Unexpected Classics: 10 Overlooked Novels Finding Life in New Editions

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Not every novel finds its audience right away; in some cases, the ideal reader for a book may not have been born at the time that said book was first published. And while keeping up-to-date on new books is a good thing, it can also be deeply rewarding to delve into a book published several years – or several decades – ago. Sometimes an author’s style or approach will be ahead of their time; sometimes there may be unexpected resonances with events that have occurred since the book was first published.

What follows is a list of ten novels, released in new editions (or, in some cases, new translations) over the last few years. They range in style from comic to tragic, from realistic to uncanny, and their settings cover everything from the familiar confines of suburbia to a surreal Arctic landscape. Perhaps one of these books will be exactly what you were looking to read at this very moment.

The cover of the book IceIce
Anna Kavan
Classifying Anna Kavan’s Ice isn’t easy. It’s set in a near future where society has taken a turn for the violent and the climate has dropped precipitously; the novel’s narrator is searching for a woman, but his perceptions of the world are not exactly reliable. The result makes for a haunting and unpredictable read. Among the admirers of this novel are Jonathan Lethem and Kate Zambreno, both of whom contribute writings to this new edition.

 

The cover of the book Mrs. CalibanMrs. Caliban
Rachel Ingalls
Rachel Ingalls’s short novel details the unfulfilled life of a suburban woman: her husband is enmeshed in an affair, her ambitions are frustrated, and her friendships are flawed. Then a giant frog-man escapes from a local science facility, takes refuge in her home, and changes the course of her life. The novel shifts from philosophical to tragic to drolly funny at a moment’s notice; between this and the novella collection Three Masquerades, Ingalls’s fiction is getting a newfound appreciation as of late.

 

The cover of the book The GraveyardThe Graveyard
Marek Hlasko
The protagonist of Marek Hłasko’s novel, set in Cold War-era Poland, lives a normal life: a solid job, a family, and memories of his time fighting the Nazis during World War II. A chance encounter causes him to fall out with the Communist Party, which sets his life on a sudden downward trajectory, with horrifying results. The novel is meticulously structured, with a mounting sense of dread that gradually suffuses the entirety of the page.

 

The cover of the book Dark ReflectionsDark Reflections
Samuel R. Delany
Samuel R. Delany is best-known for his visionary, surreal visions of strange landscapes and potential futures. He’s just as talented when it comes to charting the course of the frustrations and compromises of more quotidian existence: Dark Reflections chronicles several decades in the life of a talented but largely obscure poet, a singular voice who never entirely connects with an audience.

 

The cover of the book Appointment in SamarraAppointment in Samarra
John O’Hara
John O’Hara’s first novel is a searing portrait of marital, financial, and spiritual discontent. It begins innocuously enough, with the novel’s protagonist Julian English throwing a drink in the face of another man. The events that arise from that reveal the tensions and anguish found just below the surface in his community, along with the prejudices and isolation of the people around him.

 

The cover of the book After ClaudeAfter Claude
Iris Owens
The narrator of this novel by Iris Owens is acerbic, caustic, and – potentially – not entirely reliable in all matters. Set in early-1970s New York City, After Claude chronicles the end of the narrator’s relationship, and how this causes her to reimagine her life. It’s a bleakly funny look at city life, told through a memorable voice.

 

The cover of the book VolcanoVolcano
Shusaku Endo
Shusaku Endo’s novel Volcano tells two stories that parallel one another: one about a newly-retired man settling into a new phase of life and grappling with health issues, and the other about a defrocked priest pondering his own isolation and questions of corruption. Above the city where they live can be found a seemingly dormant volcano, a potent metaphor for the dangers of the unspoken.

 

The cover of the book The First WifeThe First Wife
Paulina Chiziane
The protagonist of Paulina Chiziane’s novel The First Wifediscovers an unsettling fact about her husband: namely, that he’s married to several women located around the city of Maputo in Mozambique. Her discovery of this, and her subsequent actions, creates a powerful portrait of a nation in the midst of change, and the harrowing legacy of a long civil war.

 

The cover of the book Reasons of StateReasons of State
Alejo Carpentier
At the center of Alejo Carpentier’s Reasons of State is the dictator of a nation in Latin America – an aging man still convinced of the rightness of his cause, and willing to endorse horrible things in order to maintain his power. The gulf between his belief in his own righteousness and how the people around him perceive him sparks one of the many conflicts that propels this novel, a precise case study of the delusions and abuses of power.

 

The cover of the book BlackwaterBlackwater
Michael McDowell
Michael McDowell’s sprawling novel Blackwater is many things: a family saga covering several decades of life in an affluent Southern family; a portrait of the growth of a small town over the course of much of the 20th century; and an exploration of the cost of progress. Threaded through with a substantial dose of the supernatural, McDowell’s novel features nuance and horror in equal measure.

