Wednesday 8 June 2011

There's a hole in my reading, dear Liza, dear Liza...

I'm going to halt you right there if you're going to say 'there's no such thing as books you must read'. There probably isn't, if one wants to stretch a point. But there are authors and novels I would feel, on my deathbed, lacking from my reading life, if I were not to try them. Ok? Ok. Lovely.

So, I'm getting into the literary confessional, and letting you know some of the authors I am a little or a lot ashamed not to have read anything at all by. (Feel free to rephrase that sentence in your head, so that it doesn't end with a preposition.) Some of these would be considered canonical - some are simply authors that people with my tastes love, and thus I feel I should have read. This is just, I think, British, Irish and American authors. If we started looking further afield than that, it would just get too embarrassing. Sorry if these authors are from elsewhere; blame my ignorance. And I'm sure I'll think of dozens more later - these are just the ones who come to mind first.

If you spot a name and think "Wow, he hasn't read anything by that author, he MUST read THIS RIGHT NOW" then do tell me with which title I should start.

Anthony Trollope
Christopher Marlowe
Daniel Defoe
W.M. Thackeray
William Faulkner
Ernest Hemingway
Jonathan Swift
Wilkie Collins
L.M. Montgomery
Aldous Huxley
Mark Twain
V.S. Naipaul
Christopher Isherwood
Beryl Bainbridge
Kingsley Amis
Martin Amis
Paul Auster
William Golding
Toni Morrison
Robert Louis Stevenson [EDIT: oops, forgot about Dr. J & Mr. H, I have read that!]
Rosamund Lehmann
Beverley Nichols
Henry Green
Winifred Holtby
Vera Brittain
Margaret Forster
Margaret Drabble
Dorothy Parker
Salley Vickers
Anita Brookner
Anita Shreve
Salman Rushdie
E. Arnot Robertson
Radclyffe Hall
Penelope Mortimer
W. Somerset Maugham


  1. I should make a list like this. Trollope would be on the top of my list as well and in fact I have bought two or three of his books but have yet to read one!

    Wilkie Collins is a favorite and I think that you would really like No Name.

    Salman Rushdie is very hit or miss for readers. I love him. I would suggest starting with Midnight's Children if you don't mind magical realism.

    Mark Twain is one that I read a lot of many, many years ago and really should do some re-reads. I remember A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court as being fantastic.

    Good luck filling in your gaps! Now I'm off to write a list.

  2. This is just proof that there will always be books we've never read. I have to say seeing this list made me not feel so inadequate in the ways of the literary. As for my recommendations:

    Beverley Nichols-need I say more?
    Christopher Isherwood
    Maughm-see post coming up in a few days
    LM Montgomery-I highly recommend her but don't know if she'll have the same effect on someone who hasn't read it over and over through childhood

  3. Oh lucky you! What great books you have in front of you to read. (And plenty of time to read them!!) I'm with Kristen -- Wilkie Collins is fun (The Moonstone and the Woman in White are both fabulous), and Barchester Towers is very funny and will get you started into a world where there are so many more to read that you will almost literally never run out (Can You Forgive Her? and The Eustace Diamonds are two good ones). And Huck Finn is such a fine book. Faulkner -- Absalom, Absalom is my favorite.

    This is a great topic and a terrific list. If I were writing in my blog, I'd make one. But I'm not for the next few weeks so I can w-o-r-k, so I'll just keep it in mind. xo

  4. Oh, Simon, who cares if they haven't read E Arnot Robertson and how many people have even heard of her? And Radclyffe Hall is simply boring (believe me, I read her when I was in my 20s when Viragos were first published and I thought I 'ought' to.)
    But Trollope and Wilkie Collins ... they are just terrific stories, so get cracking!
    And Lucky Jim is hilarious.
    (I have come to terms with the fact that I have never been able to finish Don Quixote/Moby Dick/anything by Conrad or Dostoevsy, though all have been attempted.)

  5. I can't believe you haven't read any Wilkie Collins: I recommend The Woman in White.

    As for Trollope, if you want to stay low-commitment, I'd say The Way We Live Now or He Knew He Was Right, since they each stand alone and are both very good, IMO. (If I had to choose, I'd say He Knew He Was Right for you.)

