We gave some careful thought to the compilation of this list, because we take our duties seriously, or we will once someone tells us what they are. Certainly making book lists isn’t it, because where is our inexhaustible cornucopia of money?
Anyway, here are the top ten books from Read This Next which should be read by every single person who enjoys pleasure. We have specifically chosen the books anyone and everyone will like, but relatively few have tried. Some are more obscure than others, but all of them should be on your shelf. Seriously, if you don’t like it today, you’re just not in the mood. Next year, you’ll get the flu or something, and pick up that despised book and realize that it is an inexhaustible cornucopia of pleasure, and then you will know how very unfair our money situation is, because without us, who would lead you to that pleasure?
The Pursuit of Love, Nancy Mitford. It’s just funny, and a little bit “blissy,” to use the parlance of Mitford’s upper-crusters. The other joy of the book is that here even the most bizarre character traits are considered lovable – the obsessive hypochondriac, the girl who hates her own baby, the parasitic flatterer – all are found delightful by the very delightful Mitford.
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, Anita Loos. Has been cruelly overshadowed by the almost completely unrelated movie. Marilyn Monroe singing and dancing, fine. But the book is hilarious, and also has enough bite to have been admired by Edith Wharton and William Faulkner. Written in the voice of a semi-literate gold-digger (Faulkner refers to “the intelligence of that elegant moron of a cornflower”), it follows her through various beds and scrapes as she travels across Europe in pursuit of low-hanging diamonds.
Naples ’44, Norman Lewis. On a sometimes more serious note, this is the war diary of Norman Lewis, from a time when he was stationed in Naples as an intelligence officer after the fall of Mussolini. His description of the Neapolitans’ dash and wit in the grips of desperate poverty are funny, flabbergasting, poignant. Yes, all at once. Also banana-flavored, why not. Especially notable is a description of villagers retreating from an eruption of Vesuvius – on their knees, backwards, holding up crosses against the slowly flowing lava.
The Man Who Was Thursday, G.K. Chesterton. Subtitled “A Nightmare,” this book follows a mole into a surreal society of anarchists. Steam-punk before steam-punk was thought of; full of quotable lines and unforgettable moments. The pure zaniness of the plot, involving ridiculous disguises and multiple levels of double agentry, would make it worth reading. The casual gorgeousness of the writing makes it worth reading again and again.
Cold Comfort Farm, Stella Gibbons. Possibly the funniest book ever written. A city girl goes to stay with dour relatives in the country. While this was written as a send-up of a particular kind of novel about elemental rustics (think Wuthering Heights crossed with D.H. Lawrence). Even if you’ve never read on of these, though, the book manages to still be hilarious. Every sentence has some extravagant ridiculousness sewn in, from Gibbons’ made-up farm implements, the perversions of the half-witted yokels, and the cows named Feckless, Aimless, and the bull Big Business. Warning: there’s an abridged version out now, which has cut half the book and “simplified” half of the jokes out of the text, on the assumption that Americans are too stupid to understand them. Fight back, Americans!
My Life and Hard Times, by James Thurber. Now I’m getting tired of describing books. This is an autobiographical thing by Thurber, about his boyhood in Ohio. It’s really funny, that’s all, but people seem to have kind of forgotten about it. Wow, I’m tired.
The Towers of Trebizond, by Rose Macaulay. A one-of-a-kind book which is indescribable and unique and in short, we liked it. A lot! But really hard to describe, especially when you’re tired. This girl goes to Turkey, and rides a camel around, and has cool adventures, and it’s really witty, but also has great, chilling insights about religion and culture. That kind of thing.
We Have Always Lived in the Castle, by Shirley Jackson. A bizarro murder story. It’s all about the point of view here; Jackson’s insane teen narrator draws you so deeply into her skewed world that you find yourself rooting for her even as she destroys everything she touches.
A High Wind in Jamaica, Robert Hughes. A group of children are kidnapped by pirates in the West Indies, circa 1920. The kids have the time of their lives. The pirates, however…
True Grit, Charles Portis. Fourteen year old girl sets off into the Indian Territories to avenge the murder of her father. This one is about to be read a lot again because the Coen Brothers just made a movie of it (which we’re assuming will be better than the John Wayne vehicle, cause that was dreadful). Again, the fun is in the point of view here; the narrator is unforgettable – an absolutely believable rendering of a narrow-minded, penny-pinching farm girl who also happens to be the most courageous character in fiction. But the rendering of the Western material – and of sidekick Rooster Cogburn – are also great. In fact, all great. Did I mention that I also have a cold? Really, if you want good descriptions, you should buy our book, after all. I mean, for all you know, the crap parts of these descriptions are a cunning marketing tool meant to make you do just that.