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25 Horror Classics You Need to Read

Photo by Jez Timms on Unsplash

In any genre there are always those seminal works that are pure must-reads. They’re the classics, the stories that are either the foundational underpinnings or pitch perfect examples of what the genre has to offer. People have been telling scary stories for as long as they’ve been, in fact, telling stories. There’s just something addictive about a bit of bone-chilling terror. But the sheer breadth of the horror catalog can be a little daunting – particularly when you’re talking the must-reads. Ever the glutton for punishment, I’ve taken a stab at pulling together twenty-five must-read classics, from the 1800s through the 1980s. Let us know your favorite horror reads in the comments!

The cover of the book The Haunting of Hill House (Movie Tie-In)The Haunting of Hill House 
SHIRLEY JACKSON
With The Haunting of Hill House, Shirley Jackson crafted one of the most influential haunted house tales of all time. It’s a slow burn masterpiece that relies as much on its deeply drawn characters as its potentially haunted setting to methodically ratchet up the dread and terror.

 

 

The cover of the book Interview with the VampireInterview with the Vampire
ANNE RICE
Anne Rice essentially reinvented the popular mythology of the vampire with her Vampire Chronicles series, and it all began with Interview with the Vampire. Rice’s influence on the vampire genre in the latter twentieth century is difficult to overstate and Interview is still one of her best.

 

 

The cover of the book ItIt
STEPHEN KING
For me personally, this was the most difficult pick. I debated The Shining, The Stand, and ‘Salem’s Lot. However, I just can’t escape the fact that It is just so quintessentially Stephen King. If you only read one Stephen King novel, the sprawling story of a group of kids fighting a timeless evil in the twisted of community Derry, Maine has to be the one.

 

 

The cover of the book DraculaDracula
BRAM STOKER
Dracula is the definitive vampire novel. It quite literally defined many of the tropes and conventions that are now staples of the of the vampire genre. Beyond underpinning an entire subgenre, Dracula is a tale of obsession, loss, and repressed sexuality.

 

 

The cover of the book Something Wicked This Way ComesSomething Wicked This Way Comes
RAY BRADBURY
There are times when it feels like I read Ray Bradbury as much for his absurdly well-written prose and use of metaphor as his forays into all things horrific. Something Wicked This Way Comes is the gold standard – it melds Bradbury’s keen sense of nostalgia, unfettered imagination, and gleeful wordsmithing into one brilliant and unsettling package.

 

 

The cover of the book Frankenstein: The 1818 TextFrankenstein: The 1818 Text
MARY SHELLEY
Although it’s also widely considered one of the first science fiction novels, the macabre horror of Frankenstein is undeniable. Its influence has stretched through two centuries of horror and it remains a foundational piece of the genre.

 

 

The cover of the book BelovedBeloved
TONI MORRISON
Beloved wrecked me the first time I read it. At its base, it is a ghost story – and an incredibly well-told one – but the horrifying secret at its core, and the way Toni Morrison expertly peels away the layers of guilt, desperation, and trauma that define the tale, make this Pulitzer Prize-winner a singular and devastating appearance.

 

 

The cover of the book Gothic TalesGothic Tales
ELIZABETH GASKELL
Any discussion of Gothic horror and its genesis should include Elizabeth Gaskell. The dread-inducing collection of stories in Gothic Tales is a perfect example why. Her works are darkly surreal, blending local legends, fairy tales, and an incisive understanding of mankind’s darker inclinations into a deeply unsettling collection of eerie tales.

 

 

The cover of the book RebeccaRebecca
DAPHNE DU MAURIER; INTRODUCTION BY LUCY HUGHES-HALLETT
Rebecca is a classic study in obsession and sustained suspense. Readers are inexorably carried along with the unnamed narrator’s increasingly intense fascination with the death of her husband’s first wife. What unfolds is intricately woven mystery as unnerving as it is shocking.

 

 

The cover of the book The Best of Richard MathesonThe Best of Richard Matheson
RICHARD MATHESON
Richard Matheson is arguably best known for I Am Legend, his seminal post-apocalyptic pseudo-vampire novel, but he’s also one of the finest short fiction writers of latter twentieth century. Matheson’s occasionally pulpy and always terrifying short stories influenced virtually every major horror writer to follow in his considerable wake, including the likes of Stephen King and Peter Straub. They also had a major impact on Victor LaValle, who both edited and wrote an introduction for this collection. LaValle is no slouch in the horror department himself and well worth a look.

 

 

The cover of the book The OtherThe Other
THOMAS TRYON
It was arguably the success of novels like The Exorcist, Rosemary’s Baby, and The Other that ushered in the paperback horror boom of the late 70’s and early 80’s. With The Other Tryon’s takes a deep dive into humanity’s darker side. Set against a bucolic farming community, the story eschews the supernatural in favor of more mundane, if no less horrifying, scares.