    Maugham blew me away with Of Human Bondage, but I've only managed one other book since (Cakes and Ale, which was good, but not nearly as good).

    For Dorothy Parker, look for the short story, "The Waltz." It's delightful (and short)!

  6. Here's a few books you might enjoy:

    I read As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner in high school and really enjoyed it. I don't usually go for stream of consciousness, but I remember it being very good.

    Winifred Holtby is very wise. I've read South Riding, The Crowded Street, and The Land of Green Ginger, and I would recommend the first two.

    I've only read Testament of Youth and Testament of Friendship by Vera Brittain. Both were very earnest which is all right with me but may not be everyone's cup of tea. I would say the first is better than the second with the first being excellent and the second being very good.

    I read all of L. M. Montgomery's books when I was between the ages of 10-12 or there abouts and loved her work into my teens. I still love her books, actually. I would recommend starting with Anne of Green Gables but immediatley following it with one of her two adult novels A Tangled Web. You might also like Emily of New Moon, Jane of Lantern Hill, and The Blue Castle.

  7. Winifred Holtby!
    And scratch V.S. Naipaul after his nasty comments about women authors last week.

  8. I have read very few of those authors either, but I just read my first Maugham: "The Painted Veil." It was very good. I then watched the the book, the movie changed quite a bit of the story and not for the bast. I also have recently read several Nichols books. They were quite good too. I like the ones about the houses.


  9. My dds are reading The Woman in White for their August book club mtg and I'll echo others recommendations of it. You know, if I had kept better notes along the way, I could probably make a list of authors longer than yours of people you HAVE read that I had never heard of before visiting your blog. But, I do know what you mean by wanting to get around to certain books. I feel that way about E.M. Delafield and E.F. Benson, but I do have a few of their titles on my TBR shelf, so I at least feel like I'm moving in the right direction. :)

  10. Hands down, The Woman in White! Read in before the month is out! Great List and a really good idea to get us all reading those books we've missed or overlooked. Am now re-reading "I Capture the Castle". It is truly a delight.

  11. It surprises me you haven't read Trollope! What with all the vicar stuff in the Barsetshire Chronicles, I always imagined him as a Simon author. ;) The first of that series is The Warden, but it's quite short and more focused on church politics than anything. If that doesn't sound appealing (I still enjoyed it), skip to the second, Barchester Towers, which is marvelous. And then you have the third, my favourite so far, Doctor Thorne! Wilkie's another one I think you'll enjoy; my favourites of his are two chunksters-Woman in White if you're in a gothic mood or No Name if you're in the mood for some crusading against ridiculous Victorian laws. I fell in love with L.M. Montgomery as a child, and still love rereading the Anne series; I read The Blue Castle (a standalone) for the first time last year and just adored it. I think you might start there, since it gives you a good taste for Montgomery's style!

    Of your list, I also adore Toni Morrison and Salman Rushdie, but they don't strike me as authors I'd automatically push your way. ;) But my favourite Morrison ones are Beloved and Tar Baby; for Rushdie, Shalimar the Clown, The Moor's Last Sigh, and Haroun and the Sea of Stories.

    As for other authors on your list that I've read, Thackeray's Vanity Fair gets progressively darker as it goes along and is quite a chunkster, but I'm glad I read it all the same (twice now). Swift's Gulliver's Travels surprised me with its humour, but the last part was quite depressing. Well worth a read! I haven't read Twain since he was assigned for middle school, but I have The Innocents Abroad on my Nook. It sounds like such fun! Naipaul's A Bend in the River was good, but I think it's much better if you know a bit about the Great Lakes politics beforehand, since it's a 'sink or swim' kind of approach. ;) Plus, he came off as so full of himself in that one that I don't feel much need to read any more him. I've only read The Old Devils of Kingsley Amis, and it tramautised me so much I have yet to even consider reading his son! My first read of Louis Stevenson earlier this year, Dr Jekyl and Mr Hyde, was a disappointment; I still want to try Treasure Island though. I think I'm the only book blogger on the planet who was disappointed with Anita Brookner's Hotel du Lac, and my first go at Maugham last year, Cakes and Ale, left me cold as well. I wish I'd begun with The Painted Veil instead (loved the film).

