That felicitous locution is taken from the title of an article that appeared in the Review Section of the May 19/20 Wall Street Journal Weekend Edition. It’s part of a series called ‘Five Best: A Personal Choice.’ In this particular series entry, author Paul French (Midnight in Peking) suggests five titles: White Mischief by James Fox (1982), The Painted Veil by W. Somerset Maugham (1925), The Comedians by Graham Greene (1966), Miss Jill by Emily Hahn (1947), and The Green Hat by Michael Arlen (1924). .
This is but one example of the “Five Best’ series that appears in the Wall Street Journal each weekend. I first became aware of this feature when I picked up WSJ’s Weekend Edition while I was in New York this past March. That particular issue of the paper had a ‘Five Best’ list of psychological mysteries compiled by Jane Harris. It contained, among other titles, Barbara Vine’s A Fatal Inversion. This was a book I’d long intended to read. Harris’s commendation made me determined to do so, and sooner rather than later. The determination necessary in this case involved first and foremost getting my hands on the book. A Fatal Inversion was not owned by the local library; neither is it currently in print in this country. (It is listed as being in print, published by Penguin, at Amazon.co.uk.)\
A similar situation obtains with Paul French’s list. Of the five titles he cites, only The Painted Veil is both owned by the library and currently in print. (I was naturally delighted by the inclusion of this novel. Since reading – nay, devouring! – Selina Hastings’s superb biography, I’ve derived much pleasure from rediscovering the works of Somerset Maugham. The Painted Veil is a terrific read and a great book club choice.) Penguin Classics, bless them, still has The Comedians on offer.
Among the special pleasures of these lists are the quirkiness of the topic choices and the length and liveliness of the annotations. The best way that I know of for summoning up a good number of them is by using the search term ‘WSJ five best books.’ The chief difficulty is that you’ll be greeted by a raft of titles so intriguing and so persuasively presented that you’ll want to read them immediately, if not sooner. At least, that’s what happened to me. But then, it would, wouldn’t it?