John Green’s Response To The Banning Of His Book Is Perfect

1. John Green answered a fan’s question on his Tumblr yesterday about the banning of The Fault in Our Stars.

Ton Koene

2. Riverside Unified School District in California has banned TFIOS from its middle schools for dealing with mortality and sex.

Q: Hey John, what is your reaction to the news that the Riverside district has chosen to ban TFIOS from middle school libraries on the grounds that it deals with mortality and sex? I remember your reactions to similar situations concerning your books have been pretty animated and wondered what you thought?

3. His response was hilariously perfect:

I guess I am both happy and sad.

I am happy because apparently young people in Riverside, California will never witness or experience mortality since they won’t be reading my book, which is great for them.

But I am also sad because I was really hoping I would be able to introduce the idea that human beings die to the children of Riverside, California and thereby crush their dreams of immortality.

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5. Well played, John Green.

Jarry Lee / BuzzFeed / Dutton Books

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10 Notoriously Controversial Books

We have written two lists in the past which deal with this same subject, so there is a little overlap, but this list is a more general one so it makes sense. This is a list of books (fiction and non-fiction) that have been the subject of great controversy.


The Da Vinci Code almost made it onto this list, but in light of this entry’s nonfiction status, it must overtake what Dan Brown expressly intended as fiction.

This is the nonfiction book from which Dan Brown got most of his ideas for The Da Vinci Code. As if that book isn’t controversial enough, Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh and Henry Lincoln (yes, that’s right, three writers), published this book in 1982 in the UK. It states a case that Jesus was not divine, married and had sex with Mary Magdalene, had children by her, and that these children or their descendants emigrated to Gaul (France), and founded the Merovingian Dynasty, which has two of the most famous Frankish kings, Charles the Hammer, and Charlemagne.

You can see how this might upset a few Christians. It wouldn’t have be so bad if the writers actually had some hard facts to back up their case, but they rely almost exclusively on factoids, which are dubious, probably spurious attempts to sound factual. The Priory of Sion, on which the book heavily relies, did not have the storied history it describes. The true Priory was founded in 1956 in France, by Pierre Plantard, who deliberately concocted a fictitious history going back to 1099 and the Christian sack of Jerusalem. The Christians did sack it, but there was no Priory involved.

It also asserts that the Roman Catholic Church has completely corrupted the truth of Judeo-Christian history in order to control people. You can see how this might upset a few Catholics (and Jews).


This one makes very frequent appearances on public school banned-book lists throughout the United States, because of its use of the word “nigger.” Mark Twain wrote it at a time when it was not dangerous to use this word, but today things have changed.

The truth is, in the time of the story, white people called black people “niggers,” because that was the most usual word in the nationwide vernacular. It was not, at that time, so much a pejorative term as now. But typical PTA meetings at elementary, middle and high schools center on this book as often as they center on sex education, because the horrified parents can’t get over the thought of their children reading the word “nigger” several hundred times throughout the book.

Book Of Mormon

This one is controversial for a specific reason. At the very end of the Judeo-Christian Bible, in Revelation, there is a verse that reads, “For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.”

The first half of that quotation is the one Mormons have to sidestep carefully, and they usually do so by saying that it should be interpreted as referring to only the Book of Revelation, not the entire Bible. If this is accepted, then Joseph Smith’s Book of Mormon is an acceptable addition to the Bible. Almost all other Christian denominations argue fiercely that whatever the quoted verses mean, there is no need for an addition to the Bible. It was already complete before Smith came along.

Their arguments typically center on Smith’s (and Brigham Young’s) desire for multiple wives. Smith was not allowed by U. S. law to marry more than one wife, so he invented a new religion and got it accepted into the mainstream in order to marry more than one woman. Today, the Mormons believe some bizarre things, in terms of fundamental Christianity, namely that God has physical sex with angels, that when a Mormon dies, he or she becomes God in another universe, and that God took care of the ancient Native Americans, perhaps from as long ago as 2,500 BC, in much the same way that he took care of the Israelites. Also that during the forty days between Resurrection and Ascension, Jesus appeared and preached to the native American tribes.

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Coupled with Huck Finn as a popularly banned book in schools around the United States. Salinger had a lot of nerve to publish it in 1951, given its amount of profanity, sexual scenes, general subversive nature, and lots and lots of smoking and drinking. It was one of the ten most challenged books in 2005, with furious parents demanding it be removed from their children’s school curricula.


