for the film Clueless, after all) owing to its timeless themes of class, romance, and self-awareness. These evergreen concepts converge on the story of a wealthy young woman who fancies she is an expert matchmaker based on little more than her own high opinion of herself. The hilarious mess she makes as she pursues her newfound avocation is as entertaining and perceptive today as it was back then; we all know at least one Emma.

    Far from the Madding Crowd, by Thomas Hardy
    Hardy’s best-known novel tells the story of Bathsheba Everdene and Gabriel Oak. Gabriel falls in love with Bathsheba when he is well-off, but she rejects his proposal because she values her independence. As their fortunes wax and wane, Gabriel and Bathsheba remain in each other’s lives, dealing with tragedies and mysteries, more or less until Bathsheba has been through enough turmoil to realize that Gabriel is her only true love. Along the way you get to enjoy some of the finest writing the English language has ever produced.

    Flatland, by Edwin Abbott
    Somehow, impossibly, combining social commentary with serious mathematics, Flatland is one of the least-read books everyone should read. It’s set in a two-dimensional world where every character is a geometric shape and the main character is a square (named, yes, A Square) who has a vision of a one-dimensional world inhabited by points on a line, and who then is visited by A Sphere, a visitor from three-dimensional space. It’s a lot of fun, and manages to be very sneaky as it educates you about dimensions and social structures.

    Great Expectations, by Charles Dickens
    The story of the orphan Pip as he makes his way through his life, from a childhood being brought up “by hand” by his harsh sister and gentle, loving brother-in-law, through his callow young adulthood, covers every aspect of our existence, dealing in universal themes including misplaced gratitude, unrequited love, and regret. It doesn’t hurt that it contains some of Dickens’ best-known characters, including the tragic Miss Havisham, who perpetually wears her rotting wedding dress after being jilted at the altar.

    Heart of Darkness, by Joseph Conrad
    Conrad’s exploration of what it means to be “civilized” unfolds as one of literature’s most iconic plots, the search for the enigmatic and ultimately insane Captain Kurtz in the Free State of Congo (adapted in nightmarish fashion in the film Apocalypse Now). Examining how supposedly civilized Western forces turned the Congo into a nightmare, Conrad’s story remains horrifying and compelling to the modern reader, and continues to be recycled and to inspire new works that seek to illuminate similar themes.

    The Island of Doctor Moreau, by H.G. Wells
    More than a century after its publication, Wells’ classic novel retains its power to horrify—a power that only increases as medicine advances. The question of whether or not we should do some of the things medical science is now capable of—or will shortly be capable of—will never be an easy one to answer. While Moreau’s insane experiments on animal/human hybrids may be a bit far-fetched no matter how far genetic science advances, the story demonstrates in horrific fashion just how much suffering awaits us if we ever decide that things like ethics and morals are holding back our ability to control the most fundamental aspects of biology.

    Ivanhoe, by Walter Scott
    One of the first true examples of a historical novel, Ivanhoe is set in the 12th century and focuses on one of the few Saxon noble families still intact after the Norman Conquest. Wilfred of Ivanhoe supports King Richard and is disinherited for his trouble, joining the king on the crusades. The story includes jousts, kidnappings, and plain old-fashioned adventure, and was thrillingly unlike anything that had come before it.

    Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Brontë
    This revolutionary novel is in part responsible for our modern concept of storytelling, as it was the first to delve directly into the inner life of its protagonist. The story is told firmly from Jane’s point of view, embellished, dramatized, and rendered slightly unreal by virtue of her perception, memory, and prejudices. While telling a love story about a complex proto-feminist character, the novel finds time to offer thoughtful critiques of what was then modern life—critiques that still ring true today.

    Lorna Doone, by R.D. Blackmoore
    If you’re thinking of the cookies, you’ve missed out on a great book. This classic story set in 17th-century England tells the story of the Doones, a formerly aristocratic family that has devolved into a gang of impoverished criminals. John, a farmer whose father was murdered by the Doones, falls in love with a beautiful girl named Lorna only to discover she is the granddaughter of Sir Ensor Doone. Remarkably, Blackmore perfectly captures the lilt and rhythm of a regional dialect without it becoming distracting or comedic, giving this book a feeling of verisimilitude rarely matched.

    The Luck of Barry Lyndon, by William Makepeace Thackery
    The source material for Stanley Kubrick’s film Barry Lyndon, this novel follows the entertainingly incompetent attempts of Redmond Barry, born into an aristocratic but poor Irish family, as he seeks both a fortune and an English title. Redmond thinks a lot of himself, and is a very unreliable narrator always seeking to make himself look good, but Thackery skillfully reveals his failings as both a person and a social climber, making this a book that can be read several times, each reread revealing something new.

    Oliver Twist, by Charles Dickens
    Dickens’ story borders on being an exposé of how orphans were treated in the 19th century, as Oliver Twist’s horrible childhood, sale into indentured servitude as an apprentice, and absorption into a criminal gang (led by the iconic Fagin and including the equally iconic Artful Dodger) was all too possible at the time. Dickens combined a bracingly realistic look at criminal life with a satisfyingly happy ending in a book everyone should read at least once in their lives.

    Tom Brown’s School Days, by Thomas Hughes
    The semi-autobiographical story of Tom Brown’s experiences at school offers universal themes of childhood and the intimidating, exciting moment when you take those first steps toward independence and adulthood. These themes still resonate, as do the episodes of impish pranks and adventures (including the occasional dorm room explosion).

    The Time Machine, by H.G. Wells
    Wells’ classic sci-fi story remains so modern in execution it’s easy to forget it was written more than a century ago, especially since sci-fi to this day continues to explore the narrative possibilities of time travel. The ending of the story remains among of the most chilling sequences in literature—you will be depressed, disturbed, and, finally, haunted by the traveler’s ultimate mysterious fate.

    Tess of the d’Urbervilles, by Thomas Hardy
    Hardy’s deeply considered rumination on morality, man’s relationship with both nature and modern technology, and sex is perhaps his greatest work. Tess, a good young woman from a poor family, is raped, her sickly son dies weeks after birth, and her marriage with a stalwart young farmer is ruined by the stain to her reputation—and things only get worse from there. Yet the story is animated by a deep level of empathy and contemplation that renders it not entirely bleak.

    A Tale of Two Cities, by Charles Dickens
    The nearly infinite opening passage of this novel, beginning with the famous “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” signals the wide range of themes the book intends to cover; Dickens wanted nothing less than an examination of the human condition and all of history in the confines of a story. Set in London and Paris before and during the French Revolution, Dickens captures the frenetic spirit of the times in the unsteady adventures of his characters, resulting in one the most sprawling epic novels of all time.

    Vanity Fair, by William Makepeace Thackeray
    The story of fierce social climber Becky Sharp and her ascent—and rapid descent—in life as she schemes, steals, and seduces those who can assist her until an almost-too-late epiphany, is extremely well-done on the surface, entertaining and well-written. But then comes the moment when the narrator reveals that he’s heard her story through gossip and has no actual knowledge of the events, and the book suddenly twists itself into a brilliant puzzle. Trying to figure out what’s true and what matters in the story has been keeping people up past their bedtime ever since.

