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

    These 20 Books Are Absolute Dorm Room Essentials 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    What books should every college student read?

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

     
  • Brian Boone 3:00 pm on 2017/07/07 Permalink
    Tags: , , reasons i've reread, , , the secret history   

    5 Reasons I’ve Read “The Goldfinch” So Many Times 

    The rare Pulitzer Prize-winner that was also a smash commercial hit, Donna Tartt’s 2013 opus The Goldfinch is one for the ages. Almost a young adult novel for full-on adults, it’s the coming-of-age story of teenager Theo Decker, and how he’s basically alone in the world. (There’s a reason his charming degenerate friend Boris calls him “Potter.”) It starts with a terrorist attack at an art museum, and involves his safekeeping of the stolen masterpiece The Goldfinch by Dutch master Carol Fabritius. That secret, and the painting itself, follow Theo through profound grief, being shuttled around from home to home, and into adulthood. The Goldfinch is a perfect, dense, and extremely rich novel. It’s worth reading, of course, but it’s also worth re-reading. Here are some reasons why…or at least my reasons why.

    It’s a masterclass in fiction writing

    Writers should read as much as they can. Reading good books inspire writers to up their game, and if they’re read carefully and with a very critical eye, they can teach actual technical elements of writing. The Goldfinch is the kind of book that should be read by people who want to know how to write, and by writers who want to know how to write better. I don’t know how many times over the past three years when, struck by a case of writer’s block, or merely stuck somewhere in novel writing, I turned to The Goldfinch to absorb how proper fiction writing ought to be done. Particularly when it came to pacing—I would worry that some scenes that I really enjoyed writing went on for far too long, or didn’t advance the plot of my book in a meaningful way. Should I “kill my darlings,” as many literary icons have recommended? Or, should I take a lesson from The Goldfinch…and, you know, don’t? There are many, many scenes in this gargantuan novel that don’t actively or obviously move things along. But that’s okay. Not every book has to be tightly structured. It’s just fine, and extraordinarily pleasant, in the case of The Goldfinch, to just have long scenes devoted to setting, character building, or even quiet moments. Those parts do move things forward, in their own way, along with just allowing the reader to spend a little more time in the precious world of the book.

    Donna Tartt’s description of places

    Not only does Tartt fearlessly world-build, and create dozens of indelible characters, but her sense of place is positively delicious. The Goldfinch takes place primarily in two places. Young (and later older) Theo bops around various neighborhoods in New York City, and he has a long spell in Las Vegas. Both of these cities have been well-covered and romanticized throughout books and pop culture, but Tartt describes them like nobody else. For example, New York isn’t presented as per usual as a gritty, exciting, ever-changing entity. Instead, The Goldfinch longs for a dying New York, the one of Upper East Side old-money families, boarding school kids, and respected artisans (like furniture restorer Hobie) quietly plying their trade in the small shops they’ve occupied for decades. As for Las Vegas, the book rarely sees the famous Strip, but focuses instead on the empty houses and empty days of life in the sprawling exurbs in the desert outside of Sin City. These are places not recently or often covered in literature, and Tartt makes them both feel extremely real.

    Because the audiobook version is just as good

    Truth be told, the first time I “read” The Goldfinch, I didn’t technically “read it.” I did what a lot of people do when they say they read a book in that I listened to the audiobook version. But I loved the novel so much that I wanted to absorb it again, in a different way, and I totally got to because of the method by which I’d consumed it the first time. This is highly recommended when finding a book you love. No matter the order in which you do it—reading first, audiobook second, or in my case, audiobook first, reading second—you notice new things and get to experience the book with different parts of your brain. It also helps that The Goldfinch audiobook is an exceptional work of radio theater and performance. Reader David Pittu gives a stunning performance, concocting singular, separate voices for every character (and there are a lot of them in The Goldfinch) along with fully-fleshed out characterizations behind them.

    My wife told me I should

    Book recommendations are a powerful thing, and giving them to someone you care about is an act of true love. It’s flattering to be asked for suggestions on what to read next, and one that many of us take very seriously; matching up person to title. It’s pretty intimate. Conversely, to be recommended books without asking by someone you care about is akin to them saying “I love you and also this book so much that I want you to be together.” My wife got into The Goldfinch (and subsequently Tartt’s other novels, The Secret History and The Little Friend, which are also amazing, of course) and she got me into The Goldfinch. She said to read it, and I trust her implicitly, because she’s smart and she knows me well. Her book and music recommendations for me have never been wrong. When your partner tells you to read something, just do it.

