New England, By The Book, Reading

New England, By The Book – Portsmouth Book and Bar, Portsmouth, NH

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Last fall I had the opportunity to (individually) catch up with two of my favorite ladies from Maine. Portsmouth, New Hampshire is roughly ‘half-way’ between us these days, and therefore we chose that as a meeting point. We spent hours poring over the months or years since we’d last been in the same space, and in both cases it was (as I prefer to feel most of my friendships are) as if we’d just sat down together the day before.

On the first outing, my fellow literary-obsessed friend Leslie and I also ventured into a couple of Portsmouth’s used book stores to check their offerings. In the first shop I came across a book I had just finished a few weeks before, The Bells, by Richard Harvell and one other book I had heard of but not yet read, The Paris Wife, by Paula McLain. Leslie purchased the former and I the latter.

After indulging in lunch at nearby RiRu, a converted bank turned eatery, Leslie and i were sitting outside on a bench, and I looked up information on any other book stores in the area and am thankful that I did.

Just down the street from where we sat lay an (for me) untapped venue – Portsmouth Book and Bar. Located in the former Custom House and Post Office, built in 1860, and home of several other businesses over the years, the Book and Bar is a worthwhile stop if you happen to venture to Portsmouth and have some time to kill.

Granted, the selection may not look as substantial as other places I’ve visited, but don’t be fooled by that. The neatly spaced and stacked shelving holds a world of treasures at very reasonable prices. Their fiction section (my immediate go-to) is extensive, and their non-fiction and children’s equally impressive.

Aside from the books accorded for sale, the venue boasts an enticing menu of sandwiches and small plate offerings, a decent selection of beer and wine, and of course coffee, tea, and soft drinks for those who choose to not imbibe. I have yet to eat or drink at this location, but the smiles on the faces of the patrons each time I have visited lead me to believe the food and beverages, like the book selection, do not disappoint.

The book store also offers live music to patrons, as well as comfy couches and cafe tables  on which to alight and enjoy the eclectic mix of musical styles performed regularly.

Located in the historic downtown district of a beautiful sea-side city, this is a locale I plan to visit again and again. Most recently I left the store with newly owned books by George Gissing, Orhan Pamuk, and Edmund White. There were other editions of interest that caught my eye – and hopefully they’ll be there for future perusal.

Portsmouth Book and Bar can be found at:

40 Pleasant St
Portsmouth, NH 03801
603.427.9197

OPEN 7 DAYS
SUN – THU : 10a–10p
FRI – SAT : 10a–midnight

http://www.bookandbar.com/index.html

Happy reading!

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New England, By The Book, Reading

New England, By The Book – The Montague Bookmill, Montague MA

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Books You Don’t Need, In A Place You Can’t Find is the tagline on the website for this gem of a bookstore.

But they were wrong, on both counts.

The Montague Bookmill claims residence in an 1842 Grist Mill in the little town of Montague, Mass. Bordering the Sawmill River, the Bookmill invites visitors to wile away a long afternoon perusing the shelves and stacks (don’t be fooled, it’s very organized) of books for sale – and then the multitude of other items for sale.

The property boasts not only their general and scholarly interest books, but a vinyl and cd shop, an artists collective, and a rustic restaurant all within steps of each other.

The Bookmill also invites musical artists to entertain, with reasonably priced seats, yet they entice audience hopefuls to arrive early for seats in their armchairs and couches for the best and most comfortable view of the musician playing.

Two summers ago I decided to make the two hour trek to Montague, which is west of me as the crow flies, to see what was in store for me. I was not disappointed. I left with, amongst others, a wonderful novel by a ‘forgotten’ author – The Stones Of Summer, by Dow Mossman (who might feature in a ‘Faded Pages’ blog post in the near future, even if this book was his only commercial output). It’s a delightful read, big and sprawling, taking place over decades, and a wonderful way to pass a summer week, or month, depending upon the pace you take with reading it.

