Will Manley writes a column for the American Library Association's Booklist. Unfortunately, it is entitled "The Manley Arts," but don't let that deter you. His musings --- on writing, on books, in the internet, on his growing up --- are measured and stately, the literary essay at its best.

For those who care for books, Booklist is well worth subscribing to. It is different than the other pre-publication magazines --- those that list upcoming new titles --- like Publishers Weekly and Kirkus which are mired in the Manhattan Literary Marching and Chowder Society, in incestual lock-step telling us who is In and who is Out.

Booklist, on the other hand, comes out of Chicago, is geared to the intelligent librarian, and is independent, sometimes a bit dry, but decidedly comprehensive.

Recently, Manley wrote a column in which he asked readers to send in the names of the five books that had moved or changed or affected them the most. We made up the following list for him.

Note: Click on the title for a brief reading.

§     §     §

  • The Last of the Just
    André Schwarz-Bart
    (Atheneum, 1960)
    There never has been, and probably never will be, a book that limns the pain of being Jewish as this one does. It links an 800-year history of persecution through the Lamed-Vovnik --- the Twelve "Just Men." It does so in prose that is so wrenching that one has, at times, to stop reading out of the sheer agon of it.

  • Speak Memory:
    An Autobiography Revisited
    Vladimir Nabokov
    (G. P. Putnam, 1966)
    If they want to teach us how to write about growing up, and to do it with grace, and wit, and tightly-contained sadness --- this should be the text they should give us. The writing is as fine as there is in the English language. It follows Nabokov from growing up rich (and mostly happy) in Russia, to the year of his emigration to the United States in 1939.

  • In Flanders Fields:
    The 1917 Campaign
    Leon Wolff
    (Viking, 1958)
    Wolff has created a short book about one year of WWI, the series of campaigns around Passchendaele that wounded or killed 750,000 young men with the gain --- for the Allied side --- of but a few miles. No one else, in our experience, has conveyed the ghastliness of trench warfare better than Wolff; and none has better conveyed the futility of it all.

  • Black Boy:
    A Record of Childhood and Youth
    Richard Wright
    (Harper & Row, 1945)
    I grew up in the south, and, being white, had no more idea than the man in the moon (as we used to say) of the corrosive effect of racism. Black Boy forced me, in one sitting, to get to know another boy, my age, living on the far side of town, who could immerse me in the bleakness of his poverty and the bitterness that grew out of prejudice.

  • The Skin:
    A Novel
    Curzio Malaparte
    (Marlboro Press, 1952)
    Actually, it isn't a novel at all. It's the best writing available about the looniness of war in general, and WWII in particular. Malaparte --- like Jean Genet and Blaise Cendrars --- is a contrarian, so it's a Midsummer eve: everything gets turned upside down. One should read it, if for no other reason, than for the poetic (and deliciously sardonic) picture of Clare Booth Luce, eating a newly-cooked baby.
--- A. W. Allworthy
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