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Thursday, 8 March 2012

Norman Geras's Must-Read Pile

A Book for Every Step...

One of the pleasures of wandering the web in the last few years has been the discovery of the Weblog of Norman Geras . I relish Norm's irony and perception as he comments  in depth on poiltical and social life in Britain and the world. His posts include observations on literature, music, cricket  - and more or less everything.
It's great that Norm has agreed to share with us his must- read pile. Looking at his pile I nearly entitled this post Promises to Myself. I suppose that's what a Must-Read pile is. It's also, I think, like the centre of a bookish spider's web which ultimately includes every book one has ever read.  

Norman Geras Thanks to Wendy for inviting me to write about what's on my must-read pile right now. I'd better start with the confession that I don't have just a pile, I have a whole shelf. It currently holds some 60 titles. I keep telling myself I can't acquire any more novels till I've cut the number by... ooh, half. But then something catches my eye in a charity shop, or I absolutely must have another book by an author one of whose novels I just finished reading, and so it goes on. Anyway, I won't inflict the whole shelf on you. Here's a representative sample of 10 books that are to be read.

Eventide by Kent Haruf
This is a sequel to Plainsong by the same author, a novel I read a couple of weeks ago and liked so much that I have to get to this follow-up soon. It's a bit like Anne Tyler, except set in a small Colorado town rather than in Baltimore. Actually, it's like Tyler only in that it's life going on for ordinary people in different varieties of family, and quietly powerful.

Villette by Charlotte Brontë
This is the last step of a reading project of mine, of which I have several. I've read all of the Brontë novels (Charlotte, Emily and Anne) apart from Villette and I need to complete the set.

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
It's a book I haven't read yet - still! Enough said.

Portrait of the Bride by Betty Miller
I recently read her Farewell Leicester Square and was mighty impressed by it, so resolved to get hold of some of her other titles, most of which are out of print. Lo and behold, visiting my Mom in Israel last month I spotted Portrait of the Bride among her books and she kindly let me take it. In this case I love the physical book even before I've started it. It's a somewhat battered old copy, published by Blue Ribbon Books Inc, New York, in 1936; and it's an ex-library copy, with a cancelled stamp from Norelius Community Library, Idaho. The borrowing slip is still attached to the back endpaper and reveals that the book was borrowed 55 times between September 1941 and January 1991. For what would I want a Kindle?

In A Free State by V.S. Naipaul
I've never read anything by Naipaul and I doubt I would have got to him but for the fact that a friend kindly gave Adèle and me a copy of this one at Christmas, and urged us to try it. So I'll give it a go.

What Maisie Knew by Henry James
Another of my projects - to make my way through the works of 'The Master', which is what he is.

The Best of Everything by Rona Jaffe
I'm told both by women in my family and by women outside it that this is a marvellous book. I just gotta read it.

Eight Months on Ghazzah Street by Hilary Mantel
This one I bought not long after reading Mantel's A Change of Climate. I've enjoyed all of her books that I've read (which don't include the biggies), so it's a safe bet.

Sabbath's Theater by Philip Roth
Yet another of my projects, to do the complete works of Philip Roth. I've got through 21 of them to date, and I'm not about to stop. He's a towering figure in American fiction, Carmen Callil notwithstanding.

The Master Bedroom by Tessa Hadley
Picture of Norman GerasI didn't know anything about either the book or its author until a few days ago when we were round at my daughter Jenny's. She said I would like it and encouraged me to take it home. Jenny has a pretty good, if not infallible, idea of the sort of books I like, and the success rate of her recommendations is high.
Norman Geras  is Professor Emeritus of Government at the University of Manchester. In a long academiccareer, he has contributed substantially to the analysis of the works of Karl Marx particularly in his book Marx and Human Nature and the article 'The Controversy About Marx and Justice', which remains a standard work on the issue.

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