In that respect, the book is much like the store from which I procured it. It’s a sizable property with much to offer. I spent a few peaceful hours strolling through the books, picking through the vinyl, and sampling a lunch offering from their cafe menu as I sat beside a window overlooking a sun-dappled stream below that carries water twenty-two miles from Lake Wyola to the Connecticut River as it carried me away to daydreams.

Worth an hour, an afternoon, or even an entire day, The Montague Bookmill is a hidden gem just beyond the mid part of the Commonwealth heading West to the New York state border. If you find yourself out that way, by happenstance, look the store up and spend some time there – you won’t be disappointed.

The store’s information is below. Happy reading!

MONTAGUE BOOKMILL
Susan Shilliday
440 Greenfield Road, Montague, MA
(mail) Post Office Box 954, Montague, MA 01351
Phone: (413) 367-9206
Email: susan@montaguebookmill.com
web: www.montaguebookmill.com
Hours: 7 days, 10-6, and later seasonally

 

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Parenting, Reading

It’s Worse Than You Think – Cautionary Tales From Childhood – In Recognition Of Halloween

I’ve been, since age 5, an avid reader. Once I discovered the worlds that existed inside books, they have been my constant and steadfast companion. I most always have a book that I’m in the process of reading, and when I don’t….my life seems thrown into a chaotic miasma that I need to quickly find an escape from by simply picking up another book. My childhood memories are filled with colorful tales from glossy storybooks.

A great aunt of mine had a full set of hardcover books with the written counterparts to several Disney film adaptions that I used to pore over when we’d visit her. There were many photos from some of the live action films or drawings for the animated films, and even though I knew the endings to the stories (The Wonderful World Of Disney was Sunday night must-see-t.v. in my childhood, and at the end of the school year my elementary school had a film day with offerings such as Old Yeller and the like), I still read them – at least the Disney versions of them.

I’ve retained many of my childhood books over time. Some I had, when I became a parent, hoped to pass on to my own kids to read and enjoy themselves. Unfortunately in the age of video games and mutant teenage sponge wizards the books I enjoyed so much in my youth (The Hardy Boys, Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators, The Great Brain series, Matthew and Maria Looney’s adventures, etc.) hold little interest for the boys. No matter – they should find and read things they, themselves enjoy.

There have been, however, stories that they’ve enjoyed that are universal and long-lived. Stories that have been in existence for generations before the boys or myself or even my grandparents. Stories that, over the years, Disney and Pixar and DreamWorks have adopted and adapted, sanitizing and whitewashing what, if you read the original source material, are some pretty horrific tales.

Many of these are what are known as Cautionary Tales. Stories that were written not only to entertain but to inform and teach someone about a potential danger they could encounter.

Cautionary tales involve three essential elements:

  • A ‘taboo’ – some place, act, or thing that represents danger to a person.
  • A disregard of the taboo/danger – violation of the warning that has been handed out.
  • A horrific fate/conclusion – often quite grisly in nature.

The concept has been replicated time and again through the years in a variety of mediums. From the original folk tales verbally recounted to the written word being used as a method of recounting these stories to the ‘School Scare Films’ and ‘Army Training Films’ of the mid-20th century that warned young hitchhiking boys that ‘homosexuals were lurking on the highways to offer them rides and corrupt them’ and cautioned young soldiers that ‘fast and easy women would give them social diseases’. Youngsters were warned of the dangers of drug use and disobeying their parents.

Even the film ‘Gremlins’ is a cautionary tale, in which are laid down three very precise rules to be followed (without deviation) by the owner of a Mogwai – with the accompanying warning of dire consequences if you did not follow these rules -and the ensuing mayhem when the rules were (as expected) not followed.

As I said, my childhood is filled with many memories of these cute, cuddly tales with fleeing princesses finding friendly, hardworking midgets to shack up with and puppets who come to life as companion to a lonely old man who not only has an insect problem, but the insect talks and wears a top-hat, and all sorts of other squeaky-clean enjoyment to be derived from them.

What’s even more fun? Reading the un-sanitized versions of these tales as an adult and realizing what the real story was and the ‘lesson’ it was supposed to teach. When all the singing animals and flying throw-rugs and dancing dinnerware are removed, what you are left with are some pretty horrifying and often tragic tales.

