Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Where I Recommend Classic Literature to My Sons

I came across this letter I wrote to my two oldest sons back in January, 2010. They were required to read classic literature for school, but found most recommendations boring. I thought I'd help.

Dear Brendan and Christopher:

Okay. Here's the skinny. You guys have to read a lot of books and so as a guy who has been where you are, let me recommend the good classics:

First, here are the classics with a lot of action:
  • Beowulf  The hero rips Grendel’s arm off with his bare hands. That's cool. He slays a dragon. That's even cooler.
  • The Iliad and The Odyssey, by Homer. Two separate books. LOTS of monsters. Treachery. Mass battles. Revenge.
  • H. G. Wells wrote The Invisible Man, The Time Machine, The Island of Doctor Moreau, and The War of the Worlds.
  • Jules Verne wrote a pile of stuff, almost all of it good. I cannot tell you how many times I have read Journey to the Center of the Earth.
  • Moby Dick, by Herman Melville is heady stuff, but still good. Dark and moody, but entertaining. Captain Ahab loses a leg to Moby Dick. He tries to get it back. Not a smooth move.
  • Robert Louis Stevenson wrote Treasure Island, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and Kidnapped.
  • Dracula, by Bram Stoker (and it is awesome). You can try reading The Lair of the White Worm, but Stoker was actually screaming insane at the time and it shows. I mean, come on ... wereworms?
  • Edgar Rice Burroughs wrote Tarzan and the Pellucidar and Barsoom series.
  • Have you guys read Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huck Finn yet?
  • Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
  • Earth Abides, by George R. Stewart. Most of the world dies from a plague of super measles. Lots of stuff going on. Very depressing. Great for ruining a good mood, but great story.
  • Animal Farm, by George Orwell. Very short. Very dark. I have read it countless times.
  • Watership Down, by Richard Adams. Rabbits. They are not cute.
  • Ayn Rand wrote some interesting books. Anthem would be the one you would like the most as it is very, very short, but rather mild in the action department. It would probably take you an hour to read it, if that. However, I'm a huge fan of The Fountainhead but it's not an action tale as much as a philosophical novel.
  • The Last Unicorn, by Peter S. Beagle. Christopher would especially like the sarcastic humor.
  • The House on the Borderland, by William Hope Hodgson is about a man in a remote part of 19th century Ireland trying to protect his house from subterranean monsters only to discover it is the house itself that is his enemy. Yes, it is a classic. Genuinely frightening.
  • The Haunting of Hill House, by Shirley Jackson and The Turn of the Screw by Henry James are two of the most intelligent ghost stories I have ever read. They are both classics and both very short and very dark.
  • The Weirdstone of Brisingamen, by Alan Garner and its sequel, The Moon of Gomrath are as close to Dungeons and Dragons as you are going to get in the arena of classical literature. He also wrote Elidor. Be aware that Garner is not a happy man and it shows in his work. There are lots of monsters and lots of suspense and action, and though the good guys win, the cost they pay in emotional scarring makes you want to redefine the word 'win.'
  • The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath, by H. P. Lovecraft is high fantasy. He meant to rewrite it before he died, but even in its rough form, it's a darn good book. You'll learn real quick that Lovecraft liked cats. I have read this about five times.
  • My Side of the Mountain is a 1959 book by Jean Craighead George and is about a kid who runs away from home in New York and becomes sorta like a mountain man. I liked this book growing up. Don't get any ideas.
  • The Peralandra Trilogy, by C. S. Lewis was his try at science fiction. He did a good job literary-wise, but his science was awful. Nonetheless, they are good books, each one being very different in theme and location.
  • Any book by Ray Bradbury. The guy couldn't write a bad book if he tried.
  • The Book of the Dun Cow, by Walter Wangerin, Jr.
  • The Picture of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde. Some people like it, some don't. I liked it.
  • Lord of the Flies, by William Golding. Some boys find themselves stranded on a deserted island and decide to be boys. High body count.
  • Shakespeare is not an easy read, but Hamlet and Macbeth are awesome plays. Ghosts, witches, duels ... great stuff.
  • H. Rider Haggard's King Solomon's Mines.
  • The Art of War, by Sun Tzu.  I read it once a year.
  • Mere Christianity, by C. S. Lewis. Also, The Great Divorce is good.
  • Confessions, by Saint Augustine.
  • The James Herriot series All Creatures Great and Small. I think Mom has them all. It's about an English veterinarian. Stories made me both laugh and cry.
  • How to Win Friends and Influence People, by Dale Carnegie. This was the first self-help book I ever read and it changed my life. Serious.
  • Into Thin Air, by John Krakauer. A true story about a pile of people who decide to climb Mt. Everest. A lot of them die. Horribly. Real nightmare fuel here.
  • A Journal of the Plague Year, by Daniel Defoe. Though fictional, it is a story about a man who endured the Great Plague when it struck London which is not fictional.
  • The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin.
Books not to read:
  • Any book where the author has a Russian last name. Unless you're feeling suicidal.
  • Any book by a Victorian woman except Wuthering Heights which is really quite good if you like dark, passionate stories about revenge and every character is barking mad.
  • Any book recommended by a teacher of literature.
This should keep you guys going for a long time. Enjoy.


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