Several months ago I created a post about what I referred to as B-Side Literature – lesser known works by famous authors that are familiar to most anyone by the author’s name alone.
I called them ‘B-Side Literature’ to liken them to the lesser known songs on the flip-side of vinyl 45 RPM singles – a companion to the hit song on the A-side.
For my first post, I chose five works from five authors I enjoy, and I thought perhaps I’d choose five more ‘B-Side’ novels that I’ve also loved to share with others in the hope that they will further investigate well-known authors that they might not otherwise take another look at.
Alexandre Dumas, known for such venerable stories as The Three Musketeers and The Count Of Monte Cristo (two of my all-time favorites) released a series of books called ‘Celebrated Crimes’, an eight-volume collection of essays on some of Europe’s most infamous characters. While I have only indulged in one thus far, I chose this one and was far from disappointed. Mary Stuart, also known as Mary Queen of Scots, ascended to the throne at the ripe old age of six when her father King James Of Scotland died. After 22 years of rule Mary was forced to abdicate the throne in favor of her son, James, who was only one year old at the time. Mary fled Scotland and sought out the protection of her cousin, Elizabeth I, and was confined by Elizabeth to various castles and manor houses for the next eighteen years and was subsequently beheaded for ‘conspiring to have her cousin assassinated’. A fascinating read – and I often find that non-fiction written by a fiction writer can be just as compelling as their novels. Definitely worth a read.
Jack Kerouac – The Father of the Beats – the man who made road trips cooler than cool with his most famous work, On The Road, also released many other works which reveal much about his own life and that of his Beat Generation contemporaries, albeit under fictional names. The Town and The City is the lengthiest of Kerouac’s other works, at (in the edition I own) more than 400 pages. In it he pays homage to the works of Thomas Wolfe and describes the trials and tribulations of the Martin family (each character in the story molded upon someone from Kerouac’s life and on Kerouac himself, as in the case of the protagonist and narrator of the story, Peter Martin) – Peter drops out of school in favor of a cross-country trip (an obvious precursor to the wildly famous On The Road). Kerouac has become, in the past 20 years, one of my favorite authors to read and I find myself bemoaning his far too early passing at the age of 47. Thankfully he left behind numerous manuscripts, a few of which have been published only in recent years, filled with amazing stories of his adventures on and off the road. This book is, to me, equally as good as On The Road, and a shame to let go unread if you at all enjoy Kerouac’s writing.
Anne Rice. I discovered her writing in my late teens and early 20’s when I had a thirst (pun intended) for bloodsuckers and stories of their heinous acts. Anne Rice managed to turn vampires from nocturnal fiends into glamorous, romantic figures with her tales of Lestat, Louis, Armand, and company. In between these ‘Tales’ Anne Rice wrote some magnificent works that definitely bear investigation. Cry To Heaven is, to me, the best example of Anne Rice’s non-vampire tales being every bit as good as the bloodsuckers. Set in the 18th century, the book tells the story of a ‘Castrati’ (a castrated male soprano) mentor who finds in a new student the opportunity to fulfill a dream that was for himself shattered at an early age. It is a lush, lavish, beautiful tale that I have recommended time and again to those who have not ventured further than Rice’s vampires into her catalogue of works.
Jules Verne’s The Golden Volcano was the second of his ‘lesser known’ works that I have read, after The Lighthouse At The End Of The World. Two Canadian cousins set out to stake a claim during the gold rush and make their fortune, following a deathbed confession about a very rich vein of gold just waiting to be taken by someone. The cousins make their way across country, with dreams of fabulous wealth leading the way. Disasters, death, and danger await them all along the way. Jules Verne remains one of the world’s best adventure writers with a long list of works to investigate that go beyond 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea and Around The World In Eighty Days. Many of Verne’s works have not received an English translation to date, but thanks to the Bison Frontiers Of Imagination series several of those works are now available, of which this is one. Such a great, easily devoured adventure tale.
Lastly, Dostoevsky’s The Idiot. Another of my favorite novels, Crime and Punishment, set out to portray a guilty man, The Idiot offers a character of pure innocence. A twenty-six year old man, upon leaving a sanitarium after several years stay, returns to Russia to claim an inheritance and to rejoin society. Finding himself an absolute stranger to the ways and mores of the rich and powerful, Prince Myshkin finds himself falling prey to scandal, tragedy, and murder. The impact of his innocence on the unvirtuous creatures that he encounters leads to a powerful and dramatic conclusion to the novel. Russian literature may be difficult in terms of the translated version (some are easier to read than others, and I recommend Constance Garnett translations to newcomers to Dostoevsky) – this book, along with Crime and Punishment, The Possessed, Notes From Underground, and House Of The Dead have all been wonderfully enjoyable to read.