Back to the '50s

Five favorite novels from a decade that was wilder than you think.

Topics: Readers and Reading, Books,

The Moviegoer by Walker Percy
A novel whose action is oblique, slantwise, Southern existential. What has remained with me is its almost French quietness.

The Adventures of Augie March by Saul Bellow
As an aspiring young writer I felt liberated by this rousing, freewheeling Jewish picaresque assault on narrative correctness. I imagine it set many of my generation free.

Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
A monumental, hammered-out novel of perfected technical mistakes. I cannot conceive of post-war American literature without it.

Wise Blood by Flannery O’Connor
Poetically imagined and religiously inspired, its sentences gleam like chrome. As the first great workshopped novel (and, some would say, the last), it can be read also as a series of stand-alone chapters.

On the Road by Jack Kerouac
Considered as the boisterous self-assertion of a carful of derelicts, it becomes a spiritual gloss on the 1930s proletarian novel. Should be read in a rush, as it seems to have been written. All writers coddle the fantasy of automatic writing and I am critically indulgent of one who was foolish enough to think it a practical possibility.

E.L. Doctorow is the author of many novels, including "Ragtime" and, most recently, "The Waterworks."

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