Posted by: jamesthethickheaded | May 12, 2009

Asked for Some Formative Titles

Okay. Got tagged for some formative titles. I took this through the long time line. And yet I’ve left out so many good ones that just for one reason or another don’t come to mind right now. I’m also purposely leaving room for other lists (“Field Texts”, “Spiritual Reading”, “Beach Fiction” and some others) I’d like to come back to. But this is a start that’ll do for now. And no I didn’t pay attention to numbers. How can you cut out a friend?

I’ve grouped them into sub-groups. The one I could add the most to are the Youthful Fiction. There are just so many wonderful books in this category and it is expanding rapidly with new and even better written books than ever. You might be surprised. I was. And I’ve left out so many here just because they’re off the shelf for some reason. Yes, the kids are grown, but we love some of these enough to come back and re-read them from time to time. And so do the kids! Enjoy!

Adventure Fiction (and Darn Good Tales):

Giovanni Boccaccio: The Decameron

Some fun stories in here… sources for a bit of Chaucer.

Geoffrey Chaucer (ed. Albert C. Baugh): Canterbury Tales

Middle English text with notes. Much better than modernized versions!

Alexandre Dumas: The Three Musketeers

Back in the day, Mr. Magoo cartoons and Classic Comic Books tried to stimulate interest in the classics. This was the first romantic fiction I remember reading. Most RF is forgettable. Thanks to Douglas Fairbanks, the Mars family and others, this one is not.

Chretien de Troyes: Arthurian Romances

Should remind you of didactic science fiction. Studied these with a then-famed and much feared prof whose secret suggestion was that Monty Python’s Holy Grail is probably closer to the truth of these stories than stuffy scholars like to admit. He was a structuralist critic, but with a great sense of humor. Focused on those points in the plot that puzzle us… as probably lost jokes. Took these apart as speculations about man’s behavior on his own, out of society, beyond the church, and the right relationship between men and women. “And I thought this was gonna be about swash buckling!”

Allan Eckhart: The Winning of America Series

Historical fiction. Retells in greater accuracy and depth the stories of the frontier in the East, when the Indians won as much as they lost, where both sides were both good and bad, and the level of difference in civilization between the two was small. Specifically focuses on New York and the Last of the Mohicans thing, but if you’ve ever endured Cooper’s language, you’ll understand why I came to like Twain’s comment on Cooper (see below). Not for the faint of heart. One of my Aunt Sally’s survived a scalping in those days not too far off… there was much worse. At points your sympathy for our native friends will wane and leave you wanting  the 82nd Airborne and the helicopter gunships… but it is well written, a period of America skipped over, and accuracy is stressed a la everyone’s favorite Shelby Foote.

Homer: The Odyssey

Prelude to Tennyson’s Ulysses, and both are manly poems! Cherished opportunity to study with a wonderful classics scholar.

Nordoff and Hall: The Bounty Trilogy

Any sailor worth his salt has to wade his way through this. Okay. There’s those Captain’s Courageous books, Captain Blood, Treasure Island, Kidnapped, Billy Budd, A Million Years Before Jane Fonda… I Mean the Mast, the Patrick O’Brian series, and all the rest… but at the start there’s still, “Mr. Christian!”.

John Steinbeck: The Acts of King Arthur and His Knights

First encounter with the legends that inspired my college major in Medieval Studies…. back before the field had “even been invented”. Dreamt it up picking courses out of Classics, English, History, and Philosophy (Theology) that looked good and melding them together with my advisor. A very adolescent exercise I’m less proud of, and recognizably impractical…. discouraging to the then current girl friend and long time wife as an insane ticket to poverty. But a decent 19th century sort of education, good prep for grad school… and  all intentions to starve as an architect were ultimately redirected towards a paying job in the salt mines anyway. Notice not many of the Arthurian legends here focus on what happens after they get hooked up…. only Chretien deals with that real life joy and agony.

Humorous Fiction:

Douglas Adams: Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

Where else will you find out about the improbability drive, or what happens if you sprout a third arm. British humor. Enjoy the whole series.

Isaac Assimov: Robot Series or Foundation Trilogy

Both trilogies are worth reading. Less impressive on revisits.

Jasper Fforde: Lost in a Good Book

British humor. Amazingly creative imagination.

Kenneth Grahame: The Wind in the Willows

Some of the best prose ever written shy of P.G. Wodehouse. Some of us suffer fixations like Mr. Toad.

Mark Twain: Everything. Too hard to pick.

The first author I ever liked…. especially his short stories. Man had a few hang-ups, but a generally good sense of humor. Published Grant’s memoirs… which remain on my reading list.

P.G. Wodehouse: Meet Mr. Muliner

Good introduction to the finest Drawing Room humor (think: Charlie’s Aunt). Source of the famed 1970’s BBC-TV adaptations.

Youthful Fiction:

Virginia Lee Burton: Choo Choo

Mike Mulligan was my favorite, but Choo Choo my son’s… which had a little to do with the family obsession with trains. Sometimes two or three readings a night. Every page was memorized and skipped only on pain of death. Made certain Dad’s sympathetic to the Dad in Calvin and Hobbes. There’s a great video available from Netflix on Burton. Check it out, too. Burton literally invented today’s pattern of matching the words and story layout together. She was turned down on her first books and self-published after that. A real dancer and artist, she never looked back.

Syd Hoff: Danny and the Dinosaur

Like many Dads and Moms, Danny’s friend the dinosaur hasn’t had a day off in a hundred million years. Perceptive account of what that day’s like. Loved it.

C.S. Lewis: The Narnian Chronicles

Seems like all my life I was stuck with some doggone lamp post in a closet. Then one day the book opened up, got on past the stupid fawn and it wasn’t actually a girl’s book after all. Man couldn’t start a book to save his life. As a dimestore author, he’d have starved. But the dude can write. Makes J.R.R. Tolkein look like a piker. Tolkein was a better scholar (see his “Alliterative Poets” book), but Lewis is far less formulaic as an author. Of course one might say Tolkein is writing in the genre of the Roland poet, but if he’d been more sparing of words, it’d have been better appreciated. All of which is to say the Tolkein works are fine once-through, but seem to suffer on a second reading. Lewis isn’t clunky, and to underscore that after just re-reading the whole series a month ago, I’ll add it’s still good, and indeed better than I remembered – especially with the pre-quel.

Robert McCloskey: Time of Wonder

Fabulous pictures. If you have spent much time on the water, enough to share a few storms in and around boats, you’ll love this.

Dylan Thomas: A Child’s Christmas in Wales

A family favorite discovered in high school.

Could throw in Ovid, Virgil, and all the Greeks and Romans to beef things up and look more edified, but I’ve tried to pick the better ones here that “changed my life”. Shakespeare’s a good add for you modernists… but you have to see it “live” and avoid the 1930’s film versions. And then there’s that whole poetry thing… naaaah.


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