    The Woman in White, by Wilkie Collins
    There’s little argument that Collins’s novel about a mentally deranged woman, amateur sleuths, and a plot to steal a fortune is one of literature’s first true detective tales. Marian Halcombe and Walter Hartright are genuine amateurs, employing nothing more than their good sense and keen eye to slowly unravel a mystery involving switched identities and an enormous amount of money. The novel is also notable for Collins’ somewhat progressive take on women’s rights, as the mystery centers on the lack of legal standing a wife had at the time when it came to her own money, and is written in a lively tone that makes it seem more modern than it actually is.

    Wuthering Heights, by Emily Brontë
    Bursting with passion, Emily Brontë’s only novel is concerned with the destructive power of that unbridled emotion, demonstrating how feeling unchecked by reason can distort life and ultimately destroy it. Part romance, part ghost story, Wuthering Heights offers one of the best characters ever created in Heathcliff, a shifting character of uncertain parentage and legacy who is ultimately undone by his mad love for foster sister Catherine and taste for vengeance following her death.

    Venus in Furs, by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch
    A fascinating novel that refutes any claim that the 19th century was prudish, this story of a man who volunteers to be a woman’s slave, encouraging her to treat him in increasingly awful ways so he can attain what he calls “suprasensuality,” is unsettling, and ends on an unexpected note. The woman is initially put off by the man’s request, and eventually meets another man she wishes to be dominated by, souring the original relationship. It’s basically Fifty Shades in 1870.

    Flowers in the Mirror, by Ju-chen Li
    A brazenly feminist novel written in 1827 in China? Why wouldn’t you read this classic fantasy? A lighthearted story that begins when a power-mad empress orders all the flowers of the world to bloom the next day; when the flower spirits, fearing her, comply, the gods punish them by reincarnating them into the mortal bodies of young girls, whose adventures make up the rest of the surprisingly modern story.

    The Count of Monte Cristo, by Alexandre Dumas
    Dumas’ classic revenge story is also the ultimate adventure story, centered on a man who is wrongly imprisoned, escapes, makes a fortune, and seeks to get back at his enemies. All of this is set against the backdrop of one of the most politically and militarily unsettled periods of European history—a moment when it seemed literally anything might happen, lending the story an urgency that still jumps off the page today.

    20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, by Jules Verne
    Sea monsters and what is essentially the first steampunk submarine: it doesn’t get more adventurous than this. Verne’s classic work of adventure and sci-fi isn’t exactly scientifically rigorous—at one point Captain Nemo exits his submarine and strolls about on the floor of the ocean without difficulty—but its spirit of discovery as the captain and his companions travel to various incredible places (including the lost city of Atlantis) is unparalleled.

    Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy
    In some ways Russian literature has been an unending reaction to the nearly endless social change that has swept and re-swept the country for the last two centuries. After an era of rigidity in the social structure, Russia began what could be seen as a still-ongoing struggle with its past and its future, unsettling everybody. Tolstoy’s vivid story of three complicated romantic relationships—particularly that of its titular character, who leaves her husband and the safety of societal approval in order to pursue a great love affair—is also a study of how Russian society adjusts, or doesn’t, to its ongoing social friction.

    Crime and Punishment, by Fyodor Dostoevsky
    Dostoevsky explores what some see as the inherent nihilism and violence of Russian society in this novel, in which a man named Raskolnikov plots and commits a murder partially out of a belief that he is predestined to do so. Raskolnikov’s torment and struggle with his burgeoning conscience eventually result in his confession and a clear implication that he can be saved despite his brutal actions, and in some ways the novel still encapsulates the Russian view of morality, justice, and human nature.

    War and Peace, by Leo Tolstoy
    In some ways, any consideration of Russian literature starts here—in fact, any consideration of the novel as an art form could start here, or at least nearby. The epic story of Russia during and immediately after the invasion by Napoleon, the novel combines fiction, philosophy, history, and a clear-eyed study of 19th-century Russian society and culture. If you read just one Russian novel, this would be the right choice.

    Cousin Bette, by Honore de Balzac
    With subtle homoerotic themes, Balzac’s greatest novel is a dark and delightful story of a woman purposefully working to destroy her own family. Cousin Bette, middle-aged, spinsterish, and bitter, works with the beautiful and greedy Valérie Marneffe to seduce and destroy the men of the Hulot family until Bette’s burning resentment literally kills her. She’s one of the greatest characters in literary history, and you should read this book immediately.

    To Have and to Hold, by Mary Johnston
    It’s an old-school melodrama, but one of the most popular books of 1899 is a well-done one. In 16th-century Jamestown, an English soldier named Ralph buys a wife, a woman named Jocelyn who initially loathes him. Unknown to Ralph, Jocelyn is actually a ward of the king, and already betrothed to an aristocrat. Adventures ensue in a surprisingly convoluted plot that’s got plenty of action, making this a nearly forgotten gem.

    King Solomon’s Mines, by H. Rider Haggard
    Written in a time when Africa seemed infinite and largely unexplored, at least from a Western point of view, Haggard’s classic adventure novel created the template still followed today—the Indiana Jones films, for one, owe a huge debt to Haggard. Adventurer Allan Quatermain agrees to locate a man who went missing searching for the titular mines in exchange for a share of any treasure found, and encounters hidden kingdoms and terrible dangers on the way.

    Fathers and Sons, by Ivan Turgenev
    If you’ve ever heard or used the word nihilism, you can thank Turgenev’s novel, which popularized the term. A study of the growing generational divide in early 19th-century Russia, Fathers and Sons is sometimes regarded as Russia’s first modern novel. The changing times in the country background an intense study of the characters as they mature and change, leaving nihilism behind in favor of a more spiritual and traditionally Russian outlook on life.

    The Death of Ivan Ilych, by Leo Tolstoy
    This devastating short novel hits everyone right where they live, as its tale of an absolutely average man diligently advancing in his career, tolerating his unhappy marriage, and engaging in the sort of dull, meaningless existence most people know all too well is suddenly forced into an existential crisis as a seemingly minor injury inexorably turns fatal, leaving him to face the terror of death—and the worse terror of assessing how he has spent his time. Don’t read this if you’re feeling fragile, but do read it before it’s too late.

    The post 45 Novels Written In the 19th Century That Deserve a Place on the Modern Bookshelf appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

  • Whitney Collins 3:30 pm on 2017/07/18 Permalink
    Tags: , the essentials   

    50 of the Funniest Books Ever Written 

    If you love to laugh then you’re in luck, because we’ve gathered 50 of the funniest books of all time on this can’t-miss list. From the dark and dry to the witty and wry, from the fictive to the factual, from travel logs to comedic blogs, this extensive collection of humor both classic and new includes something for everyone. Get ready to read ‘em and weep with laughter.

    Cold Comfort Farmby Stella Gibbons
    Published in 1932 in satirical response to romantic rural literature popular at the time, Stella Gibbons’ Cold Comfort Farm is a rollicking read about Flora Poste, a broke 19-year-old metropolitan orphan who decides to impose herself upon her remote farming relatives, the Starkadders. Full of aptly (and hilariously) named characters such as the Jersey cows, Graceless, Pointless, Aimless, and Feckless; and cousins Urk, Ezra, Harkaway, and Caraway, this laugh-out-loud novel details what happens when a bossy city girl tries to meddle in pastoral affairs.

