Reading list

Vintage Minis: Editors' guide

Covering birth, death, and everything in between, the Vintage Minis are your pole star for the confusing 21st century. The series editors have compiled a handy guide, which you can explore below

Relationships that sustain us | We are family | Exploring the mind | Indulging in earthly pleasures | Going out of this world | How to live | Finding your identity

Relationships that sustain us


Rose Tremain

That most joyful of relationships – but what is the secret to true friendship? Is it really love’s quieter relation or something stronger and more profound? And where does the line between the two lie? Rose Tremain looks at two unlikely lifelong friendships, which – though tested – prove unbreakable. Who better to explore these questions than award-winning writer Rose Tremain, whose novels have some of the most wonderful, complex and moving friendships at their heart?


Jeanette Winterson

How do we love? With romance. With work. Through heartbreak. Throughout a lifetime. As a means, but not an end. Love in all its forms has been an abiding theme of Jeanette Winterson’s writing. Here are selections from her books about that impossible, essential force, truths and stories that search for the mythical creature we call love.



Sebastian Faulks

Relationships between nations are just as delicate as those between lovers – and as countries battle it out the lives of ordinary people are changed forever. A soldier falls asleep on duty and is threatened with being court-martialled. An officer lies in mud, fighting for his life and the life of his men. A young man walks across Waterloo Bridge, explosives in his rucksack, heart pounding. In this powerfully moving book, the master of the war novel Faulks shows us the true face of war.



Marcel Proust

Can we truly know the one we love? In this painfully candid book Marcel Proust looks straight into the green eye of every lover’s jealous struggle. He broods on why we are driven to try to possess one another, how jealousy can outlive death, and whether we can ever reclaim those careless days of first love. There is no greater chronicler of jealousy’s darkest fears and destructive suspicions than Proust, who draws on his own failed romances.



Jane Austen

Why do we set so much store by marriage? Jane Austen was fascinated by this question, subjecting it to her forensic eye and wonderfully ironic wit again and again. Here are stolen glances and nervous advances, meddling parents and self-important cousins, society whisperings and the fluttering hearts of young lovers. All of them have their own views and expectations of marriage, and Austen – who, incidentally, never married herself – is the wisest of all.

We are family


Toni Morrison

Is who we are really only skin deep? In this searing, remonstrative book, Toni Morrison unravels race through the stories of those debased and dehumanised because of it. A young black girl longing for the blue eyes of white baby dolls spirals into inferiority and confusion. A friendship falls apart over a disputed memory. An ex-slave is haunted by a lonely, rebukeful ghost, bent on bringing their past home. Strange and unexpected, yet always stirring, Morrison’s writing on race sinks us deep into the heart and mind of our troubled humanity.



Helen Simpson

Welcome to motherhood – a land of aching fatigue, constant self-sacrifice and thankless servitude, a land of bottomless devotion, small hands, feet like warm pink roses, and velvet kisses. Here is a land where women try to solve age-old arguments and search fruitlessly for another hour in the day. Perhaps you know this land well, or perhaps you’re entering it for the first time – either way, you need these honest, sharply funny, humane stories from an expert guide in the form of short story writer Helen Simpson.



Karl Ove Knausgaard

How to be a good father? Children’s birthday parties, unsuccessful family holidays, humiliating antenatal classes: the trials of parenthood are all found in Knausgaard’s compelling and honest account of family life. Contrasting moments of enormous love and tenderness towards his children with the boring struggles of domesticity, this is one father’s personal experience – and somehow every father’s, too.



Anne Enright

Babies: our biggest mystery and our most natural consequence, our hardest test and our enduring love. Anne Enright describes the intensity, bewilderment and extravagant happiness of her experience of having babies, from the exhaustion of early pregnancy to first smiles and becoming acquainted with the long reaches of the night. Everyone from parents to the mildly curious can delight in Enright’s funny, eloquent and unsentimental account of having babies.



