I need to pick your brains, blogging friends. Mister Litlove recently expressed a desire to read more widely and to fill in the gaps in his knowledge of modern classics. You may imagine that I started to leap on this – and then paused, midair, like those cartoon characters who discover they’ve gone over the edge of the cliff without realising. The thing is, Mister Litlove is incredibly hard to choose books for, and much as I enjoy the challenge and take it up regularly at birthdays and Christmas and so on, I’m running out of ideas here.
In fiction, Mister Litlove reads primarily for the plot, but he likes to receive something edifying en route. He’s keen on novels with ideas in them, but no vacuous happy endings, please. Also he has little patience with experimental novels and a profound horror of ‘padding’ (so that’s pretty much the 19th century out). He’s done well in the past with the following: David Mitchell, Ian McEwan, John Irving, John Fowles and David Lodge. I gave him a Richard Powers novel once but he didn’t like it because he found it a bit pretentious and a bit implausible; he got through Franzen’s Freedom with a similar critique. He has enjoyed some Michael Frayn novels (but not all) and loved the beginning of Max Barry’s Company, but felt it trailed off towards the end. He has loved some science fiction – John Wyndham, Philip K. Dick and J. G. Ballard, but I can’t imagine him settling down with an Asimov or a Terry Pratchett. He likes to keep it real. He will occasionally read thrillers, and has enjoyed Lee Child and Harlan Coben in recent months – but he tires of them easily.
On the whole he’s more of a non-fiction reader, and has enjoyed lots of books about economics, popular science, religion, current affairs and, in an ideal world, woodworking. Years ago I gave him Michael Pollan’s A Place of My Own, which he loved, and recently he went so far as to buy himself The Case for Working With Your Hands: or Why Office Work Is Bad For Us and Fixing Things Feels Good. I’d love to find more books along these lines but woodworkers who write are a rare breed.
So I’ve been trying to put a list together for him and this is as far as I’ve got: I’ll think he’ll like Ford Maddox Ford’s The Good Soldier, Nabokov’s Lolita, Tom Wolfe’s I Am Charlotte Simmons (he loved Bonfire of the Vanities). It’s worth trying Donna Tartt’s The Secret History on him and Richard Ford, probably The Sportswriter. I’ve got high hopes for Phillip Roth’s The Human Stain. And perhaps Neil Gaiman? Although I haven’t read him myself. I’d like him to try Graham Greene’s Our Man In Havana (although school scarred him with The Power and the Glory). And about here I get stuck.
What am I missing? Which modern classics should he try (with a good chance of getting through them)? And do you know of classic non-fiction books that I could add to the mix? I’ve only got eight books on the list so far – help!