 

 

The cover of the book The ExorcistThe Exorcist
WILLIAM PETER BLATTY
If you only know William Peter Blatty’s terrifying masterpiece by way of its classic adaptation, pick up a copy of the novel that inspired it. Blatty manages to imbue an eerie sense of plausibility into the story that makes it all the more unsettling.

 

 

 

The cover of the book Rosemary's BabyRosemary’s Baby
IRA LEVIN
Rosemary’s Baby effortlessly weaves its suspense through the oft-mundane everyday lives of the young couple at its center. There’s an inkling from the beginning that something is not quite right, but the reader’s realization, paced alongside Rosemary’s own, is what lifts Ira Levin’s masterpiece to a different level.

 

 

The cover of the book The Woman in BlackThe Woman in Black
SUSAN HILL
The Woman in Black feels like a throwback to a much earlier period. It’s a bit shocking to realize this Victorian chiller was published in 1983. That’s a very good thing. The Woman in Black is a pitch perfect ghost story – one that takes its time and lets the fear slowly creep in and envelope the reader.

 

 

The cover of the book The House Next DoorThe House Next Door
ANNE RIVERS SIDDONS
The House Next Door is an oddly overlooked slice of horror that deserves a spot alongside the haunted house heavyweights (The Haunting of Hill House, The Shining, Hell House). Best known for novels like Peachtree Road that center around the sagas of wealthy southern families, Anne Rivers Siddons nonetheless quietly crafted a brilliantly creepy haunted house tale that has stood the test of time.

 

 

The cover of the book PhantomsPhantoms
DEAN KOONTZ
Dean Koontz has leaned a bit more into sci-fi and pure thrillers for most of his prodigious career, but on the occasion that he embraces full-on horror it’s invariably worth a look, and Phantoms is one of his best. It builds on classic urban legend with more than a small debt to Lovecraft, and is precisely the sort of page-turner that made Koontz a perennial bestseller.

 

 

The cover of the book The Damnation GameThe Damnation Game
CLIVE BARKER
The Damnation Game proved without a doubt that Barker could sustain his particular brand of unrelenting terror over the course of an entire novel. Following Books of Blood, The Damnation Game delves into the darkest recesses of Barker’s imagination for a particularly depraved tale tinged with cannibalism, incest, and all manner of macabre.

 

 

The cover of the book The Bloody ChamberThe Bloody Chamber
ANGELA CARTER
The Bloody Chamber is, at base, a series of fairy tale retellings. What lifts the whole package and sets it apart is Carter’s understanding of the dark undertones of virtually every fairy tale ever conceived. She pulls those darker elements to the forefront, deftly inverting every classic trope.

 

 

The cover of the book The Bad SeedThe Bad Seed
WILLIAM MARCH
The idea of a seemingly innocent child committing heinous acts has become a fairly common trope in horror, but when The Bad Seed was published in 1954, it proved a tremendous shock for its readers. March’s matter-of-fact prose style lends an air of both authority and plausibility to this story of a mother slowly realizing the true evil of her young, murderous daughter.

 

 

The cover of the book Geek LoveGeek Love
KATHERINE DUNN
Odds are you’ve never read a novel quite a like Katherine Dunn’s Geek Love. Geek Love, centering around a family of circus “freaks,” is bizarre, mesmerizing, and perverse. It’s a shocking lamentation on the human condition, of torment and trauma. Ultimately, it turns a sort of fun house mirror on societal ideals, presenting a delirious and disturbing vision in return.

 

 

The cover of the book The Turn of the Screw and Other Ghost StoriesThe Turn of the Screw and Other Ghost Stories
HENRY JAMES
Henry James seminal ghost tale is one of those foundational texts for the horror genre. There are still very few authors who have done the traditional ghost story better. James keeps the scares and narrative subtle, but no less dread-inducing. The fact that even after the final page it’s not precisely clear what’s happening — that very uncertainty is the genius of “The Turn of the Screw.”

 

 

The cover of the book American PsychoAmerican Psycho
BRET EASTON ELLIS
American Psycho is a gleefully over-the-top slasher flick in prose form that also happens to be an absurdly biting, post-modern cultural dissection. It’s dark, for sure. There’s cannibalism, necrophilia, all manner of torture. But it’s also a wholly unreliable descent into pure madness – but also maybe not. This one is as thought-provoking as it is unsettling.

 

 

The cover of the book Summer of NightSummer of Night
DAN SIMMONS
There’s a lot of great horror scattered across Dan Simmons’ eclectic bibliography. Summer of Night is one of my favorites. Falling on a spectrum somewhere between Bradbury and King, it is a tale of small towns and ancient evils, but there’s an eerie sort of quality that taints the nostalgic hue in a way that separates it from those clear influences.

