Will Manley writes a monthly column called "The Manley Arts" for the publication of the American Library Association, Booklist. (Next to the Times Literary Supplement and The New York Review of Books, Booklist is probably the best book review magazine of general circulation available in this country.)

Manley writes about anything and everything, ranging from the death of his father, to memories of growing up in middle America, tales of books he has never been able to read, and, if you can believe it, the joys of being a librarian.

All of his writings are finely wrought. They have the same leisure and gentleness as the early columns of William Allen White, or Robert Benchley, or the "at large" writings in The New Yorker.

In a recent issue of Booklist he said that, now that he had reached middle age, he felt it incumbent upon himself to pick up some of the classics of literature to read or reread. He complained that he was having a hard go of it. He singled out the Greeks, along with Clarissa --- the 3,000 page epistolary novel by Samuel Richardson --- and Joyce's Ulysses. He then invited his readers to let him know what they felt to be "the five most rewarding books."

We chastised him for his attitude towards two of our favorite books, pointing out that one reads Clarissa or Ulysses (or War and Peace, or The Brothers Karamazov) over a period of months or years, not over the weekend.

Along with our upbraid, we also sent him our choices for the Five Greatest of the Last Fifty Years:

The Last of the Just
by 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" --- and does so in prose that is so wrenching that one has, at times, to stop reading out of the sheer agon of it.
Go to a sample of
The Last of the Just

§     §     §

Speak Memory:
An Autobiography Revisited

by Vladimir Nabokov
(G. P. Putnam, 1966)
If they want to teach us how to write about growing up --- or just to write with grace, and wit, and tightly-contained grief which should be the sauce of all autobiography --- this should be the text they should give us, for 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.
Go to a sample of
Speak Memory

§     §     §

In Flanders Fields:
The 1917 Campaign

by Leon Wolff
(Viking, 1958)
Wolff has created a short book about WWI, the year 1917, concentrating on the series of campaigns around Passchendaele that wounded or killed 750,000 young men with the gain --- for the Allied side --- of no more than a few miles. No one else, in our experience, has conveyed the mud and stink and grossness of trench warfare better than Wolff; and none has better conveyed the futility of it all.
Go to a sample of
In Flanders Fields

§     §     §

Black Boy:
A Record of Childhood and Youth

by Richard Wright
(Harper & Row, 1945)
Some of us who grew up in the American south had no more idea than the man in the moon (as they used to say) of the corrosive effect of racism. Black Boy puts us in the middle of the bleakness of poverty and the necessary bitterness that grows out of prejudice. It also lets one see the effect of the rules that governed black-on-white relations in the 1920s and 1930s.
Go to a sample of
Black Boy

§     §     §

The Skin:
A Novel

by Curzio Malaparte
(Marlboro Press, 1952)
Actually, it isn't a novel at all. It's the best writing available on the looniness of war in general, and WWII in particular. Malaparte --- like Jean Genet and Blaise Cendrars --- is a contrarian, so it's all Midsummer eve, where everything gets turned upside down. One should read it, if for no other reason, than for the wonderfully ironic picture of the "slave-traders" of Naples and, of all people, Clare Booth Luce.
Go to a sample of
The Skin

--- Compiled by R. R. Doister

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NOTE: Readers of RALPH are invited to send us
their own list of The Five Most Rewarding Books.
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