    And now I've run on for far too long, and probably not helped you make up your mind at all! I should make a list like this so fellow bloggers can advise me!

  12. Looking over my comment, I hope it doesn't sound like I'm bragging! I meant to say that twice was too much for me as far as Vanity Fair goes; I reread it for a book club I'm part of (hadn't read it since I was 18 so didn't remember much). And I haven't even heard of a few of the authors you've listed! I love how idiosyncratic everyone's lists like these are though. :D

  13. As much as I adore Vanity Fair, I'm going to have to shill for my countrywoman L.M. Montgomery here. Anne of Green Gables is, of course, the place to start. Like any classic children's book, it is no less delightful for older readers than it is for younger ones. On a more personal note, Montgomery was the first author who really captured my imagination as a reader; my love of books and reading is due in no small part to her wonderful creations and because of that I am always eager to introduce her to other readers!

  14. I almsot went into cardiac arrest over your list. But then I thought about how many of those authors I had not yet read at your age and realized that its just about right.

    There are so many I want to comment on, but I will try to stick to the ones that I think you may have an affinty for.

    Trollope - Start with The Warden to kick off the Barsetshire series.

    Huxley - Start with Crome Yellow. It has a certain Cheerful Weather for the Wedding vibe to it. (Although Point Counterpoint is my favorite of his. Brave New World is great, but only read it if you are in the mood for speculative fiction.)

    Brookner - Oh, please read one in time for International Anita Brookner Day on July 16th! They are short and I would love to have you participate.

    Drabble - Seven Sisters is by far my favorite and I think it is up your alley.

    Faulkner is like Joyce, a supposedly brilliant author who I refuse to ever read again.

    Maugham - Even though I started with Of Human Bondage and The Razor's Edge (both of which I like), I think The Painted Veil might be a better intro.

  15. Hi Si

    Are you trying to make your parents feel guilty? - the opportunities were there! (But I confess that I've not even heard of 5 of the authors). I suspect you know the plots of many of the writers' output - so you can be selective (don't feel obliged to read all of Trollop's ouevre (Wikipedia lists nearly 80)) before moving on down the list.

  16. I don't think i've read any of these either. But william Makepace Thackeray is on the top of my list along with Anita Shreve

  17. Wilkie Collins is great, I agree with everyone else on that. I'd also really recommend Salley Vickers. I loved Miss Garnet's Angel the most, but all of hers are good.

  18. As you have all these wonderfully comprehensive comments, I'm only going to mention a single book which came to my mind as I read your list: Daniel Defoe's A Journal of the Plague Year. The account may be fictionalised as he was only a child during the year he describes, but he was a journalist and goes to great lengths to convey detail. It is just the most fascinating book describing London in the 17th Century, and chronicling how the plague spread and the impact it had on individuals and communities.

  19. How brave of you to admit your gaps! Most people have beat me to it, so I will just mention Wilkie Collins - I was late to him too, only discovered him last October.

  20. I second Daniel Defoe's Journal of the Plague Year. Stunning book. You'll never believe it's fiction.

  21. With Trollope I was advised to read 'The Warden' as it's the first in the series but if I didn't like it to read 'Barchester Towers' as it's so much better. I haven't got to 'Barchester Towers' yet, but if it's that much better than 'The Warden' it's going to be excellent. It's a quiet, gentle book of clerical goings on that reminded me quite a bit of Elizabeth Goudge's cathedral city novels and I'm sure it would be right up your street.

    The other author I'm going to cast my vote for is Winifred Holtby. 'South Riding' is the best book I've read this year and the recent Virago Book Club event has made me want to reread it already.

  22. I have to say that there are plenty on that list that I haven't read, but the ones I would say are "must reads" are The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins, Midnight's Children by Rushdie and Brave New World by Huxley.

