The Common Reader

Henry Oliver
A blog for what Samuel Johnson and Virginia Woolf called the common reader. Life is short and art is long. The Common Reader tries to help you make the most of your reading time. "One of my favourite Substacks." Helen Lewis
Created 26 Oct 2020
  • Polyrama and the art of character. Shakespeare, Bruegel, Tati.
    05 Apr 2022 1 0
    In The Uses of Division, John Bayley describes how Shakespeare’s characters are so well done they leave us feeling like there is a whole novel behind them waiting to be explored. He says the apothecar...
  • Notes on Lydia Davis
    28 Mar 2022 2 0
    Lydia Davis’ new volume of essays sent me back to her stories and the first volume of essays, which is my favourite of her books. She writes in almost flawless English and should be taught in business...
  • Samuel Johnson and Progress Studies
    22 Mar 2022 14 10
    In the late 1740s, Zachariah Williams was evicted from the Charterhouse, a City of London almshouse for people who require charitable help to live. Williams was a clergyman with an interest in science...
  • Free, by Lea Ypi
    15 Mar 2022 1 0
    Something about the plain, descriptive tone of this book reminded me of Gorky’s childhood memoir. I am not qualified to tell you if this is intentional but it one of many stylistic choices that make t...
  • Inside the head of modern, young Russia
    08 Mar 2022 6 4
    I was browsing for books about modern Russia while listening to an interview with Margaret Atwood and picked up The Unwomanly Face of War by Svetlana Alexievich, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature...
  • Charles Moore interview
    01 Mar 2022 1 0
    I was very pleased to talk to Charles Moore, who I have read admiringly for many years. His three volume biography of Margaret Thatcher is one of the most interesting biographies published in the last...
  • Six underrated detective novels
    22 Feb 2022 1 0
    A loyal reader, and my sister, have both discovered Agatha Christie recently. This is a great moment in anyone’s reading life. I will never forget finding Death on the Nile in the school library. So I...
  • Economics in Sense and Sensibility
    15 Feb 2022 4 2
    Sense and Sensibility is full of economic ideas and thinking. Elinor has a rich brother, John, who inherits the money that ought to have gone to support Elinor and her sister Marianne. When they are a...
  • Samuel Johnson: Reading for Wisdom
    10 Feb 2022 3 0
    One day, I want to be wise. That might sound corny, but I can think of worse ambitions. The writer I return to, again and again, in that pursuit, is my hero Samuel Johnson. Ever since I started readin...
  • Samuel Smiles: late bloomer with a side hustle. Part II
    08 Feb 2022 3 0
    Housekeeping I am giving tours of the City of London on Tuesday 22nd Feb, Sunday 27th Feb, and Saturday 5th March. This will be a light City Ramble that traces the legacy of the Great Fire and Christo...
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