An antidote to gassy and bloated books that take twice as long as needed to tell their stories
100 One-Night Reads: A Book Lover’s Guide. Barnes & Noble, 312 pp., $7.98. By David C. Major and John S. Major.
By Janice Harayda
America suffers from a literary obesity epidemic. Too many books are too fat, stuffed with far more pages than their stories require.
What’s the solution? David and John Major offer an excellent antidote to the bloat in 100 One-Night Reads, a collection of brief, intelligent essays on 100 good, short books of fiction or nonfiction, most of them 20th-century classics.
You might need heroic quantities of Red Bull to finish some of their choices in an evening. But a typical book on their list would probably have a beguiling 200 pages or fewer in a mass-market paperback edition.
Like Noel Perrin in A Reader’s Delight, the Major brothers write with an appealing clarity and lack of pretension. The Majors don’t have Perrin’s flair and depth of perception but show consistently good taste across more than a half dozen fields. They like Dava Sobel’s Longitude, Henry James’s Washington Square, Helene Hanff’s 84, Charing Cross Road, George V. Higgins’s The Friends of Eddie Coyle, and Barbara Pym’s Excellent Women. And they aren’t snobs. Lucky Jim makes the cut partly because it has “what might be the funniest description of a hangover in all of English literature.”
Best line: On Peter Brian Medawar’s Advice to a Young Scientist, a collection of linked essays: “All of us read and see things worth noting, but Medawar actually does note them and use them in his work, scientific and literary. Few of us would think to quote, for example, apropos of a grasping careerist, from Francis Bacon (1561–1626): ‘He doth like the ape, that the higher he clymbes the more he shows his ars,’ yet all of us can think of individuals of whom this could be well said.”
Worst line: Breakfast at Tiffany’s tells the story of Holly Golightly, “a classy nineteen-year-old darling of café society in New York City.” In Truman Capote’s novella, Holly Golightly is a call girl.
Recommended if … You’re looking for a reliable guide to good books that speaks to both sexes, not just to women. This could also be a good gift for a book-club member who can never finish the books either because they’re a) so bad or b) so long.
Published: 2001 (Ballantine Books edition), 2007 (Barnes & Noble reprint)
© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.