Rashomon and Other Stories by Ryunosuke Akutagawa
How to start: Akutagawa died young, committing suicide at 35 and ending a brilliant writing career. Today, a literary prize in Japan bears his name. An article in Japan Times gives further detail about his life and legacy.
Favourite passage: "Goi was a very plain-looking man. His hollow cheeks made his chin seem unusually long. His lips... if we mentioned his every striking feature, there would be no end. He was extremely homely and sloppy in appearance."
Tangential: Rashomon was made into a film in 1950 to great critical acclaim. Roger Ebert had a lot to say about it.
Sixty Stories by Donald Barthelme
How to start: Barthelme is a postmodern writer and my appreciation for the genre amounts to the appreciation I have of Jelly Bellys for their transitory shock of flavour. If I don't understand most of his stories, his obituary in the New York Times makes me wish I did.
Favourite passage: "They sit down together. The pork with red cabbage steams before them. They speak quietly about the McKinley Administration, which is being revised by revisionist historians. The story ends. It was written for several reasons. Nine of them are secrets. The tenth is that one should never cease considering human love, which remains as grisly and golden as ever, no matter what is tattooed upon the warm tympanic page."
Mother's Milk by Edward St. Aubyn
How to start: Mother's Milk is the fourth book in a series of five, that collectively form the Patrick Melrose Novels. In 2012 the series was published as a single volume.
Three favourite passages: "He was having (get it off your chest, dear, it'll do you good) a midlife crisis, and yet he wasn't, because a midlife crisis was a cliché, a verbal Tamazepam made to put an experience to sleep, and the experience he was having was still wide awake (...)."
"He struggled so hard to get away from his roles as a father and a husband, only to miss them the moment he succeeded. There was no better antidote to his enormous sense of futility than the enormous sense of purpose which his children brought to the most obviously futile tasks, such as pouring buckets of sea water into holes in the sand. Before he managed to break away from his family, he liked to imagine that once he was alone he would become an open field of attention, or a solitary observer training his binoculars on some rare species of insight usually obscured by the mass of obligations that swayed before him like a swarm of twittering starlings. In reality solitude generated its own roles, not based on duty but on hunger."
"Now she had an hour, perhaps two, in which to answer letters, pay her taxes, keep in touch with her friends, revive her intellect, take some exercise, read a good book, think of a brilliant money-making scheme, take up yoga, see an osteopath, go to the dentist and get some sleep. Sleep, remember sleep? The word had once referred to great haunches of unconsciousness, six, eight, nine-hour slabs; (...)."
Tangential: The New Yorker published an interview with the author in 2014, entitled "The Real Life of Edward St. Aubyn."