A Life In...Books: David Rakoff


1. "House of Mirth" by Edith Wharton. An astonishment of a book; still so new despite being almost a century old.

2. "Lucky Jim" by Kingsley Amis. Not just funny, but a litmus test of humor by which one can judge (harshly and without quarter) one's prospective friends. Did they laugh? Fine, they're in.

3. "The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon." Aphorisms and observations from a lady of the court of Heian Japan, fully a thousand years ago. A perfect read-aloud book.

4. "Dombey and Son" by Charles Dickens. Perfect Dickens, without the treacly protagonist of "Bleak House."

5. "Low Life" by Luc Sante. A history of vice in New York City. I'm obsessed.

A certifiable classic you haven't read: The question is more properly posed, "Which have I read?" and the answer is, sadly, not many. Huge gaps.

A book you keep returning to: "Slouching Towards Bethlehem" by Joan Didion. Ideal essays: still so true and beautiful, even though I know them intimately.