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The Weekly Standard Holiday Reading Guide

Our holiday gift to you: We offer our choices for books to enjoy over the holidays or to consider as last-minute gift ideas.

11:00 PM, Dec 19, 2002
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Editor's Note: We'll be on hiatus for the holidays, so next week, we'll be posting some of our favorite recent pieces from both The Weekly Standard and The Daily Standard--some holiday-related, some not. Enjoy, and have a terrific and safe holiday season!

William Kristol, editor

READ ANYTHING by the greatest living American comic writer (besides Andy Ferguson), Donald E. Westlake. I'd begin with any of the eleven Dortmunder books--John Dortmunder being the leader of a hapless gang of criminal misfits whose hilarious and poignant misadaventures Westlake chronicles. For those of you in a post-holiday mood for noir, pick up one of Westlake's thrillers starring the cold-blooded Parker, which appear under the pseudonym Richard Stark. But all of Westlake's oeuvre is very fine--and it's huge (almost fifty novels under his own name, another couple of dozen at least under pseudonyms)--so you can read used paperback after used paperback for weeks. (Don will be upset if I don't urge you to buy one or two of his books new, as well, so I hereby urge you to do that. And I suppose giving used paperbacks as gifts is considered by the unknowing to be a little tacky.)

For more on Westlake, re-read Steven Lenzner's article "The American Comedy" in our July 2/July 9, 2001, issue. But above all, start reading Westlake--and enjoy.

Fred Barnes, executive editor

THE BEST BOOK I read in 2002 and one I recommend to everyone is "Dominion" by Matthew Scully. It's about man's cruelty to animals and Scully's argument is pitched especially to conservatives and Christians. Forget about "animal rights." Scully makes the case--very persuasively--that we have a duty to protect animals, who are totally dependent on us, from the massive abuses that are now routinely and unthinkingly inflicted on them. Once you discover how pigs are raised for slaughter, for instance, you may decide to give up pork and bacon. I suspect I'll never be a vegetarian--I don't plan to be--but there are some things I'd just rather not eat.

Book two: "Sister Carrie" by Theodore Dreiser. I never read it in college and, yes, I know Dreiser was a leftie. But what a great book!

Christopher Caldwell, senior editor

Tolstoy or Dostoevsky

A COUPLE OF YEARS AGO, I read Tolstoy's "Anna Karenina" for the first time in twenty years, for a review I was writing of a new translation by the husband-and-wife team of Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky. What an experience. Among other things, I noticed for the first time the elaborate parallels Tolstoy lays out between the superficially dissimilar courtships of Levin and Kitty on one hand, and Vronsky and Anna on the other. Either I had been too dumb and inexperienced for "Anna Karenina" the first time around, or the Pevear/Volokhonsky version marked a significant advance on the translations available in my youth.

Probably a bit of both, but my curiosity about Pevear and Volokhonsky was primed. I noticed that they had cut their translating teeth on Dostoevsky's "Notes from Underground," "Crime and Punishment," and "The Brothers Karamazov." This week I started reading their version of Dostoevsky's "The Possessed" (they have retitled it "Demons"), which came out in 1994. Thus far it seems as great an achievement as their Tolstoy. I remember "The Possessed" as impressive, but in a lugubrious, earnest, ideological way. Again, my own undergraduate blockheadedness may be to blame, but the second time around, it reads like a different (and vastly more interesting) book. So Dostoevsky describes a piece of Romantic bathos by the champagne-leftist poetaster Stepan Trofimovich Verkhovensky, in which the poet's "greatest desire is to lose his reason as quickly as possible (a perhaps superfluous desire)." He tells us that "many persons with the rank of general have the habit of saying ludicrously: 'I have served my sovereign . . .' as if they did not have the same sovereign as the rest of us." This eight-year-old translation ensures that Russian-speakers' insistence on a wry--even hilarious--side to Dostoevsky will never again fall on deaf Anglophone ears.

Claudia Winkler, managing editor

RECOMMENDATION to Boomers: Dig out your old Landmark books and Signature series biographies and read them to the nearest kid old enough to sit still for them. You'll see why they thrilled you 40 years ago.