"And Now Nebraska City") the autumn retreat of the Notting Hill Napoleons, our peerless book club that's been reading classic literature for over 20 years. Well, each November we go through an intriguing process to decide on the reading list for the coming year. And that process starts with reading recommendation lists presented to the group for consideration.
I thought you might want to look through the one Claire and I submitted last weekend.
Keep in mind that coming up with these recommendations is getting tougher every year because 1) We have already gone through so many classic titles already. The complete reading list of the Napoleons can be found by adding this one (1992-2007) with these: 2008, 2009, 2010, and 2011.
2) Most of our fellow club members are cool to our repeated suggestions to re-read the best books from previous years. Doing so, we believe, would not only provide those special blessings that come from re-reading a good book but it would go a long way in keeping the club standards high. But, alas, that is not a popular suggestion. Perhaps it's because their memories are a lot better than ours!
And 3) We have to be realistic about a book's chances to get through the process. There are books we would like to recommend but, knowing our friends' tastes, we refrain from putting those books in. The result is that we create a detailed book list that tries to balance our preferences with what we hope are consensus values. Like I said, it ain't easy! Anyhow, here's what we came up with. See what you think.
Denny’s & Claire’s NHN Reading Suggestions for 2012
1) The African Queen by C. S. Forester -- You know the basic story here and, of course, you'll not be able to read it without picturing Humphrey Bogart and Katherine Hepburn in the protagonist roles. Nevertheless, the reviews rate this 1935 novel from the author of The Good Shepherd and the popular Horatio Hornblower series very high. 256 pages. (Used starting at $.01 at Amazon. $3 Kindle. 3 copies in Omaha Public Library - OPL.)
2) The Seventh Cross by Anna Seghers -- This is a deeply moving novel about the escape of a young Communist from a Nazi concentration camp. Denny read it earlier this year and it provided him with one of the most thoughtful reading experiences he's had this year. It is a thrilling book but also one that illuminates several issues of the human spirit. 344 pages. (Used starting at $0.99 at Alibris.com)
3) Twenty Years After by Alexandre Dumas -- Two decades have passed since the famous swordsmen triumphed over Cardinal Richelieu and M’lady in The Three Musketeers. Time has weakened their bodies a bit and dispersed them to pursue individual ends. But treason and skullduggery still cry out for justice. So when civil war endangers the throne of France and Cromwell threatens to send Charles I to the scaffold, the immortal quartet comes out of retirement to cross swords once again with the malevolent forces of history...and time itself. (880 pages. New: $10.85. Used from $0.48 at Amazon. Free Kindle edition. 4 copies in OPL.)
4) The Old Curiosity Shop by Charles Dickens.(Re-reading this one is already scheduled.)
5) All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren -- A great read for an election year, this landmark novel is a loosely fictionalized account of Governor Huey Long of Louisiana, one of the most remarkable and controversial politicians in American history. The novel tells the story of Willie Stark, a popular but underhanded governor of a Southern state who effectively appeals to the common man while playing dirty politics with the best of the back-room deal-makers. However, his key assistant cannot shed his idealism so easily and the stormy relationship between the two form much of the novel’s tension. (456 pages. New $5. Used copies starting at $.01 at Amazon. 7 copies in OPL system.)
6) No Name by Wilkie Collins -- This is Wilkie Collins at the height of his literary powers. It is the story of two sisters, Magdalen and Norah, who discover after the deaths of their dearly beloved parents that, alas, they were not legally married at the time of the girls’ births. Ousted from their estate and disinherited, Magdalen and Norah must fend for themselves. Will they surrender to their fate or recover their wealth by whatever means available? 784 pages. (New from $10.25. Used from $.02 at Amazon. Free Kindle edition. 1 copy in OPL.)
7) That Printer of Udell’s by Harold Bell Wright -- It would be hard to write a better recommendation for this book than the one written by President Ronald Reagan: “I found a role model in that traveling printer whom Harold Bell Wright had brought to life. He set me on a course I’ve tried to follow even unto this day. I shall always be grateful.” Certainly we could all benefit from reading this warm-hearted novel that emphasizes that a strong belief in God forms the basis for a fulfilling life, no matter what a person’s past might hold. One other thing -- this would be a perfect book to read at a Notting Hill Napoleon getaway in Branson, Wright's old stomping grounds! (346 pages. New: $5.95. Used from $2. Free Kindle edition.)
