Influencers: Part VI – Literature

The surprise concluding piece in a series about my literary influences. Find the rest of the series at these links:

As we have discussed many of the entries on this list to some extent via the previous lists, I decided that it was unnecessary to detail the particular reason why a book made it onto this list. In its stead, I supply a brief description of the novel for those unfamiliar.

And for anyone confused as to why the American writer prefers the non-US English spellings of words, I think this list provides some necessary context.

All book descriptions courtesy of Goodreads unless otherwise noted. Feel free to follow me on Goodreads as well!

1) The Art of War by Sun Tzu

The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.

Twenty-Five Hundred years ago, Sun Tzu wrote this classic book of military strategy based on Chinese warfare and military thought. Since that time, all levels of military have used the teaching on Sun Tzu to warfare and civilization have adapted these teachings for use in politics, business and everyday life. The Art of War is a book which should be used to gain advantage of opponents in the boardroom and battlefield alike.

2) A Modest Proposal and Other Satirical Works by Jonathan Swift

A child will make two dishes at an entertainment for friends; and when the family dines alone, the fore or hind quarter will make a reasonable dish, and seasoned with a little pepper or salt will be very good boiled on the fourth day, especially in winter.

The originality, concentrated power and ‘fierce indignation’ of his satirical writing have earned Jonathan Swift a reputation as the greatest prose satirist in English literature. Gulliver’s Travels is, of course, his world renowned masterpiece in the genre; however, Swift wrote other, shorter works that also offer excellent evidence of his inspired lampoonery. Perhaps the most famous of these is A Modest Proposal, in which he straight-facedly suggests that Ireland could solve its hunger problems by using its children for food.

3) Candide by Voltaire

Fools have a habit of believing that everything written by a famous author is admirable. For my part I read only to please myself and like only what suits my taste.

Candide is the story of a gentle man who, though pummeled and slapped in every direction by fate, clings desperately to the belief that he lives in “the best of all possible worlds.” On the surface a witty, bantering tale, this eighteenth-century classic is actually a savage, satiric thrust at the philosophical optimism that proclaims that all disaster and human suffering is part of a benevolent cosmic plan. Fast, funny, often outrageous, the French philosopher’s immortal narrative takes Candide around the world to discover that — contrary to the teachings of his distinguished tutor Dr. Pangloss — all is not always for the best. Alive with wit, brilliance, and graceful storytelling, Candide has become Voltaire’s most celebrated work.

4) Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen

Know your own happiness. You want nothing but patience- or give it a more fascinating name, call it hope.

Marianne Dashwood wears her heart on her sleeve, and when she falls in love with the dashing but unsuitable John Willoughby she ignores her sister Elinor’s warning that her impulsive behaviour leaves her open to gossip and innuendo. Meanwhile Elinor, always sensitive to social convention, is struggling to conceal her own romantic disappointment, even from those closest to her. Through their parallel experience of love—and its threatened loss—the sisters learn that sense must mix with sensibility if they are to find personal happiness in a society where status and money govern the rules of love.

5) Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.

Since its immediate success in 1813, Pride and Prejudice has remained one of the most popular novels in the English language. Jane Austen called this brilliant work “her own darling child” and its vivacious heroine, Elizabeth Bennet, “as delightful a creature as ever appeared in print.” The romantic clash between the opinionated Elizabeth and her proud beau, Mr. Darcy, is a splendid performance of civilized sparring. And Jane Austen’s radiant wit sparkles as her characters dance a delicate quadrille of flirtation and intrigue, making this book the most superb comedy of manners of Regency England.

6) Emma by Jane Austen

Seldom, very seldom, does complete truth belong to any human disclosure; seldom can it happen that something is not a little disguised or a little mistaken.

Emma Woodhouse is one of Austen’s most captivating and vivid characters. Beautiful, spoilt, vain and irrepressibly witty, Emma organizes the lives of the inhabitants of her sleepy little village and plays matchmaker with devastating effect.

7) Frankenstein by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley

Life, although it may only be an accumulation of anguish, is dear to me, and I will defend it.

