Five Novels You Have to Read
Make sure you read these books before you pass on to the Promised Land
Many readers have their favorite novels, the ones that stay with them the longest and have the greatest affect on their personal lives and intellects. The following is a list of novels that just about every adult could find enjoyable – according to taste, of course. All of them seem to have a timeless quality that could make them important works of fiction for many decades, if not centuries.
The list is in no particular order. Please read it and, if you haven’t read any of these novels, you might give one or the other a try.
Gary Jennings wrote many excellent historical novels and perhaps the best of the bunch is Aztec, published in 1980. Aztec is the first book in a series of five. (The most recent books have co-authors, as Jennings died in 1999.) Aztec chronicles the life of Mixtli, alias Seven Flower Dark Cloud - who lives a long life in the decades around 1500. Mixtli has an adventurous life: he becomes a warrior, a scribe, a wealthy trader and, late in life, a councilor to Montezuma II. Mixtli journeys all about pre-conquest Mexico or The One World, as the Aztecs call it, having encounters with many diverse characters, including Yaqui Indians sorcerers, fanatical priests, arrogant noblemen and beautiful, wily maidens.
Gary Jennings tells the tale as the first-person narrative of Mixtli, providing graphic details of human sacrifice, sexual perversion, drug-induced states and the cruel treatment of Indians by Hernando Cortez’s invading army of conquistadors. So this book is not for the easily offended. In fact, in some places, its depictions could be considered gruesome. Nevertheless, the narrative is very well written, trenchant, intellectual and, at times, humorous, heightening the reading pleasure and authenticity of this marvelous work. This book is truly a page-turner!
2. Lady Chatterley’s Lover
First published in 1928, Lady Chatterley’s Lover is the erotic tale of a married aristocratic woman, Constance (Lady Chatterley), who has an affair with Oliver Mellors, the gamekeeper on her husband’s estate. Lady Chatterley’s husband, Clifford Chatterley, was paralyzed from the waist down while fighting in World War One and is now impotent. Moreover, he’s not interested in love, just money and fame. Needing more physical and emotional involvement, Constance initiates an amorous relationship with Mellors, their liaison soon filled with sensual highs and free-spirited sexual fulfillment. Eventually Constance becomes pregnant and leaves her husband.
The novel was banned in the United States until 1959. In fact, it wasn’t allowed in this country without congressional and legal involvement. Senator Reed Smoot, referring to the author, D.H. Lawrence, said: “It is written by a man with a diseased mind and a soul so black that he would obscure even the darkness of hell!" Finally, the Supreme Court declared that banning the book was a violation of the First Amendment. If you like first-rate erotic literature, don’t miss this one!
3. East of Eden
East of Eden, published in 1952, is an autobiographical novel written by American literary giant John Steinbeck, who considered this book his best. The novel describes the lives of two families, the Trasks and the Hamiltons, during the early 1900s in the Salinas Valley of California. After the death of their father, Adam and Charles Trask inherit $50,000 apiece. Adam buys a farm and later marries Cathy Ames, a monstrous woman with a checkered past. (Cathy had murdered her parents by setting fire to the family home.) Nevertheless, Adam falls in love with and marries this horrible woman, who wants no part of family life and eventually leaves Adam with their two young sons, Caleb and Aron. Adam’s sons show metaphorical resemblance to Cain and Abel in the Book of Genesis; in fact, the novel contains numerous biblical allusions.
Her ambition knowing no bounds, Cathy Trask ingratiates herself with the owner of a brothel, gets her name on the woman's will, and then poisons the woman. Cathy then takes ownership of this house of ill repute and in the process learns all the town’s dirty secrets. While teenagers, Caleb and Aron discover that Cathy is their mother and visit her. Aron, growing disillusioned now that he knows his mother is dissolute and cares little for him, joins the army and fights in World War One. This novel is truly an American literary classic!
4. Cold Mountain
Written by Charles Frazier, Cold Mountain is the story of a Confederate soldier during the waning days of the American Civil War. Published in 1997, the novel chronicles the adventures of W.P. Inman, who, after being wounded in battle, escapes a Confederate hospital and treks 250 miles on foot, hoping to return to his sweetheart, Ada Monroe, who lives at Cold Mountain in North Carolina. The story moves back and forth between Inman and Monroe’s point of view. Monroe tries to run a farm without the help of a man.
This journey of Inman’s bears some resemblance to Homer’s The Odyssey, as Inman meets many interesting folks on his journey. Inman’s major concern is the Home Guard, which captures Confederate deserters. Eventually the Home Guard nabs Inman, chains him to the other captured men and then marches them for days, until the Guard decides to shoot all the deserters and bury them. Inman escapes from a shallow grave and finally returns to Cold Mountain, where he finds Monroe and also encounters the Home Guard one last time. This is a great story of the Civil War era American South!
5. Sister Carrie
Sister Carrie is Theodore Dreiser’s novel about a young woman’s search for the American Dream. Published in 1900, the book is about 18-year-old Caroline “Sister Carrie” Meeber who, after growing tired of life on a farm in Wisconsin and having aspirations of performing in the theater, takes a train to Chicago. On the train, Carrie meets Charles Drouet, a traveling salesman. In the big city, Carrie gets a job in a shoe factory, where the work is very hard and the conditions squalid. Carrie soldiers on at the factory until an illness gets her fired. Then she reunites with Drouet and becomes his “kept woman,” though she soon tires of his shallowness.
Eventually, Carrie gets the chance to act in an amateur theatrical melodrama and gives a smashing performance. But, because of Carrie’s entanglement with a married man named George Hurstwood, who embezzles money from his employer, she must flee with him to Canada. Hurstwood soon returns the money and then he and Carrie move to New York City, where Carrie embarks on a successful theatrical career, while Hurstwood ends up down and out. At this point, Hurstwood’s fall from affluence drives the novel, which delves into class struggle and the pre-labor-movement environment of America in the early 1900s. Tragically, Carrie attains the fame she’s always craved yet still feels empty. Sister Carrie has been called the greatest of all American urban novels.
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© 2011 Kelley Marks