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40 of 40 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Let your reading be guided by the pleasure principle..., 12 Oct 2000
This review is from: Pure Pleasure: A Guide to the 20th Century's Most Enjoyable Books (Paperback)
I bought this excellent book after I had seen John Carey appearing on Artzone on BBC2, sparring with Germaine Greer, Iain Rankin and Mark Lawson about the merits and weaknesses of Billy Elliot etc. I was impressed with his wryness, warmth, enthusiasm and balance - and with his choice of Larkin's collected poems as one of the three books he would choose from his Pure Pleasure collection to take on a desert island with him. The book is made up of 50 rich, dense and very readable three-or-four page combined synopses/literary critiques of Carey's 50 selected works. His enthusiasm for each inspires you to want to read it. His enlightening interpretations make you want to return to his words when you have read the recommended text. I have now bought, read (and thoroughly enjoyed) Steinbeck's 'Of Mice and Men' as a result of Carey's passionate and perceptive words on it. I have also bought Elizabeth Bowen's 'The House in Paris', Golding's 'The Inheritors', Edward Thomas's collected poems, and Seamus Heaney's first collection on the basis of Carey's recommendations. Professor Carey avoids the great 'thumping' masterpieces that are on everyone else's lists. He has selected his 50 books for their ability to provide 'pure pleasure' (though these are nearly all highly 'literary' texts, too). The book is enjoyable to read in itself - it fuels pipe dreams of one's possible future reading perfectly.
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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An Accessible Introduction to 50 Good Books, 7 Nov 2005
A. Ross (Washington, DC) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Pure Pleasure: A Guide to the 20th Century's Most Enjoyable Books (Paperback)
This book collects the essays commissioned from Carey (editor, Oxford English professor, and accomplished author of studies on Dickens, Thackeray, Donne) by London's Sunday Times. The list of books he compiled is all 20th-century, limited to one book per author, and aims for balance between the decades. (That said, it's definitely weighted toward the first 2/3 of the century -- the '60s have four books, '70s have two, '80s have three, and the '90s also three.) In the introduction, Carey explains some of the rationale for his selections: "The list that I have put together is.... not chosen on grounds of literary 'greatness', the testimony they bear to the human spirit, or anything of that kind.... Instead I took pure reading-pleasure as my criterion -- the pleasure the books have given me, and the pleasure I hope others will get from being reminded of them, or perhaps introduced to them..." and similarly he decided to "omit books that gain their power more from their subjects more than their writing."
The resulting list of selections is a mix of 33 novels and short story collections, 10 poetry collections and 7 works of non-fiction. Most of authors will be instantly recognizable to anyone with more than a passing interest in 20th-century Western letters: Amis, Auden, Chesterton, Conan Doyle, Conrad, Eliot, Fitzgerald, Forester, Gide, Graves, Greene, Hardy, Huxley, Joyce, Kipling, Mann, Naipaul, Orwell, Sarte, Steinbeck, Waugh, Wells -- albeit with a few notable exceptions (no Faulkner, Hemingway, Nabokov). Those with a particular interest in female writers may be a little dismayed by their relative absence (five are included: Elizabeth Bowen, Katherine Mansfield, poetess Stevie Smith, Muriel Spark, and Sylvia Townsend Warner), but as Carey makes clear from the outset, it is a very personal selection.
Each selection is accorded a 3-4 page essay which combines concise summary with authorial context and insightful analysis. These benefit from Carey's expertise and clear writing, which manages to convey both his erudition and enthusiasm for each work. On the one hand, I found myself newly enriched by his comments on books I'd long ago read, such as "The Great Gatsby", "Brighton Rock", and "The Good Soldier Svejk". And on the other, I was greatly appreciative of Carey's discovery that "I found myself avoiding the thumping masterpieces, and going instead for less trumpeted and less familiar favorites..." Among the books I'll be seeking out at some point in the future are Bulgakov's "A Country Doctor's Notebook", Isherwood's "Mr. Norris Changes Trains", Mann's "Confessions of Felix Krull, Confidence Man", and Orwell's "Coming Up for Air". Easy to dip into, this is an excellent resource for the reader looking for an accessible introduction to some of the best of 20th-century writing.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Pleasure Principle, 27 July 2010
technoguy "jack" (Rugby) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Pure Pleasure: A Guide to the 20th Century's Most Enjoyable Books (Paperback)
Carey has long been a favorite of mine in his works like his biography of Donne,his book The Intellectuals and The Masses and his appearances on TV review shows or documentaries on Modernism in literature.I snapped this book up straight away once I knew it existed:'A Guide to the 20th century's Most Enjoyable Books',collected from his Sunday Times weekly essays as 'John Carey's Books of the 20th Century.'Carey is a nimble-footed, clairvoyant critic already,prescient about the possible disappearance of books(citing Well's When the Sleeper Awakes),the abscence of literature in Blair's Millenium Dome.He chooses books for a reader who in a bookless future comes upon a pile in a dusty room:'they will need to be really absorbing.They will need to open a way to his own innerdepths. They will need to make him laugh sometimes and want to go on living.'Here is a mix of fiction,nonfiction and poetry, heavyweight authors and popular classics and includes French,German,Russian,Czech and American books as well as English.The emphasis is not on midnight oil but on overlooked gems which show 20th century great authors in a new light.He brings a new perspective on certain lesser known classics like Greene's Brighton Rock,Bowen's House in Paris,Mann's Confessions of Felix Krull,Confidence Man.

On 3 major authors,Lawrence,Joyce and Eliot he has chosen their less pressurised works,viz:- Twilight in Italy,
Portait of the Artist as a Young Man and Prufrock and other Observations.In many people's minds these are better
than their more vaunted works.The list is not chosen on grounds of literary'greatness'but on grounds of 'pure pleasure'.He thinks in terms of books he'd like to re-read',only allowing one book per author and 50 books,roughly the same from each decade.Huxley's Barren Leaves(not Brave New World),Orwell's Coming Up For Air(my favorite)not 1984.Only one book he left out which I regret,Bellow's Seize the Day,a lot better than some of his longer books.He likes the Collected poems of major poets,WBYeats,Edward Thomas,WH Auden and Phillip Larkin.He has a liking for comedy,Amis's Lucky Jim,Hasek's Good Soldier Svejk,Perelman's The Road to Miltown(this book has not appeared in England) and Clive James's Unreliable Memoirs.What I particularly liked was his level-headed,non intellectual, plain use of language which makes what is good in each book more apparent.He is better on novelists in the earlier part of the 20th century,Gide,Forster,Chesterton,Bennett,Wells than in the later part of the century.He only includes 3 writers of short stories,Kipling, Mansfield and Bulgakov.I particularly liked him on books where he gives a wider background, like Gorky's My Childhood,Hasek's Good Soldier,Bulgakov's A Country Doctor,Graves's Goodbye to All That,Keith Douglas's Alamein to Zem Zem,Golding's The Inheritors,Sartre's Words, Updike's Rabbit Omnibus and Seth's A Suitable Boy.This book will go a long way to opening a path up into a reading bibliophile's future happiness.
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