 

 

The cover of the book The ElementalsThe Elementals
MICHAEL MCDOWELL
Best known for scripting the likes of “Beetlejuice” and “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” McDowell’s brilliantly terrifying novels are once again making their way onto the radar of horror fans. The Elementals is arguably his best work – a southern Gothic-tinged haunt that is claustrophobic and disturbing.

 

 

The cover of the book The Silence of the LambsThe Silence of the Lambs
THOMAS HARRIS
While it’s on the list of novels overshadowed by their adaptations, there really is just something about experiencing Hannibal Lecter in print that even the brilliance of Anthony Hopkins can’t quite match. And while Thomas Harris may have overextended with perhaps too many sequels, Silence of the Lambs is an unrelenting and bone-chilling descent into the darker – and very plausible – recesses of humanity.

10 Terrifying Books to Read Based on Your Favorite Classic Horror Movie

Photo by SHTTEFAN on Unsplash

With Halloween just around the corner, our thoughts are quickly turning to all things dark, ghoulish, and macabre. While it’s the perfect time to revisit those favorite classic horror films, you may also be in the mood for scares of a different sort. If you’re looking a terrifying change of pace, these chilling reads are just the thing.
Max von Sydow in The Exorcist (1973) © Warner Bros.

If You Like The “The Exorcist”, Try…

Max von Sydow in The Exorcist (1973) © Warner Bros.

The cover of the book PandemoniumPandemonium
DARYL GREGORY
“The Exorcist”, itself an adaption of the novel by William Peter, is one of the most influential horror films of all-time – and my personal pick for one of the most bone-deep terrifying. Unfortunately, the demonic possession sub-genre is a bit overdone and arguably stale. Fortunately, Daryl Gregory crafted a thoroughly original take on the idea of possession. With Pandemonium, Gregory imagines a world beset by random possession. With instances of possession ranging from benign to horrific, Pandemonium is a clever mix of pop culture and cultural pathos built on the same sense of lingering dread that powered “The Exorcist”.

If You Like “The Shining”, Try…

Image result for the shining

Jack Nicholson in The Shining (1980) © Warner Bros.

The cover of the book House of LeavesHouse of Leaves
MARK Z. DANIELEWSKI
Despite an initially tepid reaction from fans and critics, “The Shining” is now generally considered one of the finest horror films ever made. Jack Nicholson’s spiral into madness and the purposefully disorienting layout of the Overlook Hotel combined to create a truly classic haunted house film. Few novels capture the sense of unease and disorientation as well as Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves. It is a stunning and wholly unique reading experience centering around a house that is vastly larger on the inside than out. It is an epistolary novel, a metaphorical and literal maze, a story within a story within a story. It’s a deeply unsettling and endlessly fascinating read.

If You Like “The Wicker Man” (1973), Try…

Christopher Lee in The Wicker Man (1973) © Rialto Pictures/ Studiocanal

25533076Hex
THOMAS OLDE HEUVELT
If you only know “The Wicker Man” from the endlessly meme-worthy 2006 reboot, do yourself a favor and check out the original slow-burn masterpiece. It may be the best film to come of the British horror boom of the 1970s. Once you’ve done that and if you’re still in the mood for some unrelentingly bleak (seriously, this book gets DARK) horror about bizarre small communities that packs a hell of shock ending, pick up Hex. It’s set in a small Hudson Valley town haunted a seventeenth century witch whose eyes and mouth were sewn shut. No one is safe, there will not be a happy ending. This one goes there.

If You Like “Poltergeist”, Try…

Poltergeist (1982) © Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM)

The cover of the book The Grip of ItThe Grip of It
JAC JEMC
“Poltergeist” is a classic for a reason. Written by Stephen Spielberg and directed by Tobe Hooper, it had an impressive pedigree. While it certainly brings the terror and iconic moments (“They’re here…”, “This house is clean”), it also a knowing suburban satire with scares that succeed because of its focus on the family at its center . The same can be said of Jac Jemc’s The Grip of It. What begins as a fairly standard tale of a couple searching out a fresh start away from the city quickly evolves into a horrifyingly original take on the haunted house tale that packs in plenty of character-focused pathos.

If You Like“A Nightmare on Elm Street”, Try…

Robert Englund in A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) © New Line Cinema

The cover of the book Heart-Shaped BoxHeart-Shaped Box
JOE HILL
Back before Freddy went into full gleeful, pun-tastic camp, Wes Craven gave us the only slasher flick that could truly give “Halloween” a run for its money. It’s easy to forget just how unsettling and legitimately terrifying Freddy Kruger’s first appearance was. Sure, there were still doses of humor, but it was considerably darker than what many fans came to expect from the franchise. Joe Hill’s first novel featured a similar vibe. Centering on a washed up heavy metal star with an affinity for the occult who unknowingly purchases a deadly and malicious ghost, Heart-Shaped Box was a tight, well-crafted ghost story with an original hook, plenty of scares, and a healthy dose of gallows humor.

