Forming the Thinking Patterns of My Life

twain


Without a doubt, the greatest novels have their roots in Europe, beginning with the Cervantes masterpiece, The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha, right through Dickens, Stendhal, the Germans, Italians, and the Russians.

Until James Fenimore Cooper arrived on the scene, American literature was all but nonexistent. Cooper was not the greatest technician, but the Europeans were extremely interested with the New World and became intrigued with Cooper’s Leatherstocking Tales written with Native Americans and pure wilderness as a background. Since then, American literature has grown steadily, until the latter part of the 20th century, when it drowned amidst teenage love, vampires, and magical fantasy.

I cannot imagine how many novels I have been fortunate enough to read, but I can take a shot at some of my all-time favorites, and I share them here:

1.  For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway. A young American professor enters the Spanish Civil War as a Loyalist and learns about love and brotherhood in the last months of his life. This is my number one pick, and I have read it many times. It is the novel that convinced me that war is an absurd method of settling human disputes.

2.  Sula by Toni Morrison. This wonderful novel with the main theme of good versus evil is on my list because Morrison taught me a great deal about writing. Of all the modern American novelists, I find her prose to contain the most clarity.

3.  The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. No work tells us more about the American Dream than this classic. The symbolism is second-to-none, and the author paints a clear picture of the issues still facing America today. Perhaps, if everyone read this book, our nation would begin to move in the right direction once again.

4.  The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain. I always tell my students that they have not really graduated from college unless they have read this novel. In return, they frequently walk down the aisle at graduation ceremonies carrying a copy. If one wants to understand the mindset of Americans in the late 19th century, this is the novel to read.

5.  The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway. I was a so-so reader until the 8th grade when I was assigned this novel as summer reading. Hemingway’s tale of hopelessness set in a Spanish culture hooked me on reading-and the author for life.

6.  The Deerslayer by James Fenimore Cooper. For the reasons expressed in my introduction to this post, this novel introduces readers to 18th century America and its values, long lost I might add. Cooper might not possess Toni Morrison’s writing talent, but his historical perspective will last as long as literature itself.

7.  Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut. This satirical novel about the firebombing of Dresden, Germany during World War II is brilliantly written on two levels. Fictional happenings on an unknown planet mirror the horrors of reality on Earth. Like Hemingway, Vonnegut convinces his readers of the futility of war as a method of resolving human conflict.

8.  Deliverance by James Dickey. As an archetypal critic, I find this novel to contain all the steps of a complete Heroic Quest. Anyone wanting to ponder the psychological struggles of all human beings need only read this book and think about his or her own existence.

9.  The Pearl by John Steinbeck. In this work, a young pearl diver finds a great, valuable pearl. He dreams of a better life for his family, but soon discovers that money sometimes creates more problems than it solves. This book is a life lesson for all.

10. The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane. This coming-of-age novel set during the American Civil War contains classic symbols and archetypes. One of my favorite literary scenes occurs when the hero, seeking courage in battle, runs away in fear. This causes him to fall further into depression, until his flight scares a squirrel who quickly runs to the trees for safety. The hero realizes that the animal is part of Nature, and it is perfectly rational to fear for one’s life. It is this type of realization that we all must experience to be truly content with ourselves in life. We gain that experience through reading, which sadly, most young people today avoid.

Of the thousands of novels I have enjoyed, the above list names just a few. I can only conclude that my life has been greatly enhanced by fictional works because they are based upon the realistic visions and experiences of their authors. There is a great deal of truth in fiction.

Comments

  1. I love Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and Twain, too. (I recently got a Twain book I'd never heard of before... and it was actually banned at one time because of a nude illustration in it: "The Diary of Eve".

    Do you think any of today's popular writers are creating work worthy of being considered "classics" someday?

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    1. Susan: Yes. I believe it was actually a short story called "Eve's Diary." I have it somewhere in my library, but without the original illustrations, which depicted a nude Eve. That was pornographic in its day.

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  2. My favorite part of this blog was your commentary about The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. I could picture all of these students at commencement carrying their copy of the book. That, my friend, is you touching lives. Not an easy feat, but very gratifying.

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    1. Robin: It was actually one of my all time favorite teaching memories.

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  3. I'm also a fan of Hemingway and Fitzgerald. I recently saw the remake of The Great Gatsby, and was quite disappointed. I don't think either movie compares to reading the book. I'll have to check out more of your favorite classics.

