The English writer is well known for her biographies, whose subjects range from Mary Wollstonecraft to Thomas Hardy to Jane Austen; meanwhile, Tomalin’s 2017 memoir, A Life of My Own, out now in paperback from Penguin, showed readers a different side of the literary biographer, one able to both grapple with and movingly express the loaded subjects of trauma, grief, marriage, parenthood, and career. Here, Tomalin’s literary itinerary takes readers from current times back to the 1800s, with stops along the way.
Go, Went, Gone, by Jenny Erpenbeck
Go, Went, Gone is a heartbreaking, funny, and truthful novel translated from the German by Susan Bernofsky. It takes us to Berlin, where African immigrants are seeking to make new lives and a retired professor is drawn into trying to help them. Published in 2015, it’s essential reading for our times.
The Progress of Love, by Alice Munro
Then something from Alice Munro, who, like Chekhov, writes stories that take you deep into the strangeness of ordinary human experience. Try “Monsieur les Deux Chapeaux,” from her 1986 collection, The Progress of Love, and return to it often.
The Time Machine, by H. G. Wells
The Time Machine, H. G. Wells’s first novel, published in 1895, brought him world fame and has been in print ever since. Start reading and you will see why—imagination and intelligence have rarely been set to work together with such startling and stunning effect.
Daniel Deronda, by George Eliot
And what about George Eliot to keep you reading for a month? I recommend Daniel Deronda, her last novel, in which she puts her heroine Gwendolen, an ambitious beauty, through cruel lessons about money, art, morality, and marriage, as she struggles through English and cosmopolitan high society in the 1870s.