One-Minute Book Reviews

July 11, 2007

The 50 ‘Most Enjoyable’ Books of the 20th Century

A book full of ideas on what to read at the beach besides Tina Brown’s tales of Princess Diana and her prize-winning guinea pig

If you’re looking for a classic to read on vacation, you’ll find lots of ideas in John Carey’s Pure Pleasure: A Guide to the 20th Century’s Most Enjoyable Books (Faber and Faber, $14, paperback), a collection of 50 reviews of some of its author’s favorite books. I wrote when I reviewed it in October:

Part of the charm of Pure Pleasure lies in the brevity and directness of its essays, which first appeared in the Sunday Times of London. Secure in his reputation as one of England’s most admired critics, Carey has neither the need nor the desire to wear his erudition like a top hat at a royal wedding. His method is to dive straight into what interests him most about a book and wrap up his review in about 800 words. Here are the first lines of his essay about John Updike’s A Rabbit Omnibus: “Updike’s Rabbit saga is often praised as a lifelike portrait of middle-America in the second half of the 20th century. This should give grave offense to middle-America.” And here is how he introduces Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Unconsoled: “This is a book about stress, a problem of epidemic proportions in our culture that modern fiction largely ignores.” Carey’s writing is never harder to understand than that, yet it is full of insights into works as different as The Great Gatsby, The Hound of the Baskervilles, and the Collected Poems of W.B. Yeats.

To read the full review, click on this link:

I also love two other collections of essays on books, Noel Perrin’s A Reader’s Delight (Dartmouth, $19.95, paperback) and Michael Dirda’s Readings: Essays and Literary Entertainments (Indiana University Press,$24.95), both elegantly written and full of wonderful ideas on what to read. And while Carey’s book can be hard to find, both of these are in stock on Amazon and elsewhere.

(c) 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

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