What Should I Read Next

What a great idea: ask some 70 colleagues at your university -- in this case the University of Virginia -- to provide a short essay with a list of five books on a subject in their fields. The result here is even better than the premise, since each prof responds in his or her own way, some recommending tried-and-true canonical works, others listing books in their areas that reach out to general readers, and others simply suggesting five ways of sampling a masterpiece. The contributions span the university curriculum and include suggestions on historical and political topics (the Founding Fathers, poverty in modern America, 19th-century Chicago); on science and mathematics (the evolution of visual perception, symmetry and group theory, the history of logic); and on literature and the arts (the poetry of mourning, 100 years of jazz, the 19th-century Spanish novel). Other essays explore religious ideas, child development, and issues in illness and mental health. In short, it's a real educational smorgasbord, much like an annotated course guide. Some authors find their way onto more than one list, but not always for the reason you might expect. Shakespeare shows up in readings for a study of ethical values as well on a more conventional list for the English "word hoard." Among contemporary writers and scholars, Jared Diamond, Michael Klarman, E. O. Wilson, Julia Alvarez, and Michael Pollan all make multiple appearances for their recent work in a wide range of disciplines. The delights here are many, and the intellectually curious will consult this clever collection time and again. Let's hope other universities follow the format -- a first-class education at your fingertips.

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.