Charles Dickens 1843 Norton Annotated
Edition Michael Hearn 2004 + Audiobook December 2005
The classic Christmas story first written in 1843 when Dickens was still
early in his career it was an instant success that allowed him to break out
of debt. A richly detailed short story that requires annotations to fully
appreciate the mid-19th century terms and venacular. It can be read over
multiple times without tireing in its densely woven and richly described
atmosphere. I plan to read it again next Christmas. The Norton
Annotated is so well done it is hard to imagine anything better, a
great piece of artwork in its own right.
Bram Stoker 1897 Norton Critical
Edition + Audiobook December 2005
"I want to suck your.." actually he doesnt say that, just one of the many
"authentic" Dracula things uncovered by reading the original. Overall the
first 50 pages, Harkers adventures in Transylvania, are first-rate; the
rest is melodramatic and somewhat predictable and boring, although
occasionally pierced with strong parts. In the audio version the actors
voice rendition of Van Helsing is unforgetable.
Dracula is just one of many pot-boiler tales of strange creatures invading
England in the late 19th century, it was not particularly famous in its
time, but became so once it was adapted to film (after Stokers death)
during the 20th century. Its themes of sexuality, gender roles, "alien
invasions", and the dramatic personality and moldable character of the
count himself have made it a 20th classic.
A Magnificent Pulitzer Prize winning novel about the changing fortunes of
social class in America in the period following the end of the Civil War
to the early part of the 20th century, a time of rapid change in America.
It examines three generations of an aristocratic mid-western family the
Ambersons as they cling to the old ways and are "run over" (literally) by
the rise of a new money industrialist class ("riffraff"). Written in 1918
by Tarkington who was born in 1868, just at the end of the Civil War, he
lived and saw in person the changing fashions and changing way of life
brought on by the industrial revolution: from small towns with horses to
modern industrial cities with cars and factories. The Amberson family is a
metaphor for a class of people who get their "come-uppance", as the path
to success changes from heredity to meritocracy during the industrial
revolution and its socially democratising effects in America.
The title is most well known for Orsen Welles 1942 movie adaption, which
is thought to be his masterpiece (better than Citizen Kane), but it
was sadly badly cut-up by the studios and the segments forever lost. The
book today remains better than the movie and is a wonderful
Anna Sewell 1877 Hardback 1927 (gift from
my grandmother 2/14/1976) December 2005
Black Beauty is written from the perspective of a horse, a first
person autobiographical narrative; from Beauty as a foal on an English
farm, to a hard life at work in London, to retirement in the country. Each
short chapter tells a story of an event that contains a lesson about how
to treat horses. Allegorically, the lessons are easily applied to
treating other people as well, the book has been a popular teaching aid in
schools to this day.
This is truely a gift for the impressionable reader, perhaps 7-14 age
range. As an adult it was a heart-warming reminder, food for the soul,
told with beautiful finess and a soft touch. The author Anna Sewell, a
Quaker, holds a special place in my heart, her life story is as touching
as the fictional horse she wrote about. She was an invalid as a young girl
and could not walk, living with her mother (a famous author in her own
right). Anna never married or had children. She only wrote this one book,
writing on scraps of paper passed to her mother while she lay on the
living room couch as her health declined, living just long enough to see
its initial success.
George Tomkyns Chesney
1871 Paperback LuLu "print on demand" reprint of scanned
original (new cover) December 2005
The Battle of Dorking is a short story that first appeared in a
political magazine in 1871 that describes a hypothetical invasion of
England by Germany/Prussia from the viewpoint of a common citizen, not
unlike Red Dawn (1984). It is notable because it was the spark that
set off the fuse of the "Invasion literature" genre (see Wikipedia), from
which eventually came the likes of War of the Worlds and James
Bond. Invasion literature was also highly influential in the years leading
up to the First World War in helping set popular mood and national
policies. The genre continues to this day, post-911, with an "invasion" of
"alien invasion" themed movies, books etc..
The story is well written, enjoyable, believable. It is suprising given
how influential it has been historically that it's not more well known, or
even in print (other than print-on-demand).
J.M. Coetzee 1986 Hardback first edition December
Coetzee is a South African writer who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2003
(not for this book); the first author to win two Booker prizes, and is
known for his novels that look at race issues. This novel is a retelling
of Robinson Crusoe (see below) as an "achetypal postmodern" novel.
It operates on many levels and there have been 100s (1000s?) of academic
journal musings written about it's many allegorical, literary and
philosophical permutations about race, colonialism, feminism, creativity.
I found it to be in such rareified air that it was a blockage to an
enjoyable story. For a didactic novel it is gold. For more in
depth analysis see the Wikipedia entry which I contributed to.
Honore De Balzac 1835 Paperback Norton
Critical Edition translated by Burton Raffel 1998 November 2005
Balzac, a French author, was the father of the literary genre "realism".
As he says in the opening pages "..this drama is not fictional, it's not a
novel: All is true--so true you will be able to recognize
everything that goes into it in your own life". Of course, it is fiction,
Pere Goriot is one of over 90 novels Balzec wrote in a frantic
20-year writing career that detail aspects of social and private life in
France in the 1820s and 1830s, part of an integrated work called The
Human Comedy. Pere Goriot is considered representative of
Balzac at the height of his abilities and is one of his most widely read
Having never (consciously) read a "realist" novel, I knew what to expect
after the first 20 pages were devoted to describing every last detail of a
Parisian bording house. Far from boring, it was like a history or
anthropology book come alive in full color, sound and taste. Balzacs
powers of observation are so penetrating, not just of objects but of the
human heart and mind, that it is no wonder historians have used his work
as a basis for understanding France during that time period. Oscar Wilde
said of Balzac "The Nineteenth-Century, as we know it, is largely an
invention of Balzac's".
