Slavoj Zizek, the prolific Slovenian cultural theorist, has never flinched in the face of our knottier political dilemmas. In Violence, his inaugural contribution to Picador's Big Ideas/Small Books series, one of our most urgent, and vexing, social ills gets the Zizek treatment: a heady, dynamic, often exhilarating dive into the vortex of his particular brand of Lacanian theory. Violence's title is not to be taken at face value; what we get here is not an anatomy of brutality in any literal sense but rather what Zizek describes as "six sideways glances" at his subject. For Zizek, what he calls "subjective" violence -- the crime and terror we traditionally associate with the term -- is only the beginning. His real interest is in more systemic forms of violence: the ways in which language, cultural norms, and capitalism "sustain relationships of domination and exploitation." Drawing upon everything from pop culture ephemera (Nip/Tuck and M. Night Shyamalan) to global affairs (9/11, Hurricane Katrina, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict), Zizek takes aim at the Left's presumption that its ethos of freedom and multiculturalism carries with it no violence of its own (which is not to say the Right isn't lambasted as well). Zizek is better at diagnosing what ails our society than he is at providing salves for these wounds -- that his call to arms is a call to inaction, based on the notion that abstention from the political system is the best rebellion against it, feels discouraging at best. But even if Zizek leaves us with no real prescription for the problem of violence, his injunction, borrowed from Lenin, to "learn, learn, and learn" is a start. He may not have an answer, but he can still give us an education.

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…

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.