The Last Supper: A Summer in Italy

It takes a certain courage (or recklessness or hubris) to write about being a foreigner in Italy, to choose that often-traveled road so littered with clich‚. But in her smart and original memoir, British novelist Rachel Cusk explores the land of gelato and olive trees -- joining a parade of English-speaking writers that stretches from E. M. Forster to Elizabeth Gilbert -- and makes the experience seem fresh. Dispirited by the routine of life in gloomy Bristol, Cusk and her husband take their two young daughters out of school and board a boat for France to begin a three-month adventure, renting a house in Tuscany. Cusk does not romanticize Italy, nor does she fetishize its sensual pleasures. Though she has a sharp eye for physical detail, she leads with her intellect. Museum visits spark pages-long ruminations on history and religion, including Cusk's own unhappy history within the Catholic Church. Italian cuisine doesn't just taste good; it affirms a childlike desire for simplicity. "The pizza has nothing to hide, no dark interior, no subconscious fascination with its own viscera," she writes. Cusk's restless mind continually leaps from observation to analogy. A beautiful but polluted bay has "a feeling of mystery, almost of secrecy.... It is like a violated woman who refuses to give up her secret." Mystery, not epiphany, is what Cusk craves -- and what she offers readers. "To seek held no particular fear for me," she writes. "It was to find, and to know, and to come to the end of knowing that I shrank from."

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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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.