There are a number of translations available, I started with the free
Gutenburg from the 19th century and gave up one-quarter through as too
many passages were undecipherable. The Raffel translation, critcially
acclaimed, is pure magic; re-reading the same sections brought forth an
entirely new book, it was amazing to see the difference translators have
on the novel.
Mark Twain 1884 Hardback
The Annotated Huckleberry Finn by Norton Publishing (2001) and
Audiobook read by Patrick Fraley November 2005
Wow, I'm sure glad I chose these two versions of Huck Finn -- first I
listened to the audio which is like listening to a complete stage play
because each characters voice is different and very well done in the
native southern accents -- it adds a whole new dimension to the native
dialects (Twain often gave live readings), Jim's voice in particular is
heart stirring (and much easier than reading). It is one of the best
audiobooks Ive ever heard. Then I re-read the entire book with annotations
from the award-winning Norton edition which contains 100s of drawings and
thousands of notes. The story is deceptively simple, there are a ton of
interesting asides and insights into southern 19th century culture, and
literary history. Plus there is a lengthy introduction with background and
history about the novel. In all, this was a fantastic Huck Finn and Mark
Twain multi-media journey that I cant recommend more highly.
One of the most interesting things was how much influence the Romantic
authors, in particular Sir Walter Scott, had on southern culture and
outlooks. "Southern chivalry" was a consequence, and Mark Twain satarizes
it throughout the novel. It's very much a subversive novel in its time,
and our own. It was also fascinating to learn about life along the
Mississippi which is where some of my family originates--having spent time
there it is easy to visualize how it used to be, the traditions that
remain, and things I never knew about. Not at all a kids book (unlike
Tom Sawyer), this is considered Twains greatest masterpiece.
Richard Wright 1940 Hardback first edition
grey bookclub edition, former owner "Mariom Frank" penciled
in. November 2005
Civil Rights era African American literature. The story of Bigger.
One of the great novels from the era, set the tone for many to
follow, Wright was the father of African American civil rights
literature. "There's a little Bigger in all of us"..
Kenneth Roberts 1937 Hardback first
edition green cloth November 2005
Historic fictional account of "Rogers Rangers" raid on an Indian village
during the French-Indian wars of the 18th century. Adapted to a 1950s
movie of the same name starring Spencer Tracy. Very well written,
unforgettable scenes, highly visual and nearly non-stop action. The novel
is composed of two books of about 350 pages each, I did not read the
second book as it has less stellar reviews and is essentially a long
postscript to the first book. Book 1 is Roberts most well known work and a
classic of American historical fiction. It also covers similar territory
as Last of the Mohicans (which was an American knock-off of
Ivanho) and generally considered Americas first historical novel.
Carlo Lorenzini 1883 Hardback
1946 illus by Fritz Kredel October 2005
Pinocchio! (said with an Italian accent and lots of hand waiving). Who
knew it was a 200 page Italian novel from the 1880's? This was my mothers
childhood copy beautifully illustrated in full-color watercolor and in
like-new condition. The basic story is a dream-like fairy-tale not unlike
Alice in Wonderland or Grimms story. The plot details many
faults a child (large and small) can have and the consequences. The most
famous is the liars long nose (original to the book).
It is considered a "novel of education", a fun childrens story with values
communicated through allegory. The values are very "middle class" as Italy
became a nation-state in the 19th century: do not follow schemes of the
fox and cat to get rich (ie. thieving upper class) but instead work
honestly for your money; get an education so you are not treated like an
ass (mule working class). Like the Decameron (below), it follows
the Florentine, Italy tradition of folk novella's -- like a cross between
the Decameron, Alice in Wonderland and Mother
The original ending was dark, Pinocchio dies for his sins. A later version
became the childrens tale where Pinocchio becomes a real boy. Childrens
literature was new in Carlo's time and this is one of the first. Disney
made a film in 1940 that is considered a masterpiece of animation and is
part of the National Film Registery, although only loosely based on the
novel, the image of "Jiminy Cricket" and "Blue Fairy" became immortal.
Richard Henry Dana
1841 Hardback 1929 green cloth October 2005
This is an American classic. In its day was one of the most widely read,
and important, books ever published. It recounts a young Harvard mans
decision to take time off school and "cut his teeth" aboard a merchant
sailing vessel on a 2-year tour to California between 1834-1836. He lived
"before the mast", meaning his quarters were up forward with the lowly
grunts, where he had no special privileges, the captains and mates quaters
behind the mast. Dana set out to live just like a line sailor, but also
secretly document the poor conditions sailors lived under - he would go on
to become a famous Boston lawyer who fought for sailors rights.
The story is a chronological narrative of the journey around Cape Horn,
arriving in California, years spent collecting and processing cow hides,
journey home again around Cape Horn. Life aboard a sailing vessel was
often extraordinary as a matter of course and so the day to day events are
fascinating. The dangers of the sea and sailing, the relations of the crew
and officers, the unusual ships and people met along the way, the
technical jargon of sailing. It is very well written, vivid and accurate,
a better and more believable description of a seamans life I've never
What makes the book so important is that Danas book is the first to
describe California, very few Americans had ever been to California. He
went from port to port and details a lot about specific places like San
Diego, San Francisco, Monteray, etc.. in the 1830s these "ports", at the
largest, were settlements of a few hundred Mexicans and Indians and utter
wilderness around. San Francisco had one American, and one building. When
gold was found the 49ers went west and Danas book was the bible for
describing what California was like. When Dana returned to San Francisco
in 1856, it was a city of over 100,000 and he was famous, just about
everyone in the city had read it. The descriptions of places just before
the mass migrations began, while it was still wilderness, are fascinating.
