Thursday, November 16, 2006

Denny’s and Claire's NHN Recommendations for '07

Here it is, Claire's and my list of book suggestions for the Notting Hill Napoleons 2007 schedule. We've finished our annotated list just in time for the November meeting of our literary club, the meeting which involves several highlight activities:

* The meeting is actually a weekend retreat of sorts -- one in which we collectively take over a bed and breakfast down in Nebraska City;

* The Saturday afternoon of our weekend is reserved for our extended conversation over the year's Dickens novel. This year it is The Mystery of Edwin Drood, Dickens' final (and unfinished) book. It is also our final Dickens book. After 15 years of Notting Hill Napoleon reading, we've covered all of the Dickens novels! What will we do for next year then? Easy. We start over!

* It is on Friday night of this gathering that we decide (through a complex but eminently fair system) on the books that will take us through our monthly meetings the following year. It is for this portion of the weekend that Claire and I (and others) prepare our recommendations.

Now a couple of notes about the list -- First, the OPL you'll see references to represents the Omaha Public Library system. (Some of our members are cheap and try to avoid actually buying the books. Poor dears.) Second, if you compare this year's list to the one we submitted last year, you'll see several repeats. "If at first you don't succeed" and all that. Third, we will be sure to let you know next week just what books the Napoleons ended up choosing.

Denny’s and Claire's Recommendations
for the 2007 Notting Hill Napoleon Reading Agenda

1) Barchester Towers by Anthony Trollope
Our reading of The Warden was a great kickoff to the series of Barchester novels – a series that made Trollope a popular rival of Dickens in their own day and which has recently attracted scores of new fans through BBC versions of his work and the efforts of the U.K. and U.S.A. branches of the Trollope Society. Those fans (Antonia Fraser, P.D. James, Jeffrey Archer, Louis Auchinloss, John Mortimer, Paul Johnson, Enoch Powell, Ruth Rendell, Joanna Trollope, and so many more) would certainly urge the Napoleons to select Barchester Towers as the next logical (and likeable) Trollope title. It’s a continuation of place (and certain characters) of The Warden and it introduces the reader to one of the most memorable antagonists in English literature, the tyrannical Mrs. Proudie. (430 pages. $5 new. Used from $.75 -- 6 copies in OPL system.)

2) Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

After a terrible fall from a horse in 1920, Margaret Mitchell’s health began to decline. In fact, by 1926, she had to resign from the Atlanta Journal where she had developed into a popular and responsible reporter. Fearing that she was becoming bored and depressed, her husband gave her a new Remington typewriter upon which was this challenging message, “Madam, I greet you on the beginning of a new career.” The result? Only the bestselling novel of all time in any language, Gone with the Wind! It is a long read, but hey - that’s part of its charm for the story, characters and writing are splendid enough to make you never want it to end. We think Gone with the Wind would make a terrific wintertime book. (1024 pages. $8 new. Used from $.95 -- Several copies in OPL system.)

3) The Heart of Midlothian by Sir Walter Scott

With this year’s reading of The Antiquary, Sir Walter Scott has a firm grip on Number 4 in the standings of the Napoleon’s “Most Read Authors.” Only Dickens, Shakespeare and Chesterton rank higher. Fortunately, we have a long way to go before we need worry about running out of Scott titles to delight us. Our recommendation for this year is The Heart of Midlothian, an exciting novel inspired by several real historical events, including the Porteous Riots of 1736 Edinburgh and the long trek on foot to London of Helen Walker to obtain a pardon for her sister, wrongfully sentenced to death for child murder. Many consider The Heart of Midlothian to be the best of all Scott’s Waverley novels. (566 pages. Multiple used copies at $1 at -- 2 copies in OPL system.)

4) 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 hopes to leave as his greatest and most important work. After 20 years, the second of the series is here. This is history but much more; in fact, in this particular novel, the characters really take center stage: Nicholas and Alexandra, Lenin and a whole host of fictional creations. (1000 pages. $20.00 new. Used from $3.95

-- 3 copies in OPL.)

5) King Solomon’s Mines by H. Rider Haggard
In 1885, Haggard’s publisher considered this novel “the most amazing book ever written.” Haggard clearly displays here his dramatic imagination and intimate knowledge of Africa. King Solomon’s Mines recounts the pulse-pounding adventures of Allan Quartermain, Sir Henry Curtis, and Captain John Good. Among Haggard’s other novels, She would also make for a rousing adventure. (320 pages. $9.95 new. Used from $1. -- 2 copies in OPL.)

6) Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh.
One of the greatest of all writers in English, this is his most popular book -- thanks to the groundbreaking PBS series. It is a flashback novel about England's upper middle class before WWII. We have discussed three Waugh novels so far. We suggest going on to what most would consider his most finely crafted work. (350 pages. $14.95 new. Used from $0.25 -- Several copies in OPL system.)

7) A Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute
Even more than Sabatini and Trollope, the Hartfords’ most welcome literary discovery in recent years has been Nevil Shute, whose Pied Piper was such a success among the Napoleons in last year’s reading. We urge you to strongly consider Shute again and among many likely titles, we suggest the most popular of Shute’s titles (and thus the easiest to acquire). It is A Town Like Alice, a novel that tells the World War II sufferings of a captured nurse and truck driver in Malaya and then of her search in the Australian outback for the man who saved her life. (350 pages. $6.99 new. Multiple copies for $1 at Available only in audio at OPL.)

8) Twenty Years After by Alexandre Dumas

Two decades have passed since the famous swordsmen triumphed over Cardinal Richelieu and Milady in The Three Musketeers. Time has weakened their bodies a bit and dispersed them from one another. But treasons and stratagems still cry out for justice and, eventually, civil war endangers the throne of France. Meanwhile in England, Cromwell threatens to send Charles I to the scaffold. It is in this firestorm then that the immortal quartet comes out of retirement to cross swords once again with time, the malevolence of men, and the forces of history. (880 pages. $10.85 new. Used from $6 -- 4 copies in OPL system.)

9) The Iliad by Homer

Of course, the use of the term “classic” to describe literature belongs most literally to the ancient Greek and Roman works. But predating even Aeschylus, Ovid and the like are the beautiful and stirring epics of the Iliad and Odyssey. Attributed to the wandering bard, Homer, these works serve as an important literary foundation. Plus, they’re full of insight into human character. Knowing the aversion of certain Napoleons to readings in verse, I suggest we enjoy one of two famous prose versions of the Iliad, the moving story of the warriors, women and gods involved in the Trojan War. From the kidnapping of Helen to the death of Achilles, this is “classic” adventure indeed. (The Samuel Butler prose version: 303 pages $2.50 new. Used from 50 cents. --- The W.H.D. Rouse prose version: 312 pages. $6.00 new paperback. Used from $.50 -- 1 copy in OPL system.)

10) Mansfield Park by Jane Austen
Mansfield Park is rife with adultery, betrayal, social ruin, and ruptured friendships. But this is a comedy, after all, so there is also the requisite happy ending and plenty of Austen's gentle satire along the way. (448 pages. $6 new. Used from $2. -- 4 copies in OPL.)

11) Lost Horizon by James Hilton

It’s a fine movie but an even finer novel, one which on the surface deals with airplane crash survivors finding the fantastic utopia of Shangri-La but which underneath is full of reflections on human character, romance, idealism, the depressed hopes of political solutions on the eve of World War II, and more. We think James Hilton’s popular novel would be a great read leading to a great discussion for the NHN. (240 pages. $6.99 new. Used from $.75 –

10 copies in OPL.)

12) Tales of the Long Bow by G.K. Chesterton

One of the NHN favorites from the very beginning has been G.K. Chesterton. In fact, we’ve been so desirous of reading him that we’ve even bent the rules a bit and read Four Faultless Felons, Club of Queer Trades and The Paradoxes of Mr. Pond though they are not novels but actually collections of short stories. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining – it is GKC we’re talking about! However, it really gives us no excuse to omit the three novels of his that we haven’t read. I, therefore, suggest we remedy this inexplicable oversight by selecting Tales of the Long Bow, a series of whimsical stories that are profound, fun and cleverly connected along the way. (196 pages. $9.95 new. Used from $5.)

13) Bellarion the Fortunate by Rafael Sabatini

It is Italy in the 15th Century and Bellarion is en route to Cigliano and the cloistered life of the priesthood to which he has been nurtured. However, a dramatic turn of events not only changes his immediate destination but his entire life. Bellarion becomes embroiled in the political intrigues of pre-Renaissance Italy, leading to adventures, unrequited love, warfare and the development of the heroic virtues and deeds that make Sabatini novels so exciting. (446 pages. $9.95 new. Multiple used copies starting at $4.95.)

