Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Turning the pages and raising the bar

What book published before 1900 left an indelible impression on you? What book published after 2000?

by Dietrich Kalteis

Some of the classics really came to life and left an impression when I was younger, and I remember certain scenes like I just read them. I’ve reread some of these books over the years, and most have stood the test of time and were as enjoyable the second time around. 

I read Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein when I was in my teens and loved this book. It was originally published anonymously in 1818 when she was just twenty. Her name finally appeared on the second edition, published in France in 1823. Maybe some of the story’s deeper meaning was lost on me back then, but it was still a great story.

More on the dark side, I loved the stories by Edgar Allan Poe, like The Murders in the Rue Morgue, first published in 1841. Poe was the first well-known American to try to make a living as a writer, and doing it at a time before international copyright laws. Dracula by Bram Stoker was another horror tale I enjoyed, originally published in 1897.

Then there were the classics that didn’t make me check under the bed. I loved Mark Twain’s tales of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn and life on the Mississippi — still do. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, first published in 1884, is still considered by many as the great American novel. Hemingway wrote, “All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called Huckleberry Finn.”

And I loved adventure tales like James Fenimore Cooper’s The Last of the Mohicans, the second in the Leatherstocking Series, published in 1826. And there was Herman Melville’s Moby Dick from 1851. I still have that image in my head of Ishmael waiting on rescue, floating on a chunk of the ship as he watches the smashed Pequod go down. There were other great seafaring tales from the late 1800s: Captains Courageous by Rudyard Kipling, and Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson. And from under the waves: 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne, released in 1870.

Other classics that left a lasting impression were The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carrol, The Island of Doctor Moreau by H.G. Wells, Ivanhoe by Walter Scott, Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens, The Time Machine by H.G. Wells, The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexander Dumas and King Solomon’s Mines by H. Rider Haggard. All of them are unfading, and all were written before 1900.

There are many unforgettable books published since the millennium. I recently  read Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen, what a terrific book. And a couple from Cormac McCarthy come to mind. The Road is dark, real dark, but it’s also well done and it moves, no wasted words. And No Country for Old Men is nothing short of a modern-day masterpiece. And Elmore Leonard turned out some of his best work, like Pagan Babies, Tishomingo Blues, and Mr. Paradise, writing right up until his death in 2013. And Don Winslow keeps getting better, turning out powerful novels like The Winter of Frankie Machine, Savages and The Force

I’m always awaiting the latest from authors like Carl Hiaasen, Dennis Lehane, James Ellroy, and George Pelacanos. Outside the genre, I loved Patti Smith’s memoir Just Kids, having been a big fan of her music since her album Horses back in the seventies. And there was something special, both fierce and funny, in the writing style of Hunter S. Thompson. And I loved Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman. And there were J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter stories. And one that I’ve just started, but one that shows great promise from its opening pages, is Zadie Smith’s White Teeth.

For me, reading is just the best form of entertainment, and a great book, no matter when it was written, is always sure to inspire and leave an indelible impression.


Paul D. Marks said...

Great selection of books, Dieter. I've ready many, but not all. And some are ripe for rereading. Others for a first time. Thanks for reminding me of the old ones and suggesting some new ones.

ktford said...

Wonderful choices of books read, all worthy of rereading..
Reading is the very best form of entertainment no matter when the book was written, when first read and then again and likely often again.. thank you Dietrich, for reminders of books and the amazing writers you’ve mentioned..