    A Confederacy of Duncesby John Kennedy Toole
    Posthumous winner of the 1981 Pulitzer Prize, Toole’s masterpiece has awed and entertained scholars, skeptics, and general scalawags for decades. This peerless and eternally hilarious novel relays the misadventures of the misanthropic Ignatius Reilly—a thirtysomething who lives with his mother in 1960s New Orleans and struggles to find work while battling an affliction of the pyloric valve—as well as the various trials of the colorful characters of the Quarter.

    Do the Windows Open?by Anne Hecht
    Originally published as a series of absurd pieces in the New Yorker, Do the Windows Open? follows the life of a neurotic narrator who spends most of her time attempting to photograph bizarre subjects, most notably a renowned reproductive surgeon, the ponds of Nantucket, and the many houses of Anne Sexton. Wry, dry, and irresistible, this book will have readers rooting for its exasperating star, who struggles with claustrophobia, dental complaints, and an impossibly clean macrobiotic diet.

    The Selloutby Paul Beatty
    This satirical novel about race and racism reads like a brilliant standup routine that goes on for days. Every sentence of Paul Beatty’s masterpiece is so dense and multilayered, you’ll want to set aside precious time to absorb the barrage of images and genius within. Chock full of keen observations, singular interpretations, and loads of all-American cultural and historical references, The Sellout is in a league of its own.

    Let’s Pretend This Never Happened (A Mostly True Memoir), by Jenny Lawson
    Jenny Lawson, better known on the Interwebs as “the Bloggess,” shines her brightest in this irreverent memoir that reveals what it was like to grow up with a father who ran a taxidermy business out of the house, a mother who worked the school cafeteria, and a sister who shamelessly wore her mascot costume everywhere. Equally morbid and magnificent, Let’s Pretend This Never Happened unearths all of Jenny’s humiliating moments and mines them for wit and wisdom.

    Nakedby David Sedaris
    It’s nearly impossible to choose just one David Sedaris book for this list, as there are nearly a dozen that belong here. But if I’m forced to pick one, Naked takes the cake. Why? Although its contents are much like those contents of his other works (outrageously smart and hysterical essays that render readers incontinent), Naked does include the notorious “C.O.G.,” a piece of writing so stellar and original it’s a wonder anyone, anywhere, has dared put pen to paper since its publication.

    Still Life with Woodpeckerby Tom Robbins
    Redheaded Princess Leigh-Cheri, a former cheerleader turned vegetarian, falls in love with her opposite, outlaw Mickey Wrangle, at a liberal political convention in Hawaii that Mickey intends to bomb. A book about individual priorities, “metaphysical outlaw-ism,” the purpose of the moon, and “how to make love stay,” Still Life with Woodpecker has also been described as a postmodern fairy tale that takes place inside a pack of Camel cigarettes.

    I Was Told There’d Be Cakeby Sloane Crosley
    A collection of helpless, hapless, and howlingly good essays, Crosley’s I Was Told There’d Be Cake details the struggles and pitfalls of young urban life, from upsetting an exhibit at the Natural History Museum to managing an unhealthy obsession with plastic ponies to attending weddings for people you no longer remember.

    Cat’s Cradle, by Kurt Vonnegut
    This 1963 science fiction masterpiece follows a cornucopia of crazed characters around a sordid Carribbean island where one writer’s desire to document atomic bomb stories overlaps with a high-stakes political drama. Once a mainstay of every student’s backpack, Cat’s Cradle offers important commentary on American imperialism, man versus technology, and the threat of nuclear war. But above all else, it’s screamingly funny.

    I’m Judging You, by Luvvie Ajayi
    Multi-award-winning writer, critic, blogger, and all-around wisecracking social commentary mastermind Luvvie Ajayi holds nothing back in this howlingly brave and funny collection of essays tackling not just the insipidness of pop culture but the pervasiveness of racism. A self-proclaimed “professional shade thrower,” Ajayi has written a brilliant bestseller that will have you laughing at (and ruthlessly lambasting) the world around you.

    In Persuasion Nation, by George Saunders
    George Saunders, lauded and beloved writer of fiction, is more than just a fantastic storyteller; he’s a keen-eyed satirist who knows both heartache and humor and can expertly dish up equal servings of pathos and absurdity. In Persuasion Nation is a collection of varied short stories that blend the literary with the fantastical and offer poignant insight into the emptiness and hilarity of our modern world.

    Hyperbole and a Halfby Allie Brosh
    Praised as genius, human, broken, and sidesplitting, Hyperbole and a Half is the wildly illustrated book that Bill Gates proclaimed to be “funny and smart as hell.” Spawned from the popular blog and webcomic following Allie’s adventures with depression and rescue dogs, Hyperbole and a Half is one of the most original and captivating creations of our Internet age.

    What I’d Say to the Martians: And Other Veiled Threats, by Jack Handey
    Known for his New Yorker wit, Saturday Night Live bits, and riotous Deep Thoughts, Jack Handey is also celebrated as one of America’s most enduring humorists. In What I’d Say to the Martians, he dishes up his trademark accessible weirdness through various short stories, sketches, and musings. From “How to Prepare a Wild-Caught Rabbit for a Meal” to “My Third Best Friend” (which ends up being his wife, Brenda), Handey will have you gasping for air and buying up copies for friends.

    Our Dumb Worldby The Onion
    Brought to you courtesy of The Onion, arguably the planet’s most hilarious fake news source, Our Dumb World is the most outrageously fun faux atlas you’ll ever encounter. Chock full of laugh-out-loud maps and graphics, this book skewers every corner of the world, from Nevada (“Where Everyone’s a Loser”) to Greenland (“The Largest Land Mass on Earth”).

    Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal, by Christopher Moore
    Most everyone knows the story of Jesus, but no one tells it as well as Christ’s little-known childhood friend, Biff. In Lamb, Christopher Moore retells the short life of the Messiah, including every miracle, journey, kung fu fight, and hot babe you may have missed the first time around. Hailed as both heartfelt and hilarious, this wacky, surprisingly wonderful lost book of the Gospel is truly divine comedy.

    If You Ask Me (And Of Course You Won’t), by Betty White
    Betty White has spent seven decades in Hollywood, so you can imagine she has plenty of tales to tell and wit and wisdom to share. In If You Ask Me, White shares everything she knows about love, fame, our fine feathered and furry friends (she’s a devout animal lover), pop culture, and getting older. This read is as charming as its beloved author.

    The Innocents Abroad, by Mark Twain
    No one writes a travel book quite like humorist Mark Twain. In The Innocents Abroad (aka The New Pilgrims’ Progress), Twain details his journey aboard the chartered Quaker City, which took him and fellow Americans from New York City to Europe and the Holy Lands in 1867. Full of exasperation, awe, and laugh-out-loud comedy, this must-read may make contemporary travelers long for the days of slowpoke steamers.

    How to be a Woman, by Caitlin Moran
    Fearless, feminist, and funny, How to be a Woman, by one of Britain’s most brilliant broads, has been praised as “entirely necessary” and a cultural phenomenon. Full of well-crafted arguments on how to bring down the patriarchy, as well as zingers regarding bras, strip clubs, and witches, this can’t-put-down read is everywoman’s pick-me-up.

