Trombley is president of Pitzer College and the author of "Mark Twain's Other Woman." "Abraham Lincoln: Speeches and Writings"Humanity, intelligence, despair, determination and belief in a greater good all come through in the prose of our most eloquent president. Facing a changing nation, a ruinous war, a generation of men lost, a destroyed economy, debates about race and rights, Lincoln had a practiced clarity of thought and a gift for expression that remains unmatched. His integrity, willingness to accept change while remaining elastic in his thinking while simultaneously withstanding intense political pressures to hold the party line makes him a role model for us all. "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" by Mark TwainA novel of American voices, in all their glorious variations of dialect, that tells the tale of a little boy lost trying to find a safe place along the banks of the Mississippi River. With strategic use of humor, Twain guides us through this most violent of narratives, laughing all the way, that explores child abuse, the ruthlessness of slavery, the nihilism of mindless violence, stereotypical gendered behavior, xenophobia and racism, and the dangers represented by established education and religion. When Huck lights out for the territory at the end, instead of referring to a true physical territory, perhaps Twain is hinting at an interior, metaphysical one and that we should free ourselves. "Waiting for Nothing" by Tom KromerThe best book you have never heard of. Writing in the aftermath of the Great Depression, Kromer's memoir describes his struggle for survival during a time when there was no state or federal relief. A searing tale that humanizes the too often invisible and hidden faces of poverty. His United States is a hostile, brutal place where people are exploited and cast aside. His is a cautionary tale about the responsibilities and failures of humanity and society. "Song of Solomon" by Toni MorrisonLayers of magic, folk tales, classical and biblical allusions, all of which work to underscore a coming-of-age narrative, a relationship fable, the African American experience, and life in these United States. This is lyricism at its finest with the smallest details having the greatest of impact. It is a song of resilience that reminds us of both our past and the promise of a not-yet-realized future. "Regarding the Pain of Others" by Susan SontagIn keeping with the tradition of women intellectuals like Margaret Fuller and more contemporaneously Gloria Steinem, Angela Davis, Elaine Kim and Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, Sontag's essays detail the essences of human existence from image to aesthetics, to illness, to war and ultimately death. There are no easy answers. The emphasis is always to look below superficial meaning to deconstruct the reasons for thinking the way we do and divining whether we should continue to do so.
Glenn Koenig / Los Angeles Times