    Because there’s stuff I missed

    I’m not the first person to define a classic novel as one that you can return to over and over again and find a new layer, or nuance, or something you missed every time. The Goldfinch is a classic novel. It’s also a very, very long novel—nearly 800 pages—so there’s a lot going on. Great works of art are impossible to absorb all at once, and therein lies the delight. You don’t have to read classic novels over and over again to get them into your system, you get to come back to them, hopefully at different stages of life, and ascertain more and more delights.

    How many times have you read The Goldfinch?

    The post 5 Reasons I’ve Read “The Goldfinch” So Many Times appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

     
  • Jeff Somers 4:00 pm on 2017/03/10 Permalink
    Tags: , , the secret history, ,   

    7 Novels that Show Us How Dangerous a College Campus Can Be 

    Ideally, college is an environment of learning and personal development. For some it’s also a place of stress and failure—but even that’s better than a place of murder, conspiracy, and violence, which is what you’ll find in the seven books listed here.

    The Devil and Webster, by Jean Hanff Korelitz
    There’s very little actual violence in this novel, but the story is nonetheless soaked in a sort of free-floating menace. Naomi Roth is the new president of Webster College, once as old-school conservative as it comes, now transformed into a liberal, haven that prides itself on its inclusiveness. Roth herself is old-school progressive who led demonstrations in her youth. When the college denies popular black professor Nicholas Gall tenure, a protest movement led by the charismatic, clever Omar Khayal springs up. Roth’s instinct is to be sympathetic—an attitude that leads her into a twisting knot of hypocrisy, as she finds you can’t be both part of the establishment and a protester. Watching Roth dig herself in deeper and deeper due to her own blinkered bubble becomes entertainingly excruciating, proving that danger on campus doesn’t always involve murder and mayhem.

    The Secret History, by Donna Tartt
    Tartt’s debut makes living on campus seem like the worst thing you could possibly do for your physical and mental health. The murder at the center of the story is no secret—the book’s often described as “whydunnit” instead of a “whodunnit”—and the real mystery lies in the relationships between the narrator, middle-class Michael Papen, and a mysterious group of students studying Ancient Greek under a charismatic professor. Where most students get caught up in parties, romance, and grade-stress, these kids become obsessed with manslaughter, blackmail, and straight-up homicide, leading to psychological breakdowns. Which, come to think of it, isn’t that different from your typical college campus experience.

    White Noise, by Don DeLillo
    DeLillo’s classic gave English the wonderful phrase “airborne toxic event,” and it is that event that translates the growing paranoia and unease of the novel’s first section into physical form. The campus of the fictional College-on-the-Hill is where professor Jack Gladney pioneers the field of Hitler studies (despite not speaking German), and where he and his wife Babette obsess over death and their own mortality. The atmosphere on campus and in their home is one of decreasing connection to reality as their death obsession takes over, poisoning everything around them and driving them to the brink—or possibly over the brink—of madness. Violence does occur, but like the toxic airborne event itself, the story makes you feel like the college campus is a slowly constricting trap that will eventually crush you.

    The Accursed, by Joyce Carol Oates
    Set in Princeton in the early 20th century, when Woodrow Wilson was president of the university, Oates’ meticulously structured novel follows the misfortunes of the school’s elite families after a real, honest-to-God curse is activated against them. What follows should be a mess: it involves vampires and ghosts, angels and demons, alternate universes and extremely horrifying violence. But it does work, because Oates has planned the story so very well. You might think attending Princeton would be a great start to a successful life, but Oates makes the case that being anywhere near this Ivy League institution might result in madness, death—or worse.

    Gaudy Night, by Dorothy L. Sayers
    One of Sayers’ best-loved Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries, the true protagonist of this book is Harriet Vane, erstwhile lover of Wimsey, once accused of poisoning her lover (until proved innocent by Peter himself). Vane returns to her alma mater for its annual gaudy, but worries she will be received coolly because of her notoriety. In fact, she’s greeted warmly. Then the campus begins to suffer from anonymous pranks and ominous messages that seem to imply some act of terrible violence is coming, and Harriet is drafted into the effort to uncover the mystery before paranoia and fear destroy the college entirely. Before the story’s over, you’ll be convinced here’s a dark side to being part of a insular campus society—even if the book does end with a marriage.

    Rules of Attraction, by Bret Easton Ellis
    Ellis’s literary reputation is increasingly complicated, but this book remains a great read, detailing the students living on a debauched college campus that no one leaves unscathed. Binge-drinking, drug abuse, rape, and psychological warfare gild this lily, starring Ellis’ trademark breed of sociopaths—beautiful, smart kids who are both self-destructive and destructive in general. Written from multiple points of view and structured so as to seem infinite and looping, the story settles into your brain like an unending low-fi nightmare. If you’ve ever been in an unfamiliar place with unfamiliar people (like, say, the first day of school on campus), and felt isolated and unhappy as a result, this book replicates the sensation perfectly.

