Playwright and lawyer John Mortimer, creator of the highly popular PBS series Rumpole of the Bailey, is the author most recently of The Summer of a Dormouse (Viking Press, $25). Here he chooses his six favorite books.
A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway (Touchstone, $11). A beautifully written memory of when Hemingway was an unknown writer in Paris.
Eminent Victorians by Lytton Strachey (Random House, $13). Strachey is the one true genius of Bloomsbury. His prose is here to be loved and learned from. He is at his best elegantly pricking the bubble-like reputations of Victorian monuments.
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Scoop by Evelyn Waugh (Little, Brown & Co., $14). This is a wholly successful novel, continually funny but with moments of sadness when the author of “The Countryside Column” becomes a war correspondent by mistake.
Don Juan by Lord Byron (Viking Penguin, $15). An unfinished novel written in complex stanzas-romantic, ironic, and satirical. The whole work celebrates his love of women and his hatred of hypocrisy and the Lake poets. He thought of Coleridge explaining metaphysics to the world and wrote, “I wish he would explain his explanation.”
The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon (Alfred A. Knopf, $46). Impossible to cope with it all, perhaps, but Gibbon’s account of Christianity taking over the Roman Empire is a masterpiece of ironic comedy. He tells us that all the religions practiced in the Empire were considered equally true by the people, equally false by the philosopher, and equally useful by the magistrate. This produced an admirable degree of religious concord.
The Lady in the Lake by Raymond Chandler (Vintage, $11). Chandler wrote his paragraphs on separate slips of paper to make sure he had something comic or surprising in each one. Most of the time he succeeds brilliantly. Revel in the writing, and don’t spend too much time trying to work out the plot.
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