May 25, 2004
Sgt Hook and the Books Thing
Via Michele a request to help out Sgt Hook on a list of great books for all ages. Three reasons for me to add my $ 0.02 worth. Brother is now out there slinging hash, who knows, maybe for Hook himself, we need to get a few more English books onto the final list and of course the true reason, which is that my ego is small enough to withstand you all laughing at what I consider to be a good book yet large enough to want to tell you.
Some Shakespeare. Not sure which plays, but one or two. Must include the Sonnets.
King James Bible. Not for the religious aspect, for the language. These two, S and the KJB are the first codification of the English language. Same sort of time period (1590's to 1620's) and a weird combination of great writing and one language coalescing out of regional dialects make them both a must read. Those who have read the Old Testament in other languages (perhaps Jews in Hebrew) or in other translations (Good News etc.) will be astonished to see how the phrases from the KJB still roll through the language we speak today.
Gibbon, “Decline and Fall”. Much better if you have some Latin to read the footnotes. That's where all the funny dirty bits are.
Orwell. Either or both, “Animal Farm” and “1984”. His essays are also wonderful, try looking for “The Moon Under Water”, it's on the web somewhere. Written as a radio talk in WWII it is the most evocative description of what an English pub is.
Yvgeney Zamyatin, “We”. 1920 or so, first of the sci fi dystopias, leading directly to the above Orwell and to Aldous Huxley's “Brave New World” (which should also be on the list). YZ got shot for writing it by the Soviets.
“Gulag Archipelago”, Solzhenitsyn. Very long and very long winded, but don't get the abridged version. To my mind the greatest work of history of the last century, but then I'm biased. First read it when living in Moscow. Holed up in the apartment because there was a pro-communist coup d'etat going on outside. The yard next door was used to rev up the tanks which then went off to fire at the Parliament building. Y'all remember those pictures from CNN?
Martin Cruz Smith and his series “Gorky Park”, “Polar Star”, “Red Square” and the one about Cuba. Again, personal memories but he got so much right about what late Soviet / early free life was like. Arkady's office as a militia detective was at 38 Petrovka which is the address we used to give cabs to get to the apartment mentioned above.
Also, if you want to know what is was like out there in 1990 – 2000, try this one, Mark Ames, Matt Taibbi,Edward Limonov “ The Exile, Sex Drugs and Libel in the New Russia”. I knew them only vaguely but at a certain level it really was like that.
Any and everything by PJ O'Rourke. Simply stunning turn of phrase and one of the great stylists of the late 20 th century in American writing. Combines immense classical knowledge with hip argot. From the first book, “Republican Party Reptile”, which contains the essay “ How to drive fast while on drugs and get your whing whang squeezed without spilling your drink” to his demolition of Hillary in “CEO of the Sofa” he is simply unparalleled.
Alan Coren. Now writes for the Times but in the 1970's was editor of Punch. His weekly essays were simply fabulous. Try getting “ An Omnibus of Coren”. Howlingly funny.
Bernard Levin, another Times columnist. The best journalist of the latter half of the 20 th century. Various books of collected columns.
Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series by Douglas Adams.
Lewis Carroll, either “Alice in Wonderland” or “Through the Looking Glass”.
Lear, the nonsense limericks.
Spike Milligan, the best Irish novel yet published “Puckoon”. Or perhaps the first volume of his WWII memoirs “ Adolf Hitler, My Part in His Downfall”.
George MacDonald Fraser, the McAuslan books. “The General Danced at Dawn”, “McAuslan in the Rough”, “ The Sheikh and the Dustbin”. Much much better than his Flashman series.
Well, as you can see, I'm obviously not compiling a list of great literature, simply a list of those books that I've read that I think others should too. I could go on, something from Terry Pratchett's Discworld series (they are much more than just little fantasy/humour books. Full of very snarky little jokes, like Llamedos being the Welshish area of his made up world. A reference to Dylan Thomas and Llareggub in Under Milk Wood), Heinlein, Tom Holt, PG Woodehouse, Perelman and on and on and on. Twain? Myles 'na Gopaleen? AA Milne and the “House at Pooh Corner”?
Add to the list here in the comments and also at Sgt Hook's place.
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Gotta love Hook.
Posted by: Jane | May 25, 2004 2:39:14 PM