    Portnoy’s Complaint, by Philip Roth
    Named for the psychiatric disorder in which “altruistic impulses are perpetually at war with extreme sexual longings,” Philip Roth’s masterpiece is told from a psychoanalyst’s couch. This comedic jewel launched Roth to the forefront of American literature in the ’60s and continues to delight readers with its bravery and bawdiness.

    Diary of a Mad Diva, by Joan Rivers
    The last thing Joan Rivers ever wanted (or expected) as a gift was a diary, but when her daughter, Melissa, gave her one, the world’s most lovable and loudmouthed diva found she had a lot to say. The result is this gasp-inducing gem that skewers Hollywood celebs, New York, LA, vacations in Mexico, and, as always, Joan herself.

    Cruel Shoes, by Steve Martin
    One of the wisest and weirdest comedians of all time penned this classic compilation, which features absurdist short fiction and hilarious essays with LOL titles such as “The Diarrhea Gardens of El Camino Real,” “Poodles…Great Eating,” “The Vengeful Curtain Rod,” and “How To Fold Soup.”

    Under the Frog, by Tibor Fischer
    An audacious and daring black comedy that was the first debut novel ever to be shortlisted for the Booker Prize, Under the Frog tells the dark but surprisingly funny story of two Hungarian basketball players, Pataki and Gyuri, between the end of World War II and the anti-Soviet uprising of 1956. Determined to flee their pointless factory work, the two athletes travel to every corner of Hungary, oftentimes in the nude, on an epic search for food, women, and meaning.

    No One Belongs Here More Than You, by Miranda July
    Miranda July, award-winning performance artist and filmmaker, delights fans and first-time readers alike with this collection of short stories that mine the awkwardness of the human experience for moments both mundane and meaningful. Sly, tender, strange, and often hilarious, July proves with this compilation that she’s one of the smartest, and unexpectedly funniest, voices around.

    A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again: Essays and Arguments, by David Foster Wallace
    There’s nothing quite like David Foster Wallace’s literary gymnastics; his flair for the funny, fearless, and footnoted are indisputably unmatched. And in this howler of a book, in which Wallace reports on experiences ranging from tennis to a Caribbean cruise to the Illinois State Fair, he brings his A-game. Readers will have their minds illuminated and their sides stitched.

    Meaty, by Samantha Irby
    Samantha Irby made her mark with her screamingly funny blog BitchesGottaEat, and the fun continues in outrageous literary debut Meaty. From the crass and witty “How to Get Your Disgusting Meat Carcass Ready for Some New, Hot Sex,” to poignant stories of her mother’s death and her struggles with Crohn’s, this bawdy and beautiful grouping of essays covers everything from poverty, race, and tacos to kittens, longing, and recipes. Yes, she’s included a few, to readers’ great joy.

    Skinny Dip, by Carl Hiaasen
    Only the outrageous plot master and character genius Carl Hiaasen could concoct something as rude and riotous as Skinny Dip, a novel involving attempted murder, bales of floating Jamaican pot, ex-cops, and fraudulent marine biologists. Readers can’t go wrong reading any of Hiaasen’s works, but this beauty in particular dips into the real skinny of his comedic genius.

    Bossypants, by Tina Fey
    Everyone knows who Tina Fey is: she’s an SNL queen, she’s Liz Lemon, she’s an accomplished and adored writer, actor, producer, and comedian. But who was she before all that? In Bossypants, the Tina Fey story is brought to life, in the sort of autobiography everyone wishes they had written—and lived. From her early days working at the YMCA to her adventures in motherhood, this tell-all shows Fey really is as down to earth, and otherworldly, as we’ve made her out to be.

    Good Omens, by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett
    Trust us: if authors Gaiman and Pratchett are in charge of Armageddon, it’s going to be a hilarious event. In Good Omens, these two warped and witty Brits serve up their version of the end times, in which a witch whose prophecies always come true lets everyone know the world will end next Saturday before dinner. That’s when an angel and a demon (who’ve been living among mortals and enjoy it just fine) set out to find the Antichrist and put a stop to things. Too bad the Antichrist was switched at birth by a Satanist nun. Don’t miss the heaven this devilishly great read dishes up.

    In Such Good Company, by Carol Burnett
    One of television’s greatest variety shows was The Carol Burnett Show, starring Burnett alongside the outrageously fun Harvey Korman, Vicki Lawrence, Lyle Waggoner, and Tim Conway. In this read that’ll have you gasping for air, Burnett details the behind-the-scenes fun of all 276 episodes, with details on not just how the sketches were crafted, but also Burnett’s relationships with guest stars, like Lucille Ball, Rita Hayworth, and Jim Nabors.

    Lamentations of the Father: Essays, by Ian Frazier
    Ian Frazier, accomplished novelist, essayist, and social satirist, whose classic comedic stylings have long graced the pages of the New Yorker and Atlantic Monthly, is at his all-time best in this collection. Hailed by The Boston Globe as “an antidote for the blues,” it reminds us why this life is so worth living and laughing at.

    If Life is a Bowl of Cherries, What Am I doing in the Pits?, by Erma Bombeck
    From 1965 to 1996, the incomparable Erma Bombeck wrote almost 5,000 newspaper columns about what it was like to be an ordinary Midwestern housewife, and her wry, dry style appealed to nearly everyone, laundry specialist or not. In this classic collection, readers will laugh aloud at Bombeck’s take on everything from lettuce to bunk beds to tennis elbow. Bombeck was indeed an American original, and this gem that stands the test of time reads like a slice of our country’s history.

    Things My Girlfriend and I Have Argued About, by Mil Millington
    Though the title sounds like a blog entry, this scream of a novel is actually fiction at its finest. Main character Pel, who lives with his feisty girlfriend Ursula, is unequipped to handle the downward spiral that occurs when he takes over his boss’s job. From run-ins with the Chinese mafia to stolen money and missing coworkers, Perl’s misadventures also include a series of laugh-out-loud arguments with his stalwart and stubborn love interest. This read proves a thriller can also be a killer comedy.

    I’m Just a Person, by Tig Notaro
    In 2012, over the course of just four months, Tig Notaro was hospitalized with a rare intestinal disease, lost her mother, endured a devastating breakup, and was diagnosed with bilateral breast cancer. The good news? Notaro is a comedian, and she took her unthinkable predicament onstage to deliver one of the most raw, illuminating, and darkly hilarious standup performances of all time. Her brave book tackles those same topics and is a must-read for its deep delivery of hope and laughter.

    The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams
    There’s The Odyssey and then there’s The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, which just might be slightly more adventurous than what Odysseus got himself into. In Adams’ galactic road trip, prepare yourself for all sorts of interstellar road blocks, philosophical musings, and alien weirdos—like Zaphod Beeblebrox, a two-headed, three-armed ex-hippie who’s also the president of the galaxy. If you’ve ever wondered what the meaning of life is, and why we wear watches, crack open this chestnut for the universe’s answers.

