Toby Young is the author of How to Lose Friends and Alienate People, a memoir about his misadventures as a contributing editor at Vanity Fair magazine. A film version opens this weekend.
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (Penguin Classics, $8). When the Oxford philosopher Gilbert Ryle was asked if he read novels, he replied, “Oh yes. All six, every year.” He meant the six novels of Jane Austen—and I feel the same way. Pride and Prejudice’s combination of humor, romance, social observation, and moral seriousness has never been surpassed.
David Copperfield by Charles Dickens (Penguin, $8). I read this more than 10 years ago, but so many scenes have stayed with me: the thrashing David receives at the hands of his cruel stepfather, his 80-mile hike from London to Dover, Betsy Trotwood seeing off his stepfather when he tries to reclaim him. It’s all so vivid.
The Way We Live Now by Anthony Trollope (Oxford, $13). Trollope’s novel about financial and political chicanery is often praised for its contemporary relevance—plus ça change—but that’s hardly its only merit. It’s a wonderfully deft satire of a corrupt society, combining moral opprobrium with just the right lightness of touch.
Scoop by Evelyn Waugh (Back Bay, $15). As a journalist, I occasionally get the urge to write a comic novel set in Fleet Street, but then I remember why so few have attempted it: because no one can hope to improve on Scoop. It’s probably the funniest novel in the English language.
Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis (Penguin, $14). Martin Amis said of his father, Kingsley, that his mind was like a machine that had been designed to make people laugh. That is certainly evident in Kingsley’s debut novel. The reason I like it so much is because I identify with the central character—a feeling that is entirely due to his skill as a novelist. Jim Dixon experiences one comic misadventure after another, and you end up rooting for him.
Radical Chic and Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers by Tom Wolfe (Bantam, $14). The most impressive thing about this very impressive piece of journalism is Wolfe’s utter fearlessness. He took on the most fashionable strata of New York society—and won.