Books With Spines: The Complete List

National Association of Scholars

Week One: Bad Teachers

Week TwoImprisonment

Week Three: Books with Shakespearian Titles

Week Four: The Good Books You Never Finished

Week Five: Aliases

Week Six: Wilderness Survival

Week Seven: Overrated Classics

Week Eight: The American Dream

Week Nine: Sailing

Week Ten: The Revolution Dines at Home

Week Eleven: Music

Week Twelve: Marriage

Week Thirteen: Sports

Week FourteenBooks That Made You Love America

Week Fifteen: Books I Finished After Multiple Tries

Week Sixteen: Books About Adoption

Week Seventeen: Books About Weapons

Week EighteenBooks About Doppelgängers

Week Nineteen: Hometown Books

Week Twenty: Books About Being Too Darn Hot

Week Twenty-One: Good Teachers

Week One: Bad Teachers

  1. Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery. Mr. Phillips, who fails to enforce order or care for his class because he aims only at courting one of his pupils, misspells Anne’s name (omitting the “e”) and singles her out for punishment when she and several others appear late for class.
  2. Be Frank With Me by Julia Claiborne Johnson. None of the teachers and principals can be bothered to learn about young Frank in this book, to understand him, to guide him, or even care about him as a human being.  They simply dismiss him.
  3. Candide by Voltaire. Dr. Pangloss has become a byword for foolish counsel and risible rationalization. (Recommended two times.)
  4. David Copperfield by Charles Dickens. Mr. Creakle, the headmaster of Salem House, “had a delight in cutting at the boys, which was like the satisfaction of a craving appetite.”
  5. Election by Tom Perrotta. Mr. M rigs a school election against a student just because he doesn't like her. If that's not a bad teacher, what is? The book also has a sharp commentary on social politics.
  6. Elsie Dinsmore by Martha Finley. Miss Day the governess treats Elsie unfairly, doesn’t let her go the fair, and boxes her on the ear.
  7. Emile: Or On Education by Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Rousseau imagines raising Emile, whom he treats as a perfect tabula rasa needing only protection from society’s corrupting influence.  Rousseau emphasizes experience, reason, and career, only imparting emotion, “religion,” and sentiment when Emile is a teenager. Rousseau also trains Emile’s wife, Sophie, to be “passive and weak” and to please her husband.
  8. Emily of New Moon by L.M. Montgomery. Miss Brownell, a merciless disciplinarian, ridicules Emily for spelling mistakes and plays favorites with the class.
  9. Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder. A school teacher unable to maintain order lets the “boys from Hardscrabble Hill” beat him so badly he later dies. Mr. Corse, the new teacher,  disciplines them with a fifteen-foot whip that draws blood and leaves their clothes in tatters.
  10. Hard Times by Charles Dickens. Thomas Gradgrind, sadistic utilitarian who eschews the humane arts in favor of training students as if they were part of an assembly line. Also Mr. M’Choakumchild, who stuffs facts into students until they choke. (Recommended three times.)
  11. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling. Dolores Umbridge is a bad teacher because she is trying to propagandize her students into suppressing the truth and she gives unfair punishments. (Recommended three times.)
  12. Homeland by R.A. Salvatore. Dinin Do'Urden is responsible for the attempted brainwashing of his brother/student Drizzt. Dinin is a warrior teacher at the school of martial arts who, along with other teachers, attempts to teach students mindless racism, classism, violence, and other morally reprehensible things. Similar to college/high school today, no?
  13. How Green Was My Valley by Richard Llewellyn. Mr. Jonas punishes Huw for fighting by beating him with a stick until it breaks.
  14. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. Miss Scatcherd strikes Helen Burns on the neck a dozen times with a bunch of twigs. Mr. Brocklehurst, who supervises Lowood School and is hypocritically religious, humiliates Jane Eyre by making her stand on a stool in front of the class and telling the other girls Jane is a liar and that they shouldn’t associate with her. (Recommended twice.)
  15. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. Mr. Davis the schoolteacher hits Amy March on the hand with a ruler when he catches her with pickled limes in her desk.
  16. Look Homeward, Angel by Thomas Wolfe. An unnamed Latin professor at the thinly disguised University of North Carolina, who unjustly accuses our hero, Eugene Gant, of using a "pony" when his Latin translation seemed too good to be his own work.
  17. Lost Boys, by Orson Scott Card. Mrs. Jones singles out the protagonist's six-year-old son by giving him unfair grades and turning his classmates against him.
  18. Love's Labor's Lost by William Shakespeare. Holofernes is a Latin-epithet-spouting tedious pedant.
  19. Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis. Professor Welch is an affected, pompous, ineffective, self-indulgent snob. On the other hand, our hero Jim Dixon doesn’t care about his research and gets drunk before giving a paper. Still, better Squiffy Jim than Professor Welch’s filthy, filthy Mozart.
  20. Martin Chuzzlewit, by Charles Dickens. Mr. Pecksniff purports to teach architecture, but in fact is ruthlessly exploiting his students, one for unpaid labor, and the other for money. He steals one student's designs and presents them as his own, and feels no commitment actually to impart knowledge.
  21. Nicholas Nickleby, by Charles Dickens. Wackford Squeers runs Dotheboys Hall, a boys school/boarding house, but rather than educating the boys who attend, he starves, beats, neglects, and generally abuses them. He and Mrs. Squeers give the children “brimstone” to “purify the boys’ blood” and make them feel sick because it “comes cheaper than breakfast and dinner.” Squeers gets away with this despicable behavior because the boys are largely unwanted due to illegitimacy, deformity, etc. He charges high tuition fees which he uses for his own benefit rather than for providing even a minimal education. Squeers is hated and feared by the boys. (Recommended twice.)
  22. Stoner, by John Williams. Hollis Lomax, the antagonist of Stoner, is a physical and moral cripple who is willing to compromise basic academic standards in order to pass a conniving and flattering graduate student who hasn't come close to mastering his chosen field.  The scene in which Stoner refuses to go along with it is a pointed demonstration of how academic fraud so often takes place—not through a well-plotted and canny strategy, but through a decadent loosening of scruples, a "C'mon, you're being too rigid" exhortation.
  23. "Such, Such Were the Joys," by George Orwell. Headmaster Sambo and his wife Flip mistreat the boys horribly as they “cram” them for the entrance exams to the better public schools—and the boys come to love them. Sambo was Big Brother.
  24. The Browning Version by Terence Rattigan. Andrew Crocker-Harris (nicknamed “The Crock” by his students) teaches classics at an English boys school, where his students and the school administrators dislike him for his sternness, while his unhappy wife carries on an affair with another teacher.
  25. The Children’s Story, by James Clavell. A teacher installed by a foreign power, which has just defeated the United States, re-educates her pupils to support their conquerors. The children daily recite the Pledge of Allegiance but don’t understand it, and they learn to discard their native religion and national loyalty.
  26. The Cloudsby Aristophanes. Socrates is a foolish sophist.
  27. The Giver, by Lois Lowry. All teachers train students to conform to artificial social norms. All education is directed at a career, which is chosen by The Committee.
  28. The History Man, by Malcolm Bradbury. Howard Kirk is a progressive sociologist of malignant temperament who crushes the one student who dissents from his dogma.
  29. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, by Muriel Spark. Jean Brodie exercises her charisma with malevolent results; a student throws her life away in the Spanish Civil War.
  30. The Silver Chair, by C.S. Lewis. The Head of "Experiment House" (Jill and Eustace's boarding school) never disciplines any students, and she lets "The Gang" bully everyone. For this she is made an inspector and then elected into Parliament. 
  31. The Taming of the Shrew, by William Shakespeare. Lucentio and Hortensio, for pretending to be tutors for the unmarried daughter Bianca, as a means to woo her unbeknownst to her father.  It is possible they don't actually know really anything about their purported tutoring, and a teacher seducing their student is quite against commonly accepted practice.
  32. The War of the End of the World, by Mario Vargas Llosa. Antonio Conselheiro is the "Counselor" in late 1890's Brazil whose doomsday prophesies entrance ex-slaves, bandits, and outcasts of various kinds, inspire them to blissful adoration—and ultimately  to terrifying violence.
  33. To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee. Miss Caroline Fisher, a first-time teacher trained in the new “Dewey Decimal System,” bans Scout from reading and writing until she reaches the grades where those skills are taught.
  34. Tom JonesWilliam Fielding. Mr. Square the philosopher and Mr. Thwackum the divine are pompous, close-minded, and hypocritical by turns—Tom surprises one of them in the bedroom closet of Tom’s own girlfriend.

Week Two:  Imprisonment

  1. A Man, by Oriana Fallaci. Alexandros Panagoulis is imprisoned and tortured after he attempts to assassinate the dictator of Greece in 1968.
  2. Any Human Heart, by William Boyd. Logan Mountstuart spends World War II as a prisoner in Switzerland.
  3. A Tale of Two Cities, by Charles Dickens. Dr. Alexandre Manette is imprisoned for refusing to promise to keep silent about murders and rape committed by Charles Darnay's uncle, the Marquis St. Evrémonde; and Charles Darnay both for being an émigré aristocrat and for being the Marquis St. Evrémonde’s heir.
  4. Bartleby the Scrivener, by Herman MelvilleBartleby is sent to prison as a last resort after he prefers not to work and prefers not to leave his employer's office even on weekends or nights.
  5. Birdman of Alcatraz: The Story of Robert Stroud, by Thomas E. Gaddis.  Stroud served 54 years of his life in solitary confinement, during which time he conducted significant medical research on birds, and had a book published on The Diseases of Canaries in 1933.  He also ran a business from his solitary prison cell and made some important discoveries on avian medicine, for which he is still cited.  Good movie version in 1962, starring Burt Lancaster.
  6. Borstal Boy, by Brendan Behan. Behan’s memoir is a beautiful account of making his way through a juvenile prison, among boys who are not hardened criminals—and not yet doomed to be so.
  7. Crime and Punishment, by Fyodor Dostoevsky. Rodion Romanovitch Raskolnikov for murdering two peasant women.
  8. Crito, by Plato. Socrates is imprisoned in Athens after he is convicted of impiety and corrupting the young. His friend Crito tries to convince him to escape before execution. Naturally, a dialogue on justice and political duty ensues.
  9. Darkness at Noon, by Arthur Koestler. Nicolas Salmanovitch Rubashov, one of the original “Old Bolsheviks,” is imprisoned during the Moscow show trials. He has fallen victim to the system that he helped create, and been imprisoned in turn. Rubashov is an amalgam of two actual Bolsheviks, Radek and Bukharin, both of them victims of Stalin. (Recommended 5 times.)
  10. Five Years to Freedom, by Lt. James N. Rowe. Green Beret Lt. James N. Rowe was captured by the Viet Cong in South Vietnam in 1963, held in primitive conditions for five years until he escaped. He avoided torture by claiming to be only an engineer, but US "Peace" organizations furnished the VC his actual status as Green Beret. The rest you have to read.
  11. Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain. Jim, the runaway slave, is held in a shed by a chain looped around a bedpost. He could easily escape but is imprisoned as much by Tom Sawyer's determination to enact a romanticized dramatic escape as he is by Aunt Sally and Uncle Silas's shed.
  12. If This Is a Man [Survival in Auschwitz], by Primo Levi. Levi’s account of his year in Auschwitz.
  13. In the First Circle, by Aleksandr Solzhenitysn. Engineers and scientists are confined in post-war Moscow, organized to perform research for Stalinist objectives. But creativity is the epitome of free will; the prisoners, and others in the larger society, exhibit a full range of survival instincts, complicity, and defiance. Gems of gallows humor reveal an unscathed human spirit. The lab's "free" director is himself in fear of his life if he does not perform. A promising diplomat who had an epiphany will pay with his life after being fingered by a lab prisoner. The idea of the Soviet Union as a huge prison is buttressed by four chapters devoted to Stalin himself. Although all the zeks are men, there are some memorable women characters.
  14. Journey into the Whirlwind, by Evgenia Ginsburg. The first volume of Ginsburg's memoirs describes the confusion and disorientation she felt after her arrest and imprisonment on obviously trumped up charges during Stalin's terror; she is therefore both witness and victim.
  15. Laws, Book 10, by Plato. First prison in Western civ ... and School, all in one! For outspoken atheists only.
  16. Les Miserables, by Victor Hugo. Jean Valjean is imprisoned for stealing bread to feed his family.
  17. Letters and Papers from Prison, by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Bonhoeffer’s writings from prison in Nazi Germany .
  18. Little Dorrit, by Charles Dickens. Practically all of England, but Dorrit's father William Dorrit spends years in the notorious, for-profit Marshalsea debtors' prison in the 19th-century, and his three children grow up within its walls. (Recommended 3 times.)
  19. Man's Search for Meaning, by Viktor E. Frankl. Viktor E. Frankl is imprisoned in Nazi death camps. 
  20. My Shadow Ran Fastby Bill Sands. A modern American memoir about Sand’s rehabilitation—redemption—during his time in San Quentin Prison.
  21. Night, by Elie Wiesel. Elie Wiesel is imprisoned in a Nazi death camp.
  22. One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, by Aleksander Solzhenitsyn. Ivan Denisovich Shukhov, suspected of treason for having been a POW of the German Army during World War II, even though he had escaped back to friendly lines. Published in 1962, this little masterpiece predates the more famous "Gulag Archipelago." A study in quiet endurance. (Recommended 15 times.)
  23. Osborne of Sing Sing, by Frank Tannenbaum. An admiring biography of Thomas Mott Osborne, the reforming warden of Sing Sing prison—a reminder that the people who run prisons do sometimes try to make life better for their inmates, and can even succeed for a while.
  24. Papillon, by Henri Charrière. Charrière is imprisoned for murder in French Guiana, and escapes.
  25. Philoctetes, by Sophocles. Philoctetes, because he deserves "isolation" on Lemnos. (Not necessarily the best, but full of good questions to ask.)
  26. Priestblock 25487: A Memoir of Dachau, by Fr. Jean Bernard. Fr. Jean Bernard, a Catholic priest, was arrested in 1941 by Nazi authorities and sent to a block in Dachau filled with thousands of Christian clergymen, where they faced physical and mental torture. Fr. Bernard's memoir sets the horror of life in a Nazi concentration camp against the inviolable dignity of each human being.
  27. Sakhalin Island, by Anton Chekhov. Chekhov’s account of the Czarist penal colony on Sakhalin.
  28. The Bridge over the River Kwai, by Pierre Boulle. Historical fiction about British prisoners during World War II forced by the Imperial Japanese Army in 1942 to help construct the Burma Railway. Later adapted to film.
  29. The Chamber, by John Grisham. Sam Cayhall, a KKK member, is imprisoned for bombing a lawyer's office and killing two children.
  30. The Consolation of Philosophyby Boethius. Boethius isaccused of treason for conspiracy to overthrow Theodoric, which he denies. [Recommended 2 times.]
  31. The Count of Monte Cristo, by Alexandre Dumas. Edmond Dantès is wrongfully imprisoned, escapes, and wreaks revenge. A dangerous book, because you’re likely to read it instead of what you’re supposed to be doing at work.
  32. The Cypresses Believe in Godby José María Gironella. Many of the characters in the novel, primarily César Alvear, son of the family split asunder by the Spanish Civil War.
  33. The Frying Pan: A Prison and Its Prisoners, by Tony Parker. Common criminals speak for themselves in this 1970 oral history of Britain's first prison to be designed along psychiatric lines. It's fascinating to hear from prisoners who really believe the therapy is helping them, as well as those who think rehabilitation is all tosh.
  34. The Great Escape, by Paul Brickhill. Allied prisoners escape from a German POW camp during World War II.
  35. The Gulag Archipelago, by Aleksander Solzhenitsyn. Solzhenitsyn and millions of other prisoners, political prisoners of one kind or other. History of the Gulag system, and true account of the author's own eight-year imprisonment in Soviet "destructive labor" camps. Solzhenitysn had a permanent internal semi-exile imposed after release for mocking maximum leader Josef Stalin in letters written from the front in WWII. (Recommended 5 times.)
  36. The Hiding Place, by Corrie ten Boom. Corrie ten Boom and her family for hiding Jews during the Holocaust.
  37. The House of the Dead, by Fyodor Dostoevsky. The life of Aleksandr Petrovich Goryanchikov, Dostoevsky’s stand-in, in a Czarist camp in Siberia. An insightful and moving portrayal of the physical and spiritual effects of life in prison—the Johnny Cash song of Russian novels. 
  38. The Long Walk, by Slavomir Rawicz. Rawicz’s account of the fantastic prison break from a Soviet camp in Siberia that he took part in. Rawicz seems to have improved on the truth; so it may have to be reclassified to the fiction section. Still very much worth reading. (Recommended 2 times.)
  39. The Pickwick Papers, by Charles Dickens. Mr. Samuel Pickwick, for breach of promise of marriage.
  40. The Power of One, by Bryce Courtenay. Professor Karl von Vollensteen, "Doc," for not registering as an alien in South Africa.
  41. The Unseen, by Nanni Balestrini. Several Italian anarchists arrested for terrorism.
  42. Unbroken, by Laura Hillenbrand. Louis Zamperini spends years as a prisoner of war captured by Imperial Japan.
  43. We, by Yevgeny Zamyatin. The citizens of the totalitarian One State, a glass-walled city where people live for the collective and have no individuality.
  44. When Hell Was in Session, by Rear Admiral Jeremiah Denton. Denton was shot down over North Vietnam and spent year as a POW. By blinking his eyes in Morse code, he provided the first information that our POWs were being tortured. His book includes his philosophical talks with the North Vietnamese prison commander.

