Dexter

Who ever heard of a serial killer story where you root for the murderer? Dexter, which began its third season on Showtime this September, turns its viewers morally upside down -- but it's weirdly compelling. What makes the show work? First, Dexter is no ordinary sociopath. Taught by his policeman foster father to channel his urge to kill, he grows into a vigilante who kills only other murderers. We identify with the power of revenge -- and rationalize the fact that Dexter's victims are worse than he is, even as we witness the kills and participates in Dexter's blood fetishism. Second, Dexter has humility. Rather than feeling superior to emotionally frail human beings (à la Hannibal Lecter), Dexter describes himself as "hollow" and "damaged." Disguised, in effect, as an ordinary human being, he tries to figure out what regular people do in regular situations -- like cuddling on the couch with his girlfriend. Jeff Lindsay keeps his monster at an ironic distance in the 2004 novel that gave rise to Dexter, but the television series humanizes him. The first season chips away at his icy image, and the second finishes the job. Dexter protects his girlfriend from her violent ex-husband and effectively takes his place (he's just great with the kids). And revelations of his own family origins literally stun him with their emotional power. In the end, Dexter makes sense not so much as an emotionally isolated serial killer as a family man with an odd hobby. It's a tribute to this unusual saga that he can somehow be both.

April 19: "What you see first, after the starting gun's crack, is a column of bobbing runners, thousands of them, surging downhill..."

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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Books, CDs, DVDs to know about now
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.