    I Feel Bad About My Neck, by Nora Ephron
    Being a woman of certain age isn’t easy, but it just got a whole lot more fun thanks to the eternally observant and wisecracking Ephron, who gives readers the lowdown on empty nests, city life, sagging necks, and general runs of bad luck. With chapter titles like “The Lost Strudel or Le Strudel Perdu” and “Me and JFK: Now It Can Be Told,” not to mention its status as a #1 bestseller, I Feel Bad About My Neck will have readers feeling great about life.

    One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories, by B.J. Novak
    B.J. Novak of The Office and standup fame does something unexpected and wonderful with his debut book: he tries his hand at fiction, not memoir, and the result is amazing. Including stories both sharp and tender, One More Thing has been compared to the stylings of George Saunders, Steve Martin, and Woody Allen. At its core, however, it is entirely original, and every piece of prose within tackles why humans are always searching for that one thing that will complete them.

    Shrill, by Lindy West
    Lindy West was an incredibly shy child who struggled with her weight and her large, often controversial, viewpoints. Yet she grew up to be one of the freshest, wisest, and downright funniest voices of modern feminism. In her blockbuster memoir Shrill, in a voice both charming and unapologetic, West tackles everything from rape jokes and internet trolls to activism and intestinal fortitude (or lack thereof). In a world where women are expected to be both seductive and submissive, “like a porcelain dove that will also have sex with you,” West’s insights are extremely relevant and necessary. As well as hilarious.

    Three Men in a Boat, by Jerome K. Jerome
    Published in 1889, this howler is still considered relevant and witty even though it was written more than one hundred years ago. Detailing a boating holiday on the Thames River, Three Men in a Boat began as a travel guide, but soon evolved into a comedic manuscript about the pitfalls of group vacations. Real, witty, and timeless, this humorous account proves that, when journeying with friends (and dogs), the more things change, the more they stay insane.

    Where’d You Go, Bernadette?, by Maria Semple
    What happens when a mother tires of her Seattle life and lifestyle? One in which she’s considered too bold (by her husband), too outrageous (by fellow moms), and too revolutionary (by colleagues)? She becomes an agoraphobic misanthrope who can no longer function…not even for a reward trip to Antarctica with her devoted daughter. Touching, brilliant, and very very funny, this page-turner has turned millions of heads.

    More Stories About Spaceships and Cancer, by Casper Kelly
    This little-known jewel, written by an award-winning TV writer, is chock full of absurd dark fiction that Joe Randazzo, editor of The Onion, bluntly praises as “f***ing awesome.” Within, readers will enter the mind of one of the seven dwarfs, who lusts after Snow White; an elderly man who has had his brain placed in a vat; and an office drone who believes his entire life may consist of implanted memories. Weird and incredibly smart, Casper Kelly’s little masterpiece earns a big spot on any must-read humor list.

    Bridget Jones’s Diary, by Helen Fielding
    Bridget Jones is a thirtysomething “Singleton” on a quest to tighten her thighs, brighten her love life, and learn how to operate the VCR. But first she must overcome patronizing questions from “Smug Marrieds,” the temptation of delicious sandwiches, and the disastrous world of dating. Full of everygirl woes, delightful self-disgust, and loads of laughter, this gem is not just comedic, it’s now a chick-lit classic.

    The World According to Garp, by John Irving
    John Irving grew up not knowing his biological father, and warned his mother that if she didn’t supply him with some details, he’d create a fictional story about his origin. This award-winning opus is said to be the result of that conversation, to which his mother famously replied: “Go ahead, dear.” Within, feminist icon Jenny Fields rapes a wounded soldier in order to become pregnant, and her son, T.S. Garp, grows up wondering who he is, where he came from, and what’s the meaning of it all. Filled with sexual deviance, heartbreak, and endless humor, this book is both harrowing and hilarious.

    Why Not Me?, by Mindy Kaling
    Paling, of The Mindy Project and The Office fame, wows fans in her second book, in which she details her quest for happiness, her advice regarding on-camera beauty, her run-in with Bradley Cooper, and how to lose weight (or not) without employing behavior modification. This chuckle of a read is as self-deprecating and delightful as Paling herself.

    Live Right and Find Happiness (Although Beer Is Much Faster), by Dave Barry
    For more than twenty years, Dave Barry, acclaimed author of over thirty books and sometime guitarist for the Rock Bottom Remainders, wrote a weekly humor column for the Miami Herald, earning him a Pulitzer Prize and a TV show. In this knee-slapping compilation, Barry gathers essays on a variety of noteworthy topics ranging from Brazil’s soccer obsession to Putin’s Russia to his very un-Mad Men-like hometown, as well as witty advice for his infant grandson.

    The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl, by Issa Rae
    In this lovable, laugh-out-loud memoir named for her hugely popular web series, Issa Rae details the perils of being both awkward and black, a condition “someone once told [her] were the two worst things anyone could be.” From cybersexing and eating alone, to “rapping” and PDA, Rae endears and enlightens all readers, no matter their cool factor or skin color.

    The Kid, by Dan Savage
    Dan Savage might be best known for his syndicated sex advice column, “Savage Love,” but in this frank and courageous book, in which Dan and his boyfriend decide to start a family, new territory is chartered, and it’s both hysterical and heartfelt. For anyone who has ever wanted a baby, but perhaps have not considered what it’s like for two gay men to approach this milestone, The Kid is equal parts illuminating and entertaining.

    Seriously…I’m Kidding, Ellen Degenres
    Degeneres has given so many so much through her talk show, her standup comedy, and her activism. But she always has more to give, so she also writes books. And thank goodness for her efforts, because her memoirs are some of the most laugh-out-loud funny personal chronicles out there. Seriously…I’m Kidding is chock full of anecdotes about her life with wife Portia de Rossi and her time on American Idol, all wrapped up in a laugh-till-you-cry tell-all that’s a gift to all.

    A Walk in the Woods, by Bill Bryson
    An acclaimed writer of nonfiction (with a primarily travel-oriented bent), Bill Bryson is at his wittiest in A Walk in the Woods, tackling the Appalachian Trail, its history, and all the people he meets on his journey down it (not to mention bears). Howl like a wolf with Bryson as he makes his way from Georgia to Maine for more than two thousand miles of facts and fun.

    The Bedwetter, by Sarah Silverman
    Sarah Silverman’s autobiography is as fierce as she is, full of tales both tall and low about what it was like to grow up Jewish in New Hampshire, what it was like to write for SNL, what is was like to battle depression, and what it was like to struggle with an ongoing bedwetting condition. Very brave and extremely funny, Bedwetter will have readers wetting their pants.

    The Importance of Being Earnest, by Oscar Wilde
    Since it took the stage in 1895, Oscar Wilde’s piece de resistance, The Importance of Being Earnest, has delighted audiences and readers with its endlessly genius wordplay. In addition to a riveting plot and dialogue, this classic play employs all sorts of tricks of language that have continued to entertain for more than a century.