The last chapter fast forwards 24 years later as a postscript when Dana
returns to California and describes his own astonishment at the modern
changes, and recounts what happened to all the people he knew along the
Edgar Rice Burroughs (1875-1950) was an America author who lived just
outside of LA who wrote over 60 fantasy novels. His most famous works are
Tarzan and the John Carter of Mars series. He was heavily influenced by
Haggard's King Solomon's Mines and The Land that Time Forgot
was a direct heir in the "Lost World" genre. The Land That Time
Forgot was also very influential in the invention of the screenplay
King Kong, as was Arthur Conan Doyle's The Lost World
Stevenson 1886 Hardback 1941 collected stories October 2005
The story is well-worn, but having never read it, it reads like an
entirely new story because the original is so much different from the many
film adaptions. It's told almost entirely from the perspective of
an outside person, Jekyll's lawyer Utterson.
At the time of writing the book, Stevenson was being treated with the
fungus ergot at a local hospital. Ergot contains substances similar to
LSD, in unpredictable quantities. It is from derivatives of these that LSD
was synthesised, in an effort to produce pure forms of the active
ingredients of ergot (source: Wikipedia)
It has been noted as "one of the best guidebooks of the Victorian times
because of its piercing description of the fundamental dichotomy of the
19th century outward respectability and inward lust" as it had a tendency
for social hypocrisy. Victorian yes, but most people I know lead some kind
of double secret life, some worse than others, the theme is a timeless
observation of social morality.
I'm amazed at Stevensons range of writings, no two works are alike, but
they are all first rate in their class. He is one of my favorite authors
can't wait to read more.
Update: December 2005. Re-read with the Norton Critical
Charlotte Bronte 1847 Hardback 1920s? dark
old leather October 2005
Whew! High emotion. Starts out like a Dickens David Copperfield,
then goes into a Werewolf theme, then a love story, then with 20 pages
left you still have no idea where the story is headed and it all wraps up
happily in the last 5 pages. Charlotte is a master story weaver, but more,
she has an incredible understanding of the human condition. She is of
course a romantic (in all senses), and this is an adult fairy-tale
(repleat with monstors, fairys and happily ever-afters), but along the
way, as in all fairy-tales, we learn some difficult and scary truths about
the realities of life. Should be required reading!
Buccaccio 1352 Hardback 1930 trans. by Richard
Aldington (1892-1962, Death of a Hero), color plates by Jean De
Bosschere (art deco abstract erotica) October 2005
Writen by Boccaccio in 1352 right after the Black Death, it recounts 10
days of storytelling by 10 people in their 20s (7 women and 3 men) who
escape to the Italian countryside to avoid the plauge. The 100 short
stories (10 each day) are all fictional, but many derived from actual
people and events. The stories are not original to Boccaccio but are
versions of popular tales from Italian, French, Spanish, etc... sources.
The stories provide an entertaining window on Medieval life, the Black
Death, and many aspects of Medieval culture.
This has been a very popular work throughout history as its is very bawdy.
The main theme is love in all its variations, from erotica, to dispair, to
tragedy, to high erotica. It is also very funny, and deals with other
themes such as wit, practical jokes and traveling.
The translation is perfect. It's by a "Lost Generation" ex-WWI sodlier
published at the end of the roaring 20s, and includes numerous bawdy
french art-deco color prints. A more appros version I could not imagine
(except one by a Gen X'er of course!).
I read every story except 6 (94 of them), one day per day (I read it over
10 days) and it was gruelling at times, not all are great (none are bad),
but some are fantastic. A list of my favorites: Intro, II.4, II.5, II.7,
II.8, II.9, II.10, III.1, III.3, III.4, III.6, III.10, IV.intro, IV.1,
IV.5, IV.7, V.7, V.10, VI.7, VII.2, VII.5, VII.7, VII.9, VIII.intro, IX.1,
IX.2, IX.3, IX.6, IX.10, conclusion.
A first-person story by a (fictional) autistic 15-yearold English working
class boy who finds a neighbors dog killed and discovers the mystery
behind it, along the way revealing how an autistic mind thinks.
This is the only book I could listen to while reading another book at the
same time. The narration was brilliant (same narrator as Life of
Pi) but the book was boring. I never was sold on the idea this was
really how autistic people think, the veil of the premise was in the way.
Once Haddon started on an idea he would stick with it for so long it was
easy enough to tune out and do somthing else (like read another book), for
example the part in the train station took forever to get the idea across
of information overload. Lots of tangents throughout that were irrelevant
to the plot.
It's not a bad book and can understand why its popular. In the end its a
feel good, with some allegorical messages, and reveals the private inner
life of the mentally handicap which is an interesting literary genre. It
reminds me of Jane Eyre (1847) which Im reading now, which revealed
the private inner life and thoughts of a poor servant girl, a new idea for
the time which otherwise only looked a the rich and famous, outward deeds
versus inward thoughts. Perhaps Curious will herald a new genre for
the handicap, but I look forward to the literary masterpiece written by an
Antoine de Saint-Exupery 1942 Hardback
1991 photo-reporduction of first-edition October 2005
Saint Ex's account of flying recon in the opening days of the German
invasion of France. He recounts highlites of the time by condensing it
into a single account of a flight over the enemy town of Arras. I found it
to be a good account of what its like to be on the edge of death,
depressing and morose, as the subject requires, yet beautiful and
As usual Saint Ex fills the pages with poetic and original descriptions
and many metaphors. This is about "travel literature":
There is a cheap literature that speaks to us of the need to
escape. It is true that when we travel we are in search of distance. But
distance is not to be found. It melts away. And escape has never led
anyone anywhere. The moment a man finds he must play the races, go to the
Arctic, or make war in order to feel himself alive, that man has begun to
spin the strands that bind him to other men and to the world. But what
wretched strands! A civilization that is really strong fills man to the
brim, though he never stir. What are we worth when motionless, is the
question. -pg. 113
about fear and death:
Man does not die. Man imagines that it is death that he fears;
but what he fears is the unforseen, the explosion. What man fears is
himself, not death. There is no death when you meet death. When the body
sinks into death, the essence of man is revealed. Man is a knot, a web, a
mesh into which relationships are tied. Only those relationships matter.
