Wednesday, 15 June 2011

My newspaper of choice, theguardian, has just published a list of the 100 best non-fiction books ever written, and actually, it's not a bad list.

Which doesn't mean I agree with it from end to end. OK, so it would take a bit of special pleading to persuade the editors of the merits of Wenlock's style bible,  On Dandyism by Jules Amédée Barbey-d'Aurevilly (1845), not least because it is really no more than an essay. Similarly Paterson's Roads (1785, and updated regularly thereafter), for all that it is an essential guide to travel by coach along the principal turnpikes of England, probably fails the readability test. However there are a few more obvious omissions.

On a wet summer's evening Wenlock likes little better than to curl up with a mug of gin and a good dictionary. Both Samuel Johnson's A Dictionary of the English Language (1755) and the Rev John Lemprière's A Classical Dictionary (1788) are delightful reads, and deserve a place on the list.

On a less wet summer's evening, the only thing that will do is a good game of cricket, and that is best captured by C L R James in his Beyond a Boundary (1963). Miss Austen, in Northanger Abbey, refers to a children's game by the name of "baseball", and even that has its literature, perhaps most memorably in The Boys of Summer (1976) by Roger Kahn.

Had Wenlock world enough, and time, no doubt I could come up with so many more worthy candidates, but perhaps my last choice for now would be from the realm of Euterpe. Perhaps the only way to understand what is going on in 20th Century "classical" music is to read The Rest is Noise, by Alex Ross.

No comments: