Novelist, editor, and humorist Christopher Buckley’s most recent novel is No Way to Treat a First Lady, published this October by Random House ($25).
One-Upmanship: How to Win Life’s Little Games Without Appearing to Try by Stephen Potter (out of print). I keep this slim paperback compendium with me at all times, to cheer me up when they announce either that my flight has been delayed or hijacked.
Moby Dick by Herman Melville (Bantam Books, $5). I know, I know: It’s way overwritten, and why should we care about some nutball amputee captain, and the whale parts are so much yadda blubber yadda, but it never fails to raise the hairs on my arm and even make me chuckle or say Wow.
Music for Chameleons by Truman Capote (Vintage Books, $13). Norman Mailer said somewhere that Capote was, “sentence for sentence, the best writer of my generation,” and for once I agree with him. This is perfect writing, and exhilarating storytelling.
Lost Illusions by Honoré de Balzac (Viking, $14). Bonfire of the Vanities set in early–19th century Paris. Country boy Lucien de Rubempre tries to make it socially in Paris and sells his soul in the process.
Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh (Little, Brown & Co., $14). Probably the only book I’ve read a half dozen times and hope to another half dozen before my time is up. A very great masterpiece of style, wit, satire, manners, and meaning, to say nothing of a godsend, since 1981, to the Yorkshire tourist economy. (It was filmed at Castle Howard.)
Living Well Is the Best Revenge by Calvin Tomkins (Random House, $17). The story of American expatriates Gerald and Sara Murphy, who live in Paris and the south of France in the 1920s and ’30s and who knew le tout, when le tout was worth knowing. So good you should read it aloud.