Five good reads: John Hutchins

This week’s list of suggested titles was submitted by John Hutchins, who reads in bars.



Brassai: Paris by Night

In life, colors define shapes. That which is green is not that which is red. But green and red are not distinct in a black and white photography. Instead, shapes are drawn by falling light, which divides the hidden from the revealed. In Paris by Night, Brassai hides and reveals. Like the opening paragraphs of Dickens’s Bleak House, Paris by Night begins with views from a distance; where all that is seen are the city’s dead parts — buildings, cobblestones, rails, monuments. From there, Brassai, like Dickens, moves in to begin an intimate portrait of the people alive within. But Dickens described London and Brassai photographed Paris — Paris, in those hours after the Jazz Age, shaken awake by a nightclub bouncer, collects itself and staggers home and the streets become safe for prostitutes, alley cats and accordion players. And there has never been a time or place more suited to the medium.


Arthur Rackham (illus.) and C.S. Evans: Sleeping Beauty

Beauty, kindness and grace can come into our lives unlooked for. And often we know they will not remain, which doesn’t stop us from doing all we can to prevent their departure. Once gone, they can sometimes, with great difficulty, be won back. That is the story of Sleeping Beauty. Arthur Rackham’s illustrations for this edition are not the androgynous fairies in transparent greens and browns he is famous for. They are complex, elegant and often funny silhouettes that would entirely overshadow the story if C.S. Evans’ text were not so lovely. Together, they make this the most beautiful book for children I know.


Beryl Markham: West With the Night

A young girl was brought from England to Africa at the turn of the last century and raised, wild, on a ranch in Kenya. She grew to become a horse trainer, an early aviator and the author of West With the Night, which is always described in relation to Isak Dinesen’s Out of Africa. Markham and Dinesen were contemporaries. They both wrote memoirs of their lives in Africa in the early 20th century. They were friends, and even shared a lover — Denys Finch-Hatton (played by Robert Redford in the movie). Dinesen, the Danish aristocrat, wrote many wonderful books. Markham wrote only this one. But it is full of reminders “that the world once lived and grew without adding machines and newsprint and brick-walled streets and the tyranny of clocks.”


P.G. Wodehouse: Leave it to Psmith

Irish playwright Sean O’Casey called Wodehouse the performing flea of English literature. And it is true that Wodehouse got nearly a hundred novels out of maybe five or six plots and those novels contained many characters distinguishable more by name than personality. But a flea that performs on command is all the more dazzling because it is tiny. Wodehouse dazzles; writing so well and so entertainingly that all British comedy to this day shows his influence along with that of Wilde and Saki.


Lorrie Moore: Like Life

Probably everything that’s ever been said about what makes a short story great has also been said at some time by someone about Lorrie Moore. And anyone can find time to fit a short story into a day.


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