Classics

The Lifeboat by Charlotte Rogan

The Lifeboat by Charlotte Rogan

Can it ever be morally acceptable to sacrifice one life to save many? That is one of the questions you will find yourself considering as you read The Lifeboat, by Charlotte Rogan. In the summer of 1914, Grace elopes with Henry Winter. After a stay in London the young couple is returning on an ocean liner to America to announce their marriage to Henry’s family. A mysterious explosion on board leads to the sinking of the ship. Henry sacrifices his own safety to secure a place on one of the lifeboats for Grace. There are 39 people on the lifeboat, and it becomes very clear early on that the boat is overcapacity.

Eight Cousins, or the Aunt-Hill, by Louisa May Alcott

Eight Cousins, or the Aunt-Hill, by Louisa May Alcott

Meet Rose Campbell, a pretty, thirteen-year-old girl living in 19th-century Boston. Just orphaned, Rose is taken to live with relatives—rich and kind but fussy aunts who feel very, very sorry for her. They treat her as if she is direly ill and have her half-convinced of it herself. Rose really is drenched in self-pity until she gets a visit from her Uncle Alec.

The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon

The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon

What was it that defined the 1960s and made it one of the most important decades of the 20th century?  This question is often asked, even by those who lived through its tumultuous events. Many classic novels portrayed and influenced the counterculture of the 1960s, including Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, and Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.  Another classic novel indelibly linked the culture of the 1960s was The Crying of Lot 49, one of Thomas Pynchon’s earliest works.  Supposedly the story of a woman seeking to sort out the estate of her dead boyfriend’s will, The Crying of Lot 49 is a kaleidoscopic narrative that ventures through centuries-spanning conspiracies, bizarre characters, and an American rock band desperately pretending to be part of the British Invasion.  One of Pynchon’s earliest and shortest novels, The Crying of Lot 49 is a surreal whirlwind of 1960s literature.

The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury

The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury

He was happy enough to share his dinner with the lanky man as they were both seekers. He sought the beauty of the Wisconsin countryside in the early autumn. The fellow who sat down beside him, his wool shirt buttoned tight though the day was a warm one, sought the relief of his misery in the beginning of The Illustrated Man, a collection of short stories by Ray Bradbury.

At last he stripped off his shirt in the heat.

"…he was a riot of rockets and fountains and people, in such intricate detail and color that you could hear the voices murmuring small and muted, from the crowds that inhabited his body. When his flesh twitched, the tiny mouths flickered, the tiny green-and-gold eyes winked and the tiny hands gestured. There were yellow meadows and blue rivers and mountains and stars and suns and planets spread in a Milky Way across his chest. The people themselves were in twenty or more odd groups upon his arms, shoulders, back, sides, and wrists, as well as on the flat of his stomach. You found them in forests of hair, lurking among a constellation of freckles, or peering from armpit caverns, diamond eyes aglitter. Each seemed intent upon his own activity; each was a separate gallery portrait."

He was an Illustrated Man, he explained tiredly. A witch from the past and future had stitched the glowing colors into his flesh forty years ago. He had wanted it done so he could always find a job at a carnival, but the pictures, all eighteen of them, came with a curse, and ultimately no traveling show would hire him and no man or woman would be his friend.

The Moon Pool by Abraham Merritt

The Moon Pool by Abraham Merritt

One of the earliest adventure novels detailing the journey of a group of explorers from the surface world through a subterranean civilization, Abraham Merritt’s The Moon Pool is also one of the best examples of the genre.  With an exciting narrative full of thrilling action sequences, memorable characters, and a fascinating civilization of bizarre wonders, The Moon Pool is a great adventure novel that will thrill fans of classic science fiction.  For fans of shorter novels, it is also a fast-paced read. Edited together from two novellas titled “The Moon Pool” and “Conquest of the Moon Pool,” it is under 300 pages in length and can be completed by most readers in about 3-5 days.  For those seeking to discover the roots of sci-fi adventure stories in the early twentieth century, The Moon Pool is an excellent trip back in time.

It's Time to Finally Read Moby Dick!