14) That Printer of Udell’s by Harold Bell Wright

It would be hard to write a better recommendation for this book by the author of The Shepherd of the Hills 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 so strongly emphasizes that a strong belief in God (and the resultant good deeds) forms the basis for a fulfilling life, no matter what a person’s past might hold. (346 pages. $5.95 new. Used from $2.95.)

15) The Betrothed (I Promessi Sposi) by Allesandro Manzoni

One of the great novels in Italian history, The Betrothed is also considered one of the greatest historical novels ever written. Manzoni blends together a score of memorable characters with a string of vividly rendered historical events to provide an epic story of frustrated lovers during the Thirty Years Wars (early 17th century) when the state of Milan was occupied by the Spanish Habsburgs. The result is a great story of religion and redemption placed against the background of one of the most turbulent periods in Italian history. (720 pages. $11.00 new.
Used from $2.25.)

16) Plague Dogs by Richard Adams

Now this is a different read! The creator of Watership Down returns to the world of animals in this novel but with a more naturalistic approach. This is one of those books that both entertain and teach. (480 pages. $7.95 new. Used from $.35 -- 3 copies in OPL system.)

17) The Mistress of Husaby by Sigrid Undset

This is the second novel in the Kristin Lavransdatter trilogy. The previous Undset was a charmer to most of us and it’s always nice to complete a set. (That may suggest a connection to other recommendations regarding trilogies we have started but not finished like C.S. Lewis’, Tolkien’s, and Cooper’s.) Anyhow, we toss in our list, The Mistress of Husaby. (379 pages. $14 new. Used from $.75 -- 8 copies in OPL system.)

18) Witch Wood by John Buchan

One of Denny’s favorite adventure novelists is John Buchan. However, only recently has he learned of a much different type of book from Buchan -- Witch Wood, a novel about a young Presbyterian minister in 17th Century Scotland. There’s some adventure here, but more important are the novel’s emphases on conflicts of conscience, theological import and politics. And, oh yes -- among the fan letters sent to John Buchan about Witch Wood was one which complemented him, “That’s the way to do it!” The writer of that letter was…C.S. Lewis. (340 pages. $8.95 new. Used from $1.98.)

19) Sea Wolf by Jack London

London, of course, is an American master in the short story realm. (Who could ever forget the tragic shock they experienced at the conclusion of “To Build a Fire”?) Well, London did pretty well in his few tries with novels as well. This realistic story has intense moral conflict, adventure, grapplings with the complexity of evil, the drama of overcoming personal weakness, and more. (256 pages. $5 new. Used very cheap. Several copies in OPL.)

20) Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

It’s amazing that in our fifteen years of reading the world’s best literature, there are still so many really outstanding titles that we haven’t yet conquered. One of these is Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. A scintillating critique of Victorian England, especially its attitudes about class, women, and surface religiosity, Jane Eyre is usually considered the best of all achievements of the Bronte sisters. Like all of the Bronte books, Charlotte’s Jane Eyre is autobiographical in the most moving ways, bringing the reader to not only understand but also empathize with the author. But amid the ominous moods and severe characters of Jane Eyre (it is, after all, a Gothic novel with all the required elements of the genre: spooky encounters, dark secrets, and tense moments of plot), the reader also enjoys the Bronte wit and sense of tested optimism. We’ve read Emily and Anne already; isn’t it time we give Charlotte her chance? (480 pages. New from $4.95. Used from $.75 -- 6 copies in OPL.)

21) Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift
One of the most famous satirical works in history. It’s an important and very influential fantasy novel that is still under discussion by readers all over the world. (280 pages. New from $5. Used from $1.00. -- 3 copies in OPL.)

22) Bleak House by Charles Dickens

Feel like starting over after 15 years? We do!

23) The Good Shepherd by Gunnar Gunnarsson

As yet, Gunnar Gunnarsson has had few of his stories translated into English but fortunately one which has been is The Good Shepherd, a quick 84-page Christmas story set in Iceland. It is an exciting tale of the shepherd Benedict, his dog Leo, and his ram, Gnarly -- all having to survive a fierce winter storm but, along the way, demonstrating the spiritual virtues which make Christianity winsome and real to others. As the 1940 cover described the book, “Appearing when the world is war-weary, weary of mad greed and savage aggression, The Good Shepherd brings a Christmas message peculiarly inspiring.” (84 pages. Used from $0.1)