The body is an old crock that nobody will miss. I have never known a man
to think of himself when dying. Never. -pg.183
on the sense of leisure:
And point by point I recognized the extraordinary sensation
that now and then accompanies the imminence of death-a feeling of
unexpected leisure..The plane was burning, the fighters were after it and
spattering it with bullets..but he had felt no desire of any kind. He had
felt nothing. He had time on his hands. He was floating in a sort of
infinite leisure. -pg.68
Saint Ex wrote Flight to Arras (along with Little
Prince) while in the USA for 2 years, right after the events of the
book, he then returned
to fly more missions in the later days of the war. Prophetically to the
tone of the book, he died
while on a recon mission off the coast of France, returning home from his
Robert Louis Stevenson 1886 Audiobook +
.. October 2005
Stevensons historical fiction adventure story about 18th century Scottish
history. He came up with the idea after reading Twains The Adventures
of Huckleberry Finn. I didnt know this while reading it, but was
struck by the "dueling bagpipes" scene as somthing out of
Deliverence, but now the real source is better explained!
I listened to this one on Audio without a hardback available and missed
out on the map which is really key, its a very visual book, following
the progression of the journey by map adds a lot of depth. Also wish I had
better 18th century British history background.
Newby's film is based on the true story of Christine Carpenter, who in the
14th century was renounced as dead to the living world by the church, and
enclosed as an anchoress for the rest of her life in the wall of a village
church in Shere in Surray. The inspiration for the film, according to
screenwriter Judith Stanely-Smith, was a letter concerning Christine
written by the Bishop of Winchester in 1324.
In the film Christine, a 14-year old illiterate peasant girl, finds
herself drawn to a statue of the Virgin Mary. Meanwhile the village priest
and "reeve" (Sheriff) are increasingly drawn to the beautiful Christine.
The reeve proposed marriage to the girl, but Christine refuses the offer
to the dismay of her mother, Pauline. Instead at the urging of a priest
Christine becomes an anchoress so she can live next to the statue she so
adores (and escape the possibility of marriage to the reeve). Her mother
Pauline does not like her decision and plots against the priest. When
Pauline, the village doctor and midwife, delivers the illegitimate
stillborn child of the priests lover, the priest begins to plot against
her. He accuses her of witchcraft and Pauline is killed by a mob.
Meanwhile Christine has escaped from her cell through a tunnel and flees
with her lover to Winchester to seek release from her vows from the Bishop
there. The Bishop refuses and she "escapes" to run away with her love
(although the ending scene is ambiguous if she really found freedom or a
new kind of prison).
Historically, the film is very accurate and instructive to understanding
on an emotional and personal level the idea of Christian sexual
renunciation and asceticism in the Middle Ages. The film also portrays
well the interactions between secular and ecclesiastical powers over the
lives of peasants. The reeves French-like accent is very accurate as a
Norman lord (although the bald head is questionable). The Bishops
Mediteranian accent and Latin language is also accurate. This film will
appeal to anyone with an interest in the Middle Ages and history.
Daniel Defoe 1719 Norton Critical
Edition 1994 paperback September 2005
Robinson Crusoe is usually considered to be the first English
novel. According to the Guiness Book of World Records, it is the worlds
most read book, second only to the Bible, having been translated into over
700 languages. Add myself to the list!
There are a lot of ways to approach it: Mythologically,
Historically, Religious, Allegorically. Defoe himself saw it as an
allegory for his own life, but he was also a Puritan moralist and the book
follows the classic Christian narrative of sin->fall->redemption->rebirth.
But beyond any moralizing (or "Protestent guide book") it is a good story
and fictional travel adventure.
What struck me most was its image of the 17th century (English) European
colonist in relation to the world. In particular after reading Guns,
Germs and Steel, Crusoe was able to single-handily "conquer" his
environment and men around him through these advantages (which Defoe
predictablly attributes to divine providence than random fate). It is a
lesson that Europeans through the age of Discovery and Colonization would
return to again and again and Crusoe was a Mythological hero in that
global conquest. The books impact on the history of colonization probably
can not be over estimated. James Joyce (who called it one of his favorite
books and the English Ulysses) said of Crusoe: "He is the true
prototype of the British colonist. The whole Anglo-Saxon spirit is in
Crusoe: the manly independence, the unconscious cruelty, the persistence,
the slow yet efficient intelligence, the sexual apathy, the calculating
Its also just a great story, and while it is most well known for the
island castaway episode, there is also a beginning section off the coast
of Africa and closeing section in the mountains of Spain that I had never
heard before. The spelling and grammer are early 18th century but not at
all unreadable and actually enhance the period feel, this book ages well.
I recommend, as always, the excellent Norton editions of any classic text
for additional criticism and annotations.
Mark Twain 1872 2-volume early
1900's hardback September 2005
Roughing It is semi-non-fiction travel literature about Mark Twains
six-years "out west" from 1861-1867 in his late 20s and early 30s
prospecting for gold and finding his way in life to become a writer. It
was influential in the mythical creation of the Old West.
It is a mixed bag of stories and anecdotes, but most importantly it is
one of the most influential books of early American travel literature
genre and captured the imagination of the "Old West". Much of it seems
cliche now, but it was in part Twain who helped invent and popularize it.