Week Three: Books with Shakespearian Titles

Shakespearian Titles, Actual

  1. All That Glitters: The Case of the Ice-Cold Diamond, by Elizabeth Powers. The Merchant of Venice: II.7.65. Powers herself writes: My first novel (a mystery) was entitled "All That Glitters." The action takes place in NYC's Diamond District among Hasidic Jews. I am not Jewish and was at the time of publication was new to Manhattan. In the years since it appeared I have occasionally wondered if I might unintentionally have offended some readers. The NAS responds: There’s some are full of quarrel and offense; we pray you, regard them notPowers also writes: The poem "All that is gold does not glitter," appearing in The Lord of the Rings, plays on the original: what is excellent (gold) does not manifest itself openly. It is of course not a book at all, but it is a lovely poem.
  2. Band of Brothers, by Stephen E. Ambrose. Henry V: IV.3.60.  From the historical drama "Henry V," where the king addresses his badly outnumbered army, about to fight the French: “We few, we happy few, we band of brothers; For he to-day that sheds his blood with me Shall be my brother." (Battle of Agincourt, 25 October 1415). The celebrated Ambrose book traces the history of the 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne Division, from the invasion of Normandy to the conquest of Germany.
  3. Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley.  The Tempest: V.1.188. A classic scientific dystopia, whose Tempestuous title registers Miranda’s shock of seeing the new and the dangerous powers Prospero has summoned up from his books.  The Tempest. Noteworthy for the sheer density of Huxley's imagined future, and for its inherent rebellion against the very idea of the man-made utopia. [Recommended 2 times.]
  4. Gaudy Night, by Dorothy Sayers. Anthony and Cleopatra: III.13.187. The intelligent romance of Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane echoes that of Anthony and Cleopatra; the sadness of the gaudy night, where sad captains mock the midnight bell, hints at Harriet’s ambivalence about the loss of independence that marriage with Wimsey entails.
  5.  Ill Met by Moonlight, by W. Stanley Moss. A Midsummer’s Night Dream: II.1.60. The story of how Patrick Leigh Fermor, Moss, and the Resistance on Crete kidnapped a German general from just outside his headquarters in Heraklion. Possibly the single most glorious exploit of World War II.
  6. Infinite Jest, by David Foster Wallace. Hamlet: V.1.175. The title underscores the way our modern world of entertainment makes a graveyard of our souls.
  7. On Such A Full Sea, by Chang-Rae Lee. Julius Caesar:  IV.3.222. Brutus reflects: Chang-Rae Lee’s new novel, “On Such a Full Sea,” traces just such a moment, when a young girl, perceiving herself afloat on such a full sea, takes the current and gambles EVERYTHING. The book is set in a puzzling post-apocalyptic future: not exactly dystopian, as many people live comfortably and some luxuriously, but certainly in a world where people only feel safe inside their own little villages and find the world outside full of horrifying possibilities. As our protagonist turns her back on her little village--her home, her work, her family, her entire life--her picaresque adventures are mirrored in the corresponding events in her town, where her restless fellow-townspeople find themselves challenging authoritarian systems they have accepted unquestioningly for generations. This book is no “Hunger Games.” No young girl, no matter how pure of heart, can stir a restless people to revolution, not when it is so easy to return quietly to familiar ways, to take up the old burdens, to let the revolution run its course and die peacefully. Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of Chang-Rae Lee’s future world is that there is no evil bureaucracy, no heartless police force or sinister cabal of manipulative wizards: people can defeat themselves so easily, why even bother to get in the way of the revolution’s own natural entropy?
  8. Pale Fire, by Vladimir Nabokov. Timon of Athens: IV.3.439Pale Fire is among Vladimir Nabokov’s masterpieces.  The title comes from Timon of Athens, "The moon's an arrant thief, / And her pale fire she snatches from the sun" (Act IV, scene 3).  I read Nabokov before I read Shakespeare’s seldom-performed play.  In fact, I read the play directly after reading the novel.   In the novel, the “Pale Fire” is also the title of a long poem by a fictional poet.  Most of the book consists of a commentary on the poem by a seemingly mad friend of the dead poet.  The friend is far more interested in telling stories of his and the poet’s intertwined lives than is saying anything about the poem.  The “pale fire” of the moon captures the lunacy of the commentator and the reflected, secondary nature of commenting on an original that is beyond the grasp of the commentator. 
  9. Remembrance of Things Past, C. K. Scott Montcrieff’s translation of A la Recherche du Temps Perdu  by Marcel Proust. Sonnet 30: Line 2. Montcrieff enduringly glossed Proust’s seven French novels with Shakespeare’s sonnet’s fourteen lines.
  10. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, by Tom Stoppard. Hamlet: 5.2.411. Based on the final scene of the play, where the two courtiers, boyhood friends of Hamlet, are announced as dead, with everyone except Horatio. They are minor supporting characters in Shakespeare, but are the principals in Stoppard's absurdist play.
  11. Something Wicked This Way Comes, by Ray Bradbury. Macbeth: IV.1.45. The Bradbury collection of short stories is full of eerie, unsettling tales, fantastic tales of the macabre in small-town America, very much continuing the atmosphere of the Scottish play. [Recommended 2 times.]
  12. The Coasts of Bohemia: A Czech History, by Derek Sayer. The Winter’s Tale: III.3.stage directions. Sayer’s cultural history of Czech nationalism undermines a great many self-serving myths—showing how many Czechs simply gave up being Czech, how frantic was Czech nationalism for the nation’s lack of secure mental borders—a profound lack of coasts—and how narrow-minded Czech nationalism slipped all too easily into narrow-minded Communism after World War II. Brilliant and subtle history, understanding but not forbearing to judge.
  13. The Conscience of the King, by Alfred Duggan. Hamlet: II.2.606. Witty and insightful historical fiction, supposedly the autobiography of Cerdic, founder of the dynasty of Saxon Wessex and hence of England. Cerdic is almost entirely amoral; his conscience is exiguous.  Probably the best of Duggan’s historical novels.
  14. The Dogs of War, by Frederick Forsyth. Julius Caesar: III.1.273. This is a riveting thriller about mercenaries who plan and execute a coup in Africa. Forsyth allegedly pretended to orchestrate a coup--even meeting with arms-dealers--to conduct research for the plot. A very enthralling backstory! 
  15. The Ides of March, by Thornton Wilder. Julius Caesar: I.2.103. Wilder’s great mature novel, a study of Caesar as a man of power and of thought. This just might be better than Our Town and Bridge of San Luis Rey combined.
  16. The Moon is Down, by John Steinbeck. Macbeth: II.1.2. Secretly published in Nazi-occupied Europe, Steinbeck's story of the invasion of an unnamed European nation was meant to commend and encourage resistance fighters during WW2.
  17. The Sound and the Fury,  by William Faulkner. Macbeth: V.5.27. The most famous of all tales told by an idiot, which asks us to consider what more the lives of the Compson family signify than nothing. 
  18. The Winter of Our Discontent , by John Steinbeck. Richard III: I.1.1. Translates the hunched soul of hungering ambition to modern America and gives it new life in our new land.
  19. Time Must Have a Stop, by Aldous Huxley. Henry IV, Part 1: V.4.81-82. “Even Time Must Have a Stop” comes from Hotspur's death speech in Henry IV, Part 1 Act V, Scene 4: 'But thought's the slave of life, and life time's fool; And time, that takes survey of all the world, Must have a stop.”  Huxley’s novel also deals with the life of a poet, who over the course of the novel turns from a life of sensuality and hedonism to one of self-sacrifice and religious yearning.
  20. To Be or Not to Be, directed by Ernst Lubitsch. Hamlet: III.1.56. A movie, not a play, but you have to include this. Funniest movie about the German occupation of Poland (!) that will ever be made. Also, best line of theatre criticism of all time: “What he did to Shakespeare, we are doing now to Poland.”
  21. Twice Told Tales, by Nathaniel Hawthorne. King John: III.4.108. Alludes both to their happy status as a collection of reprints and to Hawthorne’s contemplation of those parts of life afflicted by shame and bitterness.

Shakespearian Titles, Proposed

  1. A Most Absolute and Excellent HorseHenry V: III.7.23. Jockey Rick Franz’s horse Jewel was killed by a drug injection right before the Kentucky Derby. Now Rick wants revenge, and he seeks out the shadowy gambling king who murdered Jewel.
  2. A Twelvemonth in an HospitalLove’s Labour’s Lost: V.2.848. A cocaine-addicted stand-up comic has to spend a year in rehab. He learns how to be serious about life.
  3. But Not For LoveAs You Like It: IV.1.103. Rosalind says in As You Like It, "Men have died from time to time, and worms have eaten them, but not for love." This book would take place in and around a cemetery, where the disconsolate could reminisce, kvetch, commiserate, as they do in Thornton Wilder's Our Town. As the book progressed the doings of the living would become more trivial to them, and they would come to embrace their chthonic afterlives.
  4. Gentlemen in England Now A-BedHenry V: IV.3.64. England, 1943. Corrupt dockworker Alfie Sykes learns that his shop steward and romantic rival Fred Evans is a Communist agent smuggling KGB men into London and English military secrets out. Out of jealousy rather than patriotism, he becomes an informer for MI5—but someone in MI5 has leaked word to Fred. Now Alfie is on the run across the London waterfront, and one of the dockworkers chasing him has a Russian accent, a gun, and unnervingly good aim …
  5. I Know Thee NotHenry IV, Part 2: V.5.47. An account of Barack Obama’s relations with Jeremiah Wright.
  6. My Salad Days: When I Was Green In JudgmentAntony and Cleopatra:  I.5.86. A collection of essays of former vegetarians who recount going gluten free and eventually meatless due to sustainability-minded social pressures. They will tell their stories of recovery.
  7.  O! O! O! Othello: V.2.198. A history of howls in vowels.
  8. Serpent's ToothKing Lear: I.4.288-289. Historical fiction based on the life of Benedict Arnold.
  9. The People May be Moved. Julius Caesar: III.1.236. Speeches that changed the world, for better or worse.
  10. The Whirligig of TimeTwelfth Night:  V.1.376. A magical tale of revenge and redemption.
  11. You Blocks, You Stones, You Worse-Than-Senseless Things!  Julius Caesar: I.1.35.  An inorganic chemistry textbook. 


Week Four: The Good Books You Never Finished

  1. A Glastonbury Romance by John Cowper Powys. It is a great novel, but very, very long. I'll get back to it someday.
  2. An t-Oileánach by Tomás Ó Criomhthain. The Irish was too difficult and I didn't care that much about maritime poverty and seaweed.
  3. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy. I'm a War and Peace devotee, and I just cannot get into this, admittedly more modern, topic. It belongs on Oprah's book list, and I think it did appear there in the not too distant past. This is not necessarily a bad thing. Perhaps War and Peace is the obsolescent book, but not for me.
  4.  Art of the Novel: Critical Prefaces by Henry James. The James prefaces were written in his last stylistic phase, which was a style that obscures all meaning using sterile convoluted language strained to the point of suffocating and ultimately fatal boredom and reader indifference.
  5. Democracy in America by Alexis de Tocqueville. It was very, very long.
  6. East of Eden by John Steinbeck. The deep evil in Cathy was too dark to stomach at the time.
  7. How Green Was My Valley by Richard Llewellyn. I had to move onto the next high school assignment.
  8. Italian Journey by Johann Goethe. Goethe's appeal, like Pushkin's, does not travel well into English and in particular the sensibility of the English speaking world. Where Anthony Daniel's travel writing is always vivid moving, politically and existentially intense, Goethe's trip to Italy reads like the diary of a tourist to whom nothing interesting or out of the ordinary ever happens.
  9. Les Miserables by Victor Hugo. I despair at the length of the book (so I should read it on Kindle!) while the story is so familiar and readily consumed in other formats (theater, movies, abridged story, etc).
  10. Life of Johnson by James Boswell. Too long. No plot or suspense.
  11. Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie. When the first 95% of a book feels like the product of unbridled brainstorming, it's unlikely the last 5% ties it all together.
  12. Moby Dick by Herman Melville. Moby Dick was a difficult read. I started it a few times. When it was read aloud to me, it was easier to grasp.
  13. Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset. It was an endless romance novel that the medieval Norwegian background failed to make interesting.
  14. Swann's Way by Marcel Proust. In Murakami's brilliant novel 1904, a character reflects that along prison term is the perfect opportunity to read "remembrance of things past." Alas, I've never had even a short term, and thus have never gotten past page 50.
  15. The Book of Revelation by John the Evangelist. I couldn't decide whether the author was serious or joking.
  16. The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky. I had a two-week window in college to read it before my next assignment. Second response: I was reading it too slowly and infrequently which made it difficult to keep up with the story. (2 Recommendations)
  17. The Confidence Man by Herman Melville. This was a book I read during my sophomore year of college. I got very close to the end—only about 40 pages left, and what I read I enjoyed, but the con stories became repetitive, the book was a "common reading"
    assignment with no accountability (no test, not connected with a course, etc), and no one else was reading it. I lost motivation to press on through what was for me a difficult book, especially when I had other books I needed to read as part of my coursework.
  18. The Constitution of Liberty by F. A. Hayek. Had to attend to a pressing need and never returned to the book again—I will get to it, though!
  19. The Hunchback of Notre Dame by Victor Hugo. The school year started and I ran out of time! Hugo's protracted descriptions of Parisian architecture require a good night's sleep and a free afternoon.
  20. The Icelandic Sagas by Magnus Magnusson, editor. I put it temporarily too high up in my bookcase. But now, in a "books blog," after proving that Iceland is "the best read country in the world," Ben Myers says Icelandic Sagas is "the most important European work of the past thousand years. Perhaps ever." The editor of the Folio Society's 1999 book calls the sagas "the outstanding achievement of European medieval literature." The sagas were to be recited aloud, including poems composed by really tough men. My "Post-it" rests about a fifth of the way through, but not for long.
  21. The Sot-Weed Factor by John Barth. The pastiche of seventeenth-century English dialogue was really bad and annoying.
  22. Theory of Justice by John Rawls. It was so contrary to reality and overwhelmingly exasperating in its arrogant presumption by the author who anoints himself the “chief Platonic Guardian of Mankind.”  Like most people such as Marx its application would be a catastrophic dystopia that also, like Marx, was foretold by contemporaries who were ignored.
  23. The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith. The digression on silver was too easy to skip.
  24. Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne. I prefer well-written novels to shaggy-dog jokes, and would read Jane Austen a thousand times before I would finish Sterne once.
  25. Vom Krieg by Carl von Clausewitz. Other distractions.
  26. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy. Do you have to ask?

