Thursday, 3 January 2013

Favourite Works of ..12



I'd like to say that I had delved into the literary lake of 2012 and pulled a number of prize-winning reads from its waters.
Alas, with my Masters looming (it started in September) I turned the clock back, not forward and indulged in some Victorian, Shakespearean, Ancient Greek and modern interpretations of those  to pass the hours.

As I cannot comment on 2012 offerings (other than knowing that avoiding a certain trilogy with shades in the title was a good move on my part) I have reverted to books published in 1912 instead. There are some corkers in there which have stood the test of time and been re-interpreted as films, TV series and those which have remained steadfastly in the realm of 'book'.

As 1912 was the year in which the Titanic sank (April 14th) there was a plethora of books on the subject but none of those have reached my top 10. Instead we have some well-known literary names including Tolstoy, Saki, G.K.Chesterton and Khalil Gilbran. Let's not hold back any longer, here is the Top 10 of 1912 (and unlike the BBC's Top of the Pops, in no particular order)...

The Lost World - Arthur Conan Doyle

Many forget that ACD was not a one-trick-Sherlock-Holmes-pony, he wrote science-fiction, tales of terror as well as non-fiction works and poetry. The Lost World is a precursor to Jurassic Park, with Professor Challenger exploring a plateau in South America that remains frozen in time from the days when dinosaurs roamed the earth. This lost world holds great danger with fiendish ape-men to terrifying prehistoric creatures with ACD creating a tale of adventure and daring-do that adults and children alike can enjoy.

Hadji Murad - Leo Tolstoy

I have failed to reach the end of War and Peace but enjoyed Anna Karenina immensely. When given the opportunity to read a short novel by Tolstoy it is not one that should be given up lightly. Hadji Murad is one such offering. It was published posthumously by Harold Bloom (whose name crops up all the time in my Masters studies). Bloom recommended that this fictionalised account of the author's time in the Russian army in Chechen, and the Chechen defector Hadji Murad's tragic consequences, to be added to the Western Canon. The ethnic problems continue today making it a relevant read. I think this is one Tolstoy novel where Bakhtin would have conceded that Tolstoy allowed his characters to have their own voice.

The Broken Wings - Khalil Gibran

I bumped into the name of Gibran when researching Shakespeare and found that Gibran is third in the world of best-selling poets (behind Shakespeare and Lao-Tzu). How I had missed him up until that point is anybody's guess, except that in the 1970s and 1980s British school system a philosophising Lebanese-American poet would not have been high up the curriculum read-list. Broken Wings was originally published in Arabic but I read it as a translated work nearly 100 years later. It is a love story that knocks most Western Canon efforts into a cocked hat. It is touching and spiritual without being overly sentimental.

Tarzan of the Apes - Edgar Rice Burroughs

Who hasn't swung through the playground on an imaginery jungle vine, been swooped into the arms of a loin-clothed muscle-bound lover or played games with a chimp? It can't be just me. Oh, it is. Which just goes to show how out of touch with the true moral reading of the novel I was as a child. It is more than those playground shennanigans it is a sobering look at how 'civilised' our cultures really are and how close we all are to the primal drive within. Tarzan is a hero, albeit an arrogant one. Would he have been better brought up as a 'civilised' hero or as the untamed one he was allowed to be?

Death in Venice - Thomas Mann

Really this book is never better described than by the author himself, "It is the story of the voluptuousness of doom," Mann wrote. "But the problem I had especially in mind was that of the artist's dignity." An aging writer follows his wanderlust to Venice. Instead of finding spiritual development, his is an erotic doom. I'm not a successful (yet), aging (not quite) writer (yes) but I can understand the sentiment of this book.

Simple Italian Cookery - Antonia Isola

I've thrown a non-fiction reading into this literary feast, and what better flavour than Italian? Of course Antonia Isola is a far better sounding name than Mabel Earl McGinnis in my opinion (infinitely better when selling Italian cookery books anyway) and hers was the first Italian cookbook to be published in the US. She had lived in Rome for some years but those American readers were not going to be convinced by an Irish sounding name, hence the publishers renaming of her. It is a recipe book that needs modern interpretation regarding temperatures but it really is Italian cookery as you would have sampled 100 years ago.

Manalive - G.K. Chesterton

I love Chesterton's Father Brown mysteries, this isn't one of them! I could rate this book highly purely on the name of the protagonist, Mr Innocent Smith. Smith comes to lodge at Beacon House, proposes to Mary, plans to elope and inspires others to take a chance at happiness. Then when all is looking good, Smith is found to be wanted on charges of burglary, desertion of a spouse, polygamy, and attempted murder. The fact that Smith almost immediately fires several shots from a revolver at Dr. Herbert Warner who brings the news seems to confirm the worst. This is the first part of the book, the second part is about his trial. I won't say anymore as it will spoil the book. Needless to say it is all about learning to live life to the full.

Robin Hood - Henry Gilbert

Another hero with a moral side. I took on the role of Maid Marian for a term in the school playground until Star Wars was released and I became Princess Leia (we were an inventive lot back then). Whether your heroes bear a bow and arrow or a light sabre you can't help but to fall in love with them. Robin Hood of course stole from the poor and gave to the rich after being forced into a life as an outlaw - poor old Robin of Loxley - whilst battling the Sheriff of Nottingham and making sure that the plots to put John on the throne whilst Richard was involved in the Conquests were foiled. Gripping stuff.

The Unbearable Bassington and Tobermory - Saki

I find Saki (H.H.Munro) to be very amusing, through the use of wit and whimsy, and often laugh outloud which cannot be said for many books I have read. The Unbearable Bassington was Munro's first novel and includes the cynical upper-class young chap that one comes to expect from his short stories. Comus Bassington makes himself unbearable to his mother, who tries to control his life by arranging jobs or marriages.

I've cheated a bit here by choosing one story from the collection of stories by Saki that were published in 1911, Tobermory from The Chronicles of Clovis. Teaching a cat to speak is not a good idea as they do not know the meaning of discretion. Cornelius Appin causes problems when he does just that with Tobermory the cat but he gets his just desserts when trying to teach an elephant to speak. You can't help but laugh.


Reliving these works has got me reaching for my Saki volumes to dust off. Nothing better than a giggle on the sofa in front of a roaring fire with a glass of wine.

Happy reading in 2013!


The book in-situ on a wall in Córdoba

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