Louisa May Alcott

Your sister might be the kindred soul who knows you best, or the most alien being in your household; she might enrage you or inspire you; she might be your fiercest competitor or closest co-conspirator, but she'll always share with you a totally unique bond. Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy are four of the most famous sisters in literature, and these stories of the joys and heartaches they share are a touching celebration of the special ties of sisterhood.



Exploring the mind


William Styron

How does a writer compose a suicide note? This was not a question that the prize-winning novelist William Styron had ever contemplated before. In this true account of his depression, Styron describes an illness that reduced him from a successful writer to a man arranging his own destruction. He lived to give us this gripping description of his descent into mental anguish, and his eventual success in overcoming a little-understood yet very common condition.



Tim Parks

How do we find calm in our frantic modern world? Tim Parks – lifelong cynic and spirituality-sceptic – finds himself on a Buddhist meditation retreat trying to answer this very question. With brutal honesty and dry wit, he recounts his journey from disbelief to inner peace and tackles one of the great mysteries of our time – how to survive in this modern age.



Sigmund Freud

Have you ever dreamt you were naked on stage, or woken having failed an exam? In these fascinating, pioneering essays, pioneer of Psychoanalysis Sigmund Freud plunges into the recesses of our minds, and awakens the hidden meanings behind our most typical and surprising night-time fantasies. From dreams of violence and death, to the more prosaic moments in our dream-life, Freud shines a light on the darkness we are often happy left consigned to night.


Indulging in earthly pleasures


Laurie Lee

Remembering childhood summers is a joy like no other. For Laurie Lee they were flower-crested, heady, endless days. Here is an evocation of summer like no other – a remote valley filled with the scent of hay, jazzing wasps, blackberries plucked and gobbled, and games played until the last drop of dusk. Lee’s joyful and stirring writing captures the very essence of England’s golden season.



Roger Deakin

Is there anything quite so exhilarating as swimming in wild water? This is Roger Deakin’s swimming tour of Britain, a frog’s-eye view of the country’s best bathing holes – the rivers, rock pools, lakes, ponds, lochs and sea that define this watery island. This charming, funny, inspiring assertion of the native swimmer's right to roam is a celebration of the magic of water. It will make you want to strip off and leap in.



John Cheever

Drinking might be a pleasure up to a certain point, but then you go over the edge and it’s not so pretty. The inimitable, cutting, brilliant John Cheever pours out our most sociable of vices, and hands it to us in a highball. From the calculating teenager who raids her parents’ liquor cabinet only to drown her sorrows in it, to the suburban swimmer withering with every plunge he takes, these are stories suffused with beauty, sadness, and the gathering storm of a bender well-done.  



Nigella Lawson

This is Nigella Lawson’s manifesto for how to cook (and eat) good food every day with a minimum of fuss. From basic roast chicken and pea risotto to white truffles and Turkish Delight figs, Nigella brings the joy back into the kitchen.  



Haruki Murakami

You’ve just passed someone on the street who could be the love of your life, the person you’re destined for – what do you do? In Murakami’s world, you tell them a story. The five weird and wonderful tales collected here each unlock the many-tongued language of desire, whether it takes the form of hunger, lust, sudden infatuation or the secret longings of the heart. If you’re feeling whimsical, this is the book for you.


Going out of this world


M. R. James

A high-pitched laugh echoes in an empty church. Servants discover their master dead in his bed, the only sign of disturbance an open window. The coffin of a woman hanged as a witch is found to be empty. A bed that hasn’t been slept in is crumpled and distressed come the morning. A skeletal figure creeps closer and closer to the house where an unsuspecting family lie sleeping. In these chilling tales of the supernatural, M. R. James proves he truly is the master of the ghost story.



Aldous Huxley

Could drugs offer a new way of seeing the world? In 1953, in the presence of an investigator, Aldous Huxley took four-tenths of a gramme of mescalin, sat down and waited to see what would happen. When he opened his eyes everything, from the flowers in a vase to the creases in his trousers, was transformed. His account of his experience, and his vision for all that psychedelics could offer to mankind, has influenced writers, artists and thinkers around the world.



