Warm, often charming essays that celebrate the treasure of books.



Writers reveal the books that shaped them.

The mission of the British Give a Book charity is to share books with those most in need, including children in poor primary schools, mothers in shelters, and prisoners. This collection, whose royalties will aid the charity, is a slight expansion of a previous volume edited by Fraser (Perilous Question: Reform or Revolution? Britain on the Brink, 1832, 2013, etc.) in 1992 to celebrate the bicentenary of the British book chain WHSmith. The new collection includes 43 writers who were asked to reflect on their early reading and to list 10 favorite books. American readers will find many familiar notables among the original contributors, including Stephen Spender, Doris Lessing, John Fowles, Margaret Atwood, and A.S. Byatt. Younger writers are likely to be less familiar: the Indian-born novelist Kamila Shamsie; biographer Katie Waldegrave; poet Emily Berry; and playwright Tom Wells. On the whole, the essays make for pleasant reading. “My first sense of books,” writes Edna O’Brien, “is the feel and the smell of them...old books growing musty in a trunk.” The late playwright and novelist Simon Gray learned to read from “the captions and balloon-dialogue of Captain Marvel comics.” Germaine Greer calls reading her “first solitary vice…I read while I ate, I read in the loo, I read in the bath. When I was supposed to be sleeping, I was reading.” Lists of favorite books tend toward the canonical, with Jane Austen a popular entry, whether Mansfield Park (the favorite of mystery writer Ruth Rendell: “the fun-less one, the profoundest, the most didactic, but nevertheless the greatest”) or Pride and Prejudice. Dickens, Dostoevsky, Shakespeare, and Joyce reappear, as well. Tom Wells cites David Sedaris’ The Santaland Diaries and describes Joan Littlewood’s autobiography Joan’s Book “like a radiator, a suit of armour, and a proper adventure, all at once.”

Warm, often charming essays that celebrate the treasure of books.

Pub Date: Oct. 20, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-63286-228-0

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: May 18, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2015

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From the national correspondent for PBS's MacNeil-Lehrer Newshour: a moving memoir of her youth in the Deep South and her role in desegregating the Univ. of Georgia. The eldest daughter of an army chaplain, Hunter-Gault was born in what she calls the ``first of many places that I would call `my place' ''—the small village of Due West, tucked away in a remote little corner of South Carolina. While her father served in Korea, Hunter-Gault and her mother moved first to Covington, Georgia, and then to Atlanta. In ``L.A.'' (lovely Atlanta), surrounded by her loving family and a close-knit black community, the author enjoyed a happy childhood participating in activities at church and at school, where her intellectual and leadership abilities soon were noticed by both faculty and peers. In high school, Hunter-Gault found herself studying the ``comic-strip character Brenda Starr as I might have studied a journalism textbook, had there been one.'' Determined to be a journalist, she applied to several colleges—all outside of Georgia, for ``to discourage the possibility that a black student would even think of applying to one of those white schools, the state provided money for black students'' to study out of state. Accepted at Michigan's Wayne State, the author was encouraged by local civil-rights leaders to apply, along with another classmate, to the Univ. of Georgia as well. Her application became a test of changing racial attitudes, as well as of the growing strength of the civil-rights movement in the South, and Gault became a national figure as she braved an onslaught of hostilities and harassment to become the first black woman to attend the university. A remarkably generous, fair-minded account of overcoming some of the biggest, and most intractable, obstacles ever deployed by southern racists. (Photographs—not seen.)

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1992

ISBN: 0-374-17563-2

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1992

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Necessarily swift and adumbrative as well as inclusive, focused, and graceful.


A light-speed tour of (mostly) Western poetry, from the 4,000-year-old Gilgamesh to the work of Australian poet Les Murray, who died in 2019.

In the latest entry in the publisher’s Little Histories series, Carey, an emeritus professor at Oxford whose books include What Good Are the Arts? and The Unexpected Professor: An Oxford Life in Books, offers a quick definition of poetry—“relates to language as music relates to noise. It is language made special”—before diving in to poetry’s vast history. In most chapters, the author deals with only a few writers, but as the narrative progresses, he finds himself forced to deal with far more than a handful. In his chapter on 20th-century political poets, for example, he talks about 14 writers in seven pages. Carey displays a determination to inform us about who the best poets were—and what their best poems were. The word “greatest” appears continually; Chaucer was “the greatest medieval English poet,” and Langston Hughes was “the greatest male poet” of the Harlem Renaissance. For readers who need a refresher—or suggestions for the nightstand—Carey provides the best-known names and the most celebrated poems, including Paradise Lost (about which the author has written extensively), “Kubla Khan,” “Ozymandias,” “The Charge of the Light Brigade,” Wordsworth and Coleridge’s Lyrical Ballads, which “changed the course of English poetry.” Carey explains some poetic technique (Hopkins’ “sprung rhythm”) and pauses occasionally to provide autobiographical tidbits—e.g., John Masefield, who wrote the famous “Sea Fever,” “hated the sea.” We learn, as well, about the sexuality of some poets (Auden was bisexual), and, especially later on, Carey discusses the demons that drove some of them, Robert Lowell and Sylvia Plath among them. Refreshingly, he includes many women in the volume—all the way back to Sappho—and has especially kind words for Marianne Moore and Elizabeth Bishop, who share a chapter.

Necessarily swift and adumbrative as well as inclusive, focused, and graceful.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-300-23222-6

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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