Week Five: Aliases

  1. As You Like It by William Shakespeare. Rosalind, the beautiful daughter of the banished Duke Senior, goes into exile after angering her usurping uncle Duke Frederick. She goes to the Forest of Arden disguised as a shepherd named Ganymede.
  2. Bleak House by Charles Dickens. Lady Dedlock uses several disguises throughout the novel, first to find her dead lover's grave and ultimately to flee her husband's scheming attorney, who has discovered the dark secrets of her past.
  3. Don Quixote, by Miguel de Cervantes. Alonso Quixano adopts the name Don Quixote to claim the status of a knight errant and begin his adventures.
  4. Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain. The Duke and the Dolphin, to annoy the readers who were enjoying an otherwise thoughtful story, and to make it difficult to determine whether the book should be considered America's greatest novel. Two rapscallions calling themselves the Duke and the Dauphin, pretend to be British and French nobility to give themselves some cachet, while freeloading off Huck and Jim. Later on they impersonate a dead man's brothers to cheat his family out of his estate. (Recommended twice)
  5. Les Miserables by Victor Hugo. Jean Valjean hides his previous life as a criminal, after serving 19 years in jail for stealing bread. Jean Valjean, an ex-convict who breaks parole and re-invents himself all during the novel, relentlessly pursued by the disagreeable Inspector Javert. A long book; keep reading. (Recommended twice)
  6. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov. Clare Quilty teases Humbert Humbert as he pursues him with a series of playful aliases left in motel registers across America: “A. Person, Porlock, England,” “D. Orgon, Elmira, NY,” and so on.
  7. Moby-Dick, by Herman Melville. Ishmael. He is making a point about his outcastness.
  8. Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov. Charles Kinbote, American college professor, is the alias of the exiled King Charles II, "The Beloved," of Zembla, who tries to evade the anti-royalist revolutionaries who are trying to kill him. Maybe...
  9. Sweeney Todd by Stephen Sondheim. Benjamin Barker escapes from wrongful imprisonment in Australia and returns to London to wreak revenge on his tormentors. He adopts the name of Sweeney Todd—the Demon Barber of Fleet Street.
  10. The Confidence Man by Herman Melville. Melville posits all America as operating under an alias, and queries whether it is best to simply take our disguises on confidence, on faith.
  11. The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexander Dumas. Edmond Dantes—to exact revenge on those who betrayed him.
  12. The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde. Jack goes under the alias of Ernest in the city, Algernon under the alias of Ernest in the country. It is imperative, inter alias, that Ernest (equally beloved by Cecily and Gwendolen) acquire some corporeal solidity.
  13. The Man in the Iron Mask by Alexander Dumas. ***spoilers*** Louis XIV's twin brother in an attempt to usurp the French crown. [NAS comments: ooh, doppelgangers, we hates them, my precious.]
  14. The Man Who Was Thursday by G. K. Chesteron. This theological thriller ofanarchists-with-aliases is very good on the pros and cons of whether a disguise a day is better than to be disguised as a day.
  15. The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare. Portia, the wife of Bassanio, in the climactic scene in court, Act IV. Presenting herself in disguise as “Balthazar,” a “Doctor of Laws,” with her maidservant Nerissa also in disguise as a law clerk, she implores Shylock to relent on his bond, and in a famous speech admonishes him that the “The quality of mercy is not strain’d.” When he remains unmoved and still demands his pound of flesh, she confounds his intentions by reminding him that he was permitted under Venetian law to remove only flesh, but “not a drop of blood,” lest he forfeit all of his lands and money.
  16. The Odyssey, by Homer. Odysseus calls himself "No-Man" to fool the Cyclopses.
  17. The Return of Martin Guerre by Natalie Zemon Davis. A wonderful history about the real case of Martin Guerre, sixteenth-century French soldier returned home in from the wars to his wife and his farm—or is it another man pretending to be Martin? And what about Martin’s wife—was she really fooled, or not?
  18. The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne. Roger Chillingworth pretends to be a single doctor, recently arrived from England, in order to better execute revenge on his unfaithful wife Hester Prynne. Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale pretends to be a pious man. Their sins consume them, and only Hester, who wears her sin openly, can find God's mercy and move on.
  19. The Scarlet Pimpernel by Emma Orczy. The first great story of adventure in disguise: They seek him here, they seek him there: Those Frenchies seek him everywhere 
  20. The Valley of Fear by Arthur Conan Doyle. Doyle’s last Sherlock Holmes novel. Birdy Edwards is a Pinkerton detective who infiltrated a dangerous gang in Vermissa Valley (a.k.a. the Valley of Fear) and brought them to justice.
  21. Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare. The action of turns on Viola taking the name of Cesario, and on Olivia falling in love with that unexpectedly convincing alias.
  22. V for Vendetta by Alan Moore. An anarchist in a Guy Fawkes mask brings down a Fascist British state. He goes by V and we never learn his real name, or even what he looks like under the mask. Silly lefties think it’s inspirational, but it’s good, even if it is a comic book.
  23. What Is to Be Done?, by Nikolai Gavrilovich Chernyshevsky. Jay Bergman writes: I have trouble coming up with a Best Book, but I've no doubt about the worst -- Nicholas Chernyshevsky's "What Is to Be Done," an atrociously written depiction of the kind of revolutionaries Chernyshevsky believed were needed to overthrow the tsarist monarchy. Of course it could not be published legally. It appeared in 1862, not long before Chernyshevsky was arrested and to sent into exile in Siberia. Lenin, forty years later, lifted the title of Chernyshevsky's book for his seminal essay on the qualities revolutionaries required and on the kinds of (conspiratorial) tactics they should adopt. He also kept a bust of Chernyshevsky on his desk in the Kremlin. In the novel, one of the lovers of Vera Pavlovna, a seamstress working in an artel she and others have established, suddenly disappears midway through the novel, only to reappear at the end as Beaumont, a mysterious American who is in Russia for reasons that aren't explained. The two meet again and live happily ever after. To say the characters are hackneyed is to give Chernyshevsky too much credit. Most of them are meant to personify generic categories, the most important of which for Chernyshevsky was that of the professional revolutionary.  A fine biography of Chernyshevsky was written by Francis Randall, the father of your own David Randall.    

Week Six: Wilderness Survival

  1. Adventures in the Unknown Interior of America by Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca.  Cabeza’s account of his exploration of the wild, unknown lands from Florida to California.
  2. A Narrative Of The Mutiny, On Board His Majesty's Ship BountyAnd The Subsequent Voyage Of Part Of The Crew, In The Ship's Boat by William Bligh. Bligh’s account of how he steered the Bounty’s lifeboat over several thousand miles of open ocean to safety and a return to the pleasantries of command.
  3. Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage by Alfred Lansing. The story of Shackleton’s successful attempt to be the first man to reach the South Pole—and, soberingly, of his death on the way back to the Antarctic coast.
  4. High Rise by J. G. Ballard. The inhabitants of (yes) a high-rise apartment building return to savagery as the high rise becomes a modern wilderness.
  5. Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer. Chris McCandless, a hapless, foolishly unprepared young man, seeks the romance of the wild spaces, the "unhandselled globe," as Thoreau put it: he heads off into the wild spaces of Alaska: to create an unmapped wilderness, he tears up his map, and finds himself unable to make his way to safety when his adventure goes wrong. Krakauer explores a number of such adventurers, some of them luckier than McCandless.
  6. Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder. The pioneering Ingalls family moves from the Wisconsin woods to the Kansas plains, because Pa always has the itch to go further west.
  7. My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George. The author ran away from an overcrowded urban home.
  8. Personal Narrative by Alexander von Humboldt. Humboldt’s account of his scientific travels through the wild heart of South America.
  9. Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe. Shipwrecked on a desert isle with nothing but a bourgeois work ethic, individualism, and a ship’s worth of supplies to sustain him. The origin of the phrase “TGIF.” This is the classic book about wilderness survival. (3 recommendations.)
  10. Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs. Even a babe in swaddling clothes can survive and thrive in the jungle—and incidentally an teach himself to read and learn to enjoy the books in hia parents’ library, even though he was raised by gorillas.
  11. The Bounty Trilogy: Mutiny on the Bounty, Men Against the Sea, and Pitcairn's Island by Charles Nordhoff and James Hall. Captain William Bligh, commander of the armed transport HMS Bounty and crew members loyal to him have been cast adrift in the ship's long boat by the mutineers. With the boat resting in the water slightly above the gunwales, they face a voyage of more than 3,000 nautical miles to Timor Island in present-day Indonesia, the nearest European port. Interested readers should also consult The Bounty, by Caroline Alexander, and Captain Bligh and Mr. Christian, by Richard Hough. Both are serious scholarly works which provide a more accurate portrait of Bligh, who was not the evil villain he's often portrayed as being.
  12. The Call of the Wild by Jack London.  Buck the Dog must become as fierce as a wolf to survive in the Yukon.
  13. The Jungle Books by Rudyard Kipling. Mowgli, a foundling. It is likely (though not certain) that his parents were killed by a certain lame tiger.
  14. The Lord of the Flies by William Golding. English schoolboys cast ashore on a Pacific island suffer more from each other than they do from the wilderness.
  15. The Martian by Andy Weir. NASA astronaut Mark Watney is stuck on the ultimate wilderness, the Red Planet, after he is left for dead by his crewmates.
  16. The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket by Edgar Allan Poe. Pym survives a disastrous voyage to the Antarctic.
  17. The Swiss Family Robinson by Johann David Wyss. The Robinson family, waylaid on their way to be missionaries in the Pacific. They build their own accommodations in the trees, domesticate native wildlife, and decide they would rather stay on the island than return to "civilization." (2 recommendations.)
  18. The Voyage of the Beagle by Charles Darwin. Around the world, to Patagonia, the Galapagos Islands, and Tahiti, thinking out the theory of evolution as he observes the wildernesses of the world.
  19. The Tempest by William Shakespeare. Prospero (the rightful Duke of Milan) and his daughter Miranda live on an island. Prospero had been deposed by his brother, Antonio, who set Prospero and Miranda adrift in a boat.
  20. We Die Alone by David Howarth. The thrilling true story of how a World War II Norwegian commando escaped from Nazi ambush to survive while fleeing through Norway’s arctic backcountry.
  21. With the Old Breed at Peleliu and Okinawa by E. B. Sledge. The author was a Marine Corps soldier who fought in the Pacific. This experience must surely count as a different sort of "wilderness," unlike the island experience of, say, Robinson Crusoe. The book is also a combat classic, most strongly recommended.

Week Seven: Overrated Classics

  1. A Dance to the Music of Time by Anthony Powell. To be honest, I've read only Vol. 1 ("A Question of Upbringing") of a 12-volume series, treating upscale and not-so-upscale Brits after the Second World War. We follow a cast of characters through the eyes of a Nick Jenkins, presumably Powell himself. That first volume was something of a slog, and I've lacked the endurance to assay its successors. Good luck to you if you do try, and my congratulations if you do see the point. If you do start, here's a hint. Keep your eye on the unpromising Kenneth Widmerpool.
  2. Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. The book is rather clever and perhaps deserves to be a classic. But its massive popularity stems from young readers' fixation on the book's wild imaginations, apart from the quality of the writing or the story.
  3. Any of the Plays by Tennessee Williams. They're not terrible, they're just seriously overrated. The writing is overly didactic and heavy handed. I think they persist on the classics list because some of the characters are fun to play. Stella!!!!!!!!!!!!  The Editors’ reply: D’Oro!!!!!!!!!!!!
  4. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce. I'm not sure why this book is a classic. I found it insufferably dull.
  5. Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand. Reader yawned.
  6. Beloved by Toni Morrison. It’s a good novel. Pulitzer-worthy, sure. But the Nobel Prize? Nah.
  7. Candide by Voltaire. This book may be a classic because it comments on the emptiness of naive optimism, but I found it crude. My test for a good book is also, "Would I read it again someday?" I wouldn't want to revisit Candide. AND: It has a reputation for sophisticated satire, and it probably remains a classic because of its status as an early spoof on a theologian in a time when theologians weren't widely spoofed. I might find more nuance if I read it again, but when I read it in college, I wasn't impressed with the over-the-top, ridiculous plot, or with the wearying cynicism that drove it. [2 Punctures.]
  8. Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller. Attention no longer must be paid to the fact that 1929 was not a good year for sales.
  9. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. It’s a metaphor for modern science, we get it. It’s Classic Science Fiction too. Nevertheless, we think we’re only still reading this because of Boris Karloff.
  10. Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon.  He does to the English language for 800 pages what von Braun did to London for 800 days. Never have so many read so long for so little reward. John Maguire writes:  I thought Gravity's Rainbow was amazing and am not willing to give it up yet. The language energy is astounding. It's not flat. The Editors reply: And yet a screaming would come across our souls if we had to read it again … oh, maybe we’ll take another look. We were young and (more) foolish when we read it first.
  11. Innocents Abroad and A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, both by Mark Twain. Mark Twain was a smug, arrogant WASP bigot. One does not have to be politically correct to be repelled by his Victorian arrogance.
  12. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë. An annoying, whiny narrator falls madly in love with a guy who has locked his wife in the attic...and I am supposed to find this romantic? But, for what are undoubtedly disturbing reasons, my students identify with the narrator.
  13. Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert. Flaubert termed this book as "a book about nothing". It reflects tragedy that results from the combination of undisciplined pursuit of pleasure. I felt that Anna Karenina or Don Quixote reflected the picture, but I was just totally disgusted by almost all of the characters and the outcome of Madame Bovary. It is still a classic, though, because I think the tragedy of the story still rings true today.
  14. Pedro Paramo by Juan Rulfo. Pedro Paramo is a book impossible to make sense of without imposing your own interpretation, which English teachers take great pleasure in doing. When you get to the end and you're not sure if the protagonist was dead the whole time the struggle to get through all the trippy scene changes isn't really worth it.
  15. Silent Spring by Rachel Carson.  Beautiful and all, but it nags at us that she might have been wrong about DDT, and maybe consigned a few million people to unnecessary deaths from insect-borne disease.
  16. The Awakening by Kate Chopin. While I considered other books, including Uncle Tom's Cabin, and some Dickens, I dismissed them because they aren't widely taught any more. However, The Awakening seems to be de rigor. This book is the worst of Romanticism—elevating feeling, especially the feeling of being more others, more alive, more sensitive, more aware, over all else and selling it as rare, deep, intellectual and noble. Not only that, it does so with a florid preachiness that grates on the nerves of those not buying into the self-absorption of Edna, in other words, anyone beside the impressionable nineteen year old female under the careful guidance of a deconstructionist Literature professor.
  17. The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing. All that glitters is not gold. Much ado about noting. I snoris for Doris. Lessing is not more.
  18. The Book of the Thousand Nights and One Nights. I always thought these stories fell into the canon of boys' adventure books, just slightly more exotic. In reality, I had trouble deciding whether I was more scandalized by its cartoonish racism or by the exuberant and multifarious sexcapades that occur every other story or so. Probably for these reasons, I don't hear it treated as a classic except in other works of classic literature. But the stories do display a sense of adventure, dramatic reversals of fortune, and an aesthetic lavishness that kind of stick in the brain. Cliché.
  19. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. It's been called THE great American classic, and most of us were force-fed it in high-school lit classes. But Fitzgerald's characters are a little too superficial and stereotypical (the rich man, the criminal, etc.). Fitzgerald actually acknowledged this. He once remarked that he had no knowledge of the emotional relations between Gatsby and Daisy. Neither do I!
  20. The Pearl by John Steinbeck. The book reads like a morality tale on the evils of capitalism, conveniently set in a society much different from our own to make the point clearer. For this reason, the plot was predictable and the characters somewhat stereotyped.
  21. The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith. If a pin is manufactured in a 900-page tome, will anyone care?
  22. Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe. The book falls into too easily recognized Western progressive platitudes, which deems characters "good" or "bad" based on how progressive they are. This blunted the authenticity of the African narrative.
  23. Walden by  Henry Thoreau.  Beauty! Nature! Transcendentalism!—a little Thoreau goes a long way, and we would not object if this twee worthy were to slip off its pedestal.
  24. Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë. Yeah, I get it. It's a stark portrayal of passionate, obsessive love. I don't care. I despise this book. It's Fifty Shades of Grey without the kinky sex. I do not care about Heathcliff and Catherine's love, because I hate them and want them to die horrible deaths. I cannot get invested in the obsessive passionate romance between a sulking self-absorbed sociopath and a clueless self-absorbed twit. [Editor’s Note: We at the NAS offices divide evenly between sulking, self-absorbed sociopaths and clueless, self-absorbed twits; therefore we love this book. It speaks to our inner Mary-Sues and Larry-Sues.]