Mary Shelley began writing Frankenstein when she was only eighteen. At once a Gothic thriller, a passionate romance, and a cautionary tale about the dangers of science, Frankenstein tells the story of committed science student Victor Frankenstein. Obsessed with discovering the cause of generation and life and bestowing animation upon lifeless matter, Frankenstein assembles a human being from stolen body parts but; upon bringing it to life, he recoils in horror at the creature’s hideousness. Tormented by isolation and loneliness, the once-innocent creature turns to evil and unleashes a campaign of murderous revenge against his creator, Frankenstein.

8) A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

Reflect upon your present blessings — of which every man has many — not on your past misfortunes, of which all men have some.

To bitter, miserly Ebenezer Scrooge, Christmas is just another day. But all that changes when the ghost of his long-dead business partner appears, warning Scrooge to change his ways before it’s too late.

9) The Complete Works of Edgar Allan Poe

Those who dream by day are cognizant of many things which escape those who dream only by night.

Edgar Allan Poe was a master of tales of the mysterious and macabre. From the eerie incantations of “The Raven” to the persistent fright of “The Tell-Tale Heart,” his stories and poems are unforgettable explorations of the darker side of life that still offer lessons and insight into human behavior today, making them an integral component of just about any library. 

10) Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

I am no bird; and no net ensnares me: I am a free human being with an independent will.

Orphaned as a child, Jane has felt an outcast her whole young life. Her courage is tested once again when she arrives at Thornfield Hall, where she has been hired by the brooding, proud Edward Rochester to care for his ward Adèle. Jane finds herself drawn to his troubled yet kind spirit. She falls in love. Hard.

But there is a terrifying secret inside the gloomy, forbidding Thornfield Hall. Is Rochester hiding from Jane? Will Jane be left heartbroken and exiled once again?

11) Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë

She burned too bright for this world.

Many people, generally those who have never read the book, consider Wuthering Heights to be a straightforward, if intense, love story — Romeo and Juliet on the Yorkshire Moors. But this is a mistake. Really the story is one of revenge. It follows the life of Heathcliff, a mysterious gypsy-like person, from childhood (about seven years old) to his death in his late thirties. Heathcliff rises in his adopted family and then is reduced to the status of a servant, running away when the young woman he loves decides to marry another. He returns later, rich and educated, and sets about gaining his revenge on the two families that he believed ruined his life. (Summary courtesy of Wuthering Heights, Co.)

12) A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.

After eighteen years as a political prisoner in the Bastille, the ageing Doctor Manette is finally released and reunited with his daughter in England. There the lives of two very different men, Charles Darnay, an exiled French aristocrat, and Sydney Carton, a disreputable but brilliant English lawyer, become enmeshed through their love for Lucie Manette. From the tranquil roads of London, they are drawn against their will to the vengeful, bloodstained streets of Paris at the height of the Reign of Terror, and they soon fall under the lethal shadow of La Guillotine.

13) Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

I loved her against reason, against promise, against peace, against hope, against happiness, against all discouragement that could be.

In what may be Dickens’s best novel, humble, orphaned Pip is apprenticed to the dirty work of the forge but dares to dream of becoming a gentleman — and one day, under sudden and enigmatic circumstances, he finds himself in possession of “great expectations.” In this gripping tale of crime and guilt, revenge and reward, the compelling characters include Magwitch, the fearful and fearsome convict; Estella, whose beauty is excelled only by her haughtiness; and the embittered Miss Havisham, an eccentric jilted bride.

14) Les Misérables by Victor Hugo

Before him he saw two roads, both equally straight; but he did see two; and that terrified him–he who had never in his life known anything but one straight line. And, bitter anguish, these two roads were contradictory.

Beginning in 1815 and culminating in the 1832 June Rebellion in Paris, the novel follows the lives and interactions of several characters, particularly the struggles of ex-convict Jean Valjean and his experience of redemption. Examining the nature of law and grace, the novel elaborates upon the history of France, the architecture and urban design of Paris, politics, moral philosophy, antimonarchism, justice, religion, and the types and nature of romantic and familial love. Les Misérables has been popularized through numerous adaptations for the stage, television, and film, including a musical and a film adaptation of that musical. The appearance of the novel was highly anticipated and advertised. Critical reactions were diverse, but most of them were negative. Commercially, the work was a great success globally.

15) Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

Curiouser and curiouser!

When Alice sees a white rabbit take a watch out of its waistcoat pocket she decides to follow it, and a sequence of most unusual events is set in motion.

16) Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

I like good strong words that mean something…

Generations of readers young and old, male and female, have fallen in love with the March sisters of Louisa May Alcott’s most popular and enduring novel, Little Women. Here are talented tomboy and author-to-be Jo, tragically frail Beth, beautiful Meg, and romantic, spoiled Amy, united in their devotion to each other and their struggles to survive in New England during the Civil War.

It is no secret that Alcott based Little Women on her own early life. While her father, the freethinking reformer and abolitionist Bronson Alcott, hobnobbed with such eminent male authors as Emerson, Thoreau, and Hawthorne, Louisa supported herself and her sisters with “woman’s work,” including sewing, doing laundry, and acting as a domestic servant. But she soon discovered she could make more money writing. Little Women brought her lasting fame and fortune, and far from being the “girl’s book” her publisher requested, it explores such timeless themes as love and death, war and peace, the conflict between personal ambition and family responsibilities, and the clash of cultures between Europe and America.

17) The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain

The less there is to justify a traditional custom, the harder it is to get rid of it.

An adventure story for children, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer is a fun-filled book that shows life along the Mississippi River in the 1840s. Written by Mark Twain, the book shows masterfully-done satire, racism, childhood, and the importance of loyalty and courage- no matter the cost.

18) The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

The books that the world calls immoral are books that show the world its own shame.

Written in his distinctively dazzling manner, Oscar Wilde’s story of a fashionable young man who sells his soul for eternal youth and beauty is the author’s most popular work. The tale of Dorian Gray’s moral disintegration caused a scandal when it first appeared in 1890, but though Wilde was attacked for the novel’s corrupting influence, he responded that there is, in fact, “a terrible moral in Dorian Gray.” Just a few years later, the book and the aesthetic/moral dilemma it presented became issues in the trials occasioned by Wilde’s homosexual liaisons, which resulted in his imprisonment. Of Dorian Gray’s relationship to autobiography, Wilde noted in a letter, “Basil Hallward is what I think I am: Lord Henry what the world thinks me: Dorian what I would like to be—in other ages, perhaps.

19) The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

When you have eliminated all which is impossible, then whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.

Since his first appearance in 1887, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes has been one of the most beloved fictional characters ever created. Along with his trusty companion John Watson, Holmes investigates each mystery presented to him with the class and ingenuity for which he is known. All are tales that bring to life a Victorian England of horse-drawn cabs, fogs, and the famous lodgings at 221B Baker Street, where Sherlock Holmes earned his undisputed reputation as the greatest fictional detective of all time.

20) Dracula by Bram Stoker

We learn from failure, not from success!

Dracula has been interpreted as an expression of anxiety about eastern Europeans invading western Europe, as represented by a Transylvanian who arrives in London and terrorizes its residents. Others see Stoker’s novel as an exploration of suppressed sexual desire and a reaction to the patriarchal and conservative norms broadly prevalent in Britain during the Victorian period. Notably, it inverts the era’s stereotypical gender roles through the highly sexualized actions of the female vampires. Yet Dracula can also be seen as the evil of temptation personified as he preys on women who must then be protected by the men around them (though those men still fail, particularly in Lucy’s case). The novel’s complexity, especially in its representation of gender, allows numerous, sometimes contradictory, interpretations. (an excerpt from the Brittanica entry on the novel)

21) Peter Pan by Sir James M. Barrie

Fairies have to be one thing or the other, because being so small they unfortunately have room for one feeling only at a time.

Peter Pan by J. M. Barrie Peter pan, the mischievous boy who refuses to grow up, lands in the Darling’s proper middle-class home to look for his shadow. He befriends Wendy, John and Michael and teaches them to fly (with a little help from fairy dust). He and Tinker Bell whisk them off to Never-land where they encounter the Red Indians, the Little Lost Boys, pirates and the dastardly Captain Hook.

22) The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

I was within and without, simultaneously enchanted and repelled by the inexhaustible variety of life.

The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s third book, stands as the supreme achievement of his career. This exemplary novel of the Jazz Age has been acclaimed by generations of readers. The story is of the fabulously wealthy Jay Gatsby and his new love for the beautiful Daisy Buchanan, of lavish parties on Long Island at a time when The New York Times noted “gin was the national drink and sex the national obsession,” it is an exquisitely crafted tale of America in the 1920s.

23) The Stranger by Albert Camus

I may not have been sure about what really did interest me, but I was absolutely sure about what didn’t.

