Personal Best: Right Ho, Jeeves

"Right Ho, Jeeves" by P .G . Wodehouse

Published September 30, 1996 7:54PM (EDT)

i always loathe answering this question because it's such a temptation to show off. How impressed you would be if, for instance, I told you I liked nothing better than to curl up with Bishop Ulfilas's translation of the Bible into Gothic. And how often, I suspect, do all of us -- writers and readers alike -- urge upon our luckless friends and children books we have never managed to wade through ourselves.

First things first then. No library, however humble, is complete without its well-thumbed copy of "Right Ho, Jeeves," by P.G. Wodehouse, which contains the immortal scene of Gussie Fink-Nottle, drunk to the gills, presenting the prizes to the delighted scholars of Market Snodsbury Grammar School, built around 1416. From there, expand to Wodehouse's two great golfing masterpieces: "The Heart of a Goof" and "The Clicking of Cuthbert." That's just to remind yourself what fun reading is.

Only then fan out. Ford Maddox Ford's "The Good Soldier" is a neglected gem, one of the saddest and greatest novels of our century or any other. "Love In The Time Of Cholera" by Gabriel Garcia Marquez is equaled only by his novella, "Chronicle Of A Death Foretold," which in turn compares pretty well with the greatest short story in the world, Tolstoy's "Death of Ivan Ilyich."

If you come into an inheritance, add the novels of Dickens and Balzac, Herzen's memoirs, Gibbon's "Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire," Josephus' "History of the Jews" and Tolstoy's "Anna Karenina." When you have read them all you will be better qualified for a doctorate in human nature than three quarters of the idiots who have got one.

By John Le Carre

John Le Carre's novels include "Tinker,Tailor, Soldier, Spy." and "The Tailor of Panama".

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