Admirable Lives

Wish I could claim these beautiful words as my own, but they belong to EM Forster

The people I admire most are those who are sensitive and want to create something, or discover something, and do not see life in terms of power… They found religions, great or small, they produce literature or art… or they may be what is called ‘ordinary people’, who are creative in their private lives, bring up their children decently, for instance, or help their neighbours.

Recommended Reading – Novels

Needing a Business Case for Reading Novels is an alien – and slightly depressing – concept. Nevertheless, any case for reading is a good one and Anne Kreamer’s argument that novel-reading can boost workplace fortunes by improving people’s ability to relate to others is admirably lucid. Her list of suggested reading is unfamiliar, apart from Something Happened, which is diabolically bad, so – hey – try my recommendations instead!

In no particular order…

Kazuo Ishiguro The Remains of the Day – Before you ask, the book is better. Ishiguro’s magnificent writing gradually reveals the depth of the narrator’s self-delusion, creating a complicated character who is deplorable, pitiable and ultimately heart-breaking.

Willa Cather The Professor’s House – Willa Cather was one of Truman Capote’s favourite writers, which is reason enough to read her. This compact tale is a beautiful reflection on aging, family life and responsibility.

Truman Capote Answered Prayers – Hilarious, salacious and brimming with Capote’s characteristic mix of mischief and malice, this unfinished novel infuriated his posh, real-life social circle by gleefully baring their secrets. Society murder, infidelity and lots of drinking is involved.

William Golding The Lord of the Flies – I put off reading this for a long time because I thought I knew what it was about. Mistake. It isn’t what it’s about that makes this brilliant, it’s Golding’s blinding use of perspective. You know what’s coming but the end still makes you gasp.

EM Forster A Room With A View – A compassionate but sharply observed account of the “muddles” people create when they lie to themselves. Essential reading for anyone who is ever tempted to do what they should, rather than what they feel (which is, I’m pretty sure, all of us).

William Faulker As I Lay Dying – Faulkner said he intended to create a masterpiece when he sat down to write As I Lay Dying, and did he ever. Each wretched detail of the Burden’s odyssey to bury their mother springs from the page, by the end you think you’re beyond shock, but you’re not.

Virginia Woolf To The Lighthouse – A clear-eyed, yet subtle look at emotional interplay of family life. The stream of consciousness narrative heightens the effect by demanding attentive reading.

Henry James What Maisie Knew – Any James will do, but this is my favourite. His virtuouso prose reveals what Maisie knew, and a great deal more, without ever being so uncouth as to say it directly.

Edith Wharton The Age of Innocence – Wharton is another author you can’t go wrong with. She seems to know everything about human nature and the countless little ways we betray ourselves and each other.

F Scott Fitzgerald The Beautiful and Damned – The writing isn’t quite as spectacular as The Great Gatsby but this earlier novel is well worth a read for its handling of love, greed, vanity, ambition and failure.