Do not read these famous books

book cover

I know this is going to open a can of worms, or perhaps a barrel of rattle-snakes, but it needs to be said: do not read these famous books. One thing all these books have in common is that they are too long. If they were excellent, fascinating, educational, absorbing on every page they would not have a problem. But most readers find they are not any of those things. I have read all but one of these books, and while they are talked about in literary circles, and are on lists of Must Read Books, few people ever finish reading them. Some people would hint that you are “artistically impoverished” if you have not read these books. Do not believe them. War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy This is one of the longest novels ever written. The version I read contained 1500 pages of tiny print. The story: Napoleon Invades Russia, Napoleon retreats in disarray. It is not a difficult book to read, and it is mildly interesting. But it is going to take months of reading, and probably you will feel it was not worth the journey. If it was a shorter book, it might be worth the time… Continue reading

Best American Books, part 1

PART 2     PART 3 I have concentrated on books that have been popular over the years, books that have had an impact on society, books that have resounded in our thoughts, words, and actions. Books can influence a whole nation even if only a small number of people have read these books. Ideas spread like Twitter at a football match. These are the books that have shaped the American national identity. The books listed are a variety of  fiction, non-fiction, and auto/biography, but mostly fiction. They are in alphabetical order, not according to how valuable they are.   A FAREWELL TO ARMS Ernest Hemingway A Farewell to Arms is a novel written by Ernest Hemingway set during the Italian campaign of World War I. The book, published in 1929, is a first-person account of American Frederic Henry, serving as a Lieutenant (“Tenente”) in the ambulance corps of the Italian Army. A Farewell to Arms focuses on a romance between the expatriate American Henry and an English V.A.D. cadre, Catherine Barkley, against the backdrop of the First World War, cynical soldiers, fighting and the displacement of populations. The publication of this, Hemingway’s bleakest novel, cemented his stature as a modern… Continue reading

Restless in wartime

Book Review: Restless by William Boyd (2006) Although this is a novel of espionage set during the Second World War, there is little of the James Bond stuff in it. The novel deals mostly with propaganda. The main effort was to draw America into the war. Britain was under siege, struggling to fight off the Nazis. Britain needed all the help it could get. America was reluctant to get involved in another European war. Whatever Roosevelt thought hardly mattered. Congress and the public wanted nothing to do with another European war. Besides it was 3,000 miles away, it was not an American problem. The job of the British espionage unit was to convince Americans that it was not just a European problem, but a world problem. I found it intriguing the way false stories were spread. They would concoct a story —  something the Nazis were supposed to have done, something that was detrimental or insulting to Americans. Then they would get it published, or radio presented, in some minor news outlet in America. Once that was done, they would send it out again with an American dateline. Before long it would be picked up by other news agencies, no… Continue reading

– Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad –

A book review about a perilous journey by steamboat into the centre of Africa.  Think Humphrey Bogart in The Africa Queen, but with a boat load of cannibals, and no Katharine Hepburn to keep order. One of the first things I noticed about this novel was the splendid use of language, the adjectives, similes, metaphors, and the descriptions. The second thing was the irony, enough to make me laugh aloud, although it is a serious and dark book. Joseph Conrad was a river-boat captain in the Congo, and he experienced a similar journey to the one his  protagonist, Charles Marlowe, endured. The story is of an English adventurer who travelled into the Belgian Congo as a steamboat captain. The purpose of the trip was to bring back ivory from the centre of Africa. It was a long and dangerous voyage, the steamboat broke down, and most of the boat crew turned out to be hungry cannibals. The narrator, talked about, indeed was obsessed by a man called Kurtz, who resided at the furthest point of the journey. Kurtz was a successful trader of ivory, and apparently a remarkable man; a man of education, of  understanding, of culture. Yet after a… Continue reading