  23. Trollope, Barchester chronicles - shame on you, a vicar's son :)
    Thackeray, Vanity Fair.
    W. Collins, The Moonstone & Woman in White.
    V.S. Naipaul, A House For Mr. Biswaz.
    Beryl Bainbridge, Sweet William.
    Toni Morrison, Beloved.
    Robert Louis Stevenson, Treasure Island & Kidnapped - you *are* joking, right?
    Salman Rushdie, The Moor's Last Sigh.
    I could go on but that little lot should keep you busy. Apart from the Moor & Beloved, which hadn't been published @ the time, I'd read them *all* by the time I was your age! :)

  24. Simon, there are some wonderful authors on your list that I love so I'll just make some recommendations. You have years & years to get to these authors & sometimes it just has to be the right time.
    Wilkie Collins - Moonstone
    Trollope - The way we live now
    Thackeray - Vanity Fair
    Rosamond Lehmann - The echoing grove
    Winifred Holtby - Crowded street (Persephone)
    Vera Brittain - Testament of youth
    Margaret Forster - Keeping the world away
    Margaret Drabble - The radiant way trilogy
    Salley Vickers - Miss Garnet's angel
    Maugham - the Far East stories

    Some of these aren't my favourites from these authors but I tried to think which of their books you would like.

  25. Woman in White, Woman in White, Woman in White!!!

    I would say that reading Beloved may put you off Morrison, and that would be a terrible shame. Things like Paradise or Love might be a better way in.

    Best Anita Shreve is Fortune's Rocks, or perhaps The Pilot's Wife.

    Your reading list is going to explode, Simon!

  26. You stopped me in sentence one, but I'll make a few suggestions anyway! DP

    Swift: Gulliver's Travels
    Huxley: Crome Yellow
    Bainbridge: see here
    Stevenson: Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes
    Brittain: Testament of Youth
    Brookner: Hotel du Lac

  27. I started reading Classics about six years ago and I'm amazed at how many wonderful authors I've discovered -- Edith Wharton, Trollope, and Emile Zola are three of my favorites and I'd never even heard of Zola or Trollope back then!

    I really must recommend Trollope though I've only read three so far. I adored The Way We Live Now; The Warden was a little slow starting but I think it's worth reading if you want to read the Barsetshire series -- Barchester Towers makes more sense if you've read The Warden first (which is pretty short so not a huge time commitment).

    Of course I have to recommend Maugham -- after reading Of Human Bondage I realized basically that not all classics are boring! I still love that one best but I also loved The Painted Veil and Up at the Villa if you want to try something shorter first.

    There's a lot of authors on your list that I still haven't read, but I have many of their books on the TBR shelves. Well, happy reading, and I hope you have fun wading through all the recommendations.

  28. Must must read Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie

  29. Just last week I finished The Pumpkin Eater by Penelope Mortimer and it was simply fantastic. Do read it soon!


    Margaret Drabble - one of my favorite writers (second only to her sister, A.S. Byatt). Her trilogy, beginning with The Radiant Way, cannot be praised enough, in my opinion. Well, the first two volumes, anyway.

    Salman Rushdie - another favorite, although the quality of his writing is at times uneven. Read Midnight's Children! I think my personal favorite is The Enchantress of Florence, though.

    Martin Amis - Time's Arrow is very, very good: the concept is unique and clever. It's worth a read, especially since it is rather short.

    Winifried Holtby - I read South Riding last month. I think you would really enjoy it!

  30. I really do think you would like E. Arnot Robertson's Ordinary Families. I think it's like a sort of hybrid between I Capture the Castle and Barbara Comyns - not quite in the class of either, but still enjoyable.

    It's years since I read Henry Green, but I remember being hugely impressed when I did. Margaret Drabble was a favourite of mine when I was young, she seemed to express the mood of the time very effectively, but I tried re-reading one a while ago and it seemed horribly dated (unlike A.S. Byatt's Virgin in the Garden etc which I still like).

    Oh yes, and Huxley - Point Counterpoint is wonderful.

  31. Definitely Trollope! Start with The Warden and continue on through the Barsetshire Chronicles.
    Also Love WIlke Collins--Moonstone and Woman in White to start. I prefer both of these authors to Dickens.
    I read L.M. Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables books until my set almost fell apart. Love them.
    Beverley Nichols' garden books are marvelous light reading. I'd start with "Down the Garden Path."
    Although I'm from the American South, I find Faulkner very tough going. Dorothy Parker's criticism and light verse are better than her fiction, IMHO.
    I don't generally care much for Hemingway, but "A Moveable Feast" is marvelous.

