Sunday, December 16, 2007

The books you should read this week
Stuck for what book to read next? Then let Erica Wagner, the Times Literary Editor, guide you with her top five titles to read now

1. Once More With Feeling: A Book of Classic Hymns and Carols by Rupert Christiansen (Short Books, £12.99)
Although I tend towards doubt in matters theological, I do love a good hymn. Even better, a carol -- at this time of year, The Holly and the Ivy; The Boar's Head. Maddy Prior has sung a few herself in her time -- with folk legends Steeleye Span and more lately with the splendid Carnival Band -- and in our pages she called this an "enthusiastic, careful and loving piece of work, reassuring those of su who hold thse hymns dear that they are indeed the worthy and glorious songs we think them". And if you don't know them already, you just might discover that's so. Time to sing along.

2. The Letters of Noel Coward, ed Barry Day (Methuen Drama, £25)
Read the Times review by Joe Joseph Read the Sunday Times review by Richard Davenport-Hines
It won't be the same in the age of e-mail, of that you can be sure. Noel Coward -- the Master -- knew everyone, and he wrote to everyone too: Vivien Leigh, Lord Mountbattan, Ian Fleming, Graham Greene, Alec Guinness, Virginia Woolf; it's hard to imagine a correspondence book such as this one coming into existence nowadays. Reading in the long dark days should give especial pleasure; there's great pleasure to be had in getting a glimpse of the wit and grandeur of an another era.

3. Gadfly in Russia by Alan Sillitoe (JR Books, £16.99)
Yes, the author of Saturday Night and Sunday Morning and The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner. He was never a "fellow traveller" but he travelled in the late Sixties in Soviet Russia with a clear eye and warm heart, even forming a friendship with his state-appointed minder.

4. Gentlemen of the Road by Michael Chabon (Sceptre, £12.99)
Chabon has referred to his desire for a book that incorporated.... well, "Jews with swords". There aren't many of them. Or indeed any. Until now. The author of The Yiddish Policeman's Union brings his sense of adventure to his sense of Jewishness, and a rollicking read is the result.

5. A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens... various editions
"Marley was dead, to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that." I don't know about you, but every year, round about this time, I open up A Christmas Carol and feel the hairs on the back of my neck rise up. There's little better, in my view, even if you don't have a coal fire to sit by and the streets aren't white with snow. While you're at it, check out Will Eaves's online guide to the book, appearing through the TLS.

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