It is an authentic primary source that captures the feel and
flavour of its time, including a few tall tales. Having traveled out west
myself on a number of explorative mis-adventures I could really visualize
and understand Twains sense of awe and wonderment, in fact its part of the
American psyche, a part of me, and this book was a key in that mythical
Gutenberg has a HTML version online which includes scans of the lithograph
pictures from the original which is recommended since many books omit the
pictures, which are otherwise numerous and good. It was originally
released on a subscription-basis. Twain had difficulties completeing it
with deaths in the family and writers block (it was his 3rd book and by
far his longest at 600 pages). It didnt sell well at first, his earlier
book Innocents Abroad did much better, which takes place after the
Roughing period, but was written before, and is also a travel narrative,
about a trip to Europe and Asia Minor.
Charles Dickens 1850 Norton
Critical Edition paperback 1990 September 2005
This is a first-person life-story of David Copperfield ("DC") that draws
large on Dickens ("CD") own life. It was his "favourite child" and hailed
as his best work by Tolstoy and Virginia Woolf. It includes a cast of over
50 characters. For its time it was one of the greatest works, and still
To enjoy Dickens you have to let go, sit back, and enjoy the ride and not
worry about the destination. Because although you can see the destination
early on, like a mountain far off in the distance, the road to get there
is entirely unpredictable and the distances traveled are deceiving to the
minds eye. The trick is to enjoy the here and now, wherever the story
happens to be, because Dickens will never follow the predictable path, and
can leave one exhasburated waiting for a plot closure. Consider a Dickens
journey never-ending and you can just relax and enjoy the ride.
The primary theme of the novel is how Copperfield learns to have a
disciplined heart and morals. In other words, he grows up and becomes a
man. This is seen throughout all the relationships in the book: love,
business, friendship -- the mistakes of an "undisciplined heart". He
learns self control to do the right thing even if his initial impulse is
something else (Dora versus Agnus). He learns confidence in his dealings
with the world (his innocent days of being ripped off all the time such as
by waiters and cab drivers "my first fall"). He learns respect through the
mistakes of others such as Steerforth. Self control, Confidence and
Respect are all hallmarks of a grown man and we see Copperfield develop a
sense of these, and the misfortunes that happen otherwise, to himself and
those around him.
A.F. Tschiffely 1933 First
edition hardback September 2005
A Swiss-Argentinian by the name of Tschiffely travels by horseback across South
and Central and North America 3 years from Buenos Aires to Washington DC. He was
very famous in his time, meeting with President Coolidge, articles and speeches in
National Geographic, newspapers, etc.. every country along his path gave him
golden receptions. I'm sure most peoples grandparents remember him (although he is
probably mostly forgotten today!). Parts of this book were printed in National
Geographic Magazine (in the 1930s).
Written in a straight forward but very readable and enjoyable style, it is one
adventure after the next, each page is literally a new encounter. It can be an
exhausting read at times. One admires Tschiffely's strength and character. As well
as his affection, bond and care for his horses and all living creatures (this is
also a horse lovers tale).
Latin America in the 1930s was a time when cars, electricity, TV's and
radio, phones, etc.. existed only in isolated pockets, when Spanish
conquistador history still lay heavy over the land. Brilliant first person
encounters and observations of the individuals and cultures that history
books would not as well convey, and that are now lost to modernity. It is
also interesting how nearly impossible it was to travel north/south in
Latin America even just 70 years ago due to geography (by comparison
travel by horse east-west across America would be a less interesting story
being done so often).
Overall a very good book. At times things seems to repeat (another town,
another fiesta) and the authors ability to keep things new escapes him
toward the end (perhaps due to his malaria) so it starts to feel like a
journal, but that is a minor quibble for a classic travel adventure
524AD P.G.Walsh trans, Oxford World Classics September 2005
Written in the 6th century by a condemned man about to die for a crime he
did not commit, this treatise is one of the most influential works in
western literature. I could fill a page on all the famous people it has
influenced, how up until the 19th century any learned man was familar with
it, how the word "Boethian" is part of our language. But more than that,
this is just simply a good book. It is essentially a philosophical piece
(or even perhaps a self help book) on what it means to live a good life,
what happiness is and how to achieve it. The lessons are as deep and
meaningful today as they were 1,500 years ago.
I highly recommend the Oxford edition trans. by Walsh as it contains
extensive notes and helpful information that otherwise would make this a
difficult work to understand. In particular Book 1-3 are the best. If ever
you are in a difficult period in life: lost your fortune, wife left you
and took the kids, your parents die, health problem, etc.. this is truely
a "Consolation" you will find comfort in. It has had such influence on
western culture much of what he says may seem obvious or well worn, but it
was through Boethius that these ideas first arose, and they are fresh and
new. My copy is now well underlined and dog eared and I plan to return to
it throughout the rest of my life.
Antoine De Saint Exupery
1939 Hardback first edition September 2005
Exupery, a French author, who also wrote The Little Prince, died in
1943 when his plane was shot down during the war on his last mission. This
book recounts his adventures and experiences flying between the periods
1926 and 1933. It has been called the greatest literature about flying
ever written. Outdoor Magazine ranks it #1 in its top 25 all-time Outdoor
Literature list, a similar list by National Geographic ranks it #3 (out of
His writing is on par with Hemingway or any other great of the time. His
use of metaphors and contrasts are brilliantly poetic. His insights into
the condition of man are deep and sensitive. Most good books have a few
profound insights, this book has them on a per-page basis.
My favorite scene was when he landed deep in the Sahara on a flat
table-top where no man had ever been and walked around at night picking up
meteorite stones under the stars like "rain drops reflected on a mirror".
There are also a number of harrowing edge-of-the-seat stories about
near-death escapes that rank up there with any great adventure literature
(any one of which could be a book in its self). Some great insights on the
Islamic/Arab mindset and views on Europeans, as well as life in the
desert. The overall message is live life to the fullest potential, death
is always near but not to be feared, strive to be the best you can be.
