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David Bellos's Top Book Recommendations

Want to know what books David Bellos recommends on their reading list? We've researched interviews, social media posts, podcasts, and articles to build a comprehensive list of David Bellos's favorite book recommendations of all time.


Hocus Bogus

By the early 1970s, Romain Gary had established himself as one of France’s most popular and prolific novelists, journalists, and memoirists. Feeling that he had been typecast as “Romain Gary,” however, he wrote his next novel under the pseudonym Émile Ajar. His second novel written as Ajar, Life Before Us, was an instant runaway success, winning the Prix Goncourt and becoming the best-selling French novel of the twentieth century.

The Prix Goncourt made people all the keener to identify the real “Émile Ajar,” and stressed by the furor he had created, Gary fled...
Recommended by David Bellos, and 1 others.

David BellosThis is comedy taken to the point of complete lunacy. Or vice versa. It’s the use of fiction and fantasy and comedy to achieve ends that lie outside of literature. (Source)

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Les Fleurs Bleues

Recommended by David Bellos, and 1 others.

David BellosLes Fleurs Bleues is in the witty comic novel tradition. It’s a double story of a guy in retirement, living on a barge on the Seine, who dreams he’s someone else. (Source)

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Cousin Bette

Poor, plain spinster Bette is compelled to survive on the condescending patronage of her socially superior relatives in Paris: her beautiful, saintly cousin Adeline, the philandering Baron Hulot and their daughter Hortense. Already deeply resentful of their wealth, when Bette learns that the man she is in love with plans to marry Hortense, she becomes consumed by the desire to exact her revenge and dedicates herself to the destruction of the Hulot family, plotting their ruin with patient, silent malice.

Cousin Bette is a gripping tale of violent jealousy, sexual passion and...
Recommended by David Bellos, and 1 others.

David BellosThis is a story designed to show you just how awful people are. And, my God, they’re awful! It is one of the most sombre visions of human corruption and perversion, self-indulgence and evil. (Source)

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Les Misérables

Introducing one of the most famous characters in literature, Jean Valjean—the noble peasant imprisoned for stealing a loaf of bread—Les Misérables ranks among the greatest novels of all time. In it, Victor Hugo takes readers deep into the Parisian underworld, immerses them in a battle between good and evil, and carries them to the barricades during the uprising of 1832 with a breathtaking realism that is unsurpassed in modern prose. Within his dramatic story are themes that capture the intellect and the emotions: crime and punishment, the relentless persecution of Valjean by Inspector Javert,... more
Recommended by David Bellos, Christian B Miller, and 2 others.

David BellosBecause it’s so huge and so capacious and contains so many different stories and takes on the world, you can make anything out of Les Misérables. (Source)

Christian B MillerVividly illustrates two ideas about character. The first is that our characters can change over time, the second is that role models can be powerful sources of character change. (Source)

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A User's Manual

Life: A User's Manual is an unclassified masterpiece, a sprawling compendium as encyclopedic as Dante's Commedia and Chaucer's Canterbury Tales and, in its break with tradition, as inspiring as Joyce's Ulysses. Perec's spellbinding puzzle begins in an apartment block in the XVIIth arrondissement of Paris where, chapter by chapter, room by room, like an onion being peeled, an extraordinary rich cast of characters is revealed in a series of tales that are bizarre, unlikely, moving, funny, or (sometimes) quite ordinary. From the confessions of a racing cyclist to the plans of an avenging... more
Recommended by David Bellos, Alina Varlanuta, and 2 others.

David BellosSome people love it for its cleverness but, behind the cleverness, there is something more, something deeply human. (Source)

Alina VarlanutaI don’t have [a favourite book]. But I do have favourite characters: [....] All inhabitants of the apartment block on 11Rue Simon-Crubellier who lived inside George Perec’s ‘Life. A user’s manual.’. (Source)

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