Michael Korda, editor-in-chief of Simon and Schuster for the past 31 years, is the author most recently of Country Matters: The Pleasures and Tribulations of Moving From a Big City to an Old Country Farmhouse (HarperCollins, $20.80).
War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy (Viking, $11.16). Never fails to satisfy, and presents, as few other novels do, a complete picture of a different world, made so familiar that it seems like our own. I have read it sitting under a table during an artillery bombardment (during the Hungarian Revolution of 1956), on a crowded troop ship, in hospital with my leg suspended in a cast, by candlelight in a hut in the Himalayas, and by moonlight in a tent in Kenya. Each time, it delivers, taking me out of my world and into the one that Tolstoy is describing.
Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh (Knopf, $13.60). Only slightly lower on the list is Waughs novel, which I first read at school in Switzerland, and which I remember whole chunks of by heart. If I am ever cast away on a desert island, I will want a copy of it for company, not because it describes a different or foreign world, but because it describes one that is totally familiar, and in which I feel, every time I open the book, completely at home.
The Honorary Consul by Graham Greene (Simon and Schuster, $20). I would have to have at least one novel by Graham Greene on that desert island as well. With its layers of complex feeling, its islands of impotent guilt and regret, its cool, analytical rendering of human character and weakness and above all its subtle biopsy of love, this book is like a guided tour of the human soul. The landscape of the heart is totally familiaryes, the reader says, I have felt thatyet exposed in the precise detail of a big-scale map. This is a book I can pick up and start again the moment Ive finished reading it.
Grant: A Biography by William S. McFeely (W. W. Norton & Company, $15.96). One of the great American biographies, followed closely by Grants own memoirs.
Other favorites include Larry McMurtrys Lonesome Dove); Paul Scotts The Raj Quartet (made into the wonderful PBS mini-series The Jewel in the Crown); and the three immense volumes so far published of Winston Churchills War Papers (hours and hours of fascinating history and great writing). Thats the tip of the iceberg, so to speak, the books I like to read in front of a fire on a lazy winters dayold friends, really, as much as old books.