    The post 50 of the Funniest Books Ever Written appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

  • Jeff Somers 6:15 pm on 2017/06/12 Permalink
    Tags: , , , the essentials,   

    50 Must-Read Noir Detective Novels 

    Whatever kind of reading you like best in life, you can find your match in a good noir detective novel. Great stories with complex plots? Noir. Hilarious humor, albeit of a generally dark variety? Noir. Unforgettable characters? Noir. Breathless action? Noir again. If you’ve fallen behind the curve on noir fiction, now’s the time to get on board that train, because some of the greatest novels ever written have fallen into this beloved, chameleonic genre. Here are 50 noir books in no particular order that any fan of detective fiction should have on their shelves—and if you’re not familiar with the label, any one of these would be the ideal introduction to the genre.

    The Killer Inside Me, by Jim Thompson
    Thompson’s story of a small-town deputy sheriff is one of the most chilling depictions of a sociopath ever committed to paper. As the plot twists itself into an ever-tighter knot, you’re simultaneously fascinated and revolted by Lou Ford, a character that helped shape our modern conception of serial killers.

    The Maltese Falcon, by Dashiell Hammett
    This is the novel that introduced the world to quintessential noir private eye Sam Spade, based in part on Hammett’s own experience working for the infamous Pinkertons. It contains much of the basic genetic material that has been mined ever since for that noir feel—from the world-weary private investigator willing to get physical (in every sense of the word) to the femme fatale to the seamy underside of dark secrets.

    The Postman Always Rings Twice, by James M. Cain
    If the setup—young drifter meets beautiful young woman unhappily married to older man, whom they decide to murder for financial and romantic gain—is a classic, it’s because this fast-paced, lushly written novel made it a classic. Based on a real-life case, the book was banned in several areas of the country for its frank depiction of lust and violence, with a bleak ending that helped define the genre.

    L.A. Confidential, by James Ellroy
    The third book in Ellroy’s L.A. Quartet marks the point at which noir invaded the literary world and made a home for itself. Ellroy’s 1950s Los Angeles is corrupt, violent, soaked in lust and addictions, and populated by crooked cops and criminals. With its intricate plot and flawed characters, it’s much more than a violent story about violent people, following the career of three cops—ambitious Ed Exley, brutal Bud White, and slick Jack Vicennes—as they spiral into darkness.

    The Ice Harvest, by Scott Phillips
    A classic element of noir is the simple, perfect crime that is subverted ruinously by human nature. Phillips’ modern classic is the story of low-level crook and former attorney Charlie Arglist, who has a simple plan to make off with his mobster boss’s money in the middle of a Christmas Eve blizzard in Wichita. Charlie’s own poor judgment slowly unravels the scheme, however, leading him inexorably into an evening of violence and desperation, told in one of the funniest narrative voices in noir history.

    The Big Sleep, by Raymond Chandler
    Chandler’s iconic private investigator Philip Marlowe gets embroiled in a famously complex story involving blackmail, murder, pornography, and seduction—so complex that to this day no one knows who committed one of the murders described therein. Chandler’s rhythmic dialogue and sparse, gut-punch descriptions make this novel much more than the sum of its violent, cynical parts.

    Winter’s Bone, by Daniel Woodrell
    Woodrell’s modern classic at first might seem too cold and modern to be noir, but Ree Dolly’s quest to save her ramshackle house by either finding her good-for-nothing father or proving him dead is set up in classic noir terms. In the Ozarks, presented as a frozen wasteland of ice and methamphetamine, Ree must navigate a culture whose rules feel alien and threatening, relying on her wits and courage—and desperation. In other words, it’s noir.

    Fast One, by Paul Cain
    None other than Raymond Chandler had high praise for this “ultra-hardboiled” novel. George Kells is a rough-and-tumble gambler and gunman who just wants to be left to his own devices. When rival criminal and political cartels try to recruit him, he aims to stay out of it—but of course is sucked in after a series of double-crosses. And now Kells is angry and looking to take on all comers in this ferocious, bloody story that never lets up.

    A Drink before the War, by Dennis Lehane
    Lehane’s brilliant debut introduces private investigators Patrick Kenzie and Angela Gennaro, hired by three politicians to retrieve photos from a woman named Jenna Angeline. While the city slides into one of its most explosive periods of gang warfare, Kenzie and Gennaro find themselves looking into sickening child abuse, terrifying violence, and a series of twisting double-crosses culminating in a victory that feels more like a defeat.

    Double Indemnity, by James M. Cain
    Cain returns with another classic based on the real-life case of Ruth Snyder, telling the story of an insurance agent who conspires with a bored, beautiful woman to murder her husband and collect the double indemnity payout on his life insurance. Filled with the sort of smart, world-weary dialogue and ink-black morality that defined the genre, with an ending that might just be the bleakest ever committed to the page.

    He Died with His Eyes Open, by Derek Raymond
    The first in Raymond’s Factory series introduces an unnamed police sergeant working in the Department of Unexplained Deaths, out of a building dubbed “The Factory” because of the efficient way the cops bring in, tune up, and turn out suspects. The narrator is a misanthrope knee-deep in the worst of humanity at all times, and it’s his determination to somehow bring the dignity of investigation to the “nobodies” at the core of his cases that makes Raymond’s brutal universe sing.

    Kiss Me, Deadly, by Mickey Spillane
    Spillane’s Mike Hammer is another icon of the genre, a wrecking crew of a man whose “own rules” attitude toward legalities and social niceties predates Dirty Harry by decades. Kiss Me, Deadly is perhaps the ideal Hammer story, as a chance encounter leads Hammer to turn his furious vengeance on the mafia—an organization that has become so entrenched and political it’s basically the establishment, and is thus vulnerable to the disruption of a violent, determined man.

    The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, by Stieg Larsson
    Larsson’s first novel is a brilliant locked-room mystery, a study of an entire society, and a classic noir premise. Disgraced journalist Mikael Blomkvist is lured into investigating a decades-old cold case, and his efforts bring him face to face with what can only be called the banality of evil. Larsson gives the noir ingredients a 21st-century makeover—the femme fatale part is taken over by Lisbeth Salander, no pinup dame—and the result is a pitch-black noir story exposing the grimy underside of Swedish society.

    The Glass Key, by Dashiell Hammett
    This novel served as inspiration for the film Miller’s Crossing, and represents one of the greatest triumphs of noir writing, combining a corrupt society ruled by violence with the shifting sands of male friendship. Ned Beaumont, a gambler closely connected to a gangster, finds himself dancing a line between warring gangs and politicians, with an ending that’s noirishly bleak without being expected or particularly brutal.

    The Crow Girl, by Erik Axl Sund
    An example of a modern take on the noir genre, The Crow Girl is a violent story with an unreliable narrator. Detective Jeanette Kihlberg has the requisite messy personal life and cynical worldview for noir stories, and the crimes she finds herself investigating, involving mutilated, mummified children, explode into a horrifying and exhilarating exploration of generational violence, another classic noir theme.

    Midnight Sun, by Jo Nesbø
    Nesbø has established himself as a modern master of noir—specifically the Nordic Noir that has invigorated the genre in recent years. Midnight Sun isn’t as hardboiled as Nesbø’s Harry Hole novels, but the story of a low-level and unenthusiastic criminal on the run from his vengeful boss offers a flipped-script view of the traditional story that’s deeper and richer than most.

