The Elegant Read

The Ambassadors by Henry JamesI haven’t been reading much fiction. It doesn’t seem to hold my interest the way it once did. In fact, this is the first year in a long time that I haven’t re-read Tender Is the Night or The Sun Also Rises. I’ve finished Vanished Smile: The Mysterious Theft of the Mona Lisa, and Evenings With Cary Grant: Recollections in His Own Words and by Those Who Knew Him Best, and am sorely tempted by The Great Gatsby, but that seems such a summer book to me. At the moment I’m tearing through Bespoke: Savile Row Ripped and Smoothed courtesy of a friend, but it won’t last long.

Mrs. E. and I are facing a delightful meander of a train ride up to Manhattan in a couple of weeks and I am toying with reading The Ambassadors, seen above. Well, beginning it anyway. But I have Old Men Forget lying around and that’s looking good, too.

What are your picks for elegant reads? Those books that make you feel more sophisticated, worldly, or just plain good after you finish them? What’s on your “to be read next” shelf for this fall?
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17 Responses to The Elegant Read

  1. greg wingfield says:

    Chris,
    Interestingly, I finished the Great Gatsby over Labor Day (again) and I am now on to The Beautiful and Damned and This Side of Paradise for travel reading.
    Looking forward to James Sherwood’s new book later this month.

  2. In many ways I find Kay Boyle evocative of Fitzgerald and Hemingway at their best. She was a true cosmopolite–I recently picked up her collected short stories (Fifty Stories), which are organized into “groups” by the period and location where they were written and (mostly) set–French Group, Austrian Group, English Group, etc. She captured this lost world of American expatriates before, during, and after the Second World War in a way that recalls the Lost Generation writers before her–and left me deeply nostalgic for a time before I was born, when the world–even Europe–seemed new and remote to Americans abroad and less…commodified, somehow. She really shone in her stories.

    And Mark Helprin is always elegant, always uplifting. Personally, I don’t agree with many of his ideological stances (he is very conservative, and I am not), but I still appreciate the profound sense of beauty and honor and wonder that pervades all his work. I like especially The Pacific and Other Stories and Memoir from Antproof Case.

    Enjoy your ride. Like you, I always have to have a set of good, substantial books in which to get lost on a train–when I was very young, I first read Ulysses on a long-distance train from Chicago to Seattle and Gravity’s Rainbow on the way back. These days, I prefer more variety–and shorter, less dense works. 🙂

  3. robert stuart says:

    Balzac. Just pick up any volume of “The Human Comedy” and you find yourself in a world of desire, greed, and lust for power that rivals anything seen in the 21st century. His obsession with the details of decor, furniture, and clothing is the icing on the gateau.

  4. robert stuart says:

    I’d also suggest, for a train trip, the short stories of John O’Hara.

  5. Brohammas says:

    Why read when you can live your own elegant adventure while on the train ride up north?

  6. R. Stuart, I do love O’Hara. Mrs. E. taught his grandson (?). I feel horrible not reading Balzac in the French. And that would be far beyond my capabilities these days. Mrs. E. on the other hand….

    Brohammas, oh behaaave.

    Staircase Witch, Heprin is good, I’ve read “The Pacific”. Kaye Boyle I’ll definitely look up, thanks!

    G Wingfield, me too! Ordered mine.

  7. wahoo4uva says:

    I’m not sure that it’s elegant, but currently I’m reading Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now. Just 50 pages in I’m finding it valuable and certainly enlightening to how we create our own suffering and how presence changes the quality of our lives for the better.

  8. I’m also going on a trip next week and I’ll be taking another Susan Allen Toth travel memoir, “England For All Seasons.” She describes the literary, historical England, the “England between the wars” of my dreams. She wrote three or four of these travel books and they are a wonderful escape.
    Also Jackdaws, by Ken Follett, which is about a group of WW2 spies at DDay.

  9. NCJack says:

    Lawrence Durrell. I’d say start with the Avignon Quintet, then the Alexandria Quartet

  10. Ms. Mig says:

    My husband would like to recommend The Complete Saki by Saki (Hector Hugh Munro). He describes Saki as a dandy humorist and enjoys the wit in the stories. Also recommends PG Wodehouse and the plays of Noel Coward. Then again, this recommendation comes from a man that got stopped and complemented on the El train by a retired librarian for properly breaking-in the spine of his book.

  11. Paula says:

    The Penguin series books are handsomely printed, illustrated, and published. Nice choice.

  12. pve says:

    Have you read -“The Elegance of the Hedgehog” yet?

  13. Mrs. PvE, not yet. Love the title though. tried to comment on your post today but got an error “Service Unavailable”. Great post.

    Ms. Mig, Love Wodehouse. Travelled France with him in my pocket. Who can go wrong with Coward? Saki’s in the pile waiting his turn.

    NCJack, The Alexandria Quartet is one of my favourite reads. I introduced Mrs. E. to it and she enjoyed it so much, she taught “Justine” to a literature class.

    Lustre, My favourite time period, too!

    Hey, Hey UVa, living consciously, in the moment, is very elegant.

  14. Hilton says:

    I am also quite fond of Mr. James and Monsieur Balzac. The comic novels of Evelyn Waugh are essential to my life now.

    I’m considering reading Knut Hamsun’s Hunger-not sure if the prose would be considered elegant, perhaps elegant simplicity- as it appears to reflect my state of mind during a life crisis (critical orthopedic injury).

  15. Good Lord Hilton! I hope you’re on the mend and it won’t slow you down for long. I suggest some Wooster & Jeeves. Wodehouse is like atonic.

  16. CallMeAl says:

    For travel reads, I always like to find a work pertinent to my locale. Perhaps Conquering Gotham, the Construction of Penn Station and its Tunnels by Jill Jonnes. Far from a dry recitation of an engineering marvel, the Jonnes lays out the setting of victorian-era America flexing its nascent industrial might, with vivid descriptions of competing RR robber barons, venial city politicos, and other colorful period aspects of the City That Never Sleeps.

  17. CallMeAl, a fine suggestion. Last visit, I bought copies of “Here is New York” by E.B. White for all involved.

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