If you’d like to investigate some of, in my opinion, the best (or worst, depending on your perspective) examples of this…I highly encourage reading the original Pinocchio story, the original Little Red Riding Hood story, the story of the Pied (which means multi-colored, by the way…it has nothing to do with pastry) Piper, and Cinderella. You’ll find far more blood, gore, and mass-kidnapped children than Disney will ever show you. Another example is the book ‘Struwwelpeter’ by Heinrich Hoffmann. In this book, originally published with the sub-title ‘Funny Stories and Whimsical Pictures with 15 Beautifully Coloured Panels for Children Aged 3 to 6′ – the stories center on such toddler-centric tales as ‘The girl who played with matches and burned to death’, and ‘the boy who sucked his thumb too long so a scary man with giant scissors cut his thumbs off’.  Just imagine conveying that one to your 5 year old just before you turn out the lights and close the door for their young mind to mull over until they fall asleep – if they can. Makes an episode or two of The Walking Dead before bed seem not quite so terrible now, doesn’t it?

There are also loads of good websites to check out as well. I have listed a few below:

http://www.ancient-origins.net

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and a pretty entertaining article from ET Online, called Peter Pan and 6 other beloved Disney movies based on dark horrifying books.

There are many others to be found in your favorite internet browser. If you really want a good scare for tomorrow night – read a few of them. They’ll put a chill in your blood if the change of seasons hasn’t done that already.

Wishing everyone a safe and happy Halloween full of spooks, specters, and spirits.

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Faded Pages - Out Of Print Authors, Reading

Faded Pages – Out Of Print Authors: Sholem Asch

As I stood perusing the selection at a used book store recently (a separate blog post on that to come at a later time) I was asked what type of books I like to read.

I replied that my tastes run to classics, some modern literature, some thrillers, and biography as fiction. Truth be told I’ll read just about anything that catches my eye; although I typically don’t read science fiction and fantasy, as I find those types of stories more visually appealing (when translated to film) than I do to read in black and white.

My personal library is filled with old bindings and new ones. Very little of them are New York Times bestsellers, at least not from the past forty plus years. I buy used books because I read a lot of novels that are only available in modern paperback bindings (which I don’t typically read as I can’t prop them open on my lap and simply keep the pages from turning involuntarily), or are long out of print and hard to find in a ‘new’ book store.

Some of the authors I have most enjoyed reading are not well-known to my reading friends. When I find an author I’d not yet ventured to read whom I have initially enjoyed, I begin looking for additional titles and stock-pile them to read at a future date. Buying books used, I can easily pick up three, four titles for under twenty dollars.

Just this morning I happened to glance at my copy of ‘The Shadow Of The Wind’ on one of my book shelves. The story centers on a young man’s visit to a vast underground warehouse full of books by long-forgotten authors where visitors are allowed to select a work to take home and make their own. The authors in the ‘cemetery of forgotten books’ have long faded from popularity and many have even earned the title of ‘obscure’. The novel that the young man selects unlocks a dark mystery steeped in the history of Barcelona, Spain (and is also a wonderful read) as the young man attempts to determine whatever became of the book’s long-forgotten author.

These are authors I love to find, and have found several of in my years of being an avid reader.

Such has been the case with Sholem Asch. The first of his books that caught my eye was ‘The Nazarene – A Novel Based On The Life Of Christ’. The binding I found is not flashy at all; with only two text colors and an appealing though not altogether ornate font. There is no accompanying photo on the dust jacket, simply the author’s name and the title of another of his works.

I am not a religious person. I have merely a passing interest in theology, seeking only historical fact, not spiritual fulfillment, when I read a ‘Christian’ work. I love well-written historical tales and the recreating of worlds that existed thousands of years ago which show that the author did their research in bringing those worlds to life.

