Let’s wrap this one up! I have something like eight authors to go through on this round (and eight is my favorite number) so let’s get started.
Namely, her hazy and suspenseful fiction. You may have read The Lottery, an excellent short story. You may have been introduced to her, as I was, through We Have Always Lived in the Castle. There’s a cat in that one. And a character named Connie (more people should be named Connie). Funnily enough, a friend who actually asks for and heeds my book recommendations tells me that the Connie in this book reminds him a lot of me. And I’m flattered- which says something about the character but possibly more about me because (spoiler) she’s quite possibly poisoned her family. Also a girl whose nickname is Merricat, which is kind of freaking awesome. The Haunting of Hillhouse is also really really good. And the movie is good but diverges from the book regarding some important plot/character developments- but both are enjoyable and gorgeously atmospheric. I have to admit that I like her nonfiction less (Raising Demons and Life Among the Savages are about her family life and I think her husband and children sound impossible to live with (and she does too, tbh)) (But also I’m a misanthrope so maybe don’t take my word for it?) If you’ve disentangled my convoluted parentheses, points to you!
THANKS, MOM. I always need more authors who write bleak and heart-crushing stuff. It’s not like I tend to be moody or sensitive or anything. Jeez. No wonder the girl who allegedly poisoned her family resonates with me. Kidding kidding kidding. Like Mom, I have a love of books that lay bear the tenderness, weakness, fragility, and pitiful selfishness of the human soul. Which becomes even more touching in its rare and transcendent heroic moments. Mom recommended The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, which I read and loved after test-driving a loving a shorter McCullers novel, The Member of the Wedding. Dirty and frank but also poignant and profound.
First, Wilkie is an adorable name. Wilkie was one of the first people to write detective stories, generally in epistolary/journal form. His characters are amusing and his situations are absurd but intricate and engrossing. I’ve read The Moonstone and Poor Miss Finch. Oh, and The Woman in White! They were all very good. The characters can be funny or dramatic or reprehensible or gentle. They tend to be a bit archetypal, but I’ve never found myself minding. Good fun.
At some point in your education (if your education was anything like mine) you were probably chained to the side of a rock above a sea, possibly prowled by a sea monster named Cetus. All so that you would read a few ‘good’ books. Maybe The Scarlet Letter was one of those. Other common ones include some variety of Shakespeare, To Kill a Mockingbird, Animal Farm, and a bunch of others (I feel another list coming on). If your education was like mine, they probably skipped a few of those and opted instead to make you read The Hunger Games and such because #lowstandards. But I did end up reading The Scarlet Letter (all on my own, with one hand tied behind my back, blindfolded) in ninth grade. And sure it has that whole 19th century baroque sentence structure that either makes you want to pull out your eyeballs or settles into your brain like a nice well-worn rhythm (thankfully I’m in the latter camp: possibly because I was blindfolded and had limited access to my eyeballs). The House of the Seven Gables is also superbly eerie (and is an actually extant house in Massachusetts that I need to visit), The Blithedale Romance has my favorite type of tragic ending, and The Marble Faun is pretty excellent as well.
If Victor Hugo reads this I hope he writes another book like Les Miserables and The Hunchback of Notre Dame. I joke, don’t worry. I know Victor Hugo avoids the internet. These two are great. They’re big hulking whomping opuses of drama and human travail. I’m forever surprised that Disney thought to make THoND a children’s movie. I mean, what? It’s definitely one of the darker Disney movies (Hellfire is boss) but it comes nowhere near the book. Which you should read if you haven’t. But at least the gargoyles were named Victor and Hugo… and Laverne? Les Miserables is, believe it or not, also an excellent musical. But do read the book. It does that thing that Moby Dick does (breaking into random useless chapters about cetacean anatomy- but Napoleonic wars instead of cetacean anatomy). But like Moby Dick you still need to read it (and I’m sorry Herman that I didn’t put you on this list but I hate everything else you’ve written. Sorry, boo.)
Speaking of whomping giant opuses, the Russians. Tolstoy in particular, but I do have a fondness for Turgenev and Dostoevsky. War and Peace is individual. There is nothing quite like it. Except Anna Karenina, almost. If you read War and Peace at a racetrack around drunk old men they’ll try to discuss it with you (forget that they haven’t read it- silly details like that don’t matter to drunk people), and it’s quite an experience. I like Anna Karenina a tad more because it’s more female-centric and less about men stressing out about farming and serfdom. But there’s still some of that because Tolstoy. Russian. The Death of Ivan Ilyich is criminally under-recommended. It’s a better meditation on the utter abyssal meaninglessness of life than many that I’ve read. Spoiler: Ivan dies.
Honore de Balzac:
Cue that song from The Music Man in which the gossiping biddies are hating on Marian the Librarian and that one lady is like “BALZAC!”
Anyway. Balzac’s cool. Pere Goriot is excellently bleak and kind of bizarre and kind of frustrating. Eugenie Grandet is pretty glorious. Those are all of what I’ve read of Balzac’s, so this is probably a bit jumping the gun, but I feel this may be the start of a beautiful friendship.
The Headless Horseman of Sleepy Hollow? Rip Van Winkle? The beautiful Catskills of New York? And apparently a travel guide to the some region of the south that included some rather unflattering allusions to one of my forbears? I don’t know about that one, I need to ask dad. Again, I need to read more but those first two are sublime.
A Prayer for Owen Meany is life-changing. It was one of the best books I’ve read and on of the first that made me realize the last thing worth reading weren’t written in the 19th century (only most of them). Cider house Rules is also glorious. But not as. I don’t think one can out-glorious Owen Meany. It was one of those ones that I couldn’t stop talking about while reading it. And to think that I read it to impress an asshole who loved it. Books last longer than men, every time. I have The Hotel New Hampshire on my bookshelf. The writing is amazing and clear cut. The subject matter can be a bit taboo, a bit unsettling, but real and gripping. Go for it.
I do not recommend heeding the reading recommendations of assholes on a regular basis. If I had listened to this guy all of the time, I would also have ended up reading Machiavelli’s The Prince. No. Not happening.