Week Eight: The American Dream

  1. Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie Years and the War Years by Carl Sandburg. Carl Sandburg’s massive, Pulitzer Prize-winning biography of Abraham Lincoln, the hillbilly who became President of the United States.  Obviously readers will want to dip into this one, originally published in six volumes.  But it’s a classic tale of a poor boy who rises above his station through his own grit and determination, as well as fine specimen of history as literature.
  2. American Pastoral by Philip Roth.  The Sixties ruin the American Dream—or bring to surface festering problems that had already been hollowing it out. Roth’s no conservative, and his books are always more than just polemics, but he’s  good on the miseries the radical Left inflict on everyone around them, and the way Good Liberals enable the Lefties.
  3. An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser. It centers on the attempts of Clyde Griffiths, the principal, to escape the grinding poverty and religious provincialism of his parents.  He succeeds in improving his material circumstances to a degree, but his weakness of character and his moral flaws ultimately bring him down, and lead to his wrongful execution for murder, in a case involving an accidental death.  The fault, you could say, lay not in his stars, but in himself.
  4. A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry. This play follows the Younger family, African-Americans living in near poverty in inner city Chicago, wanting to move out to white suburbs with the windfall they receive from an insurance payout. The father in the family desperately wants to "make it" rich and is always succumbing to get rich quick schemes that don't pan out. The play encourages thrift, contentment, and honesty.
  5. Blue Highways: A Journey Into America by William Least Heat-Moon. Mosey around and see how Americans live in the back roads and small towns. Part of the American dream is making a life that fits you, and Heat-Moon found all sorts of Americans who had done just that.
  6. By the Shores of Silver Lake by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Pa's American dream is the opportunity to provide for his family with his own hands in his own way. After years of traveling by covered wagon from Western homestead to Western homestead, the Ingalls family takes a house in the Dakota territory where Pa works for the railroad, and succeeds in providing for his family luxuries like canned peaches.
  7. Canyon Passage by Ernest Haycox. A commercial Western. On the Oregon frontier, Logan Stewart is a risk-taking entrepreneur trying to build a small empire of pack-mule transportation and looking forward to a time when roads are built and he can place wagons and coaches on them. By the end of the novel he has been wiped out by hostile Indians and angry gold prospectors, but he travels to San Francisco for a new start in Oregon. He exemplifies the American empire-builder, a man driven by a vision of the glorious and useful structure that can be created by a person with the skill and perseverance to bring it off. Note: Haycox almost made it into literary quality before his death from cancer in 1950.
  8. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream by Hunter Thompson.  The drug-trip, gonzo-journalism version of the American Dream. Wackadoo, but it’s got something.
  9. Giants in the Earth by Ole Edvart Rølvaag. The book follows a Norwegian immigrants homesteading in the Dakota territory. They are ambitious and industrious, and sometimes crafty, in establishing their new lives. It captures the glories and hardships of the frontiersman spirit.
  10. Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell. You get the Old South Dream, the Confederate Dream, and finally The New South Dream—is the American Dream making itself at home and rooting itself into a part of America that had dreamed quite different dreams. Also a 900-page romance novel.
  11. Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain. Jim, the slave, wonders if the American Dream applies to him. Huck Finn (himself alienated from mainstream American life) experiences several epiphanies while rafting down the Mississippi with Jim, as when he realizes Jim's humanity and dignity and decides to help him leave slavery behind.
  12. Life on the Mississippi by Mark Twain. Twain’s memoir of his riverboat life. The Mississippi becomes a metaphor, Whitman-like, of all the dreams that make up America.
  13. Little Women  by Louisa May Alcott.  The March sisters are ambitious in different ways—it’s the nineteenth century girls’ version of striving for the American dream. It’s good for all the other reasons it’s good, but nifty for this too.
  14. Main Street by Sinclair Lewis. There’s a small-town version of the American Dream, and a big-town version, and they don’t get along so well. Lewis’ sympathies are more with the latter, but he lets you get a sense of both Dreams.
  15. Main-Travelled Roads by Hamlin Garland. Short stories about hard-scrabble life in the Upper Midwest a century ago and more. It’s a good grounding for the American Dream—it tells you what life was like for the poor folk, and what drove them to strive for a better life.
  16. My Antonia by Willa Cather. The first part of the American Dream is surviving your first winter in Nebraska. If you can do that, it all gets better from there.
  17. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck. George and Lenny are migrant farm hands who want to earn enough money to buy their own farm so they can settle down with rabbits and ketchup. They get close.
  18. Out of this Furnace by Thomas Bell. Three generations of Slovak-Americans in Pittsburgh, from about 1890 to 1935. Social realism, love affairs, Americanization, and hot steel. It’s a fun book, and it lets you see how successive generations of immigrants and their descendants work for the American Dream.
  19.  Seeing Calvin Coolidge in a Dream by John Derbyshire. An immigrant from mainland China contemplates what is best about the America he has embraced, not least with an eye to the horrors of the China he has left.
  20. The Adventures of Augie March by Saul Bellow. A novel of individual drive and American grit.
  21. The Arrival by Shaun Tan. A comic book, wordless, and technically speaking the Australian author is not writing about America. A beautiful account of an immigrant slowly making himself at home in a new and magical country. The Arrival paired with Derbyshire’s Seeing Calvin Coolidge make a wonderful pendants as modern illustrations of the American dream.
  22. The Blithedale Romance by Nathaniel Hawthorne. This book is about the anti-American Dream, but tells the story of the dream as by a photo's negative. It depicts a handful of nineteenth century easterners who try to create a utopian commune. Their personal interests and desires--many of them uniquely American--get in the way.
  23. The Confidence Man by Herman Melville. Is the American dream to be a hustler, Melville asks? (Walter McDougall thinks so.)
  24. The Custom of the Country by Edith Wharton. Undine Spragg comes from Apex City to conquer first New York and then Paris. She’s an amoral, childish creature of pure, unquenchable ambition—the striving of the American Dream made into its own pursuit. Not Wharton’s best novel, but Undine’s a memorable incarnation of the dark emptiness that flickers within the American Dream.
  25. The Damnation of Theron Ware by Harold Frederic. The book follows a Protestant minister in an unnamed Midwestern town, where he falls in love with a Catholic woman, disgraces himself, and finds his life ruined. The American Dream!—and a tale of how the Protestant ethic collides with multicultural reality of the late 19th Century.
  26. The Day of the Locust by Nathanael West. Of all the savage and unhappy howls of disbelief in the American dream that clutter up the landscape, this is the best.
  27. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. The trio of Nick, Daisy and the titular hero all aim for or fall short of the dream. Gatsby takes the soiled route to the golden dream and pays the price. Nick knows he's "better than the whole rotten bunch."
  28. Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neile Hurston. Set in the post-Civil War South, the story follows Janie Crawford and her three husbands, an independent farmer, a businessman politician, and a migrant farmer, and looks at their different ways of life and love.
  29. The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper. Cooper captures the American dreams of adventure, freedom, and the nobility of a wilderness past. The American Dream of striving and success, after all, was built on an older American dream of wildness and liberty.
  30. The Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe. So is the American Dream about bold test pilots going out to conquer space, or about engineers stuffing some useless leading men into a tin capsule for promotional purposes? Yes.
  31. U.S.A. Trilogy by John Dos Passos. His magnum opus . The “trilogy” actually consists of three separate novels –The 42nd Parallel1919 and The Big Money – which offer a panoramic big picture of American life in the first two decades of the 20thcentury.  The author uses a montage of unique and, at the time, very new literary techniques to describe the tumultuous fortunes of a core of initially unconnected characters from sharply contrasting social backgrounds as they cope with the “new” America of the time period.  The work reflects Dos Passos’ earlier sympathies with socialism and Communism, with which he became disillusioned following his first-hand experience with Stalinists during the Spanish Civil War.
  32. You Can't Go Home Again by Thomas Wolfe. It contains many small critiques of various attempts to realize the American Dream, but I am most fascinated by Wolfe's rejection of the early twentieth-century flight from the constructive American Dream in a quest to return to some earlier primitive state (O'Neill, Hemingway, Edgar Rice Burroughs, etc.). Wolfe sees most clearly that this regression is not possible, so his insistence that only onward movement is possible for mankind actually provides an ideological stage on which the American Dream is one of the chief possibilities.

Week Nine: Sailing

  1. Acts by Luke, inspired by God. Paul gets caught in a storm in the Mediterranean and spends "a day and a night in the deep" during his missionary journeys. This is apparently one of the earliest written accounts of a shipwreck.
  2. Admiral of the Ocean Sea by Samuel Eliot Morison. A biography of Christopher Columbus that emphasizes his achievement as a master sailor. Morison was a sailor himself, and knew what he was talking about.
  3. Airborne: A Sentimental Journey by William F. Buckley. William F. Buckley and friends go sailing across the Atlantic. [2 recommendations]
  4. A Severe Mercy by Sheldon Vanauken. Van (Sheldon) and his wife Davy live devoted to their dream of a good life and a life of love, and one of their chief dreams is a sailboat called the Grey Goose. They do actually have a sailboat built for them at one point, though they give it another name, and they sail it off the shores of the southern United States for a time. Whether their ideals are admirable or annoying is the subject of much debate in the Amazon reviews.
  5. Beat to Quarters by C. S. Forester. This is the first volume in a trilogy devoted to the exploits of Captain Horatio Hornblower in the Napoleonic wars. In this first book, Hornblower commands a Royal Navy frigate, the "Lydia," on a difficult mission to the Pacific coast of South America. The immediate successor volumes were Ship of the Line and Flying Colours, which take the action to the Mediterranean. These three books are a great read and a good introduction to naval history in the age of sail. Patrick O'Brian's more recent, comparable novels were more complex and made greater demands on the reader. But Forrester is more enjoyable. Both authors soldiered (sailored?) on with other novels depicting further adventures of their heroes. In both cases, these became tiresome, eventually. Don't avoid O'Brian, but start with Forester.
  6. Billy Budd by Herman Melville. An episode of naval discipline on a British man-of-war; also high theological drama; also the late Melville writing at his best.
  7. Captain Blood by Rafael Sabatini. It’s a great swashbuckling story. And better than the movie!
  8. Captains Courageous by Rudyard Kipling gives a more hopeful account of life on the ocean blue, where life on fishing boat makes a man of a spoiled brat.
  9. Carry On, Mr. Bowditch by Jean Lee Latham. Nathaniel Bowditch comes from a poor family in Colonial Salem, Massachusetts. He is a genius and has dreams of Harvard, but must quit school when his father makes him an indentured servant in a chandlery. He sails around the world a few times, and writes the first American book about navigation, which was then used for the next 200 years. He works his way from indentured servant to ship's captain by studying an encyclopedia, teaching himself Latin with only a Latin Bible and Latin grammar book, and eventually reading Newton's Principia. He learns to operate a lunar - the mastery of which was a navigational feat of brilliance - and teaches everyone else on board. This fictionalized biography is also a story about the American Dream, and gives little snapshots of sailing and foreign lands [3 recommendations]
  10. Disaster at Sea by John Marriott. An anthology of accounts of disasters at sea. It’s really good, if you like reading about shipwrecks.
  11. In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex by Nathaniel Philbrick. It’s a good account of the real incident that inspired Moby Dick­—sperm whale fights ship, sperm whale wins. Also good on life on a whaler.
  12. In the South Seas by Robert Louis Stevenson.  Stevenson’s account of his travels with his families around the Marquesas, the Paumotus, and the Gilbert Islands. “The first experience can never be repeated. The first love, the first sunrise, the first South Sea Island, are memories apart, and touched a virginity of sense.” Don’t you want to read more?
  13. Jaws by Peter Benchley. It’s a fun novel, and it’s a lot different from the movie. Also, a good reminder why it’s better to go sailing than swimming. Editor’s NoteInfluential, too.
  14. Kon Tiki: Across the Pacific in a Raft by Thor Heyerdahl. “Whaddaya mean no one could have gotten from South America to Polynesia in a raft? Here, I’ll show you!”
  15. Paddle to the Amazon: The Ultimate 12,000-Mile Canoe Adventure by Don Starkell. Starkell and his son paddled from Minneapolis to New Orleans, along the Gulf of Mexico and down to the mouth of the Orinoco, then upstream, and downstream the Amazon to its mouth. It really is an amazing adventure story.
  16. Life of Pi by Yann Martel. I’m not sure if the moral is don’t get into a lifeboat with a tiger, or make the best of it if you do. Fun book, although I suppose it’s more “floating” than “sailing.”
  17. Master and Commander by Patrick O'Brian—Then for the novel chock-a-block with nautical jargon, but still a rattling good tale of war at sea during the Napoleonic Wars, we like even if 20 sequels do loom after the first book.
  18. Mutiny on the Bounty by Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall. I am a landlubber and I don’t actually like sailing, because I just know it’ll end up like this if I ever go out to sea. Fun novel, though.
  19. Over the Edge of the World: Magellan’s Terrifying Circumnavigation of the Globe by Laurence Bergreen. It’s a good biography of Magellan.
  20. Sailing Alone Around the World by Joshua Slocum, a lovely memoir about—well, the title says it all.
  21. Second Wind by Nathaniel Philbrick. The now-older author goes sailing throughout Nantucket, MA, trying to rekindle his sailing days as a younger man on a Sunfish. As I was reading, I went sailing again right along with him, and enjoyed every twist and harrowing turn.
  22. The Boat That Wouldn't Float by Farley Mowat. Farley Mowat's memoir of his ultimately unsuccessful efforts to sail the oceans around Newfoundland. His heart is buoyant, the boat less so.
  23. The Book of Jonah. A whale of a good book. Editor’s Note: Sigh …
  24. The Explorations of Captain James Cook in the Pacific by James Cook. I’m  sucker for explorers writing up what they’ve done. If you’re not already a Cook fan, the abridged version is probably the way to go.
  25. The Four Voyages by Christopher Columbus. You mentioned the Morison biography, but you should read his own words!  Get it from the horse’s mouth.
  26. The Great Grain Race by Eric Newby. Eric Newby as a young man, before World War II, as a deckhand on the Pamir, one of the last great grain schooners, as it sailed to and from Australia. Newby went on to become perhaps the greatest British travel writer of the 20th Century. The Editors respond: You will take that laurel away from Patrick Leigh Fermor from our cold, dead hands. But you’ve convinced us to read this book!
  27. The Maine Woods by Henry David Thoreau. Thoreau wandering around Maine and getting down with the wilderness. I think the bits about traveling by canoe are the best parts of the book.
  28. The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket by Edgar Allen Poe. Do not go out to sea.  You will get wrecked, almost die of hunger, and then the Natives will attack you when you finally reach land. Sailing indeed! How about books on jogging, or sitting on a park bench, or something like that?
  29. The Odyssey by Homer. Along with everything else that’s wonderful about it, it’s really good about what it feels like to sail from place to place, and each time find yourself in someplace completely different.
  30. The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway. “And that’s how you play Get the Fish.” Editor’s NoteWho’s Afraid of Virginia Seawolf?
  31. The Pirates Own Book: Authentic Narratives of the Most Celebrated Sea Robbers. It’s a lot of fun reading the originals of all those pirate stories.
  32. The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. It’s meaningful and Romantic and all that, but it’s also just a great poem to read out loud. Editor’s NoteAlbatross!
  33. The Sea Wolf by Jack London. Can the intellectual city slicker Humphrey van Weyden survive his inadvertent Pacific voyage with nihilistic sea captain Wolf Larsen? Warning, this book includes seal clubbing.
  34. The Survival of the Bark Canoe by John McPhee. About sailing a canoe down a river in Maine. It really is lovely, and you can finish it in an afternoon.
  35. The Voyage of the Beagle by Charles Darwin. I don’t think Darwin could have thought up evolution if he hadn’t been mucking about in a boat—travelling from place to place, and thinking about animals moving about too, and how that changed him. His journal gives you a sense of how sailing around affected his thought—that’s nifty.
  36. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C. S. Lewis. Three English children fall through a seascape into the Narnian ocean, and sail with King Caspian, Reepicheep, and their crew, to the eastern end of the world. [2 recommendationsEditor’s Note: Now we desperately want to combine The Voyage of the Beagle and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader into one book.
  37. Three Sea Stories: Typhoon, Falk, and the Shadow-Line by Joseph Conrad. Conrad’s really good about getting you sense of being at sea, and I think these are three of his best sea stories.
  38. Two Years Before the Mast by Richard Henry Dana. It’s really good about life as a common sailor—and not filtered through fiction, the way you are with Melville.
  39. White-Jacket by Herman Melville, for an informed—and angry—account of an American Navy frigate in the 1840s where life was all too frequently the cat-o-nine-tails and the tar.

And for a three-in-one recommendation: For this week’s theme on sailing, I recommend the following titles by classicist Aubrey de Selincourt (1894 – 1962), well-known for his histories, biographies and translations of Herodotus and Livy in particular, but also an avid sailor and lover of the sea:

  1. Odysseus the Wanderer – an adventure book for middle-school aged kid that re-tells the Odyssey with some imaginative embellishments.  As with the best children’s book, it can also be enjoyed by adult readers.
  2. Sailing: A Guide for Everyman – a practical how-to book for beginners, by an accomplished master.
  3. The Book of the Sea: An Anthology – great collection of poems, prose and other writings about sailing and the sea, from Homer to 20thcentury writers.