    Julie

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    1. Julie: The movie rarely trumps the book. That is why I am still refusing to see the movie "Life of Pi." The best Gatsby movie I have seen was the one from the '70s with Mia Farrow and Robert Redford.

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  4. Hi JJ .. I'm really unread - and really should take an English course with a lecturer who so enjoys their subject ... you?! I feel ashamed to say I know the books and the authors .. but read them I haven't ... but looks like literature might strike me even later in life than history ...

    Informative and excellently written post .. cheers Hilary

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    1. Hilary: No shame at all. What a great new adventure!

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  5. Hi there, JJ...

    I LOVED 'Slaughterhouse 5!'

    What a great book! I have read some Twain and James Fenimore Cooper!! As a young guy, I was very interested in his work!! Through my Family Tree work, I have discovered relatives who came to this world from Holland... settled just north of New Amsterdam... and had family members taken by Indians of that region... maybe that DNA memory is embedded in me and that's why that appeals to me so!

    I need to print this out and read these!

    Thanks for the list!!

    ~shoes~

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    1. Shoes: I hope you do. They put a different perspective on modern American life.

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  6. All great choices. What really hit me, though, is that I was much more well read when I was younger. I've gotten lazy. But oh I have great memories of loving these books!

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    1. Galen: I understand. I feel fortunate because by teaching literature, I tend to continue to read as avidly as I did years ago.

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  7. You are so right, J.J.

    Some amazing choices here. I've also enjoyed works by Poe, Hawthorne, Dickinson and Thoreau.

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    1. Michael: I love all of them as well!

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  8. What a great list and reminder that I need to get back to the classics. I'm not one to reread a book once it's finished, however Huckleberry Finn is one I do want to reread. Ahh, just wish I had more time...

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    1. Elise: I felt that way a long time ago. Then, I realized we all have the same amount of time - 24 hours in each day.

      Actually, I don't believe in time. It is an arbitrary creation of man to measure stress. The real key is priorities.

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  9. My husband, the actuary, received an English degree right alongside his math degree and spent a lot of his time with Mark Twain. He loves searching out many of the places Mark Twain traveled to.
    Yes indeed, to spend my life with such an intelligent man I am fortunate beyond what anyone could ever deserve!

    Your list is a good one. Reading is the key that opens our lives beyond mediocrity.

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    1. Jasmine: It is hard to beat Twain. When Hemingway received his Nobel Prize for The Old Man and the Sea, he said too bad they didn't give it to Mark Twain. He always credited Twain with much of his own writing success.

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  10. I always like to know what good writers are reading. Thank you for this list, I read several in high school and don't remember them very well. I do remember The Pearl, I was in 9th grade and I hurled it across the room upon finishing the book. I began "For Whom the Bell Tolls" but was distracted by the need to understand the actual history of the Spanish Civil War. I must get back to it.
    Thanks for stopping by the other day. Sometimes I get bogged down and fail to see the forest for the trees.

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    1. CailinMarie: I take it you did not like Steinbeck's novel.

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  11. I have a soft spot in my heart for The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

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    1. Lynda: Anyone well read would have to have that soft spot.

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  12. excellent collection of classic, inspirational literature!
    i've even read a few of them!

    happy friday!

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    1. Tara: Good for you! I do believe they are inspirational works, and we could use more of that today.

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  13. Hello JJ!

    This is a great list of favorites. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is one of my favorites, too. I keep a copy in my car in case I'm broken down or stuck somewhere and want to read a good book. My all time favorite is The Good Earth. Left quite an impression on me when I read it for the first time in 7th grade and then again later in life.

    I hope you had a wonderful summer. My summer passed by in a flash. Oldest daughter had a baby girl beginning of June. Because she had a C-section, she needed my help, especially because she couldn't lift Grasshopper, who just turned two. Now that daughter is back at work, I'm caregiver for both babies 9 to 10 hours a day M - F. I'm exhausted, but happy. I come home and work on writing stuff for two to six hours at night and longer than that on weekends, so there's not much free time for other things like blogging, answering emails, and all the other social media has been cut way down. So it's taken me a long time to get over here and thank you for stopping in at my site and saying hello. I was thrilled to hear from you. I hope all is well with you and your family. Take care!

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    1. Lynn: All is well, and I am very happy you stopped by. So they never told you that when we throw them out of the nest, they find their way back? Hang in there. Hard as it is, I am sure your family appreciates your efforts tremendously. You're a terrific mom! Be well.

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