Godric is historical fiction novel about a real-life 12th century
English saint who lived half his life a rouge, and the second half a
hermit. He was famous in his day and Buechner uses fiction as a vehicle to
flesh out the details of his fascinating life, which crossed paths with
much Medieval history.
What makes it curious is Buechner writes the novel as if it were the
thoughts of Godric recanting his life as he nears death. The sentence
structure, choice of words, the very thought process, is both alien but
reconizable. Buechner does a good job of imagining the inner life and
perspective of a medieval mind. It's as if listening to an actor at a
Renaissance Festival tell a story in Old English (although its not Old
English its easy to read).
Langewiesch is an American author who writes for the Atlantic
Monthly magazine. This is travel literature about a solo trip through
Algeria, Niger and and Mali in the 1990s by way of public transportation,
crossing the Sahara. As with all great travel/adventure books it
is more than just exciting stories, it offers insights into life,
how we live it, the choices we make. This is the first
modern/recent travel/adventure book Ive read, most being from the
Golden Age pre-1970s, look forward to finding more moderns of this
quality, even if the world is not as Romantic and wild.
Slocum 1900 Audiobook + 1937 hardback w/maps and drawings August
Slocum was the first person to sail around the world alone. It took him 3
years, around 1897, in a 37 foot sloop. There was a time not long ago the
notion seemed impossible, when such an expedition would require dozens of
crew and the monetary backing of kings and states. When it was thought a
man would go mad with loneliness, or sail off the edge of the world (a
common belief even in the 19th century). Slocum set the trend of the 20th
century explorer, but did it in a very 19th century manner.
This is one of the all-time travel/adventure classics. It has probably
inspired more travelers, and would-be travelers, than any other book of
its type, since it was the first. Slocums old sea salt romanticism makes
this truely a joy to read. It remains to this day a best seller and is as
fully enjoyable today as when it was written.
Wilfred Thesiger 1959, ex-library
first edition hardback w/ pull-out map and bw pictures August
Thesiger was one of the last British "gentleman explorers" and spent a
lifetime traveling the globe, but found no other place as beautiful as
Arabia. He traveled through the desert within a desert, the Empty Quarter
of southern Saudia Arabia, living with, and as, the Beduin nomads for 5
years and 10s of thousands of miles by camel. He was the first European to
see and map many parts of the desert. Incredible insights into Arabian
culture and mindset. I suspect this book was the inspiration for Frank
Herberts "Dune", it is very other-worldy, yet real and gripping. A short
book at 300 pages covering 5 years of high adventure it can be an
exhausting read. It is considered an all-time classic of the travel
As Thesiger says the most interesting part of his journey was not the
trip, but the circumstances. Since "infidals" are not allowed in many
parts of "The Sands" he was constantly under-cover, on the run, fighting
raiders, jailed, sailing on ships maned by African slaves, dealing with
quicksands, starvation, wolves, cold, thirst, etc.. he understates much of
it, but the number of close calls and near-death encounters and sheer
luck are amazing. As well the Arab culture, mindset and way of life is
revealed here in a way I have never read or seen before.
A common theme throughout is how modern industrial culture is destroying
the nomadic way of life, how Thesiger saw in those 5 years the first
oil exploration companies changing the way of life for people who have
not changed in 7000 years or more. Thesiger documented a culture and
society at the cusp of its destruction, that no longer exists.
Although the book was written in 1959, much of the current world events
involving radical Islam can be better understood by understanding
where the Arabian, and Muslim, culture used to be not so long ago.
Phileas Fogg makes a bet he can travel around the world in 80 days and
does so by steamer, rail, elephant and sled. Well crafted, well written
and entertaining. Worth reading if for no other reason to know the
original story and characters given how many derevitive works it has
spawned. Wikipedia has a good summary.
A hot air ballon figures on many covers, but no where in the book does the
journey make use of a hot air ballon. Jules Verne's first book was
called Five Weeks in a Balloon, thus perhaps the
H. Rider Haggard 1885,
Readers Digest 1994 hardback w/ illustrations by Walter Paget. August
This was the first book to fictionalize the exploration of Africa and had
tremendous influence on the Victorian popular perception of the Dark
Continent which in 1885 was largey unexplored. The idea of a fabled city
filled with diamonds was entirely believable given other recent
discoveries around the world at the time. It is amazingly non-racist and
even supportive of black heroes and cross-racial love interests, which for
the time and long after was very progressive. Allan Quatermine, the
fictional hero of the book, would continue on in a series of by Haggard
and was the achetype model of Speilberg's Indiana Jones. It was also the
first "Lost World" scifi/fantasy novel, later traditions included books by
Edgar Rice Burrough's "Land that Time Forgot", Arthur Doyle's "The Lost
World", Edgar Wallace's "King Kong" and Kipling's "The Man Who Would Be
David Howarth 1955, stained and
worn first edition hardback August 2005
The true story of an incredible WWII survival story in the Norwegien
Arctic. On-par with The Long Walk and Shakelton. Well designed
book, lots of pictures and maps a multi-media experience and good
writing makes this book impossible to put down, non-stop action.
Hemingway's first novel, inspired by The Great Gatsby, follows the
lives of young Americans living in Paris who travel to Spain to see the
running of the bulls (of which this book first made aware to Americans).