8) The Final Storm by Jeff Shaara -- The Napoleons have come to love these historical novels and this is the one which completes the WWII trilogy we’ve started. 480 pages. (Used from $5.81 at Amazon and multiple copies in OPL)
9) Anna and the King of Siam by Margaret Landon -- How this story came to be known throughout the world is almost as romantic as the story itself. While serving as a missionary in Thailand, the author discovered a very rare copy of Anna Leonowens' The English Governess at the Siamese Court. Years later, she came across Leonowens' Romance of the Harem in a second-hand bookstore in Chicago. She paid $1 for the book. She eventually combined basic elements of both books with events and characters from her own imagination to create Anna and the King of Siam. It was a big hit. And the exotic setting and romantic story so impressed the wives of Rogers and Hammerstein that they convinced their husbands to write what would become one of the most beloved musicals of all time. 416 pages. (Used from $1. 2 copies in OPL.)
10) November 1916 by Alexander Solzhenitsyn -- With August 1914, Solzhenitsyn began his epic of the Russian Revolution, the finished version of which (The Red Wheel) he hoped to leave as his greatest and most important work. This is historical fiction at its very best. (1000 pages. New $20.00. Used copies available. 3 copies in OPL)
11) The Legend of Montrose by Sir Walter Scott -- The Earl of Montrose leads an army of Highland "gillies" and their clan leaders through various adventures in Perthshire, Argyle and further north. The central character here is Dugald Dalgetty, a verbose and opinionated ex-mercenary who falls in with Montrose's army and plays a leading role in the campaign. We also meet the Earl of Menteith and follow the history of his love for Annot Lyle, an orphan who has been befriended and is also loved by the younger brother of the Highland chieftain Angus M'Aulay. (220 pages. $4.27 & up at abebooks.com. Free Kindle edition. OPL has multiple copies)
12) The Magnificent Ambersons by Booth Tarkington -- This Pulitzer Prize-winning novel portrays the decline of the wealthy Amberson family, serving as a touching backdrop for the huge social changes America saw in the decades following the Industrial Revolution. Rather than join the modern age, George Amberson insists on remaining a "gentleman" and tries desperately to hang on to his patrician pride. But his town soon becomes a city and the family palace becomes surrounded by industry, destroying the elegant, cloistered lifestyle enjoyed by the family in years gone by. A genuine masterpiece. 276 pages. (New $13. Used from $.01 Free Kindle edition. 2 in OPL.)
13) Time of Hope by C.P. Snow -- This is the first (in chronological action) of Snow's series of novels, "Strangers and Brothers." The 11 books in the series were written by Snow (a renowned scientific scholar as well as novelist) between 1940 and 1974. They concern questions of English life, academia, political and personal integrity, and more. 396 pages. (Used copies at abebooks.com from $1.00. New $10.79.)
14) Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier -- "Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again." Say no more. This is one of those novels which surpasses even the blockbuster movie it inspired. The author is an incomparable craftsman and in Rebecca she weaves plot, tension, setting and dialogue together into one of America’s most intense and intriguing gothic novels. 416 pages. (Used copies starting at $.01 at Amazon. 10 copies in OPL.)
15) The Natural by Bernard Malamud – It is generally acknowledged that this, Malamud’s first book, is the best novel ever written about baseball. Published in 1952, it is quite different from the rest of his work. For whereas his later writing concentrated on modern Jewish life and themes, this novel presents the story of a superbly gifted athlete from baseball’s golden era. 231 pages. (Used from $1. 2 copies in OPL.)
16) The Bridge Over the River Kwai by Pierre Boulle – It is 1942 and the Japanese desperately need a train route going northward from Burma. Labor is provided by POWs but a key bridge they build will become a symbol of honor to British prisoner Colonel Nicholson, a principled perfectionist. While the Allies race to destroy the bridge, Nicholson must decide which will be destroyed, the bridge or his pride. 207 pages. (Used from $1. 1 copy in OPL.)
17) The Chequer Board by Nevil Shute -- Quint suggested this one last year. This is what he then wrote about the novel, "John Turner, a loser, learns that he will die of a head wound suffered during the war. He accepts this but decides to do something good with the time he has remaining. He decides to visit three men he met in a hospital ward. They were each in trouble when he met them and now he sets out to find out how each has chosen his life and settled his problem. As always, Shute tells a good story.” 380 pages. (Used copies starting at $0.63 at Amazon.)
18) Persuasion by Jane Austen -- Anne Elliot, heroine of Austen's last novel, let the love of her life get away. She allowed herself to be persuaded by a trusted family friend that the young man she loved wasn't an adequate match. Now it’s seven years later; she’s still alone; and the man she never stopped loving has come back from the sea. 150 pages. (Used copies starting at $.01 at Amazon. Free Kindle edition. 6 copies in OPL.)
19) We suggest a re-reading of Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace. (Free Kindle edition.)
20) We suggest a re-reading of Boris Pasternak’s Dr. Zhivago.
How many of these books made the final cut? And what is that final 2012 list of books decided upon by the noble Notting Hill Napoleons? That, my friend, you'll find in the post right beneath this one.