Sholem Asch delivers a tale of the life of Jesus Christ that is comprised of a series of recollections from three separate yet connected viewpoints, those of Cornelius, Pontius Pilate’s governor of Jerusalem; the Gospel of Judas Iscariot, and a young student of Nicodemus named Joseph. What I liked most about the book is that it neither preaches nor pontificates in speaking of Christ. The story of Christ, known to most, is simply the ‘thread’ that holds the tale together as the historical and cultural context of the time is presented in lavish detail. While there are several familiar literary ‘devices’ employed to present the life of Christ to Asch’s readers (the long-lost manuscript, the reincarnated being, etc.) the three connecting tales deliver a profile of Christ and of the holy land during his lifetime like few other authors ever have offered.

Sholem Asch, born in 1880, emigrated from his native Poland to the United States where he became a naturalized citizen in 1920. During his lifetime he wrote many novels and plays, and was (at the time) a celebrated writer up until his death in 1957. His works include several other novels based upon Biblical figures and tales (Mary, Moses, The Apostle, The Prophet). Of those here mentioned, The Prophet is the only one I’ve not yet read. Other more secular works such as East River, which describes the potential conflicts of coexistence between Jews and Christians and Salvation, which centers on a ‘slow-learning’ scholar in the 19th century who is kicked out of school due to his excessive time off to help his mother and support his family (neither of which I’ve yet read as I’ve not found them in my travels) are reportedly wonderful reads about the life of the Jewish people.

For anyone, such as I am, with a more ‘temporal’ interest in Christ and his life and times, Sholem Asch’s works are a great place to learn more.

Happy Reading!

 

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Reading

More B-Side Literature

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Happy Reading!

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Miscellaneous, Reading

Reputedly Haunted Places Around Boston

In honor of it being Halloween, I wanted to post something about ‘haunted’ places.

My friend Judy and I both have a desire to visit a REALLY spooky place….like an old asylum….or an abandoned prison….but most of these places are gated off and trespassers are prosecuted.

Many (too many for my liking) people flock to Salem during the month of October to channel their inner witches and wraiths…and Salem is a great destination to see a lot of spooky costumes and visit some spooky destinations.

If you can handle being elbow to elbow with thousands of people, that is. Me? Not so much.

There are, however, a few locations you can visit in Boston that are reported to be haunted. I cannot speak to the validity of any of these claims, but….perhaps by visiting them yourself, you might just have your own paranormal activity to add to the already existing claims.

The Charlesgate Hotel

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I’m starting with this one because the current season of the television series American Horror Story is set in a hotel in Los Angeles. Too bad they couldn’t have filmed in Boston. The Charlesgate Hotel, while labeled as a former house of ‘ill repute’, also has a history of death attached to it. The architect, J. Pickering Putnam, died in the building on February 23, 1917…sixteen years after the building was completed. A suicide in 1908, which was attributed to melancholy (depression) brought on by ‘nervous trouble’ and insomnia related to this, is also part of this location’s history. Twice purchased for and used as dormitories (Boston University in 1947 and Emerson college in 1981), students have reported feeling ‘bad vibes’ in the building, and have claimed to communicate with a restless spirit via a Ouija Board.  One student reported being ‘attacked’ by a spirit who caused a lightbulb to flicker in the bathroom and when he went to change it (while standing near a pool of water on the floor), his roommates were using a Ouija Board that was spelling out ha-ha-ha-ha-ha….and when asked why the spirit was laughing, the reply they allegedly received was ac-dc-ac-dc-ac-dc. There are reports of a child dying in the elevator shaft during this building’s time as a boarding house, as well as sightings of spirits of horses and the young men who died trying to save them from the former basement stables, the building has also been rumored to have been the site of black Satanic Masses (complete with human sacrifices) in the basement.  Quite a history for a place that is presently being sold as condominiums.

Emerson Majestic Theater

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The Majestic Theater in Boston claims to have a permanent audience member. A former mayor of Boston (I cannot locate a name) is said to occupy the seat he died in while attending a performance one night to this very day. A child’s ghost has been reportedly ‘seen’ in the theater, as well as a married couple in turn of the century clothing that supposedly haunt the unused balcony.

