*Waiting for Godot* and *Endgame* are pure. Pure existential angst. Their plots are constructed, with extravagant meticulousness, out of nothing. Their characters discuss, painstakingly, nothing. Meaninglessness saturates these short plays’ atmosphere: leaving the reader airless, suffocating. These plays are twin peaks of artistic achievement – and are deeply disturbing.
*Poetics* is a bite-sized treatise combining commentary on the evolution of literary genres with still-relevant advice to writers on how to develop characters, construct a good plot, and evoke appropriate emotions in the reader.
Flower Thieves is a promising debut by a writer with an eye for character, a gentle humour, and a gift for simplicity.
In this long essay, Freud examines the puzzling phenomenon of individuals in civilised societies pointing to civilisation as the root of all evil. If you want to discover the meticulous, erudite, prescient scientist behind the caricature that Freud has become in contemporary culture – this succinct, clearly-reasoned analysis marrying history and psychology is a good starting-point.
The Stranger manages to disorient us, and dislocate our own comfortable ideas about what it means to live a human life. It’s not a comfortable book – but, like the best existentialist literature, it’s a book that may enable us to search our own souls, and see in ourselves a brother or a sister to criminals and to saints. It’s a book that may empower us to face the essential meaninglessness of life: in order to create meaning for ourselves.
Tristram Shandy dazzles with linguistic innovation, effervesces with humour ranging from situational to risque, paints portraits with a brush fine but kind, and offers illuminating glimpses into the history of science. But Tristram Shandy, reputedly the world’s first postmodern novel, does not work as a novel.
The best-written science fiction is fiction that tosses flesh-and-blood human beings into challenging environments – in order to confront us with uncomfortable truths to which we’ve become comfortably blind. This is how and why The Handmaid’s Tale works.
Terry Eagleton’s Very Short Introduction to the Meaning of Life is a delectable, digestible introduction to landmark schools of thought whose debates on big questions have shaped European cultural history; and, via that route, global political history.
Mein Kampf (1925; 1926) is a rambling political manifesto, disguised as autobiography. This book offers an insight into the long roots and broad appeal of extreme ideas – and, given the persistence of nationalism, racism, religious extremism, and conspiracy theories – should be required reading for every citizen of a contemporary democracy.
Making Sense (2020) is an accessible introduction to key topics & trends In current science, presented in the ancient epistemological format of the expert dialogue