Julian Barnes

When it comes to death, is there ever a best case scenario? In this disarmingly witty book, Julian Barnes confronts our unending obsession with the end. He reflects on what it means to miss God, whether death can be good for our careers and why we eventually turn into our parents. Preoccupied with death throughout his fiction and essays, Barnes is the perfect guide to the weirdness of the only thing that binds us all.



Irvine Welsh

Irvine Welsh, ‘poet laureate of the chemical generation’, exposes the seamy underbelly of rave’s utopian dream. Lloyd, our permanently pilled-up protagonist, pushes his weekends to breaking point and beyond in this frazzled trip through Scottish clubland. He experiences the vertiginous uppers and downers of the Second Summer of Love, dabbles in a spot of disc jockeying and closes in, gradually, on some kind of redemption…


How to live


Yuval Noah Harari

Money makes the world go round, so the song goes. But does it really? And how did money come to be invented? Does it make us happier or unhappier? And what does the future hold for it? Author of Sapiens Yuval Noah Harari takes the reader on a journey from the very first coins through to 21st century economics and shows us how we are all on the brink of a revolution, whether we like it or not.



Margaret Atwood

Can we ever be wholly free? In this book of breathtaking imaginary leaps that conjure dystopias and magical islands, the ever-astute, witty and wise Margaret Atwood holds a mirror up to our own world. The reflection we are faced with, of men and women in prisons literal and metaphorical, is frightening, but it is also a call to arms to speak and to act to preserve our freedom while we still can. And in that, there is hope.



Yanis Varoufakis

How do we choose between what is fair and just, and what our debtors demand of us? Yanis Varoufakis was put in such a dilemma in 2015 when he became the finance minister of Greece. In this rousing book, he charts the absurdities that underpin calls for austerity, as well as his own battles with a bureaucracy bent on ignoring the human cost of its every action. This is a guide to modern economics, and its threat to democracy, like no other.



Richard Wright

How to go on in a world where everything is set against you? With hope? In fear? Or, in violent struggle? In this gripping and disturbing book, Richard Wright weaves his own childhood recollections with those of Bigger Thomas – a young black man trapped in a life of poverty in the slums of Chicago, and unwittingly involved in a wealthy woman’s death – to paint a portrait of insurmountable oppression. Through the strange pride Bigger takes in his crime, Wright brings us to confront the systems of justice we blindly assume are always on our side.


Finding your identity


Joseph Heller

Some people have the luxury of doing a job they enjoy and identify with. But Bob Slocum isn’t so lucky: he is anxious, bored and fearful of his job. So why is it he wants nothing more than the chance to speak at the next company convention? In this darkly satirical book, Catch-22 author Joseph Heller takes us for a turn on the maddening hamster wheel of work. Heller’s workplace is a cradle of paranoia, bravado and nauseating banter, forever shadowed by that perennial question, who’s really running the show here?  



Salman Rushdie

Salman Rushdie, a self-described ‘emigrant from one place and a newcomer in two’, explores the true meaning of Home. Writing with insight, passion and humour, he looks at what it means to belong, whether roots are real and homelands imaginary, what it is like to reconfigure your past from fragments of memory, and what happens when East meets West.



Virginia Woolf

Freedom and enfranchisement. Something anarchical which pushes at boundaries. The sweetness of leisure time. Each of these rich avenues of meaning are bound up in the word 'liberty' and are explored here in varied pieces by one of the most ground-breaking writers of the last century. Whether via the passionate feminist polemic of A Room of One's Own, the experimental narrative of her fiction, or a whimsical account of roaming the streets of London, Virginia Woolf's writing will set your thoughts at liberty.



Xiaolu Guo

Have you ever tried to learn another language? When Zhuang first comes to London from China she feels as though she is living among an alien species. The city is disorientating, the people unfriendly, the language a muddle of dominant personal pronouns and moody verbs. But as her fluency in English increases, surviving turns to living. And they say that the best way to learn a language is to fall in love with a native speaker…

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