  32. Great idea. I might make my own list but I fear it, too. I do know what you mean, about authors we MUST read. But it's problematic because there are so MANY (taking into consideration that everyone you ask will give you a different list...) and we simply can't read all the good books in this world. There are too many. This is both a good and a bad thing.

    But oh ack, ack, I'm in pain over your missing Hemingway... please read him... he's my obsessive, most favorite. Who am I to talk; I'm sure my list includes your favorites! But I hope you'll give him a try. You may not love him - not everyone does - but hopefully you can see what's unique and interesting about him even if it's not to your tastes. You don't really need me to recommend a title - there are plenty of recommendations out there - but my favorite is probably For Whom the Bell Tolls. Also The Sun Also Rises, or for an easy start, the even shorter novella The Old Man and the Sea.

  33. Hats off for your list. Mine would shamefully start with Dickens. I chose the Hardy option at school and devoured them all. Somehow I have never made it back for Dickens yet.

    You have masses of great comments already, but I will hold my hand up for Rosamond Lehmann who I think you might enjoy. Try "The Weather in the streets" or "Invitation to the Waltz".

  34. I still wonder if you personally read all of these books that you review...:-)

  35. Some of them would appear on my list too Simon. The other day I was browsing my TBR and thought - is it time for Naipal - but then was dismayed by the chunkiness of a House for Mr Biswas.

    Of those I have read in your list, I would urge you to try Hemingway (they're not long) if only so you can tick him off the list, but maybe not until after The Old Devils by Kingsley Amis, Miss Garnet's Angel by Salley Vickers, The New York Trilogy by Paul Auster and something by Beryl Bainbridge

  36. Like a few others said, I might disregard Naipaul at this point if I were you...

    My recommendations are:

    William Faulkner - As I Lay Dying
    I've read a lot of Faulkner but this one is my favorite by far -- as well as being a good introduction, I think. It's also shorter than some of his others, which might help. Alternately you could start with his short story, "A Rose for Emily":

    Salman Rushdie - Midnight's Children
    An incredibly beautiful, wide-ranging book. My roommate asked me to read it so I could attend a literature seminar with her (literature not being my subject, just an interest), and we were both completely captivated by it and still talk about it, years later.

    Vera Brittain - Testament of Youth
    I found her memoir fascinating as a teen.

  37. Hmmm - well I am answering this without looking at your other answers; besides, the more votes you get for one, the stronger the argument becomes! Here goes:

    Hemmingway: Fiesta; The Sun Also Rises
    Wilkie Collins: The Woman in White (although I also am very partial to The Moonstone)
    L.M. Montgommery: Anne of Green Gables
    Winifred Holtby: South Riding (although The Weather in the Street might be useful to you)

  38. Wow, 38 comments so far. This has certainly sparked interest among us your reading public. I wholeheartedly agree with so many of the comments that put in a good word or three for Trollope and, in particular, the Barchester series. The first two are my favourites. There is not as much humour in those that follow. You may already be aware that he is also credited with the invention of the red post box?

  39. L.M. Montgomery - to echo the cries of many, it's not fabulously sophisticated but for good-hearted, old-fashioned plot and characters, Anne of the verdigrised gables is a perennial winner for yours truly.

    Paul Auster - if I thought for a minute that anyone would ever read my optional thesis (pffff) I would send you it as a intro to this marvelous man. Try New York Trilogy or Moon Palace.

    Salley Vickers - Miss Garnet's Angel is a winner for me. It features the kind of older lady that you have a soft spot for.

  40. Great post ,we all have gaps I ve read some on your lists other not at all I have reams of list of world lit and engilish books I want to read it is finding time ,amis martin all upp to times arrow since then its been dire ,lucky jim ,jakes thing from Kingsley both good ,Maugham his short stories are great ,all the best stu

  41. Simon, dear: you didn't list Waugh, but somewhere in my heart I suspect it's because you've read only Brideshead Revisited. Please try Decline and Fall, and A Handful of Dust, so you'll know why Waugh is beloved by a devoted following.
    His World War II trilogy is also said to be the best novelization of the war.
    And his Christian (if Roman Catholic) themes are, perhaps, right up your alley.