    Obedience, by Will Lavender
    Three students enroll in a 200-level Logic and Reasoning course, expecting dull lectures. Instead, their professor assigns a project: use the clues he offers to find a missing teen girl from town within sex weeks, or she’ll be murdered. Is it real? At first, the students are pretty sure it’s just a strange project, but as the professor releases more clues, they slowly begin to harbor doubts. The investigation takes them places they really don’t want to go, and once the word “conspiracy” starts to creep into their discussions, the campus no longer seems like a very safe place.

     

    The post 7 Novels that Show Us How Dangerous a College Campus Can Be appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

     
  • Jeff Somers 4:00 pm on 2017/03/10 Permalink
    Tags: , , the rules of attraction, the secret history, ,   

    7 Novels that Show Us How Dangerous a College Campus Can Be 

    Ideally, college is an environment of learning and personal development. For some it’s also a place of stress and failure—but even that’s better than a place of murder, conspiracy, and violence, which is what you’ll find in the seven books listed here.

    The Devil and Webster, by Jean Hanff Korelitz
    There’s very little actual violence in this novel, but the story is nonetheless soaked in a sort of free-floating menace. Naomi Roth is the new president of Webster College, once as old-school conservative as it comes, now transformed into a liberal, haven that prides itself on its inclusiveness. Roth herself is old-school progressive who led demonstrations in her youth. When the college denies popular black professor Nicholas Gall tenure, a protest movement led by the charismatic, clever Omar Khayal springs up. Roth’s instinct is to be sympathetic—an attitude that leads her into a twisting knot of hypocrisy, as she finds you can’t be both part of the establishment and a protester. Watching Roth dig herself in deeper and deeper due to her own blinkered bubble becomes entertainingly excruciating, proving that danger on campus doesn’t always involve murder and mayhem.

    The Secret History, by Donna Tartt
    Tartt’s debut makes living on campus seem like the worst thing you could possibly do for your physical and mental health. The murder at the center of the story is no secret—the book’s often described as “whydunnit” instead of a “whodunnit”—and the real mystery lies in the relationships between the narrator, middle-class Michael Papen, and a mysterious group of students studying Ancient Greek under a charismatic professor. Where most students get caught up in parties, romance, and grade-stress, these kids become obsessed with manslaughter, blackmail, and straight-up homicide, leading to psychological breakdowns. Which, come to think of it, isn’t that different from your typical college campus experience.

    White Noise, by Don DeLillo
    DeLillo’s classic gave English the wonderful phrase “airborne toxic event,” and it is that event that translates the growing paranoia and unease of the novel’s first section into physical form. The campus of the fictional College-on-the-Hill is where professor Jack Gladney pioneers the field of Hitler studies (despite not speaking German), and where he and his wife Babette obsess over death and their own mortality. The atmosphere on campus and in their home is one of decreasing connection to reality as their death obsession takes over, poisoning everything around them and driving them to the brink—or possibly over the brink—of madness. Violence does occur, but like the toxic airborne event itself, the story makes you feel like the college campus is a slowly constricting trap that will eventually crush you.

    The Accursed, by Joyce Carol Oates
    Set in Princeton in the early 20th century, when Woodrow Wilson was president of the university, Oates’ meticulously structured novel follows the misfortunes of the school’s elite families after a real, honest-to-God curse is activated against them. What follows should be a mess: it involves vampires and ghosts, angels and demons, alternate universes and extremely horrifying violence. But it does work, because Oates has planned the story so very well. You might think attending Princeton would be a great start to a successful life, but Oates makes the case that being anywhere near this Ivy League institution might result in madness, death—or worse.

    Gaudy Night, by Dorothy L. Sayers
    One of Sayers’ best-loved Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries, the true protagonist of this book is Harriet Vane, erstwhile lover of Wimsey, once accused of poisoning her lover (until proved innocent by Peter himself). Vane returns to her alma mater for its annual gaudy, but worries she will be received coolly because of her notoriety. In fact, she’s greeted warmly. Then the campus begins to suffer from anonymous pranks and ominous messages that seem to imply some act of terrible violence is coming, and Harriet is drafted into the effort to uncover the mystery before paranoia and fear destroy the college entirely. Before the story’s over, you’ll be convinced here’s a dark side to being part of a insular campus society—even if the book does end with a marriage.

    Rules of Attraction, by Bret Easton Ellis
    Ellis’s literary reputation is increasingly complicated, but this book remains a great read, detailing the students living on a debauched college campus that no one leaves unscathed. Binge-drinking, drug abuse, rape, and psychological warfare gild this lily, starring Ellis’ trademark breed of sociopaths—beautiful, smart kids who are both self-destructive and destructive in general. Written from multiple points of view and structured so as to seem infinite and looping, the story settles into your brain like an unending low-fi nightmare. If you’ve ever been in an unfamiliar place with unfamiliar people (like, say, the first day of school on campus), and felt isolated and unhappy as a result, this book replicates the sensation perfectly.

