Francis Spufford: my five best books 

Francis Spufford’s latest novel, Light Perpetual (Faber £16.99), has been longlisted for the Booker Prize. Light Perpetual is available at The Week Bookshop for £13.99.

He will speak at the Edinburgh International Book Festival on 27 August (

Middlemarch by George Eliot, 1871

Clever girl mistakes boring man for genius; learns better. But there’s a whole world inside George Eliot’s masterpiece, observed with apparently limitless empathy, along with a streak of surprisingly bitchy humour. Virginia Woolf called it “one of the few novels written for grown-ups”, and 150 years after it came out it still makes almost everything else look simple-minded. Penguin £6.99; The Week Bookshop £5.99 

Gilead by Marilynne Robinson, 2004

The minister of a small-town church in 1950s America writes a letter to the son he won’t live to see grow up, and finds he has another task before he can die. Wise, radiantly written, and full of something you don’t get much of in novels: holiness. Virago £8.99; The Week Bookshop £6.99 

The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin, 1969

One of the greatest of sci-fi novels by one of the greatest of science fiction writers, set on an ice-bound planet whose inhabitants are human but, for 28 days of the month, genderless. It’s dated in some ways, but it remains one of the richest and most beautiful explorations of strangeness there is. Gollancz £8.99; The Week Bookshop £6.99 

The Yiddish Policemen’s Union by Michael Chabon, 2007 

Delicious noir detective story, set in a timeline that never was, where the survivors of the Holocaust founded their Jewish state in Alaska, not Israel. As a piece of writing, the most purely pleasurable book I know, every sentence its own delicatessen. Harper Perennial £10.99; The Week Bookshop £8.99 

NW by Zadie Smith, 2012

The city of London, or at least the northwest quadrant of it, brought brilliantly onto the page through the voices of four linked characters, all once children of the same council estate. Sometimes funny, sometimes tragic, always astonishingly constructed, with dialogue like a stethoscope pressed to the city. Penguin £8.99; The Week Bookshop £6.99

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