I'm usually reading four or five books at a time. At the moment, I'm in the middle of Husain Haddawy's enchanting translation of "The Arabian Nights" (forget Cervantes and Sterne — this is where postmodernism begins); Jean-Luc Marion's anti-ontotheological "God without Being"; Guy Davenport's essays; a few books of poems I switch among; and Daniel O'Malley's "The Rook."
This last is a supernatural espionage thriller that imagines a secret secret service within British intelligence staffed by agents who can kill with a touch or who inhabit four bodies. It's devoted to dealing with unconventional threats to the Crown — like vampires manipulating the wheat market.
This piece first ran in Printers Row Journal, delivered to Printers Row members with the Sunday
Implausible adventures initiated me into a life of reading. I raced through Laura Ingalls Wilder's "Little House" series when I was 5 years old. By the time I was 7, I'd inhaled the old Hardy Boys hardcovers (and a couple of Nancy Drew's
I never abandoned these pulpy groves. I moved deeper into them. There are writers in the genre ghettos who make
Losing his virginity, his actual virginity, hadn't meant very much to Frank. He had been in the right place. Others made it a story they still talked about years later, adding flourishes like Kromer did with the girl he strangled in the barn.
I could go on listing my favorite genre writers all day, but in recent years I've been much taken with a genre I call "fascist porn." The suspense thrillers of
Politically, I'm a bit to the left of
If five armed badasses have Jack Reacher surrounded, five armed badasses are going to the hospital or the morgue. He's basically a grounded
Ideologically it's garbage. As art it's garbage. But as music critic Chuck Eddy said about rock 'n' roll: The one thing I've learned from
The question, then, isn't "is it ethical?" but "does it rock?" And Jack Reacher rocks.
Anyway, I'm not sure "leftist porn" is a coherent notion. Any genuine revolutionary impulse in this country was long since subsumed and diffused within liberalism's procedural energies. And no one wants to read a novel whose characters run around starting community gardens and signing petitions in support of same-sex-marriage ballot initiatives.
I don't believe in "guilty pleasures." Pleasure's nothing to feel guilty about (standard disclaimers apply). The Reacher novels and their ideological brethren punch well below le Carré's or J. G. Ballard's weight, not to mention
Flaubert said, "Do not read, as children do, to amuse yourself. ... No, read in order to live." But, assuming we even know what this means, why can't we do both? It's true that the latter injunction is too little understood, much less followed. When I see adults reading
Michael Robbins is the author of "Alien vs. Predator."
Michael Robbins' recommendations
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy by John le Carré (1974)
The short, pudgy cuckold George Smiley — "not naturally equipped for hurrying in the rain" — is no Jason Bourne. And, too smart to see the Cold War as a contest between good and evil, he's no ideologue. But he has "the cunning of Satan." This is the first of three terrific novels in which Smiley matches wits with his Soviet counterpart, the enigmatic Karla.
Little, Big by John Crowley (1981)
Smoky Barnable marries Daily Alice Drinkwater and they raise a family in the country house
The Hunter by Richard Stark (1962)
The mystery writer Donald Westlake saved his grittiest prose for the novels written under the pen name Richard Stark. From the opening line of this long-running series, Stark's anti-hero Parker embodies the most polished noir sensibility in American fiction: "When a fresh-faced guy in a Chevy offered him a lift, Parker told him to go to hell."
Ritual by Mo Hayder (2008)
Police diver Flea Marley discovers a severed hand 9 feet under water. The other hand turns up a day later. After that, things get fairly weird and dark. Hayder's grisly thrillers make "The Silence of the Lambs" seem as sappy as "Love Story."
Without Fail by Lee Child (2002)
Reacher is hired to assassinate the vice president. Except not really. But someone has been hired to assassinate the vice president. Could it be Reacher? Or is Reacher the only man who can stop the assassin? (Spoiler alert: Reacher stops the assassin.) Silly, adrenalized, reptile-brained fun.