Best books … chosen by Philippa Gregory

British writer Philippa Gregory is an acclaimed author of historical fiction. The film adaptation of her 2002 novel, The Other Boleyn Girl, is now in theaters.

History Play by Rodney Bolt (Blooms­bury, $25). I took this with me on a recent author tour of the U.S. and it was like traveling with an interesting friend. Using lines from Shakespeare’s plays, the playwright’s scanty biography, and a stunningly creative conjecture, Bolt makes you look at the times and plays of the Bard with an entirely fresh eye.

Lottery by Patricia Wood (Berkley, $14). A cheery recent novel about a Forrest Gump–like young man who, though regarded as stupid, has a far better grasp of the important things of life than those around him. Lottery is very blunt and no-nonsense and so is tremendously convincing. I defy anyone to read it without feeling happier.

The Year of Henry James by David Lodge (Penguin, $18). This is for people who ask: What is it like being an author? The lead essay in this interesting collection tells of the highest and lowest points in the year that Lodge, a wonderful author, published a bio-novel about Henry James only to find that four other writers were also publishing on James at almost the same time. Lodge’s swoops of triumph and plunges of despair are charted with tremendous honesty and charm, and the insight into the sometimes treacherous world of publishing is fascinating.

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Sappho translated by Mary Barnard (Univ. of Calif., $14). Someone recently gave me this book of poems by the ancient Greek writer Sappho, and I am so glad to have read them. They are as fresh on the page as if they were written today. Like this: “Standing by my bed / In gold sandals / Dawn, that very / moment awoke me.”

The Needle in the Blood by Sarah Bower (Snowbooks, $15). For sheer enjoyment. Histori­cal fiction, surprisingly, is not a genre I generally read. But this is a real page-turner and is set, unusually, at the time of the Battle of Hastings and the Norman settlement of England.

The Perfect Prince by Ann Wroe (Random House, $18). This is history written like a novel and so reverses the process I undertake. The story of a young man who claimed to be the son of King Edward IV, it is a work of research and imagination and I loved reading it.

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