The Everett Theater

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Take this one with a grain of salt, as there is limited information available to authenticate the claim that during the 1700’s an entire audience in the balcony of this theater was slaughtered one night during a sold out performance. Rumor has it their ghosts can be seen running and screaming up in the balcony.  The theater is closed and in disrepair, but is undergoing renovations to re-open at some future date.

Fort Warren Boston

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Reported to be haunted by the wife of Lt. Andrew Lanier. Lanier was incarcerated in the fort/prison and his devoted wife snuck onto Georges Island dressed as a man to break him out. When cornered during their unsuccessful escape, Lanier’s wife’s gun misfired and he was killed. She was then sentenced to death for her attempt to break him out, and her one request was to allow her to die dressed as a woman instead of her masculine disguise to try to liberate her husband. As the story goes, the widow was allowed to wear a black dress that had been used as a theater prop by performing soldiers on the island, and Mrs. Lanier was hanged in it. She supposedly walks the island at night, and gunshots and screams have been said to be heard. This island is open to the public and able to be reached via Boston Harbor transportation. If nothing else, it’s worth a day trip as an historic landmark.

The Parker House Hotel

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Lastly, one of my favorite places in Boston – The Parker House hotel. This was the favored destination of author Charles Dickens when he visited Boston. The ‘haunted’ history of this site pre-dates the Parker House and ties to a soldier who fired his gun into a crowd of children, killing several of them. The founder of the hotel, Harvey Parker, is said to haunt the 10th floor, and employees have reported doors opening and closing, even slamming shut, without human intervention as well as the sound of a rocking chair creaking without an occupant. The elevator in the hotel is said to stop at the third floor even without that floor being selected, perhaps being the ghost of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow inviting people to stop and say hello, as he was a frequent visitor to the third floor of the hotel, along with Emerson and Thoreau, who would gather for their Saturday Club meetings where they would read poetry and debate timely topics from the news. Also notable is that a nineteenth century actress, Charlotte Cushman, who resided in the hotel’s Charles Dickens suite (also on the 3rd floor) where she died in 1876 is said to haunt the place as well. Whether you see/experience ghosts here or not, it’s still a nice place to get a Pear Martini and sample the gin punch in the Parker House restaurant at Christmas time, and enjoy being in the very place where Charles Dickens gave the first American public reading of the seminal classic ‘A Christmas Carol’. An excellent history of the Parker House can be found at www.omnihotels.com. The place, haunted or not, has quite a history.

Happy Halloween to one and all, and may your evening be as safe as it is spooky!

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Reading

‘B-Side Literature’

As those who grew up listening to vinyl know, before the introduction of the cassette tape, compact disc, and eventual mp3/digital media file, song singles (45’s) had two sides. The A-side was the featured song being released and played on the radio, and on the other side was either another track from the same album, not in wide release, or a song from another album, or a live version of a song…that was the B-side.

It wasn’t necessarily the artist’s best effort, or something bound for instant glory and heavy rotation on the radio….but sometimes, it was just as good as the A-side song. Sometimes it was…dare I say it…even better?

In high school I was introduced to classic authors like Charles Dickens, Nathaniel Hawthorne, George Orwell, and many others. As a freshman in high school I read ‘David Copperfield’, and later ‘Great Expectations’ (which eventually became my favorite Dickens book). As a sophomore I read ‘The Scarlet Letter’ (okay, I didn’t read it, I read the Cliff’s Notes, sorry Mr. Marquis!). I, like many other students, was introduced to some of the most well-known works by some of the most well-known ‘classic’ authors of all time.

Fortunately, I didn’t stop there.

