Ex Libris by Michiko Kakutani [7/10]

Legendary New York Times book reviewer Michiko Kakutani offers, in “Ex Libris: 100+ Books to Read and Reread,” a generously curated cornucopia of reading. Kakutani’s breadth is stunning, ranging from classics and obscure documents, through school staples, through “top 10 of all times” listers, to trenchant modern nonfiction takes on America. Refreshingly, she has not attempted any form of balance or orientation, rather Ex Libris is a magpie-reader’s “the shit I read” A-Z dump, and I was captivated. Four Muhammad Ali books sit next door to an obscure Martin Amis memoir. William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying slides into Elena Ferrante’s The Neapolitan Quartet. A zinging coverage of Elizabeth Kolbert’s The Sixth Extinction is followed by a Jhumpa Lahiri novel and then by two Jarod Lanier polemics. In contrast to her formal newspaper reviews, Kakutani’s treatment is convivial. She spends time telling us what each book is about. Often a book’s virtues are barely enumerated; all you need know is that she has chosen it and therefore is is worthy. The books I knew were reborn under her gaze, and the unfamiliar offerings … well, I’ve plucked a dozen out to try. I can roundly recommend Ex Libris for any passionate reader, indeed for anyone commencing a journey of reading passion.

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