I started the Reading the Classics book club in Baton Rouge, Louisiana back in September 2006. I’m happy to report that it is still in existence and that we have recently chosen the nine works that we will discuss in 2023. Thirty-one works were recommended, and the list is so impressive that I want to share it with you. I’ll place an asterisk (*) at the end of the nine works that we’ve chosen.
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark
The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle
The Quiet American by Graham Greene*
The Waste Land by T. S. Eliot*
Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe*
One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez*
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather
The Sun Also Rises by Earnest Hemingway
The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka*
Buddenbrooks by Thomas Mann
A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy
The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin
The Moon and Sixpence by W. Somerset Maugham*
The Moviegoer by Walker Percy
The Member of the Wedding by Carson McCullers
Don Quixote, Part 1 by Miguel de Cervantes*
Cannery Row by John Steinbeck
The Prince by Nicolo Machiavelli
Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
Fathers and Sons by Ivan Turgenev
The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner*
Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe*
Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
The Story of My Life by Helen Keller
An Enemy of the People by Henrik Ibsen
I chose the word “works” above because some of the recommendations were not “books.” The Waste Land by T. S. Eliot is a 434-line poem that I think will be somewhat difficult to understand without lots of background information on some of the things Eliot references in the poem; The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka is a novella; and An Enemy of the People by Henrik Ibsen is a play.
I have often suggested that you get out of your comfort zone in order to really exercise your mind. Some of the nine works we selected are great examples of literary works that will challenge you. The Waste Land is almost impossible to fully understand without assistance from external sources. One Hundred Years of Solitude is an excellent example of magic realism. The Metamorphosis is a story about a man who wakes up one morning to discovered that he has been transformed into a giant bug overnight. Surreal things happen in many of Franz Kafka’s writings, and that’s the origin of the adjective Kafkaesque. And then there’s The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner. Part of the novel employs a style of writing referred to as stream of consciousness, but not all of it. Faulkner was a heavy drinker and I sometimes wonder if he was drunk when he wrote the first three sections, and sober when he wrote the fourth.
If you’re looking for something interesting to read in 2023, any of the books listed above should be seriously considered. If you’re interested in attending any of our discussions, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Many consider Orson Welles to be one of the most brilliant and influential film makers who ever lived. He was also well known for his work during the early days of radio especially with his Mercury Theater on the Air troop. His radio adaptation of H. G. Wells’ War of the Worlds which was broadcast on the night of October 30, 1938, literally caused panic among many who lived along the east coast of the United States. H. G. Wells’ novel takes place in England while Orson Welles’ radio adaptation takes place in New Jersey. After an opening announcement that what followed would be a dramatization of H. G. Wells’ novel, the radio adaptation began with music being played live from some remote location – something that was common at the time. An announcer interrupts the music repeatedly to discuss strange activity on Mars, and eventually announces that Martian crafts have landed in Grover’s Mill, New Jersey. That’s when the panic began. Welles and the others involved in the broadcast were totally unaware of the chaos that was taking place. If you’re interested, you can hear the historic radio broadcast here.
Welles’ is best known as the star, producer, director, and co-author of the script for the 1941 movie Citizen Kane. Many believe that Citizen Kane is the greatest movie ever made. The movie was obviously influenced by the life of newspaper magnate William Randolph Hurst – though Welles denied it. Hurst’s attempts to use legal means to stop production of the movie failed, then he used his influence in an attempt to destroy Welles and RKO, the studio that funded the production. Some years ago, the American Film Institute (AFI) listed the 100 greatest American films of all time and Citizen Kane was at the top. The other movies in the top ten list (in order) were The Godfather (1972), Casablanca (1942), Raging Bull (1980), Singin’ in the Rain (1952), Gone with the Wind (1939), Lawrence of Arabia (1962), Schindler’s List (1993), Vertigo (1958), and The Wizard of Oz (1939).
After Citizen Kane, Welles was given full control of future movies, and he made a mess of just about everything. He had money problems, the studios went behind his back and edited out parts of some of his movies, and he had to take roles in other people’s movies in order to make money to finish some of his own projects.
And yet, he made one more movie that stands out: Touch of Evil (1958). In fact, many movie aficionados consider Touch of Evil the last of the great film noir movies. Once again, we have Welles in many major roles: one of the stars, the director, and the screenwriter. To better appreciate the movie, I direct you to a Turner Classic Movies (TCM) short feature that describes the somewhat unorthodox way that Welles chose to film the movie. If you simply watch the clip with the sound turned down, you’ll miss a lot of what Welles did to make the movie interesting and unique. Touch of Evil will be broadcast on TCM on Monday, November 14, 2022 at 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time.
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If you intended to commit a murder in which the weapon used would not be easily detectable, how would you go about it? Lynne Truss, the author of an article about this subject and the author of the bestseller Eats, Shoots & Leaves, tells us about some unusual murder weapons she ran across during her research for the article. She speaks favorably about Roald Dahl’s short story “Lamb to the Slaughter” which you can read here.
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The Guardian featured an article about the people who narrate the audiobooks that many of us love. Contrary to what you may think, narrating a book is difficult, sometimes painful work. Furthermore, not everyone can do it. For instance, Finty Williams, who was told in drama class that she didn’t have a good radio voice, has been recording audiobooks successfully for over 20 years. Her mother, on the other hand, tried narrating but gave up after only one day. Who is her mother? Read the article and prepare to be surprised.
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In The Little Brown Book of Anecdotes Clifton Fadiman includes hundreds of stories – true and apocryphal – about all sorts of people. One is a very funny story about a doctor, Richard Gordon (1921 – 2017), who left medicine to become a successful author of “Doctor” books including Doctor in the House (1952), Doctor at Sea (1953), Doctor at Large (1955), and Doctor in Love (1957). In the first paragraph Fadiman provides some background for the entry. After that Gordon describes an embarrassing experience that happened to him at the viva voce [oral] examination during his gynecology finals. He describes his examiner as “a red-faced fellow in tweeds and a striped tie.”
“‘Well, my boy,’ started the jovial professor amiably, pushing a bottle towards me. ‘What do you think that is?’
“‘Fibroids, sir,’ I replied proudly.
“He frowned. I was puzzled. My answer, impregnably correct, had not gone over too well…
“‘How would you treat a case of endometriosis?’
“‘Progestogens, sir. But if I may say, sir, the results are often disappointing.’
“My examiner glared…
“‘Have I said something wrong, sir?’ I asked.
“‘Not professionally,’ my tweedy examiner snapped. ‘But I don’t think you have much future as a gynecologist.’
“My shamed eyes looked down in confusion. They encountered a pair of brogues, stout stockings, the hem of a tweed skirt. It frightened me off gynecology for the rest of my career, and off medical women for life.”