Over time I’ve picked up lesser-known works by some of these same classic authors, and enjoyed them immensely. Some of them are easier to get into and get a feel for the author’s style, voice, and tone than immediately delving into their ‘magnum opus’. I’d like to share a few of my favorites here:

‘Resurrection’ – by Leo Tolstoy 

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I’m starting with one of my favorites. I’ve not yet read War and Peace, nor Anna Karenina, although I have copies of both in my collection waiting for me. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not put off by a sizable book, and both fit this description. But I chose to read this one a few years ago, which is admittedly shorter than the more well-known offerings of Tolstoy, to get a feel for him as an author. I must say I was not disappointed. To sum up the plot very briefly – an aristocrat has a brief liaison with a servant – she winds up getting fired – she becomes a prostitute – he feels badly for her and eventually tries to help her. This does not give away any plot twists or surprises. What I took away from this book is that you can’t help someone that doesn’t want to be helped. What others might take away from it may be very different. Irrespective of that, it’s a great read, and a good way to introduce yourself to Tolstoy.

‘The Lighthouse At The End Of The World’ – Jules Verne

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Jules Verne is not a difficult author to read. His books are fast-paced and engaging. His adventures, while written long before certain technological advancements he used as plot devices became reality, are timely and  enjoyable. This book (which I read earlier this year) has a less device-dependent plot – it’s about pirates and survival. I made my way through this story in about three days, and found it every bit as enjoyable as some of the other Verne novels I’ve read, such as Journey To The Center Of The Earth and Around The World In Eighty Days. Verne is, in ways, like the ‘Steve Berry’ ‘Clive Cussler’ and ‘James Rollins’ of the 19th century.  His books are, without cell phones and GPS and attack drones, just as action packed as some of today’s most popular adventure and thriller novels.

‘The Chevalier Of Maison-Rouge’ (also known as The Knight Of Maison Rouge) – Alexandre Dumas

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I have read ‘The Three Musketeers’, as well as ‘The Count Of Monte Cristo’, ‘The Black Tulip’, and ‘The Whites and the Blues’. Monte Cristo is my favorite Dumas (thus far), and is a wonderful, wonderful read. I’ve very much enjoyed every Dumas I’ve read, but the reason I chose this story in particular to make my point is that the ending, while I won’t give it away, struck me as very abrupt….but when you look at what ‘happens’ at the end of the book…it’s just as it should be. One thing I’ve long enjoyed about classic authors is that many of their books don’t have a pat, loose-end tying up, Hollywood ending. Some of them just end the way they end…and it’s very appropriate to the story overall. Sometimes the boy doesn’t get the girl…sometimes the bomb isn’t diffused, and sometimes justice isn’t served. If you can live with books ending like that – give this one a try.

‘The Dead Secret’ – Wilkie Collins

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How many Wilkie Collins novels can you name other than ‘The Woman In White’ and ‘The Moonstone’ without looking up his bibliography? If the answer is ‘none’….you’re really missing out on some great stuff. I read ‘Woman In White’ and yes, it is a great tale….but Collins did not peak at that book, nor at the Moonstone, in terms of writing great, atmospheric stories. My friend Spencer used to say that in Victorian literature, the ‘secret’ was ALWAYS the same thing (I won’t say what, as in terms of this book that is true), but if you’ve ever toyed with starting a Collins book and want to ease into reading his stuff, this is a great place to start.

‘Bleak House’ – Charles Dickens

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Lastly, my favorite author…Charles Dickens. I have a very difficult time picking out something to call it a really good example of a lesser-known work by Dickens, because everything…and I mean EVERYthing, by him that I have now read had been wonderful. Sure, they are lengthy….yes, they have a TON of characters to keep track of….but every one of his novels that I’ve made my way through has been a gem. People who like Dickens but stop with the ones you are ‘made’ to read in school don’t know what they are missing. Bleak House, Our Mutual Friend, Dombey and Son, The Old Curiosity Shop, Nicholas Nickelby….all great stuff. Even if you look back at reading Dickens and groan at the thought of what it was like as a teen…give him another look. You survived it before….and you just might find, like me, that as an adult…Dickens had (and still has) a lot to offer to readers.

There you have it….five examples of ‘B-side’ literature from well-known authors. There are a lot more from each of these authors to look into. Short stories and novelas, essays, non-fiction, etc. No matter how well-known their well-known works are, a lot of the rest of what they wrote is just as enjoyable and worth looking into.

Happy Reading!

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