When we’re at home some people become cultured while others are more focused on feel-good entertainment to pass the time. But what if I told you there was a way to get both? Introducing books: Entertainment You Can Feel Smug About. Let’s get into it.
I’m starting with the greatest book of modern American history, a banned-for-obscenity masterpiece by the late, great Phillip Roth.
Published in 1969, Portnoy’s Complaint is a darkly comic, sexually obscene and unquestionably brilliant monologue—making it a fast, brisk read carried on the strength on perhaps the greatest work by perhaps our greatest author.
I’ve bought this book countless times. I read aloud from it: I use monologues and quotes when I need to.
I stake my reputation: this is the single best book I’ve ever read. It is beautiful and uproarious and layered and strange, and a recording of the Jewish-American psyche that is both timely and timeless.
It’s also so, so fun.
Oh wait, maybe THIS is the best book I’ve ever read.
Portnoy’s Complaint is sharp, brilliant, and acidic, a masterwork of fast-paced genius with daring and inventive structuring.
White Teeth, meanwhile, trades the rapid-fire and insular, naval-gazing protagonist for a beautiful, layered, and multi-generational story that spans decades between two families in England.
It’s fun as hell, immersive as any world-building game you touch (hello, Animal Crossing), and oddly comforting.
White Teeth is a celebration and exploration of authentic humanity. It’s beautiful, brilliant, poignant, and hilarious—a quick read with all the pathos and artistry of the greatest works.
Zadie Smith is one of the greatest writers alive. Take a moment and enjoy her.
The two novels above are the best I’ve ever read, but this is one of the most fun.
The White Tiger is the best-selling, Man-Booker Prize winning-debut of Aravind Adiga, which follows the rise of the brilliant, darkly ambitious Balram Halwai––one of the rural poor from “the darkness” in India who claws his way to the position of “driver” in a wealthy household.
If you liked the Oscar-winning Parasite, The White Tiger is its natural (albeit spiritual) successor. It’s light, brisk, and will linger with you.
For those of you who want the absolute easiest read on the list, this is that.
A prize-winning beach-read is a rare treat—indulge with it.
James Baldwin is often lionized for his moral clarity and brilliance as a writer. However, the sheer weight of his genius can have the counter-productive effect of intimidating people—keeping them from actually reading his work.
So, let me tell you a secret: Baldwin is perhaps the best writer in American history—not as a chore, but as a delight.
James Baldwin is so brilliant that he dovetails back to simplicity in his prose. There is clarity, moral and textual, in his work. Baldwin has clarity, empathy, and artistry and he makes you feel smarter for having read him.
I promise you can handle him—the first essay in The Fire Next Time is written to his 14-year-old nephew.
Get started with this national treasure. Because—grimly—he’s as timely as ever.
Fine, this one is homework. But it’s a masterclass on human history—Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind is one of those “real books” you usually see in hardcover for a premium at airports.
Yuval Noah Harari dives into humanity, mankind, and the enormous history and meaning behind even those definitions.
Reading the other books will teach you quite a lot about humanity: this will teach you about mankind.