The best books to make one laugh or ponder

Suzette A. Hill Author Of Shadow Over Southwold
By Suzette A. Hill

Who am I?

Privately and professionally, I've always been addicted to literature and history and stirred by the experiences that these studies reveal. Yet as a novelist (retired from college lecturing) I instinctively assume the comic or satirical mode. Whereas in analysing the poetry of perhaps T.S. Eliot, I'm totally serious, when creating a story I start to giggle. Psychiatrists might label this a defence mechanism – but I suspect it's the result of formative years spent reading social satirists such as Huxley, Greene, Wodehouse, and Waugh. While certainly no imitator, I feel that this type of literature has become insidiously bred in the bone – hence my listed choices being socially directed and often comic or acerbic. 


I wrote...

Shadow Over Southwold

By Suzette A. Hill,

Book cover of Shadow Over Southwold

What is my book about?

Fashionable florist Felix Smythe, bound for a smart party in musical Aldeburgh, is tiresomely embroiled in a case of lurid murder – and becomes chief suspect. A fragile flower, Felix is ill-fitted for such gross attention and his vanity is affronted. But with the help of his stalwart friend,Professor Cedric Dillworthy, he gamely assumes a brave face and stays the course. The net widens to embrace a further startling murder and some curious revelations – and curious people: including a dubious cleric, a pair of formidably cranky twin sisters, the insufferable Harold Dagwood whose hectoring manner and flashy attire offends the fastidious Felix, and a smoothly unctuous flute-player. The young and edgy Detective Inspector Jennings copes as best he can with the oddities of the case and its unsettling characters. 

The books I picked & why

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The Best of Saki

By Hector Hugh Munro,

Book cover of The Best of Saki

Why this book?

A wonderful collection of outrageous, yet drily witty, short stories by the mordant satirist Saki (aka H.H. Munro tragically killed in WW1 – a great loss to literature). The milieux may be “cosy”, in that the setting is upper-class England of the early twentieth century, but the style is cuttingly astringent (darker than Wodehouse), yet the situations farcical. To be enjoyed with a generous libation to hand – though a malt whisky rather than a softer gin might be appropriate. A bonus to this edition is the excellent introduction by the late and great Graham Greene.

The Best of Saki

By Hector Hugh Munro,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Best of Saki as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The best of Saki is a collection of short stories by the famed 20th century writer Hector Hugh Munro. Saki is the pen name that Munro wrote his short stories under.
Saki was a misogynist, anti-semite, and reactionary, who also did not take himself too seriously. His stories, “true enough to be interesting and not true enough to be tiresome”, were considered ideal for reading. Saki was an Edwardian writer of sharply satirical, cynical short stories set in the milieu of well to do upper class Edwardian England. Born in1870, he started writing around the turn of century and died…


Miss Mapp

By E.F. Benson,

Book cover of Miss Mapp

Why this book?

Part of Benson’s much-loved Lucia series. Gentler than Saki, this comedy of manners (also set in a bygone England) is deliciously entertaining, with its eccentric characters gleefully etched. Miss Mapp herself – prim and genteel but with lethal eyes – is a social snooper par excellence, and whose insidious wiles and steely shafts create havoc among the gossiping residents of sedate Tilling (firmly based on the ancient Sussex town of Rye, once home to Henry James.) As they negotiate the delicate snares of bridge, golf, and “charming” tea parties, cronies and quarries alike are pawns in her ruthless game of one-upmanship. It is a game she plays with relish and practised ease... that is until, elsewhere in the series, she is upstaged by the awesome Lucia. Hilarious.

Miss Mapp

By E.F. Benson,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Miss Mapp as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The acclaimed author of Mapp and Lucia introduces the beloved Miss Elizabeth Mapp, a devious social climber, in this charming British comedy of manners.

In the English seaside village of Tilling, Miss Elizabeth Mapp keeps a thorough notebook about everyone’s business, including her servants. Whatever information she can’t collect through gossip, she discovers with the aid of opera glasses. Looking out from her window over High Street, she pays especially avid attention to her neighbor, Maj. Benjamin Flint, whom she has been planning for years to marry.
 
The second novel in E. F. Benson’s popular Mapp and Lucia series, which…


Mortification: Writers’ Stories of Their Public Shame

By Robin Robertson,

Book cover of Mortification: Writers’ Stories of Their Public Shame

Why this book?

