A Priestley Primer

“J.B. Priestley – I’ve heard of him, but never read any of his books.  Where should I start?” I’m regularly asked this, so I thought I’d share my usual answers – which I imagine most Priestley enthusiasts would endorse.

Cover of Canadian edition of The Good Companions

Cover of Canadian edition of The Good Companions

With the exception of Margin Released, all these books are currently in print, published by Great Northern Books.  They are also plentiful in the second-hand book trade and often to be found in academic and large public libraries.  I’ve included links to my 100 Objects pieces about each title, which should help you decide which ones you’d like to discover.

Non-fiction

English Journey.  England in the 1930s – rural past, industrial decline and modern future, featuring Priestley’s unforgettable anger at the treatment of Great War veterans and the desolation of poverty.
Delight.  Vignettes of experiences that made Priestley happy, from smoking in the bath to playing tennis badly.
Margin Released.   Interested in Bradford history, the Great War or 20th century literature or film?  You need to read this memoir.

Fiction

Bright DayA bittersweet and reflective book looking back from the uneasy peace of 1946 to vanished 1913 Bradford.
Angel Pavement.   Priestley shows the impact of capitalism on ordinary people in the memorable setting of a vanished London.
Lost Empires.   Love and disillusionment in a vivid music-hall setting, under the shadow of The Great War.
The Good Companions.   Too sentimental for some modern tastes, but on its own terms it is incredibly effective.  Fantastic set-pieces (the football match at the beginning) and a lovely comfort read.

I hope this helps – do let us know which Priestley books you’re reading and what you think of them!  What about the plays?  That’s another story.

Read all these already?  I’ll follow up with some suggestions for the more advanced Priestley reader.

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One response to “A Priestley Primer

  1. I read the Good Companions and Lost Empires while recovering from pneumonia several years ago. I hugely enjoyed my Priestley phase – the books are very appealing and interesting and I found I often douldn’t put them down.

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