If You Like “Scream”, Try…

Scream (1996) © Dimension Films

The cover of the book Final GirlsFinal Girls
RILEY SAGER
As a franchise, “Scream” may have been done in by sequel-itis, but the original is still a well-hewn thriller that knowingly pokes holes in the classic slasher tropes from the final girl to the virgin-death-exemption and the killer’s-not-quite-dead final scare. It walked a fine between satirical and scary and walked it well. The same can be said of Riley Sager’s Final Girls. The novels follows a group of three “Final Girls”, lone survivors of horror-movie type massacres. When one of the three is found dead in her bathtub, the other two are forced together to confront their devastating pasts before they become victims themselves.

If You Like “Evil Dead 2”, Try…

Sarah Berry, Bruce Campbell, Kassie Wesley DePaiva, and Dan Hicks in Evil Dead II (1987) ©De Laurentiis Entertainment Group (DEG)

The cover of the book John Dies at the EndJohn Dies at the End
DAVID WONG
While “Evil Dead” is well worth a look, the franchise really didn’t find its legs until the considerably more over-the-top “Evil Dead 2”. “Evil Dead 2” gave fans more in every sense of the word – more gore, more humor, and more of the Ash Williams we’ve all come to know and love. If you’re looking for another genre-bending exercise in humor and horror that is at turns bizarre, satirical, and revels in its brand of immature-yet-occasionally biting humor, you could do a lot worse than John Dies at the End. Reading like the unholy love-child of Douglas Adams, H.P. Lovecraft, and Stephen King, John Dies at the End is a drug-fueled fever dream of Lovecraftian proportions that is equal parts zany and horrifying.

If You Like “Night of the Living Dead”, Try…

Night of the Living Dead (1968) © Image Ten

The cover of the book The MissingThe Missing
SARAH LANGAN
“Night of the Living Dead” is the literal grand-daddy of the zombie craze. The film essentially invented the language and flow of the modern zombie story. It also sits neck and neck with “Dawn of the Dead” (1978) as George Romero’s best film. While not technically a zombie thriller – the undead creatures of The Missing are more sentient if no less ravenous – The Missing is certainly a good pickup for fans of the genre. It centers around an elementary school field trip that unwittingly sets a devastating airborne contagion loose on a town turning the residents into predatory undead monsters.

If You Like “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” (1978), Try…

Donald Sutherland in Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978) © Solofilm

The cover of the book Bird BoxBird Box
JOSH MALERMAN
It’s rare for a remake to surpass the original, but while the original 1956 version of “Body Snatchers” is a classic in its own right, the 1978 version is superior in nearly every way. It’s a tense thriller, a deft blend of horror and sci-fi, and a fascinating allegory. The idea of alien/preternatural creatures overtaking society in some way is a classic sci-fi trope and few films have done it better than “Body Snatchers” (1978). Josh Malerman’s brilliant debut, Bird Box, may not seem like an immediate choice for “Body Snatcher” fans, but its themes of isolation, desperation, and creeping madness will resonate. In Bird Box, the mere sight of a mysterious creature is enough to drive a person to deadly insanity. In the midst of this civilization-shattering calamity, a woman struggles to find a safe haven for her two young children.

If You Like “Rosemary’s Baby”, Try…

Mia Farrow in Rosemary’s Baby (1968) © Paramount Pictures

The cover of the book The Silent CompanionsThe Silent Companions
LAURA PURCELL
“Rosemary’s Baby” is another of my personal favorites. It’s a slow-burn piece of horror film-making unafraid to take the time to develop its deep-seated sense of dread. From the macabre history of the Woodhouse’s new apartment building to the seemingly kindly but bizarre elderly neighbors, everything builds with creeping, mounting horror to that final devastating and well-earned conclusion. It’s one of the finest horror films (and adaptations) of all time. Like “Rosemary’s Baby”, The Silent Companions takes its time and lets the horror slowly seep in. There’s a sense of mounting unease, as protagonist Elsie – pregnant and recently widowed – comes to grips with her new life in a sprawling, decrepit estate. The real terror hits the reader in much the same way it hits Elsie as that slinking dread finally bursts into full-blown terror.

 

18 Essential Classics to Read Before You Die

Remember all those books that you were supposed to read in your high school English classes and college lit courses, but never really got around to? It turns out, they really are worth a second look with the fresh eyes of adulthood. After all, there’s a reason certain works become influential classics and serve as the narrative DNA for so many of the novels currently sitting on the bestseller lists and your to-be-read pile. While it may feel daunting, working your way through a classic or two is a particularly rewarding experience. And, let’s be honest, adding a little intellectual vigor to 2018 certainly couldn’t hurt, right?