    Obedience, by Will Lavender
    Three students enroll in a 200-level Logic and Reasoning course, expecting dull lectures. Instead, their professor assigns a project: use the clues he offers to find a missing teen girl from town within sex weeks, or she’ll be murdered. Is it real? At first, the students are pretty sure it’s just a strange project, but as the professor releases more clues, they slowly begin to harbor doubts. The investigation takes them places they really don’t want to go, and once the word “conspiracy” starts to creep into their discussions, the campus no longer seems like a very safe place.

     

    The post 7 Novels that Show Us How Dangerous a College Campus Can Be appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

     
  • Whitney Collins 7:17 pm on 2015/04/21 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , the secret history   

    Spotlight on the Elusive and Brilliant Donna Tartt 

    Donna Tartt might be one of America’s most mysterious contemporary fiction writers. The Pulitzer Prize-winning author rarely gives interviews, and when she does, she speaks little of her interests or routines. She also dislikes book tours, believing they detract from the very thing they’re meant to promote.

    She was born in Greenwood, Mississippi, just a Sunday afternoon’s drive from the stomping grounds of Southern Gothic greats Faulkner and Welty. The Telegraph describes Tartt’s childhood as lonely. Her father was a “wild card,” her mother was “not particularly interested in small children.” Tartt threw herself into books and writing, entering literary contests and getting published by age 13. At the University of Mississippi, she was a reluctant sorority girl. During her freshman year, writer and professor Willie Morrisher noticed her preternatural talent and introduced her to Barry Hannah, who promptly admitted Tartt into graduate-level classes.

    Tartt transferred to Bennington College in Vermont, where she rubbed elbows with other up-and-coming writers, notably American Psycho author Bret Easton Ellis, whom she briefly dated. While at Bennington, Tartt began her debut novel, the ecstatically reviewed The Secret History, published when she was 28. Tartt now lives in a quiet world all her own, where she keeps herself to herself and writes in a meticulous longhand method that seems fitting for the intricate prose she creates.

    But, as Tartt says, “The books are the important thing.” She famously takes her sweet time completing her manuscripts (approximately a decade for each one), which combine literary brilliance with thrilling plots. They are as beautiful as they are frightening.

    The Secret History
    Tartt’s riveting debut, The Secret History, is a reverse murder mystery—a whydunit rather than a whodunit. It centers around two homicides (one intentional, one accidental) and a group of elite, jaded New England college students who worship their Classics professor and insulate themselves from the real world while indulging in excessive amounts of alcohol, pills, literature, and Bacchanalian delights. Narrated by a lonely, lower-class California academic, Richard Papen, who dances on the periphery of this novel’s tight-knit Greek group before his eventual acceptance into the fold, it’s a story about those who live and die inside a bubble of boredom and brilliance. Sprawling and satirical, The Secret History set contemporary fiction on a new trajectory, proving literary elegance and riveting plot can coexist. It draws readers into a high-brow world without alienating them, with stakes as high a any 20th-century Greek tragedy.

    The Little Friend
    Tartt’s sophomore novel also involves a murder or two. This time around, the pivotal death is the unresolved hanging of a young boy named Robin. Narrated by Harriet Dufresnes, the victim’s young sister, The Little Friend is a both poetic and horrifying (and delicious, and grim) whydunit, seeking to unravel the who and why of the killing. One sweltering summer, Harriet and her best friend take up the investigation, finally settling on their suspect: a backwoods, drug-pushing redneck named Danny Ratliff. Set in the arcane corners of 1960s Mississippi, this book reads like a page-turning thriller, while exploring a stark take on the ruthlessness of the world. It’s a propulsive story of revenge and grief with a sultry, Southern Gothic setting.

    The Goldfinch
    This hefty, Pulitzer Prize-winning novel tells the gripping story of Theo, a boy who loses his mother in a museum terrorist attack and somehow escapes with his life in pieces—and with a famous painting, The Goldfinch. The plot follows him through deep grief, then bewilderment, then rebellion. Readers are taken on a dense and descriptive journey as he tries to rebuild his life, taken in first by a wealthy family in Manhattan, then by his dad and his dad’s girlfriend in Las Vegas, before eventually escaping to Amsterdam. The Goldfinch is a masterfully woven tale about passionate friendships and obsessions, post-traumatic stress and drug use, not to mention the dodgy underworld of stolen art and antiques. Simultaneously a suspense story and a tale of devotion, it’s an ambitious testament to both the mother-son bond and the rollicking desperation of white-collar crime.

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