Lot's of drinking. Lots of sexual tension. But more than anything, lots of
drinking and getting "tight" (drunk). Hemingway titled it "!Fiesta!" and
his publishers changed to the unfortanate "Sun" which is a passage from
the Bible (!). Fiesta makes a lot more sense, this is a party book about
the joys and dangers of excess, not unlike the GenX mantra Less Than
The writing and descriptions are superb. Hemingway says so much in so few
words. It's a simple story about nothing, entirely believable and based on
actual people and experiences, it gives a glimpse into the lifestyle of
20-somthings of that era that became known as the "Lost Generation". Bar
hopping, girlfriend swapping.. kinda reminds me of college life, but with
a lot more class (and money) and a lot more drinking (if that's possible).
How much we have gained, and what we have lost. Short easy read.
Charles Dickens 1839 Norton
Critical Edition paperback (Fred Kaplan, ed., 1993) + Movied 1948 DVD.
This is a story everyone has heard of, or seen the play or the movie, or
know some famous lines, but few have taken the time to read. So I dove
into my first Dickens novel. It is one of his earliest novels, written
around 1830 when he was in his 20s.
The opening chapters are excellent, which includes the famous "Please sir,
may I have some more". Essentially the book was intended as a social
criticism of the "Poor Law" of 1835 which forced the working or
non-working poor who needed public assistance into "workhouses".
He started it as a series of short stories in a weekly paper, thus it has
cliff hangers like a TV show, and mid-way he endevoured to make it a
novel. Plot wise, the story is at times overly complicated, but it is an
easy page turner. The plot is unbelievable, it relies heavily on
extra-ordinary circumstances and conincidences, not unlike a TV show. The
characters and descriptions of London are the strong points.
Dickens believed that everyone was born either good or evil and could not
change their nature--because Oliver is born good, he is uncorruptable--the
plot revolves around Olivers attempted corruption by a bevy of dastardly
characters. Thus, Oliver is essentially a flat uninteresting character,
while all the interesting fully fleshed out characters are the evil ones
who have free reign to do whatever they wished. Who can forget the Artful
Dodger? Fagin the Jew?
England during this time was undergoing the early phases of the Industrial
Revolution as well as the effects of the Enclosure Acts which meant London
was being flooded with poor peasants from the countryside ("greens") who
had no way to earn a living from the land anymore which had been "closed
off" to them. This excess rural population was essentially exterminated
through the severe laws, such as the Poor Law, and living conditions of
London (many die in the book of "sickness"), and the novel portrays the
history at a grassroots personal level. Many of these folks naturally
turned to crime and Dickens shows how it was sometimes (not always) a
result of circumbstances and not innate moral defect.
Most of the book takes place in the black holes of Londons seedy side of
thieves, prostitutes and murderers. The dialouge and cockney accents are
priceless. The descriptions of places are so good clearly Dickens went
there himself which makes the book historical fiction and worthy of study
on the account of time travel and feel for a place and time.
I read the book with a Norton Critical Edition by sheer luck, it contains
excellent footnotes on English terminology that would have otherwise been
lost and made it a much richer experience.
Movie Wow. Made in 1948 it follows the book exactly including
dialouge. It is abridged of course, but thats a good thing since Dickens
added so much fluff the screenplay makes it a more gripping story by
keeping to the essentials. The costumes and set props really bring to life
London. Best of all is Robert Newton who plays Billy Sykes.. Newton is of
course beady eyed Long John Silver from Disneys movie adaption, and the
International Talk Like A Pirate Day mascot. He is one of my favorite
actors (and should be yours too). Get it, rent it, buy it.. but read the
book first so you'll appreciate it even more.
A new discreet field of history called "Big History" that examines history
from that start of time through to the present, looking for common themes,
using a multi-disciplinary approach, not limited to just the written
record. Mammoth tomb, well illustrated, worth the price for the
The best thing this book does is provide is a sense of scale and time. It
shows where the major fauilt lines are in human development and history.
Normally its hard to understand the difference between 60,000 years versus
200,000 years -- this will give a sense of categorizing time into periods
going all the way back to the big bang. It gives defineing characteristics
of each period, and what made them different from the periods before and
after. These are broad brushstrokes, but very very helpful to
comprehending the complexity of so much time and space.
Robert Louis Stevenson 1883,
Audiobook + 1925 hardback edition illustrated by Frank Godwin July
Treasure Island is enhanced as an audiobook. The sound of the
various pirate voices would be difficult in my own imagination. As well,
the color paintings by Frank Godwin displayed an old 1925 edition of the
book (with pirate map!) I've had since childhood made it all the more
It is part of a tradition of "boys stories" that started with Oliver
Twist (I think). They follow the same theme: boy becomes separated
from wholesome family, boy falls in with hard crowd, boy redeems self
through much adventure and comes around to the mainstream again, but is
left haunted by his memories.
It had elements that reminded me of Lord of the Rings. I suspect
LOTR is part of the same literary tradition, at least on some level, since
JRR would have grown up and been influenced by these stories.
Erich Remarque 1964, nicely
mangled first edition printed in China that smells of perfume July
The Night in Lisbon is a short book, and I think Remarque's last
novel. It is the story of German refugees fleeing from the invading Nazis
in the opening months of WWII. It's a twist on the refugee story since
they are Germans, but Remarque was one himself (a German refugee) during
the war (although this book is purely fictional). I decided to read it
after reading Front.
The book is a story within a story. A refugee over coffee at a cafe begins
to tell another refugee his story how he ended up there. The story
involves romance and adventure, violence and terror, as Europe continues
to slid into the nightmare of WWII. It is a very realistic account of
refugee life on a personal level.
1928, Audiobook + beautifully stained and edge-worn first edition
hardcover July 2005
The ultimate Lost Generation foundation novel.
