I hate to be the last person to break it to you, but…it looks like summer’s over. The days are getting shorter and colder, the New England leaves are turning, and Halloween and Samhain are right around the corner. Break out the sweaters, scarves, jeans, and boots, and while you’re at it, here are four classics that go great with a mug full of chaider (that’s chai + cider; CHAI-DER).
Happy reading! – e.v.
The Death of Ivan Ilych by Leo Tolstoy
Tolstoy gives away the ending at the very beginning (spoiler alert: Ivan Ilych dies), but Tolstoy’s writing grabs you; it reels you in ’til the last syllable. The mystery of the character’s illness and the question of what happens when he faces his inevitable death keeps you hanging onto every word. Not until the character accepts this inevitability does he think about the suffering he caused for others in what he recalls as an unfulfilled life, one in which he did everything that his family, friends, and society told him he should do. It was a heavy story, and a beautiful read.* Check out this edition published by Melville House in Brooklyn, which prints a series called The Art of the Novella.
The Metamorphosis, The Penal Colony, and Other Stories by Franz Kafka
Maybe you’re like me, in that you recall reading “The Metamorphosis” in high school and thinking huh? Kafka’s tale of the traveling salesman turning into a giant bug is absurd. How the family reacts to the character’s state is the true metamorphosis of the story, while “The Hunger Artist” serves as an allegory for art, exploring asceticism, one man’s dying art form, success, and what it means to feel fulfilled with one’s work.*
As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner
Faulkner’s novel is written in fifty-nine segments and an astonishing fifteen different points of view, offering up conflicting and overlapping accounts when the matriarch of the Bundren family, Addie, passes away and the clan transports her body to a cemetery in another town.
A Good Man is Hard to Find: Ten Memorable Short Stories by Flannery O’Connor
They weren’t kidding when they titled this collection “memorable.” I found myself re-reading the first four short stories not long after I first read them; each one is rich and dense like a chocolate espresso layer cake with mocha mascarpone and buttercream frosting. Yeah, it’s that good. O’Connor doesn’t shy away from exposing the meanness and tragedy of life, shocking both the reader and the characters with jolting violence and hardship. The prose is exquisite, the dialogue reveals much about the character’s psychological states, but what I paid particular attention to were the descriptions of the surroundings, which were loaded with symbols. Early on in the collection, I realized something awful was going to occur at the end of each story, but I read and re-read them anyway.
*Both Tolstoy and Kafka were brought to mind when I read this article on the Huffington Post today: Are You Living Your Eulogy or Your Resume?