Week Ten: The Revolution Dines at Home

  1. A Modest Proposal by Jonathan Swift. Whig utilitarianism (avant la lettre) was a revolution in thought; Swift points out how it leads you to eating Irish children, as the greatest good for the greatest number. Yummy!
  2. Animal Farm by George Orwell. Though ostensibly a work of fiction, Animal Farm is an extended allegory of the Bolshevik Revolution and the history of the Soviet Union from 1917 to the early 1940's. The revolution the animals on Manor Farm carry out ends up devouring its own physically. The revolution also betrays its own principles. Indeed, it makes nonsense of them – which Orwell encapsulates in the assertion by the rulers of Animal Farm (the pigs) that "all animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others." In this way Orwell also gets across the point that the revolution has not only betrayed its objectives and devoured its children but also corrupted language to the point of rendering it meaningless. Practically any book on Stalin's Terror, of which there are well over one hundred, could serve the same purpose.
  3. Antony and Cleopatra by William Shakespeare. The play takes place after the events of Julius Caesar. The triumphant triumvirate of Mark Antony, Octavius Caesar, and Lepidus struggle to maintain their unity against the new threats of Sextus Pompei and domestic disputes. Lepidus and Mark Antony both get cut out and cut up by the end.
  4. Barnaby Rudge by Charles Dickens. It’s about the anti-Catholic Gordon Riots in London in 1780. The Riots spin out of control—it turns out that “controlled riot” is not actually how things work.
  5. Darkness at Noon by Arthur Koestler. Especially because it’s so good on how Rubashov feels he has to go along with his own purging and execution, for the good of the Revolution.
  6. Feminist Accused of Sexual Harassment by Jane Gallop.  A classic “Who, ME?” book by a feminist who considered herself exempt from the sexual harassment regime that trampled the academy in the mid-90’s and, she apparently believed, applied only to men. It seems that, her sexualized pedagogy wasn’t appreciated by a pair of her female students.
  7. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. The Revolution of Science brings the dead to life and they turn out to be a bit monstrous. The Creature ends up being the cause of Frankenstein’s death, and of Frankenstein’s fiancée. Moral: maybe Francis Bacon was an optimist.
  8. Gang of One: Memoirs of a Red Guard by Fan Shen. Shen’s memoir shows what it’s like to be caught up in revolutionary madness—and perhaps how to escape from it again.
  9. Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins. Perhaps not the *best* book, but the Hunger Games trilogy takes a fascinating twist in the third installment. Overthrowing one regime that pits young people against each other in fights to the death winds the resistance up in another eerily similar regime that eventually proposes the same atrocity to subdue social problems and has to be defeated again.
  10. Oedipus Rex by Sophocles. Oedipus thinks he is virtuous, but it turns out he killed his own father. To expiate his sins, he tears out his eyes—but still the Furies are coming for him. It’s not about revolution exactly, but it has all the dynamics of the revolutionary cycle in it.
  11. Pictures of a Socialistic Future by Eugen Richter. Written in the first person, by a loyal socialist, this novel details the enthusiasm of the narrator for the new order and the excuses he makes (to himself mostly) for the failures of socialism as they are visited on the country. This is a chilling book because for so very long the narrator accepts the injustices as necessary, understandable or even, just.
  12. The Blithedale Romance by Nathaniel Hawthorne. It’s generally a critique of Utopianism, but Zenobia’s suicide is partly a reaction of a human being to the ambitions of such Utopias. It’s not precisely “the revolution dines at home,” but “the revolution ends by chewing people up spiritually” is pretty close.
  13. The Coup by John Updike.  Sub-Saharan country achieves independence; dictator goes power-hungry and then mad; ends up burning American food aid for his starving subjects rather than risking his own power.
  14. The Demons by Fyodor Dostoevsky. It is unclear (at least to me) what the revolution is about, other than revolution itself. It hurts all involved in it, destroying traditional values and mores, leaving fear and suspicion in their place.
  15. The Gods Will Have Blood by Anatole France. About a Jacobin devotee of the guillotine who ends up there himself.
  16. The Last Battle by C. S. Lewis. An ape named Shift proclaims false teaching about Aslan, including that he is the same as the Calormenes’ idol Tash. Shift rallies the Narnians to turn themselves over as servants to the Calormenes and destroy Narnia. But Shift is handed over to Tash for consumption and his false religion falls apart.
  17. The Middle of the Journey by Lionel Trilling. Trilling shows us American revolutionaries 80 years ago, already willing to destroy whoever steps away from the incessantly noble struggle.
  18. The Princess Casamassima by Henry James. Radicals entrap a young bookbinder into an assassination plot. He loses faith in the revolution—but by that point, he’s so far in that he knows he’ll be killed by the radicals if he tries to escape. So he kills himself.
  19. The Secret Agent by Joseph Conrad. London conspirator sets off a bomb; it blows up his wife’s idiot brother; she stabs hubby; he dies; she commits suicide.
  20. The Time Machine by H. G. Wells. The Eloi make a paradise on earth; it can only be sustained by the Morlocks underground, who nibble on Eloi.
  21. The Westmark Trilogy by Lloyd Alexander. A children’s book series that shows how good intentions lead to murderous fury in language a twelve-year-old can understand.
  22. Titus Andronicus by William Shakespeare. Queen Tamora does horrible and murderous things to Titus Andronicus and his family. He gets revenge by killing her two sons, chopping them up, and baking them into a pie that he serves to their mother. It’s a metaphor for the Revolution if you look hard, and maybe squint.
  23. Witness by Whittaker Chambers. A real classic. The intellectual and moral autobiography of a gifted writer and translator who joined the Communist Party just after World War I, was recruited into the Russian intelligence service, and ran a network of spies in Washington. Chambers un-converted as a reaction to the Stalin purges of the late 1930s, went into hiding, and re-emerged to denounce his former masters, to astonishing effect. This book is a 20th-century masterpiece, especially because of its high liteary quality. See also Odyssey of a Friend. Letters to William F. Buckley, Jr., 1954-1961.

Week Eleven: Music

  1. A Dance to the Music of Time by Anthony Powell. The series takes its name from a 17th-century painting by the French artist Nicholas Poussin, which depicts the four seasons as nymphs dancing in a circle while a winged Father Time plays for them on the harp.
  2. Amadeus by Peter Shaffer. A play about Mozart's relationship with his contemporary Antonio Salieri, later adapted into a well-known film. Shaffer's play was actually inspired by "Mozart and Salieri", one of Alexander Pushkin's Little Tragedies. [2 notes]
  3. Beethoven and His Nine Symphonies by Sir George Grove.  This classic first appeared in 1896 and was recently re-issued by Cambridge University Press.  Written by the creator of the renowned Grove’s Dictionary of Music and Musicians, the book remains one of the best comprehensive treatments of the legendary symphonic creations by Ludwig van Beethoven.
  4. Beethoven As I Knew Him by Anton Felix Schindler. A biography written by Beethoven's friend and secretary, published shortly after the composer's death. What it lacks in historical accuracy (about dates of composition and premieres, etc.) it makes up for in colorful anecdotes. One section covers Beethoven's daily routine. He would meticulously count out 60 beans of coffee per cup.
  5. Beethoven Lives Upstairs by Barbara Nichol. Originally an HBO TV movie, now a fine children's book.
  6. Berlioz and His Century: An Introduction to the Age of Romanticism by Jacques Barzun. Jacques Barzun’s (abridged!) biography of Hector Berlioz gives you sympathetic insight into Berlioz’s Romantic music, his life, and the Romantic movement a s a whole.
  7. Big Bangs: The Story of Five Discoveries that Changed Musical History by Howard Goodall. Composers: "Bach to the Beatles".
  8. Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell. A fictional composer, Robert Frobisher, writes the "Cloud Atlas Sextet," a work which corresponds thematically to the six interlocking tales of the book. The stories are nested like matryoshka dolls, and the music describing these nested tales resonates throughout the book, and is heard again in Mitchell's next novel, Black Swan GreenEditor’s Note: Readers should take a look at the Product Alert on the Amazon page of Cloud Atlas; it says something profound about postmodern style.
  9. Doctor Faustus by Thomas Mann. A roman à clef about the composer Adrian Leverkühn (=Arnold Schoenberg, = Nazi Germany), whose bargain for artistic power comes at the cost of a spiraling descent into madness.
  10. Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Pa's fiddle accompanies the Ingalls family across the American west, making each wagon stop home.
  11. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. Beth loves to play the piano, and as the March sisters develop a friendship with their wealthy neighbors, old Mr. Laurence gives her a beautiful piano.
  12. Music in the Baroque Era by Manfred Bukofzer.  First published in 1947, Bukofzer’s survey stands as a superb introduction to European music circa 1600-1750, and heralded the commencement of the post WW II baroque revival.
  13. Siege and Symphony by Brian Moynihan. A good popular history that twines the tale of the creation and performance of Shostakovich’s Leningrad Symphonywith the sufferings of besieged Leningrad in World War II—starved by the Nazis, as the NKVD (not taking anything so minor as a German invasion as a reason to halt its daily routine) still seized and shot the latest “enemies of the people.”
  14. Songmaster by Orson Scott Card. A disturbing and memorable science fiction novel about music and passion in a star-spanning empire.
  15. The Baroque Concerto by A. J. B. Hutchings.  A fine and very readable survey of the principal orchestral form of music in the first half of the eighteenth century, which illustrates similarities and contrasts in the national styles of France, Germany and Italy.  Good close analysis of the leading heavyweights in particular, such as Arcangelo Corelli, J.S. Bach, George Frederic Handel and Antonio Vivaldi.
  16. The Commitments by Roddy Doyle. Amid fierce competition, it remains the best novel ever written about an Irish soul band.
  17. The Lives of the Great Composers by Harold C. Schonberg. One of my favorite beach books. An overview of the history of the Western musical tradition from Monteverdi to the Minimalists, written by a veteran New York Times music critic.
  18. The Kreutzer Sonata by Leo Tolstoy. A violinist seduces a married pianist as they together play Beethoven's Kreutzer Sonata. A tale with as many twists, turns, outbursts, and poetic passages at Beethoven's sonata, which is well worth listening to.
  19. The Pearl by John Steinbeck. Music assists the narrator in building the atmosphere of each scene. Kino always has a song in his head, the song of the family when he is protecting or providing for his wife and son, or the song of danger when evil lurks.
  20. Western Plainchant by David Hiley.  Chant is the ultimate source of the Western musical tradition, the seed from all that followed first sprouted.  This seminal work is the most exhaustive compendium to appear on the subject, which it covers in exquisite detail.
  21. What to Listen For in Music by Aaron Copeland. Various artists.

Dan Asia writes:

Jan Swafford has written biographies of Ives [Charles Ives: A Life with Music], Brahms [Johannes Brahms: A Biography], and Beethoven [Beethoven: Anguish and Triumph]. They are superlative! Also, he wrote The Vintage Guide to Classical Music, which is the most readable general text about classical music that exists.

Stanley W. Trimble adds:

I want to second Dan Asia’s recommendation of books by Jan Swafford.  His Brahms is 700 small-type pages of meticulous research but it reads like a good novel. But let’s now turn to the wonderful music of the Great American Songbook and the first book I like is American Popular Song: the Great Innovators, 1900-1950 by Alec Wilder. For those like me who consider some of this music to be almost Lieder quality, Wilder might be followed by Phillip Furia’s Poets of  Tin Pan Alley: a  History of America’s Great Lyricists which gives this oftentimes art music the respect it deserves. The final book in this trio is September in the Rain: the Life of Nelson Riddle by Peter Levinson, which not only present a gripping narrative of the sad life of this musical genius, but at the same time gives an inside history of much of American popular music and musicians from the late 30s to the mid-1980s.

Tom Horrell adds three recommendations: 

the novel, Body & Soul by Frank Conroy
…a fascinating & extraordinarily compelling story of a child prodigy's journey to adulthood:  his revelatory discovery of music…his creation of himself.

the novel, As it is in Heaven by Niall Williams
…a fairytale of love & music as magic.  Too mawkish and sentimental for some, no doubt, but lyrical.

the novel, The Armageddon Rag by George R. R. Martin (yes, that George R. R. Martin)
…fantasy story about the rebirth of a "Doors--ian" kind of rock band, the picture of an era

Donn Taylor mentions two murder mysteries he’s written: "Not sure about "best," but Rhapsody in Red and Murder Mezzo Forte.” Sight unseen, we’re sure they’re good and warrant sequels; encore, maestro!

We also received a special 3-in-1 recommendation:

1685 turned a musical hat trick:  G.F. Handel, Domenico Scarlatti and J.S. Bach all entered the world, with Handel and Scarlatti becoming life-long friends. The book on Scarlatti in English, and likely to remain unchallenged for the duration, is Ralph Kirkpatrick’s Domenico ScarlattiKirkpatrick himself  was an accomplished performer, musicologist and editor of his subject’s unique harpsichord sonatas,  and provides a deft combination of Scarlatti’s music and cultural setting which shaped it.  For J.S. Bach, you’ll find a similar treatment in Christoph Wolff’s Johann Sebastian Bach: The Learned MusicianThe book tilts heavily in the direction of Bach’s magnificent choral works, but the analysis is extremely well done and well worth a read.  Finally, there’s Jonathan Keates’s recent Handel: The Man and his Music.  Especially good treatment of Handel’s early formative years in Italy and the 40 Italian operas which that association inspired.  Yes, he actually did compose something else beyond Messiah!

Finally, we have to include the entire recommendation by Jamieson Spencer:

This may be coming at your gustatory query through the back door. My choice is not a book, but rather a short poem.

One of my favorite choral works by Handel is Alexander's Feast, whose text is a fairly faithful adaptation of a poem by that title by John Dryden. Handel's true purpose is given by his Ode's subtitle, "The Power of Music." He's celebrating his own art and in the process lauds Cecelia (the saint of music), achieving thus a deft fusion of literature, music and religion. (And with due attention to fine fare and stimulating booze...)

The poem, logically enough, suggests the special musical powers supplied by individual instruments: lyres, trumpets, hautboys (oboes).

"Timotheus, placed on high 

         Amid the tuneful quire,
         With flying fingers touched the lyre:
      The trembling notes ascend the sky,
         And heavenly joys inspire.

"The praise of Bacchus, then, the sweet musician sung;
   Of Bacchus ever fair, and ever young.
      The jolly god in triumph comes;
      Sound the trumpets, beat the drums; 
            Flushed with a purple grace
            He shows his honest face:

"Now, give the hautboys breath; he comes, he comes.
         Bacchus, ever fair and young,
            Drinking joys did first ordain;
         Bacchus' blessings are a treasure,
         Drinking is the soldier's pleasure;

Handel added a new final chorus in later performances, which sums up his hopes for every performance: 

"Your voices tune, and raise them high,
Till th'echo from the vaulted sky
The blest Cecilia's name;
Music to Heav'n and her we owe,
The greatest blessing that's below;
Sound loudly then her fame:
Let's imitate her notes above,
And may this evening ever prove,
Sacred to harmony and love."

Going in search of the work should produce a double pleasure: re-acquaintance with some less-well-known lines from Dryden, and perhaps even a first introduction to one of Handel's most tuneful and sensuous creations.

The Editors have nothing we could possibly add to this, save a YouTube link to performances of the work.