Probably four of my writers would not have suffered the mortification described here, but the scenarios certainly resonated with this pen-pusher!

Seventy contemporary authors – novelists, poets, biographers – describe in wincing detail the embarrassment they had sometimes felt in the course of promotional appearances: book signings, talks, interviews, etc. Their anecdotes are at once funny and cringingly painful. Distinguished names as diverse as Margaret Attwood, Val McDermid, Michael Holroyd, Edna O’Brian, Colm Tóibín, Willian Boyd, poets Thom Gunn and Simon Armitage, and a host of other literary heroes, bravely and vividly recount their worst moments under the public gaze. In some ways the humorous revelations are reassuring – evidently the eminent can be as vulnerable as the lesser known. But in reading this book, comradely laughter is tinged with a frisson of fear!

Mortification: Writers’ Stories of Their Public Shame

By Robin Robertson,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Mortification as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A collection of stories from some of the world’s greatest writers about their own public humiliation.

Humiliation is not, of course, unique to writers. However, the world of letters does seem to offer a near-perfect micro-climate for embarrassment and shame. There is something about the conjunction of high-mindedness and low income that is inherently comic; something about the very idea of deeply private thoughts – carefully worked and honed into art over the years – being presented to a public audience of dubious strangers that strays perilously close to tragedy.

Here, in over eighty contributions, are stories about the writer’s…


Dissolution: A Matthew Shardlake Tudor Mystery

By C.J. Sansom,

Book cover of Dissolution: A Matthew Shardlake Tudor Mystery

Why this book?

The first in Sansom’s dazzling series involving the exploits of London lawyer Matthew Shardlake as he grapples with the demands of Henry VIII and lethal lackey Thomas Cromwell. Comedy is not the essence of this tale, though there are comic moments, but it is certainly lively! As one who loves to be immersed in an atmosphere of intrigue and the occasional murder, this suited me admirably. It suited me even better that the sixteenth-century scene is so vividly evoked. My own novels are mainly light-hearted and frivolous, but the value of setting and context has always mattered. Without social context few stories ring true... and this one rings with a splendid resonance. If you enjoy history, mystery, and an oddly quirky protagonist, this is the novel to get – the start of a truly remarkable series. 

Dissolution: A Matthew Shardlake Tudor Mystery

By C.J. Sansom,

Why should I read it?

9 authors picked Dissolution as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Awarded the CWA Diamond Dagger - the highest honor in British crime writing

From the bestselling author of Winter in Madrid and Dominion comes the exciting and elegantly written first novel in the Matthew Shardlake Tudor Mystery series

Dissolution is an utterly riveting portrayal of Tudor England. The year is 1537, and the country is divided between those faithful to the Catholic Church and those loyal to the king and the newly established Church of England. When a royal commissioner is brutally murdered in a monastery on the south coast of England, Thomas Cromwell, Henry VIII's feared vicar general, summons…


Why I Write

By George Orwell,

Book cover of Why I Write

Why this book?

Other than the odd dry chuckle, no major laughs here – but you certainly ponder. Slim and compact, this selection of four of Orwell’s most compelling essays is a fitting format for the prose within. Typically Orwellian, no word is wasted, none ill-used; statements are incisive, ideas sharply defined, and imagery spare yet vivid. Clarity is the keynote; probing entertainment the effect. The topics – his own literary motivation, the condition of twentieth-century England, a biting attack on sloppy verbiage and on rhetoric for political fudge, the stark yet witty vignette of a public hanging – all are lucid and provocative. His comments are as relevant today as they were in the 1940s. George Orwell and Graham Greene: what masterly writers!

Why I Write

By George Orwell,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Why I Write as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A selection of George Orwell's politically charged essays on language and writing that give context to his dystopian classic, 1984

Throughout history, some books have changed the world. They have transformed the way we see ourselves-and each other. They have inspired debate, dissent, war and revolution. They have enlightened, outraged, provoked and comforted. They have enriched lives-and destroyed them.

Now, Penguin brings you the works of the great thinkers, pioneers, radicals and visionaries whose ideas shook civilization, and helped make us who we are. Penguin's Great Ideas series features twelve groundbreaking works by some of history's most prodigious thinkers, and…


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