Best books ... chosen by Quentin Blake

The artist and author Quentin Blake is best known for his illustrations of Roald Dahl’s children’s books. He recently collaborated with author David Walliams on The Boy in the Dress, a children&rsqu

Walter Sickert: The Complete Writings on Art edited by Anna Gruetzner Robins (Oxford, $140). This is an extraordinarily rich kind of bedside book; it’s almost as though you were ­listening to this intelligent and extremely articulate painter. Sickert is undervalued, no doubt because many of his opinions are “wrong” according to contemp­orary critical orthodoxy, but all the more interesting for that.

The Little Saint by Georges Simenon (out of print). This is the story of a boy in turn-of-the-20th-century Paris and how he develops into a celebrated artist. Told with Simenon’s characteristic directness, detail, and economy, it’s yet one more contribution to the writer’s multifaceted comédie humaine.

The Old Wives’ Tale by Arnold Bennett (Penguin, $16). I discouraged myself from reading this for 40 years because I thought the title sounded boring, only to discover quite recently that this story of the lives of two sisters (why didn’t he call it that?) is a work of real power and authority.

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Portraits From Life by Ford Madox Ford (out of print). Ford’s account of the writers he knew personally—they include Henry James, Joseph Conrad, Stephen Crane, and D.H. Lawrence—is extravagant and intelligent, ­anecdotal and perceptive.

Pictures From Italy by Charles Dickens (Penguin, $14). This is a slight book compared with such great works as Bleak House and Little Dorrit, but Dickens was a brilliant journalist and letter writer, and this is a fluent and engaging account of the year he and his family spent in Italy in 1844. He describes his mansion in Genoa as “like a pink jail.”

Words and Pictures: Writers, Artists and a Peculiarly British Tradition by Jenny Uglow (Faber & Faber, $21). A group of fascinating essays on the relationships of artists and writers in the English tradition: John Bunyan, Henry Fielding, Lewis Carroll, William Hogarth, George Cruikshank, and John Tenniel are all here. Available, for now, only from Uglow’s British publisher.

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