"He spoke of the English, a noble race, rulers of the waves, who sit on thrones of alabaster, silent as deathless gods"
August 27, 2009 3:02 PM   Subscribe

BookRecommendationFilter: I need recommendations for books about English culture. Doesn't necessarily have to be anthropology-heavy. Bonus points for being humorous.

I'm already aware of Bill Bryson's Notes from a Small Island, Jeremy Paxman's The English: A Portrait of a People and Kate Fox's Watching the English: The Hidden Rules of English Behaviour

Also, this might be pushing it, but I wouldn't mind very English authors whose work sort of reflects certain facets of English culture in different time periods. For example, E.M Forster, Kazuo Ishiguro and, to some extent, Evelyn Waugh/P.G Wodehouse.

Short essays and stuff are also welcome. What I'm not looking for is some sort of English history in the vein of A History of the English-speaking Peoples

posted by prufrock to Grab Bag (25 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis.
posted by theora55 at 3:07 PM on August 27, 2009

Authors: David Lodge, Martin Amis, Barbara Pim, Arthur Conan Doyle.
posted by Duffington at 3:15 PM on August 27, 2009

1066 and All That is a funny parody written in the 1930's of the way English history was taught in schools.
posted by nestor_makhno at 3:17 PM on August 27, 2009

J.G. Ballard might be worth a shot.
posted by turgid dahlia at 3:49 PM on August 27, 2009

Might you be able to locate a battered, second-hand copy of George Mikes' How to be an Alien? It might be the sort of thing you're looking for, being a humorous dissection of the English and their social foibles, as well as a rather wonderful time-capsule image of life in the 1940s.
posted by hydatius at 3:51 PM on August 27, 2009

Uh, there appears to be a text version of How to be an Alien here. It's missing the wonderful illustrations by Nicholas Bentley though; a selection of them can be found here. The internet, eh?
posted by hydatius at 4:00 PM on August 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'm not sure if this fits your needs, but White Teeth by Zadie Smith is both my favorite book AND a humorous portrayal of the modern multi-cultural England.
posted by hellogoodbye at 4:09 PM on August 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

'Weekend in Dinlock' by Clancy Segal is just the kind of thing you are looking for. Miners were crazy.

Industry and Empire by Eric Hobasbawm if you find economic history interesting is also good.
posted by munchbunch at 4:26 PM on August 27, 2009

and Orwel's the Road to Wigan Pier....
posted by munchbunch at 4:39 PM on August 27, 2009

Aaah, I was coming here to recommend Watching the English. Leslie Banker and William Mullins' Britannia in Brief isn't quite the same, but positions itself as a sort of primer for Americans (and others, I suppose) on 'quintessential' facets of British culture -- e.g. cricket and panto and such.
posted by punchdrunkhistory at 5:00 PM on August 27, 2009

Adrian Mole books may not be quite as sophisticated as you'd like, but they are very entertaining and quick reads. They are about the trials and tribulations of adolescence and the characters are English.

I quite enjoyed "I Capture the Castle" which is about life in 1930s England--a family lives in poverty in a castle.
posted by FergieBelle at 5:19 PM on August 27, 2009

The Four Men - Belloc
The Napoleon of Notting Hill - Chesterton
posted by Fiery Jack at 5:30 PM on August 27, 2009

The Molesworth books, accompanied by the St Trinians books. What the hell, throw in the Beano as well.

Nancy Mitford
as a corollary to her pal, Waugh- not quite so caustic.

More left field than you're probably looking for, but London Street Games by Norman Douglas.
posted by IndigoJones at 5:52 PM on August 27, 2009

Culture and Anarchy (Matthew Arnold), which is funny but definitely not....funny? (also a bit dated). Culture and Society (Raymond Williams) and The Making of the English Working Class (E.P. Thompson) are two of the standard New Left / Marxist readings (with Hobsbawm as the third wheel).

Williams is a literary history, but he's interested in "social novels," so there's some history there as well.
posted by puckish at 6:04 PM on August 27, 2009

*literary historian
posted by puckish at 6:04 PM on August 27, 2009

Here's a fiction take on the seventies culture in Britain:

"The Rotter's Club" Jonathan Coe

It's one of my favorite books!
posted by ThaBombShelterSmith at 6:56 PM on August 27, 2009

The Mapp and Lucia books provide a hilarious take on small town, upper middle class Brits during the 1920s and 1930s.
posted by fuse theorem at 7:15 PM on August 27, 2009

Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons.
I second I Capture the Castle.
posted by shinyshiny at 8:04 PM on August 27, 2009

The Amazon reviews are a mixed bag, but I found The Anglo Files to be an interesting read. White Teeth is an amazing novel, but the Anglo Files is definitely just a big pointy finger that's aimed straight at various British peculiarities.
posted by redsparkler at 12:15 AM on August 28, 2009

Damn, was going to recommend The Rotter's Club and Adrian Mole...

If you want a Celtic view, you can't go wrong with Alan Warner's The Sopranos or Gordon Legge's The Shoe. And though it's far more populist than a lot of the mentions here. Bridget Jones' Diary has an unfair reputation as brainless chicklit when it's actually a clever satire on the worries, friendships and workplace issues of one woman in the 1990s. And very British.
posted by mippy at 6:09 AM on August 28, 2009

Also, there's Mrs Sloecombe's Pussy, about British TV and popular culture, and I remember reading an excellent memoir of growing up by the seaside in the 1950s but damned if I can remember more than that.

Toast by Nigel Slater has a lot about our national attitudes to food in the days before pesto was a supermarket staple.
posted by mippy at 6:12 AM on August 28, 2009

Jane Austen
posted by like_neon at 7:05 AM on August 28, 2009

E.M. Forester's "Howard's End" (~1914) for the Belle Epoche, and Zadie Smith's homage to same novel,
"On Beauty" (~2006), located in a thinly-disguised college town near Boston.

Again, Coe's "The Rotter's Club" ('01, but set in Thatcher's England) and its sequel The Closed Circle ('04, same characters during New Labor era). and his "What a Carve Up!" retitled "The Winshaw Legacy" in the states.

For a hilarious mock-diary of an aspiring bourgeois during that type's peak, read "Diary of a Nobody."

For outsiders, read Penelope Fitzgerald's "Off Shore," set on a houseboat on the Thames.
posted by doncoyote at 1:02 PM on August 28, 2009

George Orwell has many essays that would fall in this category.
posted by canoehead at 1:16 PM on August 29, 2009

Coe's "The Rotter's Club" ('01, but set in Thatcher's England)

Sorry to be a pedant, but it's set about five years since Thatcher came to power - if memory serves punk was just breaking as the book ends. It does have a lot of political stuff about 1970s industrial action and terrorism, though, which made me like it a lot more than The Closed Circle. What A Carve Up! is the Thatcher one.

You may like In The Line of Beauty if you're looking for something about Thatcherism - this one from the moneyed Tory perspective.
posted by mippy at 3:45 AM on September 2, 2009

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