Gregory Peck as Captain Ahab

If you’ve never managed to make it all the way through this “great American classic,” NOW is the time to give it one more go! Wait, don’t click away! Hear me out! I’ve tried at least three times in the past to read Moby Dick & always get bogged down after a few chapters. All that whaling! All that boiling down of blubber! And, what is Ahab’s problem anyway?! So I’ve never “gotten” Moby Dick & never finished the book. I always abandon the Pequod, Ishmael, Ahab, & the gang and leave them floating in the middle of the ocean somewhere.

But NOT this time! You may have heard recently that writer, Philip Hoare, is leading a "big read" of Moby Dick, or, in this case, more like a “big listen.” He’s offering a chapter per day in free downloadable audio. There’s a different reader and a different artist’s illustration for each chapter.  I know about this because I have been reading, not a chapter per day, but a PAGE per day, of Moby Dick since August 9th , 2012, and writing a blog about it.  So, several people who’ve been following my blog have told me about the big read project. “This guy stole your idea!” they say indignantly.

Natalie Babbitt: Truth in Fairy Tales

“...it makes me uncomfortable to know that my story Tuck Everlasting is required reading in some classrooms. My sympathies are entirely with the children, for many will react to Tuck as I well might have--with a shudder. Many will find its language too ‘fancy,’ its pace too slow, its topic unsettling, the behavior of its hero incomprehensible.”--Natalie Babbitt in "Saying What You Think." The Quarterly Journal of the Library of Congress*

It is perhaps surprising that an author would almost prefer her books were not required reading.  But it is less surprising in Natalie Babbitt’s case. Her best-beloved books are sweet and strong and true in spirit while containing enough wonder and marvel to lend a sparkle to a reader’s otherwise mundane childhood. This children’s author, like many of the best, remembers what it is like to be a child. What she liked to read--and what she didn’t. She understands that children have strong opinions on their favorite books, even if they may not be comfortable in expressing them.  She certainly remembers what she liked:

A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin

A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin

It was the goat that gave it away.

Some young wizards-to-be discover their destinies through an engraved invitation. But for Sparrowhawk, unscrubbed and unbiddable goat herder on the island of Gont, an overheard word in the true, magical language was enough to get him started. Not just one stubborn goat but the whole herd was brought to heel with a single word. Clearly the lad had potential.

Watership Down by Richard Adams

Watership Down by Richard Adams

Hazel was young and strong and a bit clever.  His best friend, however, was a runt no one thought much of.  But Hazel knew something about Fiver that made him respect the little fellow. Fiver was gifted with the Sight. He somehow could tell in advance what might be coming, and just then Fiver was terrified to the very marrow of his bones.

Rabbits such as Hazel and Fiver who live in the English countryside usually lead a pretty nice life. There are predators, sure. Foxes, hawks, and even stray dogs might grab an unwary rabbit. But rabbits are sociable creatures, living in cozy warrens underground, usually staying in the same place for years at a time. They eat together, play together, and follow a leader. And so it was at Sandleford warren.

Rabbits are usually rather biddable beings of habit so when Fiver, with Hazel backing him up, tries to convince their chief rabbit Threarah  that death and disaster are coming—and soon—it’s a losing situation.  After all, "The Threarah doesn't like anything he hasn't thought of for himself."  His Owsla guards don’t believe them, either, and it is against the rules of the warren to leave it without permission.  But they’re going to do it anyway.

Native Son by Richard Wright

Native Son by Richard Wright

Richard Wright’s Native Son is an exceptional example of dynamic, participatory literature. Rather than allowing the reader to effortlessly absorb the words on the page, Wright undermines the passivity and comfort we often expect when reading. Both the content of the novel and Wright’s literary style provoke and disturb, immersing the reader in a dense psychological terrain that is simultaneously intimate and larger-than-life.

Set in Chicago in the 1930s, Native Son follows the life of Bigger Thomas, a young African-American man living in squalor with his mother and siblings. Bigger’s mother holds him accountable for the welfare of the family, but his ability to work towards a stable life seems perpetually hindered. He can’t overcome his poverty because he can’t get a job that pays well, and he can’t get a decent job because of his lack of education and limited social mobility. He is also imprisoned by the sense that, as an African-American man, his mere existence has been criminalized: “There was just the old feeling, the feeling that he had had all his life: he was black and had done wrong.”