Marisha Pessl's Book Picks
The author of the bestselling Special Topics in Calamity Physics recommends a few titles full of adventure.
The Love Machine by Jacqueline Susann
“Susann’s prose is splashy, melodramatic—like a slumber party on steroids—but also retro, wide-eyed, and fun.”
Five years ago in Heathrow Airport, I decided to read Jacqueline Susann. But the bookstore had sold out of Valley of the Dolls. All they had was The Love Machine. I’d never heard of it, but bought it and it was delight at first sight. Susann’s prose is splashy, melodramatic—like a slumber party on steroids—but also retro, wide-eyed, and fun. Here you find characters named Robin Stone and Danton Miller. Money isn’t money. It’s loot. Powerful men call each other buddy boy and girls shout through their tears, “I don’t want to go to college! I want to act!” It’s fabulous. And so very very very.
The New York Stories of Edith Whartonby Edith Wharton
“Divorcées, dilettantes, mistresses, rakes—they’re all held captive here.”
I’ve been reading and re-reading this book a little over a year now, having come late to Wharton but now a serious fan. The woman was a storytelling powerhouse and her mind-blowing skill is on full display in this collection. Divorcées, dilettantes, mistresses, rakes—they’re all held captive here in the damask drawing rooms and lavish cotillions of old New York, ruthless as ever. Each piece is rich, complex, and surprisingly modern. (If you can manage it, read it while you’re sipping brandy, puffing on a cigar or wearing velvet slippers.)
Two by Carrère by Emmanuel Carrère
“These two haunting novellas got under my skin when a friend gave me the book in college and I’ve never forgotten either story.”
These two haunting novellas got under my skin when a friend gave me the book in college and I’ve never forgotten either story. Carrère’s writing—the blinkered, third-person perspective, the festering tension, the horror that lurks just around the corner, and finally, the quick, gutting stab of an ending—is an exercise in narrative virtuosity.
As Told at the Explorer’s Club by George Plimpton
“This book is half Robinson Crusoe, half Season 2 of Man vs. Wild.”
I love true tales of adventure and there’s no better source for this than The Explorer’s Club. This book is half Robinson Crusoe, half Season 2 of Man vs. Wild. But beware: Reading these stories can inspire anxiety about your own life and its relative timidity. Because these men are bullwhacking, dealing with witchcraft and Zulus, rowing across the Atlantic, encountering Death face-to-face and spitting at him. And something tells me they wouldn’t be caught dead Tweeting.
Marisha Pessl is best known for her debut novel, Special Topics in Calamity Physics . Her second novel, Night Film , is due out in 2010. She is also a French horn player.