The cover of the book Little Black Classics Box SetLittle Black Classics Box Set

Various

If one-stop shopping for the classics appeals to you, look no further than this box set. It features eighty books celebrating a wide range of classic literature from drama to poetry, and fiction to history, and includes works from Walt Whitman, Edgar Allan Poe, Joseph Conrad and many others.

 

The cover of the book The OdysseyThe Odyssey

Homer

Sometimes regarded as the first true novel and one of the all-time greatest adventures, this book is one of those classics you were supposed to read in high school, and is well worth revisiting. The Odyssey is a classic saga centering on a man’s fantastical and perilous journey to return to his wife and son.

 

 

The cover of the book Jane Austen: The Complete WorksJane Austen: The Complete Works

Jane Austen

Another piece of one-stop shopping, Jane Austen: The Complete Works is a perfect way to revisit one of the most engaging writers of the eighteenth century – one whose influence is still felt today. Austen was an incisive social critic with truly remarkable, razor-sharp wit and a core of feminism that was well ahead of her time.

 

The cover of the book Madame BovaryMadame Bovary

Gustave Flaubert

As a landmark of realist fiction, Madame Bovary long ago secured a spot as a literary masterpiece. Its portrayal of a housewife growing increasingly desperate to escape the day-to-day tedium of her life spoke deeply to many women of the era when first published in 1857. It is perhaps still far more relevant than it should be.

 

 

The cover of the book War and PeaceWar and Peace

Leo Tolstoy

Tolstoy’s epic and sprawling piece of historical fiction is undoubtedly – and infamously – a tremendous undertaking, but it is absolutely a journey worth taking. It is Leo Tolstoy’s magnum opus – it features some of the writer’s best work, along with literature’s most deeply human characters. There may also be a few lessons to be gleaned for the tumultuous times we find ourselves in today.

 

The cover of the book The Penguin Book of the UndeadThe Penguin Book of the Undead

Edited by Scott G. Bruce

Suspense and horror seem to be hardwired into our both our collective consciousness and our literary framework. What we think of as the modern ghost story did not really develop until the gothic period of the nineteenth century, but there were forerunners lurking in texts that spanned the Roman Empire, medieval Europe, and the Renaissance. This collection is a perfect introduction to those stories.

 

The cover of the book Les MiserablesLes Miserables

Victor Hugo; Translated with Notes by Christine Donougher

As the basis for perhaps the best musical in history, Les Miserables has long held a prominent footing in popular conception. The novel that underlies it also happens to be Victor Hugo’s best and one of the finest novels of the nineteenth century. Its decades-spanning narrative contemplates deep questions of morality, race, justice, and religion. It also made Jean Valjean one of the most beloved characters in literature.

 

The cover of the book The Complete FablesThe Complete Fables

Aesop

With his oft-witty and sometimes biting vignettes, Aesop created an extraordinary compendium of moral philosophy in a remarkably plain-spoken package. When one considers that characters like the tortoise and the hare have endured since the sixth century, Aesop’s literary achievement becomes all the more astonishing.

 

 

The cover of the book East of EdenEast of Eden

John Steinbeck

While Steinbeck is understandably best known for The Grapes of Wrath, East of Eden may be his crowning literary achievement. Written in Steinbeck’s later years, it is a work of Biblical scope and echoes with a sort of timeless mythic power. It centers on two families whose intertwining destinies outline a story of love, loss, betrayal, and brutality.

 

 

The cover of the book The Penguin Book of French PoetryThe Penguin Book of French Poetry

Various

Covering the period of 1820 to 1950, The Penguin Book of French Poetry highlights an era of remarkable transition and evolution. Featuring works by Baudelaire, Rimbaud, Breton, and a multitude of others, this collection charts a period of intense innovation and the converging and conflicting styles that underpinned such movements as Romanticism, Surrealism, and Cubism.

 

The cover of the book Wuthering HeightsWuthering Heights

Emily Bronte

Published merely a year before Emily Bronte’s untimely death, Wuthering Heights is a classic doomed love story. It is an amalgamation of many genres, although it arguably fits most neatly in the Gothic category. The tormented tale of bitter love between Heathcliff and Catherine Earnshaw – and its brutal consequences – is a haunting masterpiece.

 

The cover of the book Little WomenLittle Women

Louisa May Alcott

Little Women has been captivating readers for over a hundred years and stands as a landmark piece of children’s literature – one that transcends that designation and holds appeal for all ages. This tale of the lives of the March sisters and their triumphs and tragedies presented young readers with the world as it was, and as a result, spoke to them in a way few novels do.

