maggie gyllenhaal
Photo: Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images
By Norman Rush

The background: It's about an unnamed female anthropologist in Africa looking for love—a fantasy of love—in kind of a manic way. I had a dictionary in my lap when I read the book, because she's this hyperintellectual who uses all these big words. It's the author's way of lovingly making fun of her and her obsession with her own brain.

Why she chose it: For the first 50 pages, I thought it was written by a woman—it was done so convincingly in a woman's voice. It's about how we think about mating in terms of finding the best of our species, but what complicates that idea is the truth about human beings: They're not perfect at all, and sometimes their imperfections are the sexiest and most appealing things to us. At the very end of the book, I think the narrator realizes that.

What stuck with her: The scene where the man who will become her lover grabs her and puts his hand over her mouth and they start whispering. At the end, she says, "You should be an assassin." I loved that line.

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