    I, the Jury, by Mickey Spillane
    The debut Mike Hammer novel could serve as a template for writing the perfect hardboiled detective novel. In a story involving a renowned psychiatrist simultaneously coercing her clients into drug addiction and assisting a crime syndicate with their prostitution and drug-dealing businesses, it takes that dark view of humanity and throws the wrecking ball known as Mike Hammer into it, ending with a typically extralegal and extra-violent conclusion.

    Farewell, My Lovely, by Raymond Chandler
    The second Philip Marlowe novel begins with Marlowe witnessing a murder—but since it’s a murder of a black man in 1940s Los Angeles, the police are content to leave the investigating to Marlowe himself. Typically for Chandler, the plot—constructed from previously published short stories—was less important than the style, resulting in the classic Chandler-esque dreamlike prose that makes the dark, violent storytelling almost beautiful.

    Night and the City, by Gerald Kersh
    Harry Fabian is one of the least sympathetic narrators in literary history, a morally blank criminal desperate to elevate himself into a position of power, wealth, and influence. Although he’s smart and his schemes tend to succeed, nothing Harry does coalesces into anything tangible, and his desperation grows over the course of the novel, as does the sense of amoral chaos in the world Kersh describes.

    Payback, by Russell James
    Drawing inspiration from the classics of the genre with dialogue that crackles with Hammett’s rhythmic style and dreamy prose that echoes Chandler, James tells the story of a Floyd Carter returning to London to bury his brother Albie, only to find himself dragged into his brother’s criminal world. A gangster pins Albie’s debts on Floyd, another urges him to consider a career in drug trafficking. Shot through with dark humor and a rising body count, James explores the consequences of living in a noir world.

    Brighton Rock, by Graham Greene
    Pinkie is one of the most dreadful and fascinating characters ever created, a fervent Catholic who possesses zero compassion or empathy, a violent criminal and sociopath who manipulates everyone around him. He finds himself squaring off with Ida Arnold, a woman who decides to expose Pinkie’s crimes solely out of a sense of rightness. Greene deftly explores the conflict between the noir protagonist’s bleak worldview and a more moral and upright approach, resulting in a rich, complex story that transcends classification.

    Killing Floor, by Lee Child
    Child’s first Jack Reacher novel remains a searing modern noir that builds from an inciting mystery to a bloody, violent ending. Upon arriving in a small town in Georgia, Reacher is promptly arrested for a murder he couldn’t have committed, leading the former military policeman down a rabbit hole of local corruption and into the classic noir setup of one man against a broken society.

    A Rage in Harlem, by Chester Himes
    Himes’ straightforward depiction of violence, criminal activity, and racial attitudes isn’t for the shy or squeamish. In this story of a luckless man swindled out of borrowed money and reaching out to Harlem cops Grave Digger Jones and Coffin Ed Johnson to help him get it back, the police are depicted almost as a criminal gang themselves—a concept shocking in the 1950s, though less so in the modern age.

    The Blue Hammer, by Ross MacDonald
    The final Lew Archer novel is considered by many to be MacDonald’s triumph, a story involving a long-dead artist, a priceless work, and the violence, deception, and mounting moral costs involved in plumbing the mystery surrounding it. It’s easy to see the whole story as an investigation of noir itself, a metafictional exercise that wonders out loud whether Archer, a prototypical noir antihero who helped define the genre, is the hero or the villain, and whether it matters.

    Dope, by Sara Gran
    Josephine Flannigan is a former junkie and prostitute in Hell’s Kitchen in this subversion of noir tropes. When a rich girl gets sucked into the junkie life and goes missing, who better to look for her than Joe, who could use the money and certainly knows the neighborhood. The mystery leads Joe to explore dark nooks of her world even she had somehow avoided, and leads to noir-typical betrayals, violence, and revelations that confirm everyone’s dark view of humanity.

    Red Harvest, by Dashiell Hammett
    Narrated by another of Hammett’s iconic characters, the Continental Op (based again on Hammett’s own experiences in the Pinkertons), this is a violent story from the title down. Finding himself in the corrupt, barren town of Personville (called Poisonville by the residents), the Op is backed into a corner by rival gangs, friendless and framed. He has to use his wits to set his enemies against each other—and his talent for violence as well.

    Dark Passage, by David Goodis
    Employing the rare completely innocent protagonist, Goodis tells the story of Vincent Parry, wrongly convicted of killing his wife and imprisoned based on the false testimony of a woman with a personal grudge. He escapes, undergoes plastic surgery to evade the police, and dives into the underworld to find the true killer, spiraling downward into desperation.

    Devil in a Blue Dress, by Walter Mosley
    Mosley’s debut introduces Ezekiel “Easy” Rawlins, a down-on-his-luck laborer in desperate need of money in 1948 Los Angeles. He’s hired to find a white woman who has gone missing, and as he becomes embroiled in a complex web of crime and duplicity—and is framed for murder along the way—Rawlins undergoes a transformation, evolving into the classic noir detective right before readers’ eyes in a story that puts the race issues of the time—and our time—boldly front and center.

    A is for Alibi, by Sue Grafton
    A modern example of a lighter, more mystery- than violence-centric noir, Grafton’s debut Kinsey Millhone novel has all the classic noir elements, from the unfaithful spouse to the false accusations, the frame-ups, betrayals, and smart dialogue. Grafton has written twenty-four more Millhone mysteries since, making this one of the most deeply explored fictional universes in literature.

    Miami Purity, by Vicki Hendricks
    Hendricks’ story of low expectations and murderous lovers comes very, very close to going too far, and then nimbly steps back each time. Sherri Parlay has just violently rid herself of an unwanted husband and decided to give up exotic dancing for a Day Job, applying at Miami Purity dry cleaners. There she meets mama’s boy Payne Mahoney and his domineering mother, who doesn’t like Sherri much. Payne likes Sherri a lot, however, and soon Mom is dead—and that’s when the story gets weird and violent.

    The Deep Blue Good-by, by John D. Macdonald
    The first Travis McGee novel (all of them color-coded for your convenience) introduces a young McGee, a character who will age naturally over the course of twenty-one novels and two decades. McGee represents an evolution of the noir detective, shedding much of the dark, grim loneliness in favor of a more hedonistic enjoyment of his bachelorhood, even as he finds himself constantly enmeshed in the plots of psychopaths like Junior Allen, the superficially charming thief, murderer, and rapist seeking a buried treasure in this first adventure.

    The Bird Tribunal, by Agnes Ravatn
    An outlier in the world of noir, this dense, foreboding story of a television personality, Allis Hagtorn, who flees scandal for a job as a caretaker in a remote village, includes a heavy dose of psychological thrills. She discovers her employer isn’t a sickly old man, but a middle-aged, taciturn, and somewhat disturbingly intense man named Sigurd. While his wife is away, Allis is to tend to the garden and his needs—but from their first meeting an uneasy relationship threatens to explode into something terrible.

    The Friends of Eddie Coyle, by George V. Higgins
    Higgins’ story, noted for its realism, is a brutal depiction of the midcentury Irish underworld in Boston. Eddie Coyle is an aging criminal caught between dying in prison and ratting out a connected associate. As he struggles to navigate a middle route between these two dangerous options, events outside of his control and knowledge slowly constrict into doom, proving there really is no honor among thieves.