 

The cover of the book 19841984

George Orwell

With apologies to Margaret Atwood, 1984 is perhaps the greatest piece of dystopian fiction ever written. Its relentlessly bleak narrative has proven alarmingly prescient since its publication in 1949 – is it really shock that it found itself once again atop the bestseller lists in January of 2017?  Regardless, Orwell’s tale of Newspeak, Big Brother, and Thought Police is a powerful, devastating, and seemingly ever-relevant read.

 

 

The cover of the book The Last of the MohicansThe Last of the Mohicans

James Fenimore Cooper

The Last of the Mohicans is one of literature’s great adventure stories. Told from the view of Hawkeye, a frontier scout and Native American, The Last of the Mohicans details the birth, intertwining, and eventual tragedy of Native American and colonial cultures.

 

 

 

6788719The Complete Sherlock Holmes

Arthur Conan Doyle

Perhaps the best known and most emulated literary sleuth of all time, Sherlock Holmes is truly in a class of his own. There’s nothing quite like reading Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s original short stories and novels. This collection begins with The Hound of the Baskervilles, which was Holmes first appearance following his presumed death in The Final Problem, and features a host of other favorites.

 

The cover of the book The Scarlet PimpernelThe Scarlet Pimpernel

Baroness Orczy

The Scarlet Pimpernel is one of the most influential adventures of the early twentieth century and a landmark of young adult literature. It set the standard for a host of “masked avenger” stories that would come after it, including the likes of Zorro, The Green Hornet, and Batman, with its tales of an English fop who dons a mask and becomes a swashbuckling hero by night.

 

The cover of the book Where the Red Fern GrowsWhere the Red Fern Grows

Wilson Rawls

If you haven’t had a good cry in a while, it might be time to revisit Where the Red Fern Grows. This powerful children’s novel charts the relationship between a boy and his hounds. However, it’s the precise observation and emotional nuance that sets Where the Red Fern Grows apart from other books.

 

 

The cover of the book Lord of the FliesLord of the Flies

William Golding

What begins as a classic tale of boyhood adventure quickly devolves into a searing examination of cruelty and man’s inherent savagery. Whether viewed as a parable, satire, or political allegory, the power of William Golding’s story of a group of stranded boys struggling to survive and ultimately devolving to their baser instincts is as powerful today as it was on its initial publication, and may offer some unsettling insights into the rampant tribalism so prevalent in today’s political landscape.

‘Ferdinand’ The Peaceful Bull Gets His First Full-Length Film

In the late 1930s, The Story of Ferdinand briefly out sold Gone With the Wind. Penguin Young Readers

Millions of people have read Munro Leaf’s The Story of Ferdinand since it was first published in 1936. Two years later, Disney turned it into it an Oscar-winning short film. Now, the peaceful bull who prefers sniffing flowers to bullfighting is getting an update from 20th Century Fox. And that bull has been on quite a journey to get here.

John Cena, the actor who voices Ferdinand in the new movie, recently read the original story to hundreds of DC public school kids at the Library of Congress. On a table next to him were two early editions of the book from the library’s collection. One was from 1938, the other from 1936.

“We’re going to look at the 1936 edition but not touch it,” Cena told the students. “It’s very delicate and very important, and the people from the Library of Congress were very thorough in saying like, ‘Hey, don’t touch the first book.'”

Precious Ferdinand, even when he grows to be bigger than all the other bulls, still doesn’t want to fight. He just wants to sit under the cork tree and smell flowers. But when he sits on a bumblebee, he goes berserk, puffing and kicking. The matadors watching are ecstatic.

The Story of Ferdinand is one of Time magazine’s “100 Best Children’s Books of All Time.” At one point in the late 1930s, it was outselling Gone With The Wind, which is pretty astonishing for something that was written in less than an hour.

NPR interviewed Munro Leaf’s widow, Margaret, in 1986, ten years after her husband’s death. “The depression was nearly over,” she recalled. “We were very poor.” One Sunday afternoon, she was reading a manuscript for a publisher to make some extra money.

“I was going to get $25 for reading it, so it was very important, and he kept bothering me, trying to interrupt me. So I finally said to him, ‘Get lost, go and amuse yourself. Do something.’ About 35 to 40 minutes later, he said ‘Listen to this,’ and he read me Ferdinand. And there it was in pencil on six sheets of yellow legal pad.”

Leaf gave the story to his friend, illustrator Robert Lawson, who brought it to life with detailed, whimsical, pen and ink drawings. The book took off.

There was the Disney short, Ferdinand merchandise, a balloon at the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving parade, songs and author interviews.

In 1948, Leaf talked to the Chicago radio show, The Hobby Horse Presents. Children on the show asked him what books he read when he was ten and a half.

