Literature recommendations and commentaries for a zealous reader, from my canon. In continuing development.
The only inclusion heuristic I followed was this: would I reread the work? If not, I’d rather not mention it, be it a renowned classic or an accidental discovery, and independent of how moving the initial experience felt.
The links proceed to a more detailed commentary, all within the site, nothing external.
Others: Tale of Two Cities, Great Expectations, Oliver Twist.
Herman Melville - Moby Dick
Full of symbolism and metaphors. Half a seafaring adventure tale, half a nearly encyclopedic treatise to waling, wale anatomy, ship construction, and mariner lifestyle. This epic I gradually consumed over a number of months, in short intervals of much extremely focused attention. Demands a reread.
Tolstoy - Anna Karenina.
Of a narrower scope for those not willing to tackle WAP. One particular theme - the agrarian/the land, Tolstoy explores to a greater depth.
Haruki Murakami - The Wind-up Bird Cronicle (and others). Russian translations read.
Mikhail Bulgakov - Master and Margarita (Мастер и Маргарита)
Ayn Rand - Virtue of Selfishness.
A series of essays especially helpful as a philosophical refresher years after having reading the fiction epics.
Gabriel García Márquez - Cien años de soledad
Magic Realism classic. Read twice and could indefinitely reread. Some of the poetically most captivating prose ever encountered. Relates 100+ years of family history based presumably in rural Colombia. Also see this post.
Other worthwhile reads by the author:
- Memorias de mis Putas Tristes
- El Coronel No Tiene Quien Le Escriba
- Cronica de una Muerte Anunciada
Joseph Heller - Catch 22. Also a 2x read.
Dumas - The Count of Monte Cristo (English translation, whichever was provided by Penguin Classics)
At the time I read this (~22/23), it must have impacted me more than anything else in the subgenre of classic adventures. Reads like a telenovella due to the serialized nature of publishing at the time. Three Musketeers I would rank second.
For anime enthusiasts, Gankutsuou: The Count of Monte Cristo, directed by Mahiro Maeda, heavily impacted me at the time.
The Iliad (English prose translation by Martin Hammond)
Of the supposed ‘holy trinity’ of Greco-Roman classics (Iliad, Odyssey, Aeneid), I enjoyed this one the most. Despite the prose translation, the narrative of the story flows much like a poem.
Odyssey (English verse translation by Robert Fagle)
Primary sources are more gratifying than collections of myths and fables; my least favorite of the trinity, but that’s a minor subtlety, all factors considered.
Virgil - The Aeneid (English prose translation by W.F. Jackson Knight).
Really deserves a reread. A more serious of the holy trinity. Reads not strictly as an epic tale, but a philosophical testament. Montaigne, in fact, references the work quiet liberally.
Frank Herbert - Dune.
Read first in the original, and 12 years later in a Russian translation (don’t ask why). Incorporates the ecological, the biological, the religious, and the linguistic among a soft science fiction interplanetary stage that closer resembles the pre-medieval trend of our history rather than some far distant future. The desert planet landscape beautifully presented. Also see this posting.
F Scott Fitzgerald - Great Gatspy
I read this at a US high school at 18. Of all the imposed reading that I recall actually having completed, this must have been the unique pleasureful case. The particularities now escape me, but the impact stays afresh.
J D Salinger - Catcher in the Rye.
Of all the English language classics written in considerably simple language, this one made a strong impact. Simple narrative, written in nearly real time, first person, by what seems an unreliable, yet honest narrator (if that makes sense).
Kafka - The Castle (Zamek)
Kafka at some of the finest. I read a Polish translation of this that I’d purchased in a second-hand kiosk in Katowice. Perhaps I was under the influence of Polish castles at the time.
The novel unwinds labyrinthically; the setting - bleak, the sensation - futile; sometimes gives manifest to severe claustrophobia. At one point I abandoned any expectations of a traditional narrative and simply followed along the endless landscape.
Kafka - The Trial (Процесс)
A Russian translation was my chosen. Like Castle, bureaucratic and futile in prospects. The protagonist and the reader remain clueless to the nature of the legal infringement committed and the consequential arrest. Another stroll along a bleak bureaucratic landscape, although to a narrower physical scope.
Erico Verissimo - Incidente em Antares
This historical novel is one of the Brazilian classics. Set from the perspective of the state Rio Grande do Sul, employs elements of magic realism. Covers much of the Brazilian history from the latter half of the 19th century through the 1960s.
Isabel Allende - La Casa de los Espíritus
Another Magic Realism classic difficult to set aside. Similar to Cien Años de Soledad and Incidente em Antares, presents much historical context from a family history perspective spanning decades.
Other worthwhile notables: De amor y de sombra, Eva Luna.
Mario Benedetti - La Tregua, Gracias por el Fuego
Read a fairly modern Spanish translation. Also influenced my Stoicism notes.
Seneca - Benefits (De Beneficiis)
Seneca - Letters (to Lucilius). In gradual progress.
