Zadie Smith's Bookshelf
By Vladimir Nabokov
This novella is explicitly a book about ridicule and caricature—Professor Pnin is a joke of a man on a college campus. He's an awkward Russian émigré with bad English, false teeth, a clumsy sense of humor, a tendency to burst into tears or take offense at small slights. Everybody on campus can do an impression of him. He's a clown. But at the core of the book is the idea that there is a Pnin who is as real as the people who ridicule him. You are invited to laugh at him, and then you are humbled and shamed by your own laughter. It's a gorgeous, hilarious, humane book that uncovers the reality of a man's life in sly, piecemeal fashion. I think it's my favorite novel.