Monday, September 17, 2007

Twentieth century books I really, really liked*

Here's a partial list:

Pictures from an Institution, by Randall Jarrell. A roman de clef which skewers a lot of well-known intellectuals, like Mary McCarthy. Most of them are gone also, but their foibles live on in this irreverent look at academic life.

Lucky Jim, by Kingsley Amis. Also about academic life and its pretensions. The hapless hero gets himself into all sorts of sticky situations, some of which are laugh-out-loud funny.

Anglo-Saxon Attitudes, by Angus Wilson. A dysfunctional family--the wife insists on inviting her husband's mistress to family celebrations--and a scholarly hoax both unravel, with unexpected consequences.

The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, by Alexander McCall Smith. A sunshiny book, full of charm and great affection for Botswana and its citizens. Makes you want to book a trip there.

The Essence of the Thing, by Madeleine St. John. The story of a romantic break-up which devastates the heroine until her friends rescue her. Told largely in dialog, without a wrong or a wasted word.

The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald--the ultimate romantic story. A man with an obsession and some rich, idle, bored people collide in the Roaring Twenties.

Morte d'Urban, by J. F. Powers. A story about a worldly but likeable priest in 1950's Minnesota, and how his life's journey plays out. Every line is funny, every character well-observed and three-dimensional, but there are somber overtones.

*This doesn't mean that they were great, only that I enjoyed them.

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