Alex James is a farmer, a journalist, and the bassist for the band Blur. His memoir, Bit of a Blur, was recently published by Little, Brown.
The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson (Dover, $3). Stevenson created the two best villains in literature: Mr. Hyde and Long John Silver—both irresistible, but terrible. The best fiends are those you can’t spot immediately. This is a cracking story, and Stevenson wrote the first draft in just three days.
The Complete Hans Christian Andersen Fairy Tales (Gramercy, $15). I’ve rediscovered these stories while reading them to my son. Andersen’s genius is his ability to write odd endings; sometimes you can’t tell if they’re happy or sad. Although the stories are only about three pages long, they conjure up huge worlds full of color.
Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome (Penguin, $4). A charming and funny novel about three men and a dog, boating on the Thames. It has no grand premise, it’s just three blokes pissing around. Although it seems whimsical, it is, in fact, about the epic struggle of everyday life—of trying to have friends and to do something you want to do.
Vile Bodies by Evelyn Waugh (Back Bay, $15). This portrait of the 1920s celebrity scene shows nothing’s changed. The insider view of glamour reveals how tawdry and precarious it all is. It shows the chaos and madness of being a socialite and is both funny and tragic.
Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote (Vintage, $13). You can outgrow books, but this has stayed with me as the ideal love story. It’s a brilliant picture of unrequited love, which is the most powerful and perfect kind.
On the Shores of the Unknown by Joseph Silk (Cambridge, $40). I’m reading this book about the beginning and end of the universe at the moment, and it’s channeling me into cosmic ecstasy. It says, roughly, that nobody has any idea where we come from, who we are, or where we’re going.