Through the story of an ordinary man unwittingly drawn into a senseless murder on an Algerian beach, Camus explored what he termed “the nakedness of man faced with the absurd.” First published in English in 1946; now in a new translation by Matthew Ward.

24) The Myth of Sisyphus and Other Essays by Albert Camus

Man stands face to face with the irrational. He feels within him his longing for happiness and for reason. The absurd is born of this confrontation between the human need and the unreasonable silence of the world.

One of the most influential works of this century, this is a crucial exposition of existentialist thought. Influenced by works such as Don Juan, and the novels of Kafka, these essays begin with a meditation on suicide: the question of living or not living in an absurd universe devoid of order or meaning. With lyric eloquence, Camus posits a way out of despair, reaffirming the value of personal existence, and the possibility of life lived with dignity and authenticity.

25) Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl

When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.

Psychiatrist Viktor Frankl’s memoir has riveted generations of readers with its descriptions of life in Nazi death camps and its lessons for spiritual survival. Based on his own experience and the stories of his patients, Frankl argues that we cannot avoid suffering but we can choose how to cope with it, find meaning in it, and move forward with renewed purpose. At the heart of his theory, known as logotherapy, is a conviction that the primary human drive is not pleasure but the pursuit of what we find meaningful. Man’s Search for Meaning has become one of the most influential books in America; it continues to inspire us all to find significance in the very act of living.

26) 1984 by George Orwell

Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.

Among the seminal texts of the 20th century, Nineteen Eighty-Four is a rare work that grows more haunting as its futuristic purgatory becomes more real. Published in 1949, the book offers political satirist George Orwell’s nightmarish vision of a totalitarian, bureaucratic world and one poor stiff’s attempt to find individuality. The brilliance of the novel is Orwell’s prescience of modern life—the ubiquity of television, the distortion of the language—and his ability to construct such a thorough version of hell. Required reading for students since it was published, it ranks among the most terrifying novels ever written.

27) Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White

It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer.

Some Pig. Humble. Radiant. These are the words in Charlotte’s Web, high up in Zuckerman’s barn. Charlotte’s spiderweb tells of her feelings for a little pig named Wilbur, who simply wants a friend. They also express the love of a girl named Fern, who saved Wilbur’s life when he was born the runt of his litter.

28) The Shining by Stephen King

Monsters are real. Ghosts are too. They live inside of us, and sometimes, they win.

Jack Torrance’s new job at the Overlook Hotel is the perfect chance for a fresh start. As the off-season caretaker at the atmospheric old hotel, he’ll have plenty of time to spend reconnecting with his family and working on his writing. But as the harsh winter weather sets in, the idyllic location feels ever more remote…and more sinister. And the only one to notice the strange and terrible forces gathering around the Overlook is Danny Torrance, a uniquely gifted five-year-old.

29) The Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkien

All have their worth and each contributes to the worth of the others.

The story of the creation of the world and of the First Age, this is the ancient drama to which the characters in The Lord of the Rings look back and in whose events some of them, such as Elrond and Galadriel, took part.

The three Silmarils were jewels created by Fëanor, most gifted of the Elves. Within them was imprisoned the Light of the Two Trees of Valinor before the Trees themselves were destroyed by Morgoth, the first Dark Lord.

Thereafter, the unsullied Light of Valinor lived on only in the Silmarils, but they were seized by Morgoth and set in his crown, which was guarded in the impenetrable fortress of Angband in the north of Middle-earth.

The Silmarillion is the history of the rebellion of Fëanor and his kindred against the gods, their exile from Valinor and return to Middle-earth, and their war, hopeless despite all their heroism, against the great Enemy.

30) Atonement by Ian McEwan

A person is, among all else, a material thing, easily torn and not easily mended.

Ian McEwan’s symphonic novel of love and war, childhood and class, guilt and forgiveness provides all the satisfaction of a brilliant narrative and the provocation we have come to expect from this master of English prose.

On a hot summer day in 1935, thirteen-year-old Briony Tallis witnesses the flirtation between her older sister, Cecilia, and Robbie Turner, the son of a servant. But Briony’s incomplete grasp of adult motives and her precocious imagination bring about a crime that will change all their lives, a crime whose repercussions Atonement follows through the chaos and carnage of World War II and into the close of the twentieth century.

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