Week Twelve: Marriage

  1. A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen. Yes, it’s a chestnut by now—but it really is good on the hidden compromises that go into a marriage, and the tension those compromises impose.
  2.  A Happy Marriage by Rafael Yglesias. I can't answer "best book" questions. Too many different kinds of "best". I would recommend this, though. Enrique Sabas & Margaret... Does the marriage last happily ever after? Yes & No & Yes. The story is semi-autobiographical...inspired by the author's own marriage and his wife's struggle with cancer.
  3. All Hallows Eve by Charles William. Richard and Lester have been married for six months when Lester dies. The spiritual thriller that ensues contains a number of fascinating proposals about the significance of marriage, both within life and beyond death.
  4. At His Side: The Last Years of Isaac Babel by A. N. Pirozhkova. Pirozhkova's seven year marriage to Babel and their heroic and tragic struggle against Stalinism.
  5. In the Forest of the Night by Ron Faust. One of the more unusual stories about marriage. Martin & Katherine Springer...and we do not know, with any absolute certainty what exactly the state of their marriage is at the end....after false imprisonment, bloody escapes, harrowing journeys, kidnapping, terror & torture. The marriage lies at the heart of the thriller...key to the motivations of the main characters....but peripheral in many ways to the drama itself.
  6. Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy.  The author’s last novel, a rather grim tale of matrimonial mismatch, unfulfilled marital desires, dashed educational hopes and characters trapped by social circumstances and random misfortune.  The novel focuses on the life and fortunes of Jude Fawley, a working class lad who aspires to rise above that station and attend university, to the extent that he manages to learn the classical languages on his own.  All of this is dashed, however, when he is seduced into a bad marriage to the conniving Arabella, a local servant girl who deceives him by claiming to be pregnant.  Additional tragedies follow: Arabella leaves Jude, but since they are still married, he cannot legally wed his heart’s desire, his cousin Sue Bridehead.  Sue, however, is also trapped in a disastrous marriage to the local schoolmaster, whom she finds physically repugnant.   She flees from him and eventually agrees to “live in sin” with Jude, a theme of the novel which scandalized many critics at the time it appeared.  Sue, however, also carries considerable psychological baggage from her own marriage and, despite her relationship with Jude, is burdened with a permanent aversion to sexuality.  Not a cheerful read, even by the standards of Hardy’s previous works, but one which effectively conveys the frequent intractability of the human predicament.
  7. Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert.  The author’s first and signature novel, which graphically examines adultery, and resulted in a spectacular prosecution for obscenity.  Of course, this was exactly what Flaubert needed, and after he was acquitted early in 1857, the book became a huge bestseller.  The story centers on one Charles Bovary, a very nice guy without a lot on the ball, to whom bad things seem to happen repeatedly.  He’s quite ordinary, untalented, and a rather mediocre public medical officer, sandbagged by his overbearing mother into a lonely marriage to a rich widow.  Her death frees him to pursue Emma, the daughter of a patient with whom he’s smitten, and marries.  Emma, however, gets restless once she sees the lights beyond her boring provincial life.   She becomes secretly contemptuous of her husband, enamored of luxury and drawn to a couple of affairs about which her guileless and faithful husband remains completely clueless.  Eventually, her acquisitive tendencies lead to bankruptcy from which she’s unable to escape except through suicide.  Charles is crushed by grief and undaunted even when he discovers his deceased wife’s letters to her lovers.  A depressing tale all around, in which everyone loses.
  8. Middlemarch by George Eliot. Spoiler alert. Dorothea Brooke and Edward Casaubon; Celia Brooke and James Chettam; Tertius Lydgate and Rosamond Vincy; Fred Vincy and Mary Garth; Dorothea and Will Ladislaw. Finding out who is happy and who is not takes up much of the novel, but to make a long story short...three of the five turn out reasonably well.
  9. My Dearest Friend: Letters of Abigail and John Adams. A look into the life of a real couple, both of them deservedly famous, making their marriage work under stressful circumstances.
  10. Old Love by Jeffrey Archer. This is a short story in his A Quiver Full of Arrows. A boy and girl meet in grammar school meet and become rivals. They are never apart from that point.
  11. Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen. The sensible Eleanor and the passionate Marianne Dashwood both end up getting married and seem to live happily ever after. I know it's not supposed to be Austin's best book, but the two archetypal characters are amusingly written and the critique of passion is so pertinent to modern conceptions of romance it's the first book I thought of.
  12. That Hideous Strength by C. S. Lewis. Jane and Mark Studdock are already married when an innocuously-named social improvement organization comes to town and sets a string of events into motion that drives them into separate living quarters for a time. Their marriage does indeed last happily ever after, but not before a number of other things come to a pretty miserable ruin.
  13. The Arabian Nights. All about the creative shifts one has to go to so as to keep one’s marriage alive—and, in this case, one’s head attached to one’s shoulders. Moral: remember to keep your marriage fresh and exciting.
  14. The Betrothed by Allesandro Manzoni. A story of love amidst famine, war, and sickness. In 17th-century Italy, young lovers Renzo and Lucia are separated by the scheming Don Rodrigo, who wants Lucia for himself. Against the odds, Renzo and Lucia are reunited and begin their new life together.
  15. The Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling. The marriage of Arthur and Molly Weasley fills a void in Harry's life that anchors him as he navigates the mounting dangers at Hogwarts (and beyond) and adolescence at the same time. In the end, he and his best friend both wind up in highly satisfactory marriages, both of which owe much inspiration and one partner to the older Weasleys.
  16. The Iliad and The Odyssey by Homer, or conceivably the Earl of Oxford. The impetus of both the Iliad and the Odyssey is marriage, especially marriage wronged and restored. In the back story to the Iliad, a man steals another man's wife. Thousands die. But there are other marriages at the Trojan center: Hector and Andromache, Priam and Hecuba. The Odyssey of course is all about marriage: a man struggles to return from war to his wife while other men are trying to violate that marriage. It doesn't end well for them. A wife, Helen, is restored to her wronged husband, and a wronged husband, Odysseus, returns to and defends his wife. The former couple get to go to the Islands of the Blessed, but Odysseus has to hit the road again.
  17. The Loathsome Couple by Edward Gorey. If you want to read about unhappy marriages between unpleasant people, this is exquisite but brief.
  18. The Merry Wives of Windsor by William Shakespeare. That’s lovely for showing a middle of a marriage, where the married couples have their own personalities and their own foibles, but they ultimately stumble on to a happy conclusion.
  19. The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthone. Hester Prynne and Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale are not married, but that is after all the point of plot. Hester's status as a married woman prevents their ever being happily and guiltlessly married. And Roger Chillingworth's bitter and calculative selfishness precluded a happy relationship with Hester (though she acknowledges her unfaithfulness as her own sin). What might have happened if all the guilty parties had fended off temptations?
  20. The Scarlet Pimpernel by Emma Orczy. At the opening of the novel, we learn that a popular French aristrocrat named Marguerite surprised everyone she knew by marrying a singularly unintelligent English nobleman, Percy Blakeney. The novel kicks off not too long into their marriage, but long enough that Marguerite's socialite habits and Percy's dullness have lost their novelty for each other and alienation is beginning to set in. The story is about the French Revolution, spies and rescues, and hidden identities, but much of the drama comes from what Percy and Marguerite discover about each other.
  21. The Skook by J. P. Miller. Spanish Barrman & Yovi marry....and motorcycle gangs, cave-ins, ankle bracelets, and a solitary Skook ensue. A story of suspense & magic realism. Unique in what it does and how it does it.
  22. The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett. Sheer fun, with Nick-n-Nora as wisecracking, beschnauzered, married detectives.
  23. The Way of the World by William Congreve.  Probably the Restoration Comedy to read if you’re limited to a single choice, first performed in 1700.  The complex, hectic plot centers on the desire of  the principals, Mirabell and Millamant to marry over the vehement objections of Millamant’s aunt, the sour and very unpleasant Lady Wishfort ( a proto Lady Catherine de Bourgh?) who has her in mind for a nephew, Sir Willful.  Lady Wishfort’s not entirely amiss, however, since Mirabell appears to be on the make to collect Millamant’s huge dowry, whatever else he feels for her.  The characters’ names are priceless, as the principals are joined by Waitwell, Foible, Witwoud and Petulant, and the fast-paced ribald dialogue, not well-received at the time, is often hysterical.  Anticipations of Laurence Sterne, Henry Fielding, Jane Austin and Oscar Wilde can be discerned.  By all means read the play, still better attend a live performance.  It will indeed make you laugh.

Week Thirteen: Sports

  1. Ball Four by Jim Bouton. If there is book about the doings of a major league baseball team written with equal liveliness and containing more candid and colorful incident and observation, please step out of line and stand and deliver.
  2. Bang the Drum Slowly by Mark Harris. Neither the most concise nor best written sports novel, but the account of the ball player dying of cancer during the season is powerful indeed.
  3. Black Ajax by George MacDonald Fraser. A great novel about boxing—how the black boxer Tom Molyneaux almost won the heavyweight title in Regency England—and it says more about race, masculinity, and national character than a thousand academic monographs could.
  4. Brittle Innings by Michael Bishop. Too long out of print, it is now back and available electronically, I see. I hesitate to call it the best book about sport but the premise was too unique not to be added to your list. It deserves a wider readership. Imagine; it is sometime in the 1940's and Frankenstein's creature is still alive and playing minor league ball. Oh, and (surprise) he hits with power.
  5. Buzkashi:  Game and Power in Afghanistan by G. Whitney Azoy. Buzkashi—“goat dragging”, I kid you not—is the national sport of Afghanistan. Azoy shows how buzkashi illuminates Afghan culture and politics. It’s anthropology by a master storyteller.
  6. Chip Hilton Series by Clair Bee. To devotees of a previous generation, these sports books leave Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, Harry  Potter and all the rest in a cloud of dust in the rear view mirror. Chip Hilton is a three-sport high school athlete—baseball, football, and basketball—and the best player on every squad. Chip lives alone with his widowed mother and works after school jobs to help support the household. He has a circle of friends who are repeating characters including one who, in the immediate aftermath of the Holocaust, takes the form of Biggy Cohen, a kindly Paul Bunyan obviously there to combat anti-Semitic stereotypes. Every volume involves the adolescent equivalent of the sorts of challenges Oedipus is confronted by and in every volume there is a happy ending that is spotless. This is a series for any child who wishes he had an older brother with whom he could tag along and show him the ropes.
  7. Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card. Card gets to the heart of what it means to have sporting games as a simulation of war, and some of the ethical implications that follow from that.
  8. Flashman’s Lady by George MacDonald Fraser. Flashman achieves the first hat-trick in cricket history—one wicket by skill, one by luck, one by skullduggery.
  9. Inside Moves by Todd Walton. Basketball -- the story of a group of friends...physically & sometimes psychologically challenged who have come to love the game of basketball...particularly when one of their own has a chance, maybe, to join the elite.
  10. Instant Replay by Jerry Kramer. First published in 1968, the book is a fascinating view from the inside by an author who played right guard for the Green Bay Packers during the glory years of legendary coach Vince Lombardi’s dynasty.  Possibly the top sports bestseller of all time, Kramer’s book provides a fascinating view of NFL football before the days of free agency, hyper-inflated salaries, players unions and super star prima donnas.   Especially memorable is Kramer’s account of player-coach relations during his years with the Packers:  the short squat Lombardi had an amazing capacity to terrify a locker room full of men who stood at 6’4,” and weighed in at 240 lbs.
  11. Joy in Mudville by Poul Anderson and Gordon Dickson. The Hokas are teddybearoid aliens with a love of Earth culture and a fanatically intense fantasy life.  When their baseball team tries for the Interstellar Sector Pennant, their opponents strike with a rendition of “Casey at the Bat” that convinces the Hokas they are doomed to lose; how can the day be saved? A little whimsy can go a long way, but this is really funny.
  12. Men at Work:  The Craft of Baseball by George Will. A truly philosophical examination of the national pastime by a high-brow political journalist with the inside knowledge of a quotidian sportswriter.  Great mix of the psychology of pitching, short-hop ground balls, Clausewitzian managerial strategy, and the grand metaphysical setting of the game.
  13. Once a Runner by John L.  Parker, Jr. Ignoring non-fiction (like A Season on the Brink by John inside look at college basketball through the lens of a single season with Bobby Knight at IU) and focusing instead upon Sports Novels… let’s start with this. Perhaps the best book every written about the kind of obsessive and solitary intensity required of premiere distance runners. (2 mentions)
  14. Stalky & Co. by Rudyard Kipling. You can only rule an empire if you’re not cricket. Tales of a boy’s school told with anarchic glee, and great skepticism that playing the game is really the way to go.
  15. The Clicking of Cuthbert by P. G. Wodehouse. A collection of short stories about golf that teach us to laugh at the sand-traps of life.
  16. The Compleat Angler by Izaac Walton. Some doubting Thomases query whether fishing is really a sport. But it has a debate between a fisher, a hunter, and a falconer about what’s the best sport, and we have those sorts of wrangles today; and surely Walton’s obsession with how best to spend a free day echoes in every sports fan’s heart?
  17. The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner by Alan Sillitoe. A modern classic about a working class British youth who, confined to a reformatory, through his great ability as a runner finds integrity, courage and the inner strength to stand up to the system.
  18. The Maltese Cat by Rudyard Kipling. Your listing of Kipling's Stalky & Co.reminded me of his "The Maltese Cat," a narrative poem related by the horse about a polo game.   His rider didn't have much to do with the winning strategy - it was the horse all the way.   Great stuff!
  19. The Original Colored House of David by Martin Peter Quigley. A white teenager convinces a team in the Negro Leagues to take him on—by pretending to be a deaf-mute albino. I still remember this book fondly after reading it three decades ago, so it’s certainly memorable. I remember it as a good young-adult novel—About Race, but good even if programmatic.
  20. The Perfect Jump by Dick Schaap. This is a fascinating study of Bob Beamon's record-breaking long jump at the 1968 Summer Olympics. Schaap analyzes the actual jump, the athlete, and the games with considerable rigor.
  21. The Sweet Science by A.J. Liebling. Liebling can write about paint drying or paint drying and make it more interesting and hilarious than most any other author trying to be interesting and witty. This classic makes boxing fascinating and congenial to the most pain-averse reader.
  22. You Know Me, Al by Ring Lardner. It’s about the biggest fool who ever hit the big time, all he knows how to do is play naturally. We are convinced that all Americans were like pitcher Jack Keefe a hundred years ago—dimwitted braggarts who mangled the language. But we is so much better now.
  23. The Fight by William Hazlitt. Both unexpected and revelatory account of a championship bout in pre-mass media England in an age when most people today imagine there was no such thing possible. Hazlitt one of literature’s greatest essayists makes even a reader who fears nothing more than a devastating combination of a job to his eye, a left cross to the chin and a devastating right uppercut to his own abdomen love a boxing match.

Finally, Richard A. Lanham suggests two books by David Lamb:

A couple of books about sports that you might add to your list, both by David Lamb. About baseball: Stolen Season, a summer he spent travelling with minor league teams. David was a baseball fan from youth and took a summer off from being a Los Angeles Times reporter to follow some minor league teams, moving from one ballpark to another in an old RV.  About cycling: Over the Hills -  David took another time-out from his day job to cycle, alone, across the country, from Alexandra, VA to the pier in Santa Monica.

Week Fourteen:  Books That Made You Love America

  1. A Book of Americans by Stephen Vincent Benet and Rosemary Benet. It’s a book of poems about American history for children, and it’s tremendously fun:  “T. R. is spanking a Senator, T. R. is chasing a bear; T. R. is busting an Awful Trust, And dragging it from its lair.” Moving too—look at the poem where Nancy Hanks Lincoln’s ghost wonders what became of her little Abe: “Did he grow tall? Did he have fun? Did he learn to read? Did he get to town? Do you know his name? Did he get on?
  2. A Sense of Place: Listening to Americans by David Lamb. David was a wonderful wanderer and traveller, listening to people. David was bureau chief in Cairo then and helped her find her way around. Dave died last month and there is a wonderful remembrance given by the National Press Club, on the web, if you want to see a life well spent. Talk about zest!
  3. A Winters Tale AND In Sunlight & In Shadow by Mark Helprin. All that is good...the idea of America...freedom, responsibility, accountability, love, devotion, fidelity, honor -- it's eternal hope & promise, matched only by the perpetual challenge of being human, flawed & mortal.
  4. Band of Brothers by Stephen Ambrose. The true story of the ordinary men who became Easy Company, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division, US Army. They parachuted into France on D-Day, held the line at the Battle of the Bulge, and fought and died for each other and their country.
  5. Black Hawk Down: A Story of Modern War by Mark Bowden.  A gripping account of the hundred US soldiers dropped into Somalia on October 3, 1993. Caught under heavy fire, they fought all night against thousands of armed Somalis.
  6. Democracy in America by Alexis de Tocqueville. Tocqueville captures the earnestness and independence of the citizens and their eagerness to achieve success.
  7. Empire of Liberty: A History of the Early Republic, 1789-1815 by Gordon Wood. A survey work by a master historian, it tells you about how glorious it was as our newborn republic slipped into democratic sensibility and almost libertarian freedom.
  8. Flags of Our Fathers by James Bradley. The story behind the photograph that has come to symbolize the indomitable American spirit.
  9. Gilead by Marilynne Robinson. A gorgeously written novel of several generations of American Protestant ministers in the heartland of the country, which makes you fall in love with that heartland.
  10. I Go By Sea, I Go By Land by P. L. Travers. The P. L. Travers of Mary Poppins fame, about English refugee children from the Blitz who come to America and find it just wonderful—a safe harbor in a dark world, and marvelous in its own right.
  11. Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes. A young silversmith apprentice with an injured hand falls in with leading patriots in Boston just before the Revolution. From the oldest and seemingly craziest of these, he learns what all the fuss is about: building a country where "a man can stand up."
  12. Nothing to Do but Stay by Carrie Young. The book is Young's tribute to her pioneering mother who made a hard but happy life in North Dakota.
  13. Oliver Wiswell by Kenneth Roberts. Hard to say why this book impressed as much as it did. Around 9th grade I began reading my father's copies of Roberts' books, when I read Oliver Wiswell I became a loyalist sympathizer for at least those weeks. From that point on I was hooked on the history of the country (warts and all).
  14. Terrible Honesty: Mongrel Manhattan in the 1920s by Ann Douglas. She’s in love with the modern culture that America created, above all in New York, and there isn’t a better love letter to our brave new world.
  15. The Man Without a Country” by Edward Everett Hale. The treasonous lieutenant Philip Nolan renounces his country—and is sentenced to spend the rest of his life hearing not one word about it. And growing to old age, a prisoner, he learns to love it: “There cannot be a man who loves the old flag as I do, or prays for it as I do, or hopes for it as I do. There are thirty-four stars in it now, Danforth. I thank God for that, though I do not know what their names are.”
  16. Unfinished People by Ruth Gay. This is a superb memoir about learning how to be an American. The author grew up during the Depression, the daughter of immigrants from Eastern Europe who had come here too young to have fully matured in the old world, but too old ever to become entirely assimilated in America. They are the "unfinished people" of her title, and she and her generation had to figure out how to become Americans on their own, picking up cues from teachers, salesclerks, books, and radio. She learned about American notions of thrift and hygiene in supermarkets, and about American ideals of beauty and elegance in the rug department at Macy's. When she finally buys a beautiful Chinese carpet, that purchase marks the moment she steps over the line to true citizenship: no long the timid immigrant's child, she has become a true American, confident in her own taste and judgment.