Michel de Montaigne - Essays. In gradual progress.
Matt Ridley - Evolution of Everything
Nassim Nicolas Taleb - Antifragile (also Skin in the Game, Fooled by Randomness).
Antifragile made the greatest impact.
Ron Hale-Evans - Mind Performance Hacks, Mindhacker
Isak Dinesen (Karen Blixen) - Out of Afrika
Haruki Murakami - What I talk about when I talk about running (О чем я говорю когда говорю о беге).
Russian translation read. About running, writing, music, habits and more.
Poetic, erotic, satirical, mystical; packed with evocative metaphors. Magic realism element, although I wouldn’t categorize the novel as such.
Beautifully written and worthy of having endured the long sections of not easily comprehensible references and regionalisms. I read in the original Portuguese and cannot comment on any translations.
Abundant in references to gastronomy and classical music. Much influence of the Afro-Brazilian religion Candomblé (this aspect I particularly appreciated).
Nabokov, like Conrad and (to a lesser extent) Ayn Rand (all second or even third-language adapters of English), sensationally commands the descriptive language. For those not sensitive to the subject matter, this work showcases that to a level of brilliancy.
Trivia: Nabokov penned the novel originally in English in the 1940s, then went to produce the Russian translation some 20 years after. The English version I persevered with some struggle, given the exceptional use of language. The Russian translation I gave up on entirely, finding his Russian language works in general so impeccably and uniquely eloquent, transgressing the extent of my less literary Russian.
The poor WW2 bombardier Yossarian simply could not circumvent flying more missions. Each time he approached the required number of missions, the number would increase. Alternatively, to be grounded from combat duty, one had to request a medical evaluation and be deemed crazy. The very act of pleading to Doc Daneeka on the appeal of lunacy, however, immediately declares him sane, and fit to fly more combat missions.
To avoid flying more combat missions, Yossarian would have to be crazy and not want to avoid them. He would have to authentically be crazy. At this point, he wouldn’t request an evaluation, and still fly more missions. One has to not want the thing they want in order to obtain it. But one also has to ask for it.
Of the below, all are psychologically consuming to the bones. Dostoevsky is my preferred among the classic 19th-century Russian authors, although by far not universally appreciated.
The psychological element being his strength, the descriptive language and the symbolism linger. (Concerning Dickens, I would extend the total opposite. This makes the two authors great contrasting forces.)
Crime and Punishment (Приступление и Наказание).
Gothic, macabre and notably claustrophobic; claustrophobic in both time and space. Contrary to the works below marked heavily by the aristocratic element, this personal favourite of mine concerns mainly the poorer, working echelon.
Likely the next favourite. Broody in tone. No heroes, just antiheroes. Concerns revolutionary underground groups, an overliterate erudite otherwise lacking common sense, obscure motives behind obscurer deeds, and plenty of just plainly f***ed up characters.
A tale of a virtuous but gullible man. I should emphasize, an exceptionally virtuous man of almost biblical standard that most readers will likely take extreme pity in. Memorable characters that I still recall ten years later: Принц Мышкин, Рогожин, Наталья Филипповна.
Notes from the Underground (Записки из подполья)
A shorter novel written as a first-person journal of a man of higher society, struggling to make ends meet; struggling at economic, social and psychological levels; a fair amount of humour interspersed throughout.
Brothers Karamazov (Братья Карамазовы)
A doppelgänger novella; the constant humor makes a stark contrast to the darker overtones of his grand opus.
Trivia: a very early product of the 1840’s. Dostoevsky spent a respectable part of the 1850’s indentured to the Gulag. The remainder of the works I list here he produced after.
The best Russian science fiction I’ve read (of which I’ve read few). Some of it I consider soft sci-fi, a subgenre that only loosely and noninvasively (if not barely perceptively) leverages sci-fi elements, whereas the novel could otherwise fit another, or multiple classifications.
Пикник на обочине (Roadside Picnic)
A very loose influence for Tarkovsky’s film Stalker.
Понедельник Начинается в Субботу (Monday Begins on Saturday)
Caters to both sci-fi and fantasy. Borrows from the Russian folklore. Satirically trots the polytechnical intellect culture of the 1960s.
Трудно быть богом (Hard to be a God)
За миллиард лет до конца света (One billion years before the end of the world).
As soft of sci-fi as I can fathom. Again, a very loose influence for Sukurov’s avantgarde film Дни Затмения/Days of Eclipse.
For those who seek to cultivate a taste for Jazz. Prior to the read I already took keen interest in the art form, but after, my curiosity spread like an all-consuming web; across the different stages of Jazz evolution, the theoretical fundamentals, the key role players and their impact.
I wanted to experience a greater variety of Jazz; to heighten my appreciation for what previously lay obscure; to develop sensitivity to the abstractions previously imperceptible.
In addition, much of the book reads like an engaging narrative, rather than a dry survey one might encounter in many comprehensive guides.
Questions, comments? Connect.