“Oh gee, I read everything I could get my hands on really,” he said. “Couple of them I know that I read about that time that stand out as vividly today, and that’s Treasure Island was one, and The Wizard Of Oz to me was one of the nicest books I ever found.”

In the late 1930s, The Story of Ferdinand briefly outsoldGone With The Wind.
Penguin Young Readers

The book’s popularity coincided with the Spanish Civil War. In 1937, Leaf told an audience he received letters complaining that “Ferdinand was red propaganda,” others that “it was fascist propaganda.” A woman’s club said it was “unworthy satire of the peace movement.” It was banned in Spain; Hitler burned it.

But Margaret Leaf told NPR that Munro wasn’t trying to be political. “He wasn’t a pacifist, but he was a peaceful man,” she said.

Director Carlos Saldanha is the latest to interpret Ferdinand, in the new feature film adaptation. “I think Ferdinand is this misinterpreted, misjudged character,” he says.

Munro Leaf’s story is only about 800 words, so with the Leaf family’s permission, Saldanha did some fleshing out. The director created new characters, like a goat who lives in Ferdinand’s stall, and he gave voices to the other bulls in Munro Leaf’s story. When they’re young, they make fun of Ferdinand’s refusal to butt heads. And then Ferdinand outgrows them.

“He is trying to show them a different side of life, a different understanding of life,” Saldanha says. “And for him, you don’t really need to fight to be a fighter.”

For the voice of Ferdinand, Saldanha picked someone who fights for a living, a 6’1, 251 pound wrestler with the WWE — John Cena.

“He almost represents, visually, Ferdinand,” Saldanha tells NPR. “Like he’s so big and massive and people interpret him as this massive guy that picks fights and all this stuff but actually he’s not at all. And he’s super gentle.”

Cena confirmed that he’s misjudged for his size. He says it’s a universal feeling. “There isn’t a human walking the earth that [can] say ‘Everybody gets me all the time.’ That’s why I think, another reason the book is timeless. We’re all misunderstood.”

Munro Leaf died in 1976. He wrote other books, but none that had the global success of Ferdinand. His son, Andy Leaf, says his father was amused by all of the different interpretations. “He was very smart that way. He just let people interpret it as they wished.”

In the end, Ferdinand stays true to himself, sitting under his favorite cork tree, smelling the flowers quietly. Ferdinand, the movie version, comes out later this week, but the book will likely be around forever.

Paperback Thrills: 16 Best Thrillers of the Last 100 Years

by Keith Rice, appearing first on Signature Reads

Thrillers

The perfect thriller is a difficult beast – a complex mix of pacing, plotting, and tension all doing a high-wire act to keep readers on the edge of their seats and glued to the page. The thriller is also one of the literary world’s broader genres ranging from intricacies of espionage to the supernatural, tension-filled courtrooms to haunted houses, howcatchems and whodunits to grisly murders. The one thing all of these tales have in common? An unparalleled ability to draw readers in for that can’t-put-it-down reading experience. Looking back over the last 100 or so years, we’ve pulled together our list of sixteen of the most essential thrillers. Find a comfy spot and settle in; once you start one of these great reads, odds are you won’t be able to step away until you hit that final page.

Click for the complete list of thrillers.

Fantastic Voyages – “You can’t depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus.” (Part 3 of 3)

So far we’ve traveled the blue expanse of the sea and the great nothingness of space. What else could there be?

How about time travel?

Yankee

June 19 was not turning out to be a good day for Hank Morgan. He was an intelligent, successful engineer with thousands of people working for him, but, it turns out, not all of them were happy with him. In fact, one went so far as to bash him in the head with a crowbar, and, as if that weren’t enough, Hank woke up in middle-ages England of all places. This was beyond a little perplexing since Hank had been in 19th century Connecticut when he was last conscious.

Hank, who would soon become known as “The Boss,” didn’t have much time to consider this odd change in scenery though, as he was accosted by a lance-wielding knight on horseback soon after his arrival. Things only got more complicated from there.

Without giving too much away; Hank, using his knowledge of engineering and science, quickly rose to a position of power posing as a great magician and spent the next three or four years trying to turn medieval England into an industrialized (and Americanized) utopia. Also, King Arthur and Merlin were involved. All did not go well.

Still, A for effort, Hank.

Want to learn more? Check out A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court by Mark Twain.

Want your shot at building your own utopia? That’s a bit more difficult (we would like to take this opportunity to advise against the “angry employee with crowbar” path to changing history) but it is possible and there is no time like the present. It’s summer, the sun is shining, people are out and about and there are things to do everywhere, so let’s get to it. First things first, find a problem, any problem – small, big, medium-sized, whatever – and fix it, or at least make it better. Then repeat. It’s going to take a while, but then Rome (or an industrialized Camelot with a modern standard of living) wasn’t built in a day.