Guns, Germs and Steel
Jared Diamond 1997
paperback + PBS
Documentary 2005 DVD July 2005
Asks the question "Why did Europeans conquer the world? Why didn't the
Aztecs conquer Europe?" Ultimate answer is geography allowed a head start
in certain areas of the world for the development of Guns, Germs and Steel
that would allow some cultures to dominate others. Implies that humans are
equal and there is no innate difference between an Englishman and a
jungleman. Won a Pulitzer. Book is best, PBS show is nice summary and
Update: June 2006. Purchased the 2003 hardback edition with about
45 new pages about Japan and new findings since the initial release.
It's only been a year since i read it but seems a lot longer, already
want to re-read.
Gontran De Poncins 1939, Audiobook +
nicely aged first edition hardback with pictures. June 2005
A classic of travel and anthropological literature. French aristocratic
Count retires from the cocktail circuit and becomes a man of worldly
travel and goes to live with the Inuit for 15 months in the Canadian
Artic, some who have never seen a "Kabloona" (white man) before.
Poncins explores Inuit culture and the Inuit world view, leaving the
reader with a deeper understanding of such things as wife-swapping, living
in an igloo at 40 degrees below zero, why and how Inuit have feasts
lasting 20 hours at a stretch, their concepts of time and family life,
their perspectives on Europeans and European food and gear, the Inuit
diet, hunting techniques, wildlife, nomadic life, dogs, weather, clothing,
communal sharing of goods and notions of private property.
Poncins was not a scientist and did not study the Inuit from a scientific
perspective. Rather, he provides his own stylized personal points of view
and descriptions of Inuit life. In the book, he is initially disparaging
of the Inuit way of life, seeing it as primitive and often using the
description "cave man". Indeed, a clear theme of racial superiority,
described in terms of innate intelligence and physical appearances, and
cultural superiority in terms of morals and ethics pervades the first part
of his work. As the book progresses and his hardships in the harsh Arctic
environment take their toll (at one point Poncins runs 1400 miles behind a
dogsled), he begins to find a new appreciation for the Inuit way of life,
for their intelligence and resourcefulness, and experiences to a spiritual
awakening; ultimately reaching a point where he discovers that he himself
has become so well adapted to the Inuit way of life that he is no longer a
"Kabloona" and has become one of them.
2001, Audiobook + hardback first edition June 2005
Story of William Smith, the early 19th English geographer who created the
first geological map (which was of England). He basically created the
science of modern geography.
I read this only because I like Winchester. It turns out the book was
pretty dull, unless you like geography or know the English countryside,
William Smith as a person is a fairly boring subject, although Wichester
does an admirable job of trying to spice it up, it never clicked.
Simon Winchester 2003
first edition hardback + Audiobook June 2005
"The story of the Oxford English Dictionary" is the subtitle. Not unlike
Wikipedia, the OED was assembled by mostly unpaid volunteers over the
course of many generations during the 19th and early 20th centuries. It is
perhaps the most impressive reference work ever made. I was enthralled and
captivated. Amazing story. Easy read, Winchesters second best book. Lots
of lessons here for collaborative group projects.
1998 first edition hardback + Audiobook May 2005
Amazingly entertaining true story of an American Civil War vet who is
imprisoned in an English sanitorium for killing someone. He then goes on
to help with the OED project becoming one of its key contributors by
postal mail without anyone realizing he is actually insane. The story of
madness and genius. Simon Winchesters best book IMO, well balanced,
entertaining and the story is unforgettable (should be a movie, may be
yet, it's a best seller). If you like this, go on to read the fuller
account of the OED in The Meaning of Everything
Mary Shelley 1816, Audiobook +
The Essential Frankenstein by Leonard Wolf 2004 + Hallmark movie
on DVD 2004 May 2005
Much different from screen adaptions. It was written by an 19 year-old
girl and spawned a whole new genre. If you have not read the book, you
don't know Frankenstein. The 2004 Hallmark made-for-TV adaption is the
most faithful screen adaption to Shelleys story. The Leonard Wolf printed
edition is probably best as he uses an older shorter version that doesnt
have fluff Mary added later.
Khaled Hosseini 2003, Audiobook
+ paperback edition May 2005
Emotionally powerful novel by an Afghan author living in SF. Story of a
boy who lives through the wars in Afghanistan. Deeply revealing of Afghan
culture and thinking and history. Almost brought me to tears a few times,
this is a very powerful novel on many levels. #1 NYT Bestseller.
Audiobook is read by the author and enhances the experience.
Collection of seven short non-fiction essays by humour author Wallace who
also write for Esquire and others. Deadpan cynical combined with
witty observations - a brilliant mix of highbrow and lowbrow. Commentary
on the cruise ship industry is the title piece and best of the bunch. Have
you ever made jokes of feeling like a cow going to feed? That's the
general jist here, but with a lot more originality, depth and wit. Wallace
has a strong following.
"A History of the Mediterranean World in the Later 13th Century". Runciman
is a historian of the old school. Straight chronological narrative, no
post-modern analysis. Very refreshing and entertaining. After reading I
had a better sense of the scale of time and distance and travel and
communications in the lives of Medieval people. Also how quickly fortunes
changed and how life was both eternal and fleeting at the same time.
Mark Kurlansky 2002,
Audiobook + first edition harback March 2005
This by the author of Cod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the
World which won awards and is a classic. Salt attempts to do the same
for the history of Salt, looking at world history along thematic lines.
The problem is, the book is a long series of facts with no encompassing
theme. With Cod the theme was mans huberious over nature and the
consequences. With Salt, the theme is mundane: man charges money for
somthing that is otherwise so abundant, it can be had for free. I learned
a lot about salt and its importance in history, but the book is too long
and banal. There is no story to tie it together.
Dante's Inferno. An encyclopedia of 14th century knowledge. One could
spend a lifetime exploring Divine Comedy, in fact there is a 12+
volme encyclopedia dedicated to it. My first reading was to enjoy the
story, many nuances were missed along the way. Powerful images and mythos
remain highly influential in western culture.