Best books … chosen by Michael Kinsley
Kinsley is a Time columnist and the former editor of Slate.com and The New Republic. His new book, Creative Capitalism, is a conversation with Bill Gates and others about a new way to do business.
Vile Bodies by Evelyn Waugh (Back Bay, $15). Waugh’s Scoop is the one journalists are supposed to love, and I do. But Vile Bodies is his masterpiece—short and vicious (and hilarious) about the “younger generation” in 1920s London, partying like there’s no tomorrow, with a surprise ending.
A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway (Scribner, $15). Also about young people of about the same era, driven to nihilism by World War I. But very different in tone. Even as hardened a figure as Sen. Jim Webb, who also calls it a favorite, is unable to resist the romance. If Hemingway were a stock, this would be a good time to buy. He’s been out of fashion for a generation, but he’s coming back.
Barchester Towers by Anthony Trollope (Penguin, $10). Nineteenth-century beach reading. I don’t defend it. George Eliot, he isn’t, or even Jane Austen. Trollope was a hack who supposedly wrote 5,000 words every morning before work. And it shows. Maybe just one more Trollope, though. Then I tackle Middlemarch.
Progress and Poverty by Henry George (Cosimo, $15). Once a famous book by a famous author, now almost forgotten. George was a self-trained economist of the late 19th century. In Progress and Poverty, he explains to his own satisfaction—and pretty much to mine—how all the world’s evils are attributable to real estate. He overstates his case, but he does so with wit and excess that make the book fun to read. And it leaves you thinking …
Memento Mori by Muriel Spark (New Directions, $14). Also short, also vicious, also hilarious. And very creepy. The title means "Remember you must die.” Doesn’t sound funny, but it is.
Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry (Pocket, $8). Not short, not vicious, not hilarious, not even British. McMurtry’s definitive, only slightly updated, take on the classic cowboy story is a sprawling yarn, as a great American novel should be.
Bright Lights, Big City by Jay McInerney (Vintage, $14). About the younger generation of the 1980s in New York, partying like there’s no tomorrow. The closest any American has come to producing a Vile Bodies.