Herman Melville – Mardi. Guess what, another obsessive quest. Imagine Melville retelling Dante, but hating Christianity and seeking to revise it. This is no less conceptual than Moby Dick, anthropologically more sophisticated, and utterly metaphysical. Fans of Herodotus should pick this one up. Typee is also much underrated, it is more than just a popular novel.
Vladimir Nabokov – Ada, or Ardor: A Family Chronicle. I had to read the first two hundred pages twice and I still do not quite understand them. The book is a dizzying array of puns, word plays, criss-crossing plots and voices, a treatise on the nature of time, and a catalog of erotic perversions, including incest. This is Nabokov at the peak of his powers, much better than Lolita. Someday I might think it is better than Pale Fire. And yes it is fun reading, whether or not you know what is going on.
Ender’s Game trilogy, by Orson Scott Card. These books are about virtual reality, the brutality of youth, game theory, the nature of war, and the implausibility of speciesism. One hundred years from now the series will still be changing people’s lives.
Some fat potboiler probably belongs here but I can’t bring myself to write down any particular title. Am I too hooked into the analytical and the symbolically complex?
Soon you will get my winner and the runner-ups. Natasha tells me her winner is Thomas Wolfe’s Look Homeward, Angel, although she warns she read it in Russian when she was nineteen. Comments are open; do not yet put down your winner, but you are free to list your dark horses.