“The last time I read The House of Mirth, Edith Wharton’s 1905 novel of manners, I was startled by how current it felt. Lily Bart, Wharton’s tragic heroine, is raised to be a thing of beauty. Her femininity is both a spectacle (‘She must have cost a great deal to make,’ thinks Lawrence Selden, the moralizing jackass Lily is unfortunate enough to love) and an object of speculation; her value on the New York marriage market is constantly appraised and adjusted by the wealthy, who derive great amusement from her missteps and failures, her unhappiness and, ultimately, her poverty. Like many women, she is nothing more than ‘an expensive toy in the hands of a spoiled child.’” —Merve Emre
Ada, or Ardor
“Forget Lolita; Ada or Ardor is Nabokov’s funnier, thornier tale of ‘kissing cousins’ (really siblings) Van and Ada. It is told through the lovers’ shared flashes of memory—their attempt to ‘caress time’ by writing down the story of their long affair. ‘I remember the cards,’ Ada says of their first illicit touch during a rainy evening, ‘and the light and the noise of the rain, and your blue cashmere pullover.’ Van replies, ‘Tactile magic. Infinite patience. Fingertips stalking gravity. Badly bitten nails, my sweet.’ Forget sex; like Lolita and Speak, Memory, Ada, or Ardor yearns to reanimate a lost childhood in great and painful detail, to free memory from the ‘prison of time.’” — Merve Emre
“Nightwood is set in France, in 1920, amidst the dark splendour of the Parisian underground and its unreal cast of characters: Nora Flood, her faithless lover Robin Vote, Robin’s husband Baron Felix, and Dr. Matthew-Mighty-grain-of-salt-Dante-O’Connor. It is my favourite novel to teach because it is a story about love and despair and because there are sentences in it that make absolutely no sense. (‘Have you ever loved someone and it became yourself?’ Nora asks, weeping over Robin’s betrayals.) The prose is, as T. S. Eliot once wrote, ‘altogether alive’—sensuous, decadent, violently summoned, and utterly indomitable.” —Merve Emre
If on a winter's night a traveler
“I am not a sentimental reader, but I make exceptions: the first person I ever loved gave me If on a winter’s night a traveler, which is about two people who read If on a winter’s night a traveler falling in love. Years later, my husband opened my copy of the book and squinted at my annotations. ‘Why have you underlined all the sexy parts?’ he asked. Reader, I could not answer.” — Merve Emre
“Don't forget Lolita, but turn it on its head: a hot, blonde middle-school teacher seduces her students and describes her seductions in elaborate, pornographic detail. Tampa is hilariously overwritten and oversexed (‘My goal was for the slippery organs of my sex to taste like the near-transparent pink shaving gelee applied to them,’ describes Nutting), a wicked comedy of unspeakable desires and sexual propriety.” — Merve Emre
The Personality Brokers
If you’ve ever applied for a job or used an online dating platform, you’ve likely encountered the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. But you likely never knew it was developed by a mother-daughter team of aspiring novelists and Carl Jung devotees. In this deeply researched, wildly entertaining book the extremely talented Merve Emre digs into all of it. Lucky us to have her as our current guest chooser!
Our current guest chooser is the brilliant Merve Emre, author of The Personality Brokers: The Strange History of Myers-Briggs and the Birth of Personality Testing, which is receiving rave reviews everywhere. An associate professor of English at the University of Oxford, Merve is also the author of Paraliterary: The Making of Bad Readers in Postwar America. Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming in The New Yorker, Harper’s Magazine, Bookforum, The New Republic, The Baffler, n+1, and the Los Angeles Review of Books.
Merve has chosen five of her favourite novels that perhaps, if you read them closely, hint at her MBTI type: ENTJ — the “CEO type.” Or else they hint at the reason she was fired from her first job as a management consultant at Bain: for reading novels at her desk.