Sunday 14 December 2014

Penguin Drop Caps Set: N-Z

Yesterday, I wrote about the first half of the Penguin Drop Caps collection: here's the second tranche of thirteen books.

If you haven't yet seen the Drop Caps collection, it's an A-Z of 26 books in hardback, with covers designed by Jessica Hische and Paul Buckley.

First half of the collection, A-M, reviewed here.

Five Children and It, E. Nesbit. The first children's book on the list and it's one that remains a favourite for many despite its age. You're probably more familiar with The Railway Children but this, the start of a trilogy, is an excellent work. If your children are into Narnia then they'll enjoy this. If you're fed up reading tales of latex-clad super heroes and heroines with improbably large bosoms, try E. Nesbit for a pleasant change.

Buy Five Children and It from Amazon US Amazon UK

BUtterfield 8, by John O'Hara. Another of the set that I haven't read and I probably won't. I've vaguely heard of the film of the book (it earned Elizabeth Taylor her first Oscar) but film and book sound as though they come under the old but useful term "potboiler".

The two caps at the start of the title aren't a typo, by the way - it's a reference to a telephone exchange. (It's a big building with lots of clunky equipment.)

Buy BUtterfield 8 from Amazon US Amazon UK

Marcel Proust's Swann's Way. The first of seven volumes that comprise In Search of Lost Time (À la recherche du temps perdu).

Confession time again: This is one of the classics of French literature and is praised to the skies by most people, especially writers. I'm not one of the lauders - I found it irritating and messy to read. Sacrilege, you might say, but In Search won't be on my list to Santa. If you want to try it, grab it for free from Project Gutenberg.

Buy Swann's Way from Amazon US Amazon UK

The Greek Coffin Mystery: Ellery Queen. For a long time, Ellery Queen was considered the doyen of American detective fiction (or doyens, as "he" was two people writing together). The authors gave their hero the same name as their pseudonym - an early and successful marketing ploy) and the series did very well.

The Greek Coffin Mystery is solid; in some ways, it was ahead of its time. Whether it has aged well is a matter of opinion. I'll read an Ellery Queen but I wouldn't go out of my way to buy one.

Buy The Greek Coffin Mystery at Amazon US Amazon UK

Haroun and the Sea of Stories by Salman Rushdie. This is a children's book by the author of the famed The Satanic Verses et al. I haven't read it but, judging by several descriptions and reviews, it matches Rushdie's adult works. That makes it one I won't be buying - overrated, heavy, pompous, derivative ...

Buy Haroun and the Sea of Stories from Amazon US Amazon UK

Cannery Row, John Steinbeck. The tale of the lives of a disparate group of people on and around a Monterey street lined with sardine canneries, set during the Great Depression.

You know what you're going to get with Steinbeck: warmth, honesty, deceptively simple writing on basic and complex themes, and this is no exception. If you have a growing child, get them this book.

Buy Cannery Row from Amazon US Amazon UK

The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan. And there you were, thinking we were getting a bit too male-orientated. The book is a set of [personal tales, recounted by four Chinese immigrant mothers and their four American-born daughters over games of mah jong. It touches on war. politics, Chinese and American society and attitudes.

Some say that The Joy Luck Club is stereotyped and I agree, to some extent. Beyond that, it's well written and ultimately uplifting.

Buy The Joy Luck Club from Amazon US Amazon UK

Kristin Lavransdatter: The Wreath by Sigrid Undset. First volume in the Kristin Lavransdatter trilogy: Kristin is a woman in 14th century Norway, refusing to be bound by society and the powerful Roman Catholic church. There's love and lust, fear and freedom, as Kristin journeys from fealty and obedience to crime and acceptance, albeit heavily tinged with deception. Very controversial in its time, the trilogy still reflects many of the rules and restrictions in modern Western society.

Sigrid Undset won the Nobel Prize in Literature yet is still largely unknown to the general public. Discuss ...

Buy The Wreath from Amazon US Amazon UK

Voltaire: Candide: Or Optimism. One of the masterpieces of world literature, truly deserving the description "great."

It's comedy, it's satire, it's Voltaire's attack on Leibnitz (and who can blame him for that?) If you like your writing intelligent and challenging, grab Candide.

Buy Candide from Amazon US Amazon UK

Leaves of Grass, by Walt Whitman. Get it. Buy it, get the work free from the link below, steal a copy. It is that good.

Leaves is a collection of poems and prose, with publication financed in 1855 by Whitman himself. 795 copies were printed, his brother George "didn't think it worth reading". George was very wrong! The collection is now thought one of the greatest works in US literature and the poems resonate to this day. With an almost Biblical cadence, they're sharp, funny, gentle, insightful, painfully honest.

I'd prefer people to buy from one of the Amazon links (I get a few cents if you do) but you can get Leaves of Grass, free from Project Gutenberg (in several formats).

Buy Leaves of Grass from Amazon US Amazon UK

Sky Burial by Xinran. I haven't read this but I did follow Xinran's columns in the Guardian newspaper and she's a very able writer: perceptive, knowledgeable, passionate.

Xue Xinran is child and victim of the Chinese Cultural Revolution, writer on political issues, especially pertaining to women. Some of the accounts she gives are almost fantastical - but then you research and find that she is reporting, not exaggerating - and it looks like Sky Burial fits into that. One to add to the list of books I will read.

Buy Sky Burial from Amazon US Amazon UK

When You Are Old: Early Poems and Fairy Tales, William Butler Yeats. Another of my favourite poets so I'm happy. WBY is also a Nobel Laureate (Literature) - those boys are dynamite. Sorry.

Sadly, I can't find any detailed info on what this compilation will hold but it's Yeats so if you don't already have all the early works, it should be worth looking at for the content as well as the cover.

When you are old and grey and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep

Buy When You Are Old from Amazon US Amazon UK

Carlos Ruiz Zafón's The Shadow of the Wind. Mea culpa, an author I've never read, so I'll have to quote from the Amazon description : "A page-turning exploration of obsession in literature and love, and the places that obsession can lead."

Buy The Shadow of the Wind from Amazon US Not yet on Amazon UK

So, there we have it - the 26 books of the Penguin Drop Caps collection. In the main, I approve of their selections, though there are one or two dubious books and I could make a case for many different authors. Those here are worthy if a little safe overall. Still, as I said earlier, I'd be very happy if Santa dropped these down my chimney.

And to leave you with a quote from Walt Whitman:

Shut not your doors to me proud libraries,
For that which was lacking on all your well-fill'd shelves, yet needed most, I bring,
Forth from the war emerging, a book I have made,
The words of my book nothing, the drift of it every thing,
A book separate, not link'd with the rest nor felt by the intellect,
But you, ye untold latencies, will thrill to every page.


Maxine said...

My children loved Five Children and It, E Nesbit has written some good ghost stories too. The Shadow of The Wind is a wonderful read, it's very 'film noir'. There is a sequel too but I have not read it. I've never read Walt Whitman but I did watch a very interesting documentary on him so will add him to my reading list for next year.

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