    Die a Little, by Megan Abbott
    Abbott’s modern noir takes a different approach to an old setup: when spinsterish teacher Lora King meets her brother’s new wife, the gorgeous and mysterious Alice, you might expect her to be suspicious and hostile. Instead, she’s falls under Alice’s glamorous spell, too, and only slowly—and somewhat reluctantly—comes to worry about Alice’s missing pieces, ominous friends, and reluctance to answer questions. Abbott captures the hopelessly grim tone of noir without giving into clichés, reinventing as she goes.

    The Bride Wore Black, by Cornell Woolrich
    Inverting the usual noir paradigm, Woolrich puts us in the head of the titular bride, a woman who methodically and clinically assumes various identities specifically to murder a man, leaving behind mystified police. In other words, it’s a noir with the femme fatale at its center instead of the gumshoe, and it has got one heck of a twist that still resonates after all these years.

    Altered Carbon, by Richard K. Morgan
    Science fiction often crossbreeds with other genres, but rarely as perfectly as in this cyberpunk story of a future where sleeving in and out of bodies is common—and complicated. Takashi Kovacs is as pure an antihero as you’ll find, and for all the mind-bending technology and sci-fi concepts, at its heart this is a bloody, moody noir story.

    Savages, by Don Winslow
    Winslow’s story of two guys trying to reinvent the drug trade and falling into the familiar grinding vices of violence and betrayal that always thundering away in the background of a noir story is propulsively written (the first two words of the book are a profane insult) and filled with crazy twists that somehow work. It’s a bold reestablishment of noir’s fleshy, funky power in the modern day.

    Faceless Killers, by Henning Mankell
    Another character who has aged with each successive book, Kurt Wallander lives in a secret- and violence-laden Sweden that predates and somehow predicts Stieg Larsson’s version of the country. The morally exhausted Wallander and his team investigate the savage murders of a couple; the wife’s last word was “foreign,” which, when leaked to the press, sparks a series of attacks on foreigners. Mankell uses this setup to explore the seamy underbelly of modern society and the way everyone is complicit in it.

    White Jazz, by James Ellroy
    The final volume in Ellroy’s L.A. Quartet is as cynical and bloody as the first three, introducing LAPD lieutenant Dave Klein, who paid for law school by doing work for the mob. It’s work he continues to do as a police officer, and includes the occasional murder for hire. As is typical in classic noir stories, Klein is smart and capable, but finds himself dragged into a conflict out of his control, because when no one plays it straight, how can you trust anyone?

    In a Lonely Place, by Dorothy B. Hughes
    Shortly after World War II, Dix Steele roams the streets of Los Angeles. Claiming to be a writer in order to have an excuse to not have a job, Dix offers to help a detective friend named Brub hunt down a serial killer. But Brub’s wife and another woman begin to have their own suspicions about Dix’s intentions—and connections. The taut story offers a reversal of the noir template with a study of a misogynist and sociopath who isn’t always aware of the trap tightening around him.

    The Thin Man, by Dashiell Hammett
    Hammett’s final published novel is a bit more lighthearted than his other work, and other noir detective novels in general. Nick and Nora Charles set the standard for the wisecracking, witty romantic team solving crimes almost as a hobby, and while the people the couple encounter are grotesque and violent, the seaminess never seems to touch their perfectly tailored, hard-drinking selves.

    The Grifters, by Jim Thompson
    Thompson once again presents a version of reality in which nothing is truly good and love is not really real in this classic story of con artists who never even aspire to any sort of big score—rather, they’re intent on mere survival. That survival might cost them the most fundamental bonds people can have with each other, and Thompson once again implies that this is us—all of us—at our core.

    A Simple Plan, by Scott B. Smith
    One of the key elements of noir is the erosion of trust and affection when money—or survival—is introduced. In Smith’s brilliantly efficient novel, both come between three men who find millions of dollars at the site of a small plane crash, money they decide to keep. The plan is indeed simple, but fails to take into account the chance and randomness of the universe.

    Strangers On a Train, by Patricia Highsmith
    Patricia Highsmith is perhaps the only author on this list who could challenge Jim Thompson for sheer bleakness when it comes to her view of human nature. The premise—two strangers share their troubles and consider how they could commit the perfect crime by killing the people troubling each other, people they have no connection to, and the cascading events that follow after one of the men takes the idea far more seriously than the other—once again dives into the fundamental noir concept of the illusion of control, that the idea that you can guide events is laughable, and even deadly.

    Pop. 1280, by Jim Thompson
    Some regard Pop. 1280 as Thompson’s masterpiece, and it’s a gloriously disturbing book. Nick Corey is a lazy small-town sheriff with no greater goal than to indulge his appetites and stay the course, cheating on his shrewish wife and ignoring her mentally slow brother. But Nick Corey isn’t just a liar—he’s a man with such a profound lack of self-awareness he doesn’t even realize how evil he is. As the depth of his depravity slowly dawns on the reader, everything that has come before is recast in a new, more awful light, and the betrayals and violence that come later suddenly seem perfectly in tune with the grimy universe Thompson has created.

    Galveston, by Nic Pizzolatto
    Pizzolatto, creator of HBO’s True Detective, wasn’t so famous when his debut novel was published, but it’s still a gorgeously mean-spirited noir, following low-level enforcer Roy Cady—recently diagnosed with a terminal illness—who flees New Orleans when his boss puts a hit on him. Taking a young girl along for the ride, Cady heads into Texas, trying to hide out in Galveston’s fleabag bars. But Cady comes to realize that his decision to bring the girl along has doomed them both.

    Savage Season, by Joe R. Lansdale
    Lansdale introduces his characters Hap Collins and Leonard Pine, two middle-aged nobodies who work bottom-feeder jobs. Hap’s ex-wife recruits them to help her and a radical leftist group locate money lost in a wilderness no one knows better than Hap. At first Hap is impressed by the politics and wonders if he’s wasted his life, but as the betrayals and body count mount it becomes a story of survival, pure and simple.

    Eight Million Ways to Die, by Lawrence Block
    Block’s Matthew Scudder is a recovering alcoholic, ex NYPD detective making ends meet by working as an unlicensed private detective. He agrees to help a high-class hooker get out of the life, and is surprised when her pimp seems resigned to her retirement. Then the girl is found dead, and Scudder’s physical decline due to his drinking problem is paralleled with New York City’s decline, forming the ideal noir backdrop.

    Donnybrook, by Frank Bill
    The universe of Donnybrook is a barren, economically anemic Indiana and Kentucky, where men and women scratch out their lives in a swamp of crime, drugs, and violence—exemplified by the title event, a bare-knuckle fighting competition with a $100,000 prize. The brutality is endless and unforgiving, and rendered in painful detail.

    Drive, by James Sallis
    Sallis’ novel has all the noir elements, including a skilled protagonist (called only Driver) who isn’t worried about breaking the law (in this case, by using his stunt-driving skills to help criminals commit crimes) and who quickly finds himself in over his head and struggling not to understand, or to find justice, but merely to survive. With violence around every corner, the story is as gut-spinning as a car chase, and soaked in Driver’s existential malaise.

    The post 50 Must-Read Noir Detective Novels appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

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