Monday, June 24, 2013

Books That Sparkle

"There are books I go to when I don't want any more of the place I'm somehow stuck in and I long for a lighter and brighter world...They make me feel I've just had a drink of a particularly sparkling Champagne."
-- Mary Gordon

I have a wonderful address book called "The Reading Woman" that I bought at the Frick Museum in New York. It is illustrated with lovely paintings of women reading and filled with quotes by writers. One of my favorite quotes is the one above.

It is true -- there are books that sparkle, books that take us to a lighter and brighter world. We read them and are taken away, transported to a place of witty conversation, well-dressed people, candle-lit rooms, beautiful flowers, glistening silver, china teapots, dialogue sprinkled with bons mots, humorous mishaps, and enterprising heroines searching for love and a place in the world. These books feature dashing detectives, bungling aristocrats, glamorous characters, bright young women and ordinary people who have the ability to see the beauty in everyday life. We are swept away by their stories as well as the settings of their stories. The characters go on elegant picnics, create beautiful environments out of run-down houses and gardens, meet friends over afternoon tea, write letters and diaries in cozy libraries, solve mysteries over sherry in the drawing room, and fall in love under an ancient elm tree. Romance, mystery, intrigue, and comedy are the subjects.

Here are some books that have the power to sweep us away into a lighter and brighter world.


The Code of the Woosters by P. G. Wodehouse
 The aristocrat Bertie Wooster would be lost without the guidance of his brilliant valet Jeeves. The mishaps Bertie encounters in this book are endless, as are the laughs. This may be the perfect escapist book!

The Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford
Comedy and romance set in the ancestral home of an eccentric British family. The heroine longs to escape to a more glamorous life and her adventures take her to Paris. The ending is surprising and poignant.

Pride and and Prejudice by Jane Austen
The ultimate in romantic, happy endings

A Room with a View by E.M. Forster
 English women find love and lose their inhibitions in Italy, written by one of the masters --E.M. Forster. He called it his "merry and bright" book.

  Do you remember how funny this play is?

Gaudy Night by Dorothy Sayers
The dashing detective Lord Peter Wimsey is in love with the mystery writer Harriet Vane. Together they solve a crime set at Harriet's alma mater Oxford University

A middle-class housewife living in the English countryside keeps a diary recounting her mundane life with her family and servants. It turns out she has literary aspirations and a witty sense of humor.

Merry Hall, Down The Garden Path and other books by Beverley Nichols
The debonair bachelor Nichols buys a run-down estate in the English countryside and sets about restoring the garden to its former glory. These books are laugh-out-loud funny.

Mapp and Lucia series of novels by E.F. Benson
Comic novels by Benson about the social rivalry between two women -- Elizabeth Mapp and Emmeline Lucas (Lucia) -- in a country village. The question is, who will be queen?

Excellent Women by Barbara Pym
Mildred Lathbury, a spinster and clergyman's daughter living in London in the 1950's, narrates this very funny story of her peaceful life being shaken up by her new and glamorous neighbors. Barbara Pym at her best!

 Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh
Even though tragedy and disillusion occur, when Charles Ryder falls in love with Sebastian Flyte and his glamorous family, we also fall under their spell.

 To the North by Elizabeth Bowen
A serious book about two young women who are lost -- one is an orphan and the other a widow -- finding their way together in London and searching for a meaningful life, as well as a home. Evocative descriptions of houses and furnishings that envelop and comfort, at least for a while...

And more recent books:

Le Divorce by Diane Johnson
 Diane Johnson's comedy of manners about American expats living in Paris

The Cookbook Collector by Allegra Goodman
A modern re-imagining of Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility. If you love cookbooks, English literature, love stories and Jane Austen, this is the book for you. It combines contemporary themes with old-fashioned storytelling.   

Any Human Heart by William Boyd
A romantic and sweeping saga of a book, this novel tells the story of the fictional character Logan Mountstuart, who during the course of his life is a writer, spy, and art dealer. It reads like a social and cultural history of the twentieth-century. Anglophiles will love it.

 Rules of Civility by Amor Towles
Two young women meet a handsome banker in Greenwich village. They enter his glittering social world and their lives change. With echoes of F. Scott Fitzgerald and Truman Capote, this book is such a good read!

I had fun coming up with this list and revisiting some of my favorite books. Can you think of any others?

Go here to read an essay on Barbara Pym in the New York Times. This month is the centenary of her birth and Pym's fans are celebrating the occasion.


  1. Love your book lists, Sunday, and it's so hot and humid here all one wants to do is be near water and a good book. I loved the Cookbook Collector, but no one can beat Jane Austen. Never read Woodhouse. Is his book as funny as the BBC versions?

    Thanks for the great suggestions.

    1. Billie, yes his books are as funny as the BBC versions. I just finished "The Code of the Woosters" and found myself laughing out loud. Didn't you love the BBC version with Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry? They were perfect in those roles.

  2. These sound perfect for the summer reading list. Several I've enjoyed. Many to be discovered. It seems reading is all I've wanted to do lately. Summer is the perfect time for guilty pleasures, don't you think?

  3. Howard's End.
    What a wonderful list that truly bubbles, Sunday. I've used The Reading Woman day planners, and have cherished having them around.

    1. Penny, they are really beautiful and I love the quotes.

  4. Wonderful list. Another one for me would be "The Age of Innocence" ~ Edith Wharton never fails to transport me.

    1. Kathy, I know you are a Wharton fan. "The Age of Innocence" is my favorite book by her.

  5. You have compiled an excellent list of titles, Sunday, but Mapp & Lucia still eludes me, I'm afraid. Perhaps it was just my mood but the baby talk drove me over the edge!

    Your photo has reminded me that there are strawberries to be had. There isn't a lick of cream in the house though so they'll just have to be naked.

  6. I love the power of books to transport us to another place and time. I find Elizabeth Bowen's books are powerful that way.

    1. Her books are wonderful in that way, and yes, I agree with you -- they are powerful. What a great writer she was!

  7. Sunday,

    Books never fail to transport me to another world. They relax me, sometime frustrate me when I finish them and entertain me. I can think of nothing I like better than reading...except spending time with my family.

    And if there is a glass of champagne and a bowl of strawberries to indulge in while reading even better.

    Have a wonderful weekend, Elizabeth

  8. That's a wonderful list - I feel good just reading it. I really want to read the Boyd and the Bowen right now!

  9. Great choices. I adore The Prov Lady and her wonderful capitalisation.

  10. Love in a Cold Climate is pretty wonderful, too. I'm also rather fond of Rebecca West's The Soldier Returns.

  11. Oh, great suggestions, and I adore Nancy Mitford! I have always wanted to read Rebecca West and now I have your suggestion of one to start with. Thanks!

  12. That first list made me so happy! I have read and loved each one of those books. What a lovely post, Sunday. I would add Miss Buncle's Book by DE Stevenson--great fun with a very happy ending.

  13. Thanks for some very good book recommendations! A recent selection I would recommend would be "The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry" by Rachel Joyce. Also, "The Newlyweds" by Nell Freudenberger, and "The Woman Upstairs" by Claire Messud.

    1. Thank you, Judy! I will add them to my list of books to read!