  42. I'd put Anthony Trollope at the top of your list - but you already did. The Warden and Barchester Towers are a great introduction to AT - the first two of the popular Barsetshire series, and not as overwhelming as some of the massive later books.

  43. I read Dusty Answer by Rosamond Lehmann this year, which I really liked, aside from that, I will echo the cries of everyone else for Anne of Green Gables and The Woman in White and Trollope! I've read The Eustace Diamonds and Can You Forgive Her, they take a bit of concentration to get into, but somehow once I was in, I couldn't think about anything else. And A Moveable Feast by Hemingway is funny, he makes fun of F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ford Madox Ford and probably everyone else alive and writing in his life time.

  44. Hello, Simon! I've looked through your list, and the authors that I'd pick out from it as 'must reads' are as follows:---
    Thackeray (but this comes with a qualification---'Vanity Fair' is an absolute 'must read' as far as I'm concerned, but his other novels, such as 'Pendennis' and 'The Newcomes' are only for the very dedicated!), Wilkie Collins (The Woman in White, in particular), William Golding, Winifred Holtby, Beryl Bainbridge, Somerset Maugham and Aldous Huxley.

    Heretically, there's a few on there I'd think you could safely miss! (Martin Amis, for example.)

  45. Another vote for Miss Garnet's Angel. You will need to go directly to Venice after that.

    I devoured Drabble and Mortimer in my twenties and thirties. Hope they stand that test of time.

    Wilkie Collins is a delight, as is Amis' Lucky Jim.

    Brave New World is another you mustn't miss. It's just extraordinary!!

    We have some great advice here from your readers!! My own TBR has begun to teeter.

  46. At the risk of being a lone voice crying in the wilderness, I'd urge you to read Dr Faustus by Marlowe because it is beautiful and brilliant.

    But I suspect you'd enjoy 'Invitation to the Waltz' by Rosamund Lehmann or 'The Woman in White' much more. I also remember really liking 'Ordinary Families' by E. Arnot Robertson, despite the commenter above who so cruelly, cruelly dismissed her, and I think you'd like it too.

    I have read a few Trollopes but not many, was thinking about making that a winter reading project but can't decide between the Barsetshire series or the the Palliser series. Although I read a very enticing review of 'Miss Mackenzie' recently, was it one of litlove's? Anyway, if you read any of them please write about them as it may help me make up my mind, she demanded selfishly.

    Can't seem to log in on Blogger - I am Helen from and I am a technological incompetent.

  47. I think you should make the acquaintance of the delightful Becky Sharp. She's a selfish little so-and-so, but fabulous all the same!

  48. I'd definitely recommend Aldous Huxley, I loved Brave New World and I think it's inspired so many other books that it's definitely worth a read.

  49. Chloreplast@yahoo.com9 June 2011 at 20:40

    Mark Twain: Innocents Abroad.
    Somerset Maughan: The Moon and Sixpence.

    Two not on on your list,
    Arnold Bennett: Old Wives Tale.
    Hugh Walpole: Mr Perrin and Mr Traill

  50. Just came across my thoughts on A Bend in the River, and I must've been confusing it with Vassanji's novel. I *did not* like it due to "the book’s almost smarmy snobbishness and uber-conservative viewpoint". Heehee And after his recent asinine post, I'll happily never read him again. ;)

  51. Very late to this one Simon, but the fact you have not read any Wilkie Collins... well, I am just aghast lol. (I cant talk no Austen, Dickens or Hardy - I am a book fraud!)

    Try 'Armadale' its brilliant.

  52. Mark Twain: Try Tom Sawyer first. It introduces Huck Finn, and it's delightful in its own right.

    Margaret Drabble: The Millstone. I read it ages ago and would love to reread it, but, So many books, so little time.

    I'm new to your blog and love it -- keep reading and writing, please!


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