Starter Reading List
Joy Ride: Lives of the Theatricals
By John Lahr
'John Lahr manages to write better about the theatre than anybody in the English language' – Richard Eyre.
By Kenneth Tynan
Kenneth Tynan was the 20th century's most influential theatre critic.
The Elements of Style
By William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White
Though the authors are American there is no better pocket-sized guide to writing lucidly, fluently and engagingly.
Confessions of a Book Reviewer
By George Orwell
Seventy years may have passed since Orwell wrote this entertaining – and obviously heartfelt – essay but it still strikes a chord.
Aspects of the Novel
By E.M. Forster
Have trouble distinguishing between story and plot and can’t quite figure out what the relationship is between character and incident? Forster’s – author of A Room With a View and A Passage to India – your man.
A Writer’s Diary
By Virginia Woolf
Consisting of extracts from the diaries Woolf kept from 1918-41, there is no better insight into the mind of a creative writer, reviewer and reader.
Snake Charmers in Texas: Essays, 1980-87
By Clive James
Most reviews have a shorter shelf life than fresh fruit; Clive James’s are an exception. Who but him could describe gold-costumed ice-skaters Torvill and Dean as looking like “two packets of Benson & Hedges cigarettes dancing in a fridge”?
A Reading Diary: A Year of Favourite Books
By Alberto Manguel
A record of a year’s reading kept by the recently-appointed National Librarian of Argentina, from Don Quixote to Margaret Atwood’s Surfacing.
The Writing Life
By Annie Dillard
A glimpse for non-writers into the trials and triumphs of a life spent wrestling with words. “I do not so much write a book as sit up with it,” reflects Dillard, “as with a dying friend.”
How Fiction Works
By James Wood
What do we mean when we say we ‘know’ a fictional character? What constitutes a telling detail? Why do most endings of novels disappoint? Who better to go for enlightenment than the New Yorker’s chief literary critic?
The Top Ten Best Sellers
By Gore Vidal
In 1973, Vidal decided to read all the top ten fiction bestsellers. This spikey, insightful essay was the result. What conclusion did the great iconoclast come to? “The authors prefer fact or its appearance to actual invention.” Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose?
The Collected Dorothy Parker
By Dorothy Parker
Was there ever a more acerbic reviewer? Or a wittier one? “Why,” she once wrote, “should readers never be harrowed? Surely there is enough happiness in life without having to go to books for it.”
The Great Tradition
By FR Leavis
First published in 1948 and reprinted countless times since, Leavis’s highly influential uncompromising association of literature and morality remains a landmark in modern criticism. Just five novelists passed muster: Jane Austen, George Eliot, Henry James, Joseph Conrad and DH Lawrence. The only Dickens’ novel he liked was Hard Times.
By Martin Amis
Go directly to page 154 of this splendid memoir where Amis passes on sage advice given to him by one his mentors, vis “never start consecutive paragraphs with the same word – unless you begin at least three paragraphs this way and the reader can tell you’re doing it on purpose”.
Don’t Tell the Grown-Ups: Subversive Children’s Literature
By Alison Lurie
Is Winnie-the-Pooh subversive? Or Peter Pan? Or Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden. Of course they all are because all great children’s books are. Contentious or what!
Good As Her Word: Selected Journalism
By Lorna Sage
A self-styled hack, albeit one with a formidable academic pedigree, Sage, who died in 2001, maintained a lifelong dialogue with books, unashamedly – and necessarily – writing for money in order to supplement her income.
Kiss Kiss Bang Bang
By Pauline Kael
Anyone who aspires to write about the movies must first make acquaintance with Kael of whom Woody Allen once said: “She has everything that a great critic needs except judgment. And I don't mean that facetiously. She has great passion, terrific wit, wonderful writing style, huge knowledge of film history, but too often what she chooses to extol or fails to see is very surprising.”
The Digital Critic: Literary Culture online
By Houman Barekat
Through the end of the 20th century, book review columns and literary magazines held onto an evolving but stable critical paradigm, premised on expertise, objectivity, and carefully measured response. And then the Internet happened.
Theatre in Scotland: A Field of Dreams
By Joyce McMillan
McMillan has an incomparable ability to detect the wider cultural resonances in Scottish theatre, and to reveal what it can tell us about Scotland as a whole.
The Attentive Listener: Three Centuries of Music Criticism
By Harry Haskell
A collection of music journalism from the last three centuries. Writers such as Heine, Shaw and Hanslick sit beside those of composers such as Debussy, Tchaikovsky and Janacek.
How to Write About Theatre: A Manual for Critics, Students and Bloggers
By Mark Fisher
Practical advice from an experienced national newspaper critic on how to celebrate, analyse and discuss theatre and make your wiring come alive.