Cleopatra's Nose: 39 Varieties of Desire

Men and women suffer from grandiosity in different ways. Men tend toward fantasies of omnipotence, women of uniqueness, Judith Thurman posited in a 2002 essay on Catherine Millet. This latter claim -- that womanhood is somehow allied with the pursuit of singularity -- lies at the center of Thurman's new essay collection, Cleopatra's Nose: 39 Varieties of Desire, an insightful composite of two decades worth of her writings for the New Yorker. Impressive in their range yet grounded in a common sensibility, the essays of Cleopatra's Nose, taken together, represent a cultural history of extravagance at the turn of the millennium, from its fashion icons (Balenciaga, Armani) to its fads (artisanal tofu, exercise bulimia). The collection occasionally loses sight of its overarching conceit, proving stronger when it remains in the world of couture than when it ventures into literary criticism, but these conceptual detours rarely detract from Thurman's authority as an arbiter of culture. She has a knack for describing textures -- those of both fabrics and lives --in a way that captures the longing, and indeed the variousness, of our collective desires.-

April 18: "[W]ould it be too bold to imagine that all warm-blooded animals have arisen from one living filament…?"

Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch is the winner of the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. James Parker calls this Dickensian coming-of-age novel "an enveloping…

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Poems That Make Grown Men Cry

And women too.  Luminaries from Colin Firth to Nick Cave and Jonathan Franzen chose the poems that bring them to tears, and the result is a stunning collection of poignant verse from writers like Auden, Whitman, Bishop, Larkin, Neruda and many others.  Warning: choking-up hazard.

The King of Pain

Trapped beneath his entertainment system, reality TV mastermind Rick Salter reflects on his life and tries to piece together the events of the previous evening. Seth Kaufman’s romp is an outrageous meditation on pain and entertainment in a deranged world in which the two are often interchangeable.

The Good Inn

Frank Black, frontman for the Pixies, has written a transgressive historical fiction with shades of Thomas Pynchon (focused as it is on the history of explosives and cinematic pornography), all set in a hallucinatory Edwardian Europe.