CategoryReading

A FAREWELL TO ARMS: Ernest Hemingway

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I first read A FAREWELL TO ARMS many years ago when I was going through what the narrator, Frederic Henry, is going through in the novel: not the part about the war on the Italian front, but the experience of great love. This personal experience of love surely colored my impressions of the novel, yet its standing as one of the Most Important Novels in My Life remains assured. If you can...

The Most Important Novels in My Life

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I have set myself a task for 2020: reread the ten most important books in my life. To qualify for the list, the novel (or novella or short story collections; I’m including those also), must meet one or more of the following criteria: It was so profound and meaningful to me that I’ve read the novel multiple times.It significantly influenced my own development as a novelist.The...

THE UNBEARABLE LIGHTNESS OF BEING, Milan Kundera

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What was once light, has now become heavy. I’m continuing to reread from the list of The Most Important Novels in My Life. I just finished THE UNBEARABLE LIGHTNESS OF BEING, by Milan Kundera. This novel was published in English in the mid-eighties when I was just starting out as a writer. I wrote and read voraciously and when I discovered Kundera’s unique, philosophical novel I was, to put it...

THE NICKEL BOYS, Colson Whitehead

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I’ve taken it upon myself to participate in Black Lives Matter. I’ve attended a BLM protest, explored my own experience with racism, made financial contributions, and tried to become more educated and empathetic to the systemic plight of Black Americans. Within this context, I read Colson Whitehead’s THE NICKEL BOYS with high expectations. First, there was the high standard that any Pulitzer...

THE EXORCIST, William Peter Blatty

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I first read THE EXORCIST when I was still in high school, late at night, in bed. One more chapter before turning out the light. It was sometime before the movie came out, because I was able to frame my own images and let my imagination take over, and not see only Linda Blair. This might be the original paperback version. Like everyone else, I sped through the novel. I can’t say I remembered...

LEGENDS OF THE FALL, Jim Harrison

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I’m only going to write about one of the three novellas in this collection, “The Man Who Gave Up His Name.” The other two, “Revenge” and “Legends of the Fall,” are worthy, but neither impacted me the way “The Man” did. I first came to this novella (89 pages) years ago when I was still in my twenties and starting out as a writer. It was...

SMILES ON WASHINGTON SQUARE, Raymond Federman

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In 1985 I went to the University of Buffalo to finish my graduate degree in creative writing. Raymond Federman headed up the program and that year “Smiles on Washington Square” was published. This novel was my introduction to metafiction, or experimental fiction, or whatever you want to call it–and I was blown away. My world expanded. The definition of a novel expanded...

THE HOURS, Michael Cunningham

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In my first graduate fiction writing workshop, I submitted a story called “Landscaping.” It was about a woman who lives largely inside her head and her stream-of-conscious voice narrates the day that a landscaper comes to her house to plant a garden. The professor asked the class, “Who’s writing does this remind you of?” Immediately someone responded, Virginia Woolf. I said, “Who’s she?” I was...

THE PLAGUE, Albert Camus

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No longer were there individual destinies; only a collective destiny, made of plague and the emotions shared by all. I probably would not have chosen to read “the Plague” if we were not in the grips of the COVID-19 pandemic and had I not found the novel on a bookshelf. But it seemed an appropriate read, tucked between my rereading of the most important novels in my life. I had just...

THE WORLD ACCORDING TO GARP, John Irving

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During the period of COVID-19, I’ve been re-reading novels from a list of twenty-five of The Most Important Novels in My Life. Next up: THE WORLD ACCORDING TO GARP. Published in 1978, when I was in college, the first time I attempted to read Garp I put it down. A few years later I started reading it again, and this time I couldn’t put it down. What changed? Sometimes you’re just...

My First Novel Was a Disaster

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I’m on page 38 of 327 pages of a novel I’m reading and I want to put it down. I’m uncomfortable reading. Anxiety is building in me. Anguish weighs me down. Even shame. And yet — I also experience a sense of wonder. The novel is called THE PETTING ZOO, and it’s the first novel I wrote, 30 years ago. I came across the manuscript — wasn’t sure I still had it...

THE ACCOMPLICES, Georges Simenon

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I recently made a list of the 25 most important novels in my life and have been rereading them to see how well they’ve stood the test of time. I had included this short, harrowing crime novel on my original list. I must have first read it when I was a teenager or in my early twenties, and the impression it made on me was indelible. The novel’s protagonist — Joseph Lambert, a...

THE GLASS HOTEL, Emily St. John Mandel

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I loved Emily St. John Mandel’s dystopian love ballad STATION ELEVEN and was looking forward to getting my hands her newest, THE GLASS HOTEL. I was not disappointed. Mandel has a gift for writing intersecting narratives that seamlessly move back and forth through time and between characters. Despite the non-traditional structure of the storytelling, there is nothing discordant or choppy in how...

LOVE IN THE TIME OF CHOLERA — Gabriel Garcia Marquez

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This novel, which I read when first published in 1988, had stuck in my memory and made my list of top 25 of all time. I just reread it as part of my “Reading in the Time of COVID-19” project. It’s a simple story about a lifetime of unrequited love finally becoming requited after 50 years. Florentino Ariza pursues Fermina Daza beginning as a teenager, but she eventually rejects...

MARIETTE IN ECSTASY – Ron Hansen

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While practicing social distancing, I’ve decided to read from a list of the 25 most important novels in my life. Ron Hansen’s MARIETTE IN ECSTASY came out in 1991. I read it then and I re-read it this week. This haunting, melodic, vivid story woke me up almost thirty years ago to what “voice” means in fiction, and the impression the novel made on me then remains indelible...

David Klein

Published novelist, creative writer, avid reader, discriminating screen watcher.

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