Three Classic Books Every Man Should Reread
_To celebrate The Art of the Everyday, our new capsule collection with COS, we at MR PORTER decided to muse upon a few simple quotidian habits that can vastly improve the quality of a man’s life. Below, author and literary editor Mr Sam Leith makes a case for revisiting classic novels we read in our youth, and suggests three iconic books bound to impress. _
How often do we reread? How often do we revisit the classics? Not often enough, I think. There’s a special quality to rereading great books that you will likely last have read for your A-levels or in young manhood. You’ll bring to them a more mature consideration; different parts of them will speak to the man you are now, with all that experience in between. And they’re time machines: as you read them you’ll be transported back to the time in which you read them first. Perhaps you’ll rediscover the Rizla you used as a bookmark; or even find pencil marks you’d long forgotten making, speaking to you from the margin.
But mostly, to reread – to take time out to slow down and open up to some of the greatest things that humans have made in prose – is to take stock of yourself. It’s to improve yourself: not in the way that you improve yourself when you install a Couch-To-5k app on your phone, or take a month off drinking; but to improve your mind and your soul.
Let me suggest three books with which I don’t think any discerning man can go wrong.
by George Eliot
This titan of Victorian fiction is one of the greatest novels of all time. All human life is here – love and longing, youth and age, selfishness and self-sacrifice. Yes, it’s long. But amid the noise and haste of modern life, revisiting George Eliot’s masterpiece is a chance to reconnect with something broader and deeper. It’s a novel for grown-ups. “If art does not enlarge men’s sympathies, it does nothing morally,” said Eliot. Here’s the book that will do that. And by the time you reach its magnificent last sentence you’ll feel wiser and more widely human. Really, there’s nothing like it.
The Great Gatsby
by Mr F Scott Fitzgerald
Many respectable critics regard Mr Fitzgerald’s short book as being as close to the perfect novel as has ever been written. Not a sentence is out of place; and it captures a world that’s first enchanted and then disenchanted. Here is the glamour of the Jazz Age, and underneath it is romantic longing, fantastical ambition and an engulfing sense of the sadness of time. It’s funny, poignant and crystalline in its composition. Daisy’s whispering voice, mint juleps, the impeccable tailoring… I suspect it will speak strongly to men in early middle age especially.
by Mr Kingsley Amis
Mr Kingsley Amis’s first novel is a modern classic for a reason. It’s so funny that, as Mr Amis’s son Martin recalled in his memoir Experience, when as a young man he lent it to a university neighbour he was startled by the retching sounds that came through the wall. Not vomiting: helpless laughter. Here’s a book that will remind you of what it is to be twentysomething, enraged by the grown-up world’s phoniness, and yet impatient for the future. For all its negativity, this story of a young don making his way bursts with linguistic energy and, oddly, the appetite for life.