Week Fifteen: Books I Finished After Multiple Tries

  1. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne. "I'd stopped reading out of oceanography and marine biology fatigue. I went back about a year later because I wanted to know how it ended (having heard the movie adaptation was unfaithful)."
  2. Bach-Music in the Castle of Heaven by John Eliot Gardiner. “Why did it take me so long to finish the John Eliot Gardiner Bach book? Not from boredom or lack of interest, as often is the case in this genre -e.g. War and Peace or, as in my case, Remembrance of Things Past. Gardiner's book is an effort to understand Bach the man by a detailed analysis of the music, and this from the point of view of a performer as well as musicologist. It is very detailed both as to life and work. Gardiner is a wonderful prose stylist so one cannot but read with care. No skipping in the 550 pages of text. It took me so long because I kept stopping, when he came to discuss a particular composition, to listen to the work in question. (I have that Brilliant complete CD set of Bach) Then I would try to understand the analysis. Then take a holiday. Then go back to the next analysis. Now, I can read a score in a slow and halting way, but my ability to follow the analysis always occurred at the limits of adhesion. This was tiring, uphill work. My particular interest was  how, for Bach, "the musical gestures and rhetoric that grow spontaneously out of the text" (if I may quote Gardiner), and I found this theme of verbal/musical figuration fascinating but hard to fully understand. And rhetoric is supposed to be my special field. So, from time to time, I got discouraged and disgusted at my own ignorance and quit for a while. I did return and finish, Bach dies on p. 555, but I did not listen to every piece analyzed. Rats!"
  3. Democracy in America by Alexis de Tocqueville. “Guilt.”
  4. How Should We Then Live by Francis Schafer. “Film production released.”
  5. Human Action by Ludwig von Mises. “To gain a deeper understanding of the free-market economy.”
  6. I Am Charlotte Simmons by Tom Wolfe. "I returned to Tom Wolfe's novel on contemporary campus culture a few years after I first tried it. I found that a little more time working at the National Association of Scholars gave me the perspective I needed to stomach the explicit descriptions of frat life, hazing, binge drinking, and hook-ups that characterize Charlotte’s brave new world at Dupont University."
  7. Inherent Vice by Thomas Pynchon. “I kept trying to read it as a detective mystery, as that's the genre Pynchon is working with, but I was baffled by the incredible complexity of plot and the dense richness of the characters. How could I possibly hold it all together in my mind at once. But at the same time I was dazzled by the brilliance of the language. I kept picking it up and putting it down, finally returning it to the library having read the first 50 pages three times. Months later I tried again, and this time I didn't try to make it fit my notions of mystery novels:  I just went with it, and it was an enormously satisfying book. The lesson here is:  read the book for what it really is; don't try to make it fit your preconceptions.”
  8. In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust. “Advancing years.”
  9. Ivanhoe by Walter Scott. "I started Walter Scott's Ivanhoe twice, and when I finished the second time I enjoyed it. The first half follows various seemingly disconnected storylines. Only midway through is it obvious that the characters and stories are intertwined."
  10. Middlemarch by George Eliot. “A great read and recommendations by smart lit. people.”
  11. Middlemarch by George Eliot. “Shame.”
  12. Moby Dick by Herman Melville. “The whale, because it was there. He really needed an editor.”
  13. Moby Dick by Herman Melville. "One should never, absolutely NEVER, fail to read all of a classic, especially one so toweringly canonical as this title.  My initial failed attempt came during the summer prior to my junior year of high school.  But I must plead extenuating circumstances:  I was laid up with a broken leg – the result of a misplaced attempt to kick a soccer ball – the temperature was consistently 100+, and I had just breezed through Herman Wouk’s The Caine Mutiny, before picking up Melville’s opus magnus.  Alas, I only made it through perhaps the first third of the Great Book, and comprehended very little of what I had read.  The lapse was corrected following my sophomore year of college, when lingering guilt and the enthusiastic recommendation of my English professor that year instilled the necessary resolve, and I finished the grim whale tale in a month."
  14. Perelandra by C.S. Lewis. "Perelandra is the second book in Lewis's adult fiction space trilogy (aka Ransom Trilogy). I'd started reading it before I realized it was a sequel and was really lost. It wasn't so much that the narrative demanded familiarity with the previous narrative so much as I wasn't ready to be plunged into Lewis's interstellar world so quickly as the second book demands. Several years later I found a copy of Out of the Silent Planet, read it, and was eager to return to Perelandra and continue the adventures with Professor Ransom, a philologist turned space hero."
  15. Pilgrim's Regress by C. S. Lewis. “Ignorance of philosophy.”
  16. Siddhartha by Herman Hesse. "A simple and short read, but it just didn’t hold my attention. I think my Western rationalist tendency was put off by the novel’s (quasi-) Eastern mysticism. I finally finished it while waiting at a bus stop. It did inspire me to learn a little more about Buddhism, though."
  17. Swann’s Way by Marcel Proust. “Never finished, but have ‘sense’ of Proust.”
  18. Team of Rivals by Doris Goodwin. “The passion and humanity of historical figures that historical books (especially texts) so often lack.”
  19. The Abolition of Man by C. S. Lewis. “Lewis' attacks on moral relativism and education—which are as salient today as they were in the 1940s—motivated me to finish this complex book.”
  20. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain. “The first time I started the book, at ten or twelve years old, the duke and the dauphin performing nude theater scandalized me. I conscientiously put away the book. Then it was assigned for school. I drove through in duty but came to appreciate the work.”
  21. The Brothers Karamazov  by Fyodor Dostoevsky. I simply could not finish this the first time around. Father Zosima started waxing Orthodox, and he didn’t wane, and after a while I put the book down, because my taste wasn’t that Catholic. Now, I did pick it up again and finish it, and enjoy it immensely—but I admit I still found Zosima’s pages something of a cross to bear.
  22. The Fate of Marxism in Russia by Alexander Yakovlev. “Its importance to a free society, not to forget.”
  23. The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon. “Sheer brilliance of the prose.”
  24. The Red and the Black by Stendhal. “I’ve been trying to finish it for 50 years!”
  25. The Road to Character by David Brooks. “It tightened my spine.”
  26. The Science Before Science:  A Guide to Thinking in the 21st-Century by Anthony Rizzi.
  27. Ulysses by James Joyce. “I have not finished in 10 years of trying!”
  28. Ulysses by James Joyce. “This is one of the seminal books of 20th Century fiction. I owed it to myself to finish it.”

Week Sixteen: Books About Adoption

  1. Ben-Hur. A Tale of the Christ by Lew Wallace. Judah Ben-Hur, a Jewish prince in Roman-occupied Judea is wrongfully convicted of a crime and sentenced to life as a galley slave in the Mediterranean. He is freed and adopted by Quintus Arrius, commander of a Roman fleet in which Ben-Hur served. Arrius credited Ben-Hur with saving his life after their ship sank in a battle against pirates. Ben-Hur returned to Jerusalem and had his revenge against the Roman Messala, who had arranged his earlier conviction. Jesus, with whom Ben-Hur was a contemporary, makes several appearances in the novel, and Ben-Hur becomes a believer. Many will have seen the extraordinary film (1959) the high point of which was a thrilling chariot race, which Wallace (a former Civil War general) graphically describes in the novel. That film won eleven Academy Awards. Let us hope that the forthcoming remake will be half as good. (The first Ben-Hur film was a silent version, 1925. That chariot race was good too.)
  2. Charlotte's Web by E. B. White. Spider adopts pig and saves his bacon.
  3. Daniel Deronda by  George Eliot. Eliot’ s last novel which, among other aspects of its complex plot, offers a sympathetic view of the then nascent Zionist movement.  Daniel Deronda, the principal, is the ward of Sir Hugo Mallinger, a wealthy gentleman who envisions a university and political career for his adopted son.  Deronda isn’t certain of his exact relationship with Malllinger and, like many others wonders if he is actually his illegitimate offspring.  By many intricate twists and turns, Deronda eventually learns that he is the son of Maria Alcharisi, a famous Jewish opera singer, for whom Sir Hugo carried a very bright torch in his youth.  It was this devotion that led him to adopt her son and honor her request to raise him as an English gentleman without revealing to him his Jewish origins.  Daniel, however, does discover his roots, marries Mirah, a Jewish girl whom he meets by odd chance, and embraces his true identity with gusto.
  4. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. The beautiful young Estella by the eccentric old Miss Havisham.
  5. Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens). Huck by Miss Watson. It  seems to me that Huck's final declaration—“… Aunt Sally she's going to adopt me and sivilize me. and I can't stand it. I been there before."—capture Huck in a nutshell. "Bad" grammar and spelling. But the use of the pronoun (it) and the adverb (there) while grammatically indefensible is a brilliant summary of Twain's astute "take" (i.e. condemnation) of civilization and its discontents.
  6. Galatians by Paul. Christians are adopted by God, via Christ. Paul explains this mystery of the gospel to the church at Galatia.
  7. Les Misérables by Victor Hugo. Cosette is adopted by Jean Valjean.
  8. Out of the Blackout by Robert Barnard. Our hero remembers nothing before showing up with a queue of children evacuated from London during the Blitz. Grown now, he tries to find out who his parents really were … and uncovers a deeply unpleasant part of the English past in doing so.
  9. Rilla of Ingleside by L. M. Montgomery. Jims is adopted by Rilla.
  10. Silas Marner, The Weaver of Raveloe by George Eliot. Marner is a hard luck character whom fortune seems to have cursed: everything bad and nothing good seems to befall him.    He’s been betrayed  by a close friend who frames him for the theft of church revenues and, to salt that wound makes off with his fiancé and marries her himself.  Marner is forced to leave town, and re-locates to Raveloe, where he is moderately successful as a weaver, but otherwise a reclusive bachelor who hoards and idolizes a cache of gold.  Alas, that is also stolen from him, and he sinks into despair.  H’s lifted from the depths, however, by the sudden appearance at his doorstep of a toddler,, a two-year old whose mother has perished nearby from an opium overdose.  He decides to keep her as his adopted daughter, whom he names Eppie, after his own mother.  Eppie is the ray of sunshine Marner needed, and brings him happiness he had never known.  And when her biological father turns out to be one of the local gentry, she declines his offer to make a lady of her and  remains with her adoptive  father.  In the end,, Eppie marries a local farm hand who moves and everyone lives happily together as an extended family.
  11. Taran Wanderer by Lloyd Alexander. Taran tries to find out who his real parents were. This is the most mature of the Chronicles of Prydain; I didn’t like it as a child, but was moved by it as a teenager and a grown-up.
  12. The Foundling Fox by Irina Korschunow. An orphaned fox kit is adopted by a vixen. This is a picture book for young children: my daughter Phoebe came home from kindergarten enthralled by the book which her teacher had read the class, and recited the entire book to me from memory, her beautiful big eyes wide with the horror of being motherless, and the relief of being found again.
  13. The Harry Potter novels by J. K. Rowling.  Lawrence Squeri writes: Harry's parents are dead and although not formally adopted, he is raised by his aunt Petunia and her husband Vernon Dursley.  The Dursleys treat Harry very badly and it is amazing that he grows up to be well adjusted.  Although Harry has every right to be bitter, he instead is generous and heroic.  Harry is heroic not only because he defeats the evil Voldemort but also because he does not allow an ugly childhood to poison his character. Only in the world of fiction - or magic - can this happen.  In the real world, though, someone who is treated like Harry would end up being an emotional basket case. Jamieson Spencer replies: Lawrence is right on Harry P. Power of fiction (esp "children's" fantasy to point us toward an impossible level of perfection. (otoh: Is Oliver Twist any less credible?) (2 recommendations.)

Finally, a beautifully large number of suggestions from Tom Horrell:

A difficult question. There are, of course, books about being adopted and/or adopting, in the traditional sense of the word. But there is also an entire subgenre which explores the fortuitous 'adoption' ... the mentoring 'adoption' ... the friendship 'adoption' -- all focused upon the idea that one can be 'made' family (or create 'family') even without an adoption process or formal familial context. As we lump these categories together we can find ourselves in the world of Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield & Oliver Twist, just as easily as we might discover ourselves deep into T. H. White’s The Once & Future King, with the fostered Wart & Co…..or chasing evil men with John Connolly’s detective, Charlie Parker (and his ‘brothers’ Louis & Angel). Apocalyptic Adoptions might even comprise an entire sub-sub-genre as we consider the ‘adopted’ families who undertake their world-shaping odysseys, as in Stephen King’s The Stand….or Robert McCammon’s Swan Song….or Justin Cronin’s The Passage. And, of course, no list of Adoption Stories would be complete without noting both, A Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett and, again, Peter Lake’s adventures in Winter’s Tale (by Mark Helprin).

Week Seventeen: Books About Weapons

  1. Dark Sun: The Making of the Hydrogen Bomb by Richard Rhodes. Weapons of mass destruction in the 20th century, including poison gas and incendiaries, eventually leading to nuclear research and the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Rhodes, a poet by training, did his meticulous research to find the limits of human cruelty when it came to weaponry.
  2. Glock the Rise of America's Gun by Paul M. Barrett. A look at Gaston Glock and his creation of the world's most famous handgun.
  3. Gun by C. S. Forester. This weapon is an 18-pounder cannon, weighing three tons. Left behind by the retreating Spanish army during the Napoleonic wars, it comes into the possession of successive guerilla bands and leaders and takes its revenge upon the French. An interesting way to get into the Spanish war. Very well written. I assume that the execrable movie, "The Pride and Passion," (1957), with Frank Sinatra, Cary Grant, and Sophia Loren, is based, loosely, on this book. Avoid the movie.
  4. Guns for General Washington by Seymour Reit. Nothing inspires a child to courage like reading how nineteen-year-old Will Knox, brother to Colonel Henry Knox, spends three months helping to haul 183 cannon from Fort Ticonderoga to Boston in the dead of winter.
  5. Major Barbara by G. B. Shaw. Shaw's Major Barbara works on the irony that Andrew Undershaft’s munitions factory serves humane ends. Undershaft sees the machinery of war as (an admittedly dangerously) healthful alternative to the conventional platitudes and processes of a functioning democracy: “Your pious mob fills up ballot papers and imagines it is governing its masters; but the ballot paper that really governs is the paper that has a bullet wrapped up in it.... Vote! Bah!! When you vote you only change the names of the cabinet. When you shoot, you pull down governments, inaugurate new epochs, abolish old orders and set up new.”
  6. Scaramouche by Rafael Sabatini. A young lawyer at the time of the French Revolution turns himself a master fencer so as to achieve revenge on the evil Marquis de la Tour d'Azyr.
  7. The Gun by C. J. Chivers. An in-depth history of the ubiquitous AK-47.
  8. The Matchlock Gun by Walter D. Edmonds. With his father and the family musket called away to the French and Indian War, ten-year-old Edward is charged with protecting his mother and sister. His father taught him to use the old Spanish matchlock gun but Edward's courage is tested when five tomahawk-bearing Indians attack. This children's book, based on a true story, won the 1942 Newbery Medal.
  9. Warbreaker by Brandon Sanderson. It's a sentient sword that was Awakened with the command "Destroy Evil."

Tom Horrell adds a whole armory of suggestions:

Excellent suggestion by Jamie Spencer… many come to mind. James Fennimore Cooper’s The Deerslayer and Last of the Mohicans which are centered upon Natty Bumppo’s tremendous skill with the long rifle. Stephen Hunter’s heroic Bob Lee Swagger series (Point of ImpactTime to Hunt, etc) whose use of pretty much any weapon (but in particular the Marine Corps sniper rifle) is epically unmatched. Robert B. Parker’s Westerns (AppaloosaBrimstone, etc.) feature the classically taciturn Virgil Cole, who is a master of the Colt .45. Thomas Perry’s The Butcher’s Boy gives us the hit man Michael Shaeffer, who is deadly with every weapon (similar in many ways to Lawrence Block’s assassin, Keller in the books Hit ManHit List, etc.) And then there is swordplay, fantasy & myth… Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser series (Swords in the MistSwords Against Death, etc). Also Fred Saberhagen’s Book of Swords series which, unlike many other works tends to make the swords themselves (the 12 Swords of Power) the story’s center. There is The Arthurian Mythos with ExcaliburThe Princess Bride, by Goldman, which includes an abundance of uniquely weapon-centered scenes….of particular note Indigo Montoya’s obsession with the 6-fingered man: “You killed my father; prepare to die!” The list here is massive. But – we should also note that weapons take many different shapes, and certainly we should therefore also highlight Horatio Hornblower in C.S.Forester’s many books who was an unquestioned master of the sloop, the frigate, and the 74-gun ship of the line. Ken Follett’s Henry Faber (die Nadel), the German spy who was infamous for his skill with the stiletto. And Yossarian, the bombardier, sitting in the belly of the B-25 in Heller’s Catch 22.

