Penelope Lively's 6 favorite books

The Booker Prize-winning author shares her reading tips with nods to Henry James and William Golding

Penelope Lively

What Maisie Knew by Henry James (Penguin, $12). James’s 1897 novel shows adult duplicity through the eyes of a child who does not understand what she is seeing—but you, the reader, do, because you are looking over her shoulder. You feel complicit, and even guilty.

The Inheritors by William Golding (Mariner, $13). This 1955 work is Golding’s most startling book, even more startling than its predecessor, Lord of the Flies. In this novel, a group of Neanderthals watch the arrival of our Homo sapiens ancestors... and are eventually exterminated by them. The Inheritors is about innocence, and the nature of evil, and it has the saddest ending of any novel I know.

The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford (Wordsworth, $5). Ford Madox Ford’s best-known novel is wonderfully clever, with a story that unfolds little by little, its shape changing all the time as we learn more—or as what we have already learned from its narrator is shown to be unreliable. Two couples and two young women—predators and victims.

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New and Collected Poems by U.A. Fanthorpe (Enitharmon, $60). I often dip into the poems of U.A. Fanthorpe. She died a few years ago and was one of England’s finest poets: versatile and accessible, clever and funny. She writes about history, memory, and the English landscape with wit and an incisive intelligence.

The Wild Places by Robert Macfarlane (Penguin, $15). Macfarlane is a walker, a climber, and a scholar, evoking places in luminous prose, whether a Hebridean mountain or an English country road. In this exploration of the remaining “wild places” in England, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales, his writing is informative and has a quality of immediacy, so that you visit through him the places you know you could never reach.

Religion and the Decline of Magic by Keith Thomas (out of print). I read a lot of history, and this 40-year-old work is the kind I’d been waiting for without knowing it—history that examines how people behaved in the past and why. Focused on England, it brought the 16th and 17th centuries alive for me.

British novelist Penelope Lively is the Booker Prize–winning author of Moon Tiger, Family Album, Consequences, and dozens of other works of fiction written both for adults and for children

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