Week 18: Books About Doppelgängers

  1. A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. Sydney Carton is Charles Darnay's doppelganger. Carton (spoiler!) takes Darnay's place on death row and gives us one of the great literary lines: “It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.” And: Charles Darney and Sydney Carton appear similar enough so as to discredit a witness and get the former acquitted of a crime at the beginning of the story. It doesn’t work out as nicely the second time it is attempted. [2 recommendations]
  2. Descent into Hell by Charles Williams. Pauline Anstruther—the doppelgänger is unnamed. The descriptions of Pauline's terror at encountering her doppelgänger are unforgettable. The subplot adds greatly to the uncanny atmosphere.
  3. The Great Impersonation by E. Phillips Oppenheim.  Englishman Everard Dominey speaks perfect German; his German doppelgänger Leopold von Ragastein speaks perfect English. One of them killed the other in East Africa and came back to London to act as a German spy—but which one came back?
  4. The Comedy of Errors by William Shakespeare. Antipholus of Syracuse and his servant Dromio meet their identical twins Antipholus and Dromio in Ephesus, leading to wild misunderstandings before they sort each other out.
  5. The Horse and His Boy by C.S. Lewis. Shasta, the adopted son of a poor fisherman, turns out to be Cor, identical twin brother of Prince Corin of Archenland, for whom he is mistaken by the royal envoys visiting the great city of Tashban while he is trying to escape being sold into slavery. Michael Ward speculates in his book, "Planet Narnia," that the names Shasta and Cor are allusions to Castor, the horseman brother of the twin constellation Gemini. Cor, who is constantly getting into fist fights, is a natural stand in for Pollux, the boxer. The whole book follows the medieval cosmology associated with the planet Mercury, who is lord over the constellation Gemini, and whose themes include separation and reunion, and the unity of thing with thought.
  6. The Man in the Iron Mask by Alexandre Dumas. ***spoilers*** In this final installment to the Three Musketeers trilogy, Louis XIV's identical twin brother attempts to usurp the French crown with the aid of Porthos and Aramis.
  7. The Prince and the Pauper by Mark Twain.  The story centers on a chance encounter between two look-alikes:  the street-wise London poor boy Tom Canty and his king, Edward VI.  As the palace guards are about to pitch Tom into the street for loitering too close to royal residence, the king calls them off and invites him in.  The huge social gap between the pauper and the monarch quickly evaporates, and the two begin to talk as just boys.  In addition to looking alike, they discover that they also share exactly the same birthday.  They decide to have some fun and switch places, each donning the other’s clothes.  Things go awry, though, when the guards mistake the pretend peasant for a trespasser and give him the gate, leaving Tom to continue as the king.  Edward by twists and turns manages to find Tom’s family home and experience life as it is for many of his poor subjects, while Tom struggles to maintain the ruse as king.  Following a string of adventures, some comical, others harrowing, the two are able to switch roles and resume their true identities.  They remain friends, as Tom stays on at the palace as the king’s ward for the rest of his life. [2 recommendations]
  8. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson. Mr. Hyde is Dr. Jekyll's doppelgänger, and his presence allows the protagonist to feign absolute goodness while often being malevolent.
  9. The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins. Beautiful, loved, wealthy Laura is hardly aware that she has a double: a poor, half-witted young woman, an inmate of a Victorian madhouse, hovers around the distant perimeter of lovely Laura's charmed existence. Until that perimeter narrows, the two draw ever closer together, and finally meet.
  10. "William Wilson" by Edgar Allan Poe. "William Wilson" is the main character, and is also the name of the mysterious double, in this fascinating story by Poe. As a twist to the usual "Jekyll and Hyde" type of story in which the narrator is the "good" one and the "evil" one plays a secondary role, in Poe's story the narrator is the "evil" version who is constantly haunted by the "good" version (his own conscience, perhaps?). A great read and the best of Poe's many stories featuring themes of doubling and divided selves.

Tom Horrell doubles down on doppelgänging:

This one’s tough. And, as always, the definition of what exactly a doppelganger may be is or can be a bit loose. There is Twain’s The Prince and the Pauper, of course in which two separate, non-related individuals are perceived, mistakenly as ‘identical’. And then there is Charles Williams’ Descent Into Hell which is significantly focused upon the question of one’s real, perhaps demonic, doppelganger and the fear which accompanies the possible meeting of the self with the shadow self. This same kind of demonic echo is also evoked in Tolkien’s Hobbit and Lord of the Rings as Frodo/Bilbo meet & wrestle the corrupted Gollum. But more commonly we find the ‘false’ doppelganger in which self encounters self as a function of non-linearity (an older, meeting a younger, and back again and again). Under that category, in a particularly unique variation, we find The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August (Claire North) in which the protagonist time-loops. While not actually meeting his literal preceding self, he meets his preceding life, allowing his subsequent self to live it significantly (or not) differently. There also we find Replay by Ken Grimwood ….and, of particular note for this topic, The Man Who Folded Himself by David Gerrold in which we repeatedly experience the collision & increasingly bizarre interaction of older & younger selves in parallel & seemingly infinite loop variations. Along those same lines, we should also acknowledge some of the earlier works in that field, particularly Heinlein’s Door Into Summer & By His Bootstraps

Week 19: Hometown Books

  1. A Contract with God: And Other Tenement Stories by Will Eisner. Graphic short-stories about the old Jewish New York. David Randall, New York, New York.
  2. A Walk on the Wild Side by Nelson Algren. This might also be added with the understanding it cannot stand comparison with his short story collection The Neon Wilderness. And it’s about New Orleans, but that’s everyone’s second home town. Bruce Gans, Chicago, Illinois.
  3. Boss: Richard J. Daley of Chicago by Mike Royko. Bruce Gans, Chicago, Illinois.
  4. Brighty of the Grand Canyon by Marguerite Henry. Brighty, a burro who carries water and supplies down the Bright Angel Trail into the Grand Canyon, embodies the toughness required to survive the Western frontier and the gentleness needed to appreciate it. His statue stands in the Grand Canyon Lodge at Bright Angel Point on the canyon's north rim. Rachelle Peterson, Arizona.
  5. Cities in Flight by James Blish. New York City picks itself up and literally goes into space, led by an immortal Mayor loosely based on Fiorello La Guardia. David Randall, New York, New York.
  6. In the Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak. The New York of my dreams. David Randall, New York, New York.
  7. Main Street by Sinclair Lewis. Philip Gough, Sauk Centre, Minnesota.
  8. Meet Me in St. Louis by Sally Benson. Jamie Spencer, St. Louis, Missouri.
  9. Native Son by Richard Wright. Bruce Gans, Chicago, Illinois.
  10. The Neon Wilderness by Nelson Algren. Bruce Gans, Chicago, Illinois.
  11. Pericles on 31st Street by Harry Mark Petrakis. Bruce Gans, Chicago, Illinois.
  12. Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser. Bruce Gans, Chicago, Illinois.
  13. Spring Lake (NJ) (Images of America) by Patricia Florio Colrick. Colrick's book is a photographic record that celebrates the history of this elegant seaside town, first settled in the 1870s---its grand hotels and homes, its boardwalk and beaches, and much more. Louis Torres, Spring Lake, New Jersey.
  14. Stelmark: A Family Recollection by Harry Mark Petrakis. Bruce Gans, Chicago, Illinois.
  15. Studs Lonigan Trilogy by James Farrell. Bruce Gans, Chicago, Illinois.
  16. The Adventures of Augie March by Saul Bellow. Bruce Gans, Chicago, Illinois.
  17. The Beach Umbrella and Other Stories by Cyrus Colter. Bruce Gans, Chicago, Illinois.
  18. The Last Fine Time by Verlyn Klinkenborg. About a Polish-American bar in Buffalo NY during its heyday and then decline. Great read. Patrick Deneen, Buffalo, New York.
  19. Washington Goes to War by David Brinkley. It shows the city I grew up in when I grew up in it. Richard A. Lanham, Washington, District of Columbia.
  20. Winter’s Tale by Mark Helprin.  It has the most gorgeous evocation of New York a century ago, in a deep-freeze that turns it into a wonderland of ice and snow. David Randall, New York, New York.

Week 20: It’s Too Darn Hot Books

  1. Ninety-Two Days: A Journey in Guiana and Brazil by Evelyn Waugh. A travel account of a journey along the Amazon.
  2. An African in Greenland by Tété-Michel Kpomassie. Young Kpomassie, in Togo, didn’t want anything to do with snakes. Then he read about Greenland, a place with no snakes at all. It took him half a lifetime to get there, but he did. The most determined escape from a hot place to a cold place, ever.
  3. “A Pail of Air” by Fritz Leiber. The Earth gets knocked out of orbit and freezes. One clever family survives by walking out to get a pail of frozen air each day.
  4. Dry September by William Faulkner.
  5. Ice Station Zebra by Alistair MacLean. During hot summer periods, I am known to be carrying or reading this book. It gives me chills in the winter, and is just as effective in the heat of summer. Besides it is such a darn good (chiller) thriller anytime.
  6. The Blithedale Romance by Nathaniel Hawthorne. Blithedale Farm, a utopian community meant to be in tune with nature, is stifling hot in summer and freezing in winter. The citified poet Miles Coverdale is put off by the work after he catches cold in a a springtime freeze and sweats in the field in summer.
  7. The Cremation of Sam McGee” by Robert Service. Isn’t it nice to think of being so cold that you’d die to get warm?
  8. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Toward the end of the book the gang of Long Islanders is together on the afternoon of the hottest day of the year. Daisy says to Gatsby, "You look so cool," in front of her husband, who realizes she is telling Gatsby she loves him. They all go into the city (the last sensible place to go on a hot day) and get a suite at the Plaza, where they order mint juleps.
  9. The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling. You can have fun in the jungle. Just watch out for the tigers.
  10. The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. LeGuin. Science fiction set on arctic world, with long sections on the glacial ice.
  11. Hothouse: The Long Afternoon of Earth by Brian Aldiss. The sun is red, the world is a jungle, and humans are the pests in a world of enormous insects.
  12. The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie. There’s a great dream sequence/fantasia imagining London turned into a tropical city.

Tom Horrell provides a small jungle of suggestions:

It’s too darn hot! I’d have to begin with Faulkner and his tales of Yoknapatawpha County, deep in those Mississippi summer days, dripping with that languid heat which seems to central to that time & place. Of course it’s hard to separate what was Faulkner and what was that “you can run but you can’t hide” sultriness of Paul & Joanne in that equally Long, Hot Summer. From there to more of a ‘dry heat’and the novel Dead Man’s Walk by Larry McMurtry which gives us Woodrow Call & Augustus McCrae slogging across the burning anvil which was (is) the Jornada del Muerto. Then back to the Wet, and the grim quest of homicide detective, Stuart Haydon in David Lindsay’s In the Lake of the Moon, from the sauna of Houston to the jungle of Mexico (sometimes described as hauntingly atmospheric….sometimes as excessively overdone). And that, of course, brings to mind Malcolm Lowry’s Under the Volcano with its Mexican fever, cold drinks, dead dogs, and existential angst. We might add Don Winslow’s work, in particular The Power of the Dog and the companion piece, The Cartel….set in the fire of Mexico & Cocaine. Or Paul Theroux’s The Mosquito Coast in the jungle of Honduras. Which finally brings to mind, of course, Joseph Conrad…and his Heart of Darkness:

Going up that river was like travelling back to the earliest beginnings of the world, when vegetation rioted on the earth and the big trees were kings. An empty stream, a great silence, an impenetrable forest. The air was warm, thick, heavy, sluggish. There was no joy in the brilliance of sunshine. The long stretches of the waterway ran on, deserted, into the gloom of overshadowed distances. On silvery sandbanks hippos and alligators sunned themselves side by side. The broadening waters flowed through a mob of wooded islands; you lost your way on that river as you would in a desert, and butted all day long against shoals, trying to find the channel, till you thought yourself bewitched and cut off forever from everything you had known once -somewhere- far away in another existence perhaps.

It’s too darn hot!

Week 21: Good Teachers

  1. Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery: Miss Shirley recognizes Anne’s quick mind and gives her advanced work to prepare her for college. At Miss Shirley’s urging, Anne sits for the entrance exam to Queen’s College and earns a scholarship.
  2. Cheaper by the Dozen by Ernestine Gilbreth Carey and Frank B. Gilbreth Jr. Dad Gilbreth, a "motion expert" and pioneer in modern efficiency, can teach his twelve kids to do everything better and faster and still have fun. He paints Morse code over their beach house, trains the toddlers to complete complicated math problems in their heads, quizzes geography at the dinner table, and plays French lessons on the phonograph while they bathe.
  3. Goodbye, Mr. Chips by James Hilton. Okay, fine, it's a treacly novella. But its core is solid. Mr. Chipping teaches Latin and Greek at a public, i. e. private, boys' school in England, between 1870 and 1933. What makes Chips so good is that he learns, from his own mistakes and his private suffering, why he is a teacher at all and what his teaching offers to boys and young men in a world changing with horrible swiftness for the worse. At the fictional Brookfield Grammar School, decency and decorum, bourgeois they may be, are the bedrock of social life. Chips personifies the power of traditions, customs, manners, and especially learning, learning about the past when modern civilization itself seems bent on suicide. [2 recommendations]
  4. Institutes of Oratory by Quintilian. Quintilian, a first century teacher, offers a textbook for training a rhetorician prepared for public service. Quintilian demands of his students both skill and character, advising teachers to nurture “the good man speaking well.”
  5. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. Miss Temple is the one kind teacher at Lowood School. She defends Jane’s reputation when Jane is wrongfully punished, and she treats the students with gentle compassion, in strong contrast to the capricious wrath of Mr. Brocklehurst.
  6. Prince Caspian by C. S. Lewis. The magic and talking animals that once graced the land of Narnia have been suppressed for generations by tyrannical King Miraz and the Telmarines. Royal tutor Doctor Cornelius secretly instructs Miraz’s nephew Prince Caspian in the ways of Old Narnia and exhorts Caspian to rule virtuously when he takes the throne.
  7. The Confessions, by Augustine. Bishop Ambrose meets Augustine while the young rhetorician, disillusioned by Manichaeism, is searching for substance and truth. Ambrose’s faith and deep theological thought persuade Augustine to consider Christianity. Later, at the prompting of a voice urging him to take and read (“tolle lege”) Paul’s epistle to the Romans, Augustine is converted, and Bishop Ambrose baptizes him.
  8. The Corn Is Green by Emlyn Williams. English schoolteacher in poverty-stricken nineteenth-century Wales.
  9. The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas. In prison Abbé Faria teaches Edmond Dantes mathematics, science, history, Spanish, English, and German. From the start he admonishes Dantes, “To learn is not to know; there are the learners and the learned. Memory makes the one, philosophy the other.” The education Abbé Faria provides equips Dantes to take on the role of the Count of Monte Cristo—a wise, mysterious, self-styled “cosmopolite.”
  10. The Great Tradition by Richard Gamble. Gamble collects in this massive anthology important pieces by master teachers and philosophers reflecting on the meaning and purpose of classical education.
  11. The Old Man and the Boy by Robert Ruark. Robert Ruark’s old man acts as both teacher and guide to his grandson as they hunt and fish the lakes and woods of the Carolinas.
  12. The Palace Thief by Ethan Canin. William Hundert, a classics teacher at an exclusive boys' prep school, actually succeeds at instilling lifelong learning for the sake of it in many of his students. The novella itself is about a time he failed. In addition to the often very delicate relationship between a teacher and a favored (or disfavored) student, The Palace Thief also explores questions about the relevance of traditional learning that make it a sentimental favorite of this young academic. Made into a movie, The Emperor's Club, starring Kevin Kline as Hundert.
  13. To Serve Them All My Days by R. F. Delderfield. A somewhat updated version of Goodbye, Mr. Chips, Delderfield’s novel focuses on the experiences of an unlikely schoolmaster, David Powlett-Jones, the son of a Welsh coal miner.  “PJ” as he comes to be known, gets mustered out of the British army towards the end of WW I, as a result of wounds and shell shock sustained in the horrific trench warfare in France.  He winds up at Bamfyld, a fictional and archetypal English public school situated in Devon on the south coast, where he accepts an offer to teach history from Algy Herries, the school’s headmaster, who fingers him as a “born teacher.”  To his surprise, PJ discovers that he is fact a natural in the classroom, notwithstanding some awkwardness due to the fact of his coal mining background.  The novel follows his ups and downs during the interwar years up to the outbreak of WW II in 1939, at which time he is appointed headmaster, thus fulfilling Algy’s fond hopes for him.  A nice, somewhat idyllic look at the public school ethos back in the day, masterfully dramatized by the BBC in 1980 with actor John Duttine in the title role.

Tom Horrell provides an instructive list:

Good Teachers? There are several in the traditional sense: Sylvia Barrett, of course, the teacher who dares to go Up the Down Staircase in Bel Kaufman’s classic work. And Miles Calendar the hard-edged army scout who educates young Prentice as they pursue Pancho Villa in David Morrell’s Last Reveille. Merlyn, who teaches Wart in T.H. White’s  Once & Future King. Aaron Weisfeld, the music store owner, who opens Music to the precocious Claude Rawlings in Frank Conroy’s Body & Soul. The rather unusual Jenny Fields who conjures & educates her son in The World According to Garp….mirrored, in many ways, by Sibylla (of Helen DeWitt’s Last Samurai) who teaches, via Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai her even more precocious son, Ludo. And, of course, the Devil himself, who pulls the aged Jurgen aside (in James Branch Cabell’s Jurgen, A Comedy of Justice) and proceeds to progressively enlighten him as to his Heart’s Desire. There are also the teachers we may not fully acknowledge or accept. Perhaps Alyosha, perhaps Ivan in the Brothers Karamazov. Or, from an entirely different perspective, we find Larry Darrell who walks Maugham’s Razor’s Edge, learning from a multitude of teachers (directly & indirectly) -- becoming, in turn, a teacher himself. Similarly, in Flowers for Algernon, there is Charlie Gordon who learns, with great difficulty, from dear Miss Alice Kinnian….and then post-surgery comet-blazes to unimaginable heights only to Fall, and in that Fall teach us once again.

Image: Chris Lawton, Public Domain

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