Atheists champion it, theists denounce it, and there is very little middle ground. That was Richard Dawkins’s intent with it. This is by far his most inflammatory treatise on atheism to date, and his biggest commercial success. It has sold over 2 million copies.

Dawkins openly attacks religion as a delusion, since there is almost certainly no God, never has been, period. He goes through a logical process of destroying the idea of a God of any kind, then discusses the nature of morality, whether it requires a religion to work.

The book has so inflamed the debate between atheists and theists that quite a few books have been written promoting it, and even more condemning it. Dawkins and two others, Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens, who have also written such books, are referred to by many Christians as an Unholy Trinity, now.


O. J. Simpson should have laid low for a little longer. It wouldn’t have made the list had it not actually been printed, but about 400,000 copies have been.

It is difficult to know how many were destroyed, if any, but when it was announced in November 2006, it started such a controversy that the publisher had to yank it off the press. In August of the next year, the Goldman family was awarded copyrights for the book, as partial compensation for the lawsuit that Simpson never paid.

Judith Regan, the publisher, is on record stating that she considers the description of Simpson’s “hypothetical” scenario so perfect and pristine that it’s as good as the actual confession.

The premise of the book is really stupid, given that Simpson swears he didn’t do it. He puts forth the case that though he didn’t do it, this is how he could have done it. Not smart.

After his original plans for the book, as a way to make some money, were canceled, the Goldman family acquired the rights and hired a ghostwriter to get it into publication. Not a bad read, really.

(He did it.)


Niccolo Machiavelli’s masterpiece has garnered a rotten reputation over the centuries as advocating tyranny. Machiavelli argues that the best ruler is the one whose people love him. Such a ruler is almost impossible to come by. But a very close second to this is the ruler whose people fear him. There have been many of those.

The book is more philosophy than politics, and it champions the idea of self-reliance. But this can easily be taken as “don’t help anyone, because they should help themselves.” Self-reliance is one of the founding principles of the modern Church of Satan, and that’s the comparison detractors of this book routinely make.

In general, the detractors loathe it because it appears a very efficient method by which to create a corrupt tyrant.


Karl Marx should have been reprimanded, not for its controversial nature, but for writing the most boring book in history. His idea came from an observation that all of humanity’s strife, from the beginning of our history to now, has been over class struggles.

He therefore sought to abolish classes, and establish a system of government in which there are no betters or worses, but only equal people, who all get paid the same amount for whatever their jobs are, from the President to the peon. They would all get the same kind of food, the same amount, the same kind of car, house, everything.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way. Someone always wants more or better. Actually, everyone does. It was seen as the polar opposite of democracy, not because of its philosophy, but because it was seized upon and championed by the Soviet Union, whom the United States deeply abhorred during the Cold War.

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A few facts that you may not know. Muslims believe that the Q’uran is the divine speech of God, revealed through the Archangel Gabriel to Muhammad, from around 610 to 632 AD. They regard it as the primary miracle to prove that Muhammad is indeed the greatest prophet of all.

Muslims revere Moses and Jesus also, but do not hold that Jesus was divine. Christians around the world who are not particularly educated about the book consider it the closest thing to the Devil Himself that anyone is likely to see until Armageddon.

Most of these Christians (and there are other denominations and religions involved in loathing the book) believe that the Q’uran instructs its followers to strap on dynamite and C-4 explosives, and go kill infidels (Jews and Christians) in order to get to Heaven and be rewarded with 72 dark-haired virgins.

The problem is that the word for these “virgins” is “houri,” which has many meanings. It may mean nothing more than angels, meaning that 72 angels will minister to the departed in heaven, and “minister” does not necessarily mean sexual intercourse.

Most Muslims believe in these 72 virgins in the same way that most Christians believe that they will be outfitted with harps, wings, and walk on clouds.

But the terrorist organizations, dedicated to hatred of Jews and Christians, indoctrinate their primarily illiterate trainees into believing that their suicides and bombing of said infidels will be the path to Heaven. There is no such statement anywhere in the Q’uran. It is quite a peaceful book, advocating understanding and tolerance of the three major Monotheisms.

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No book has been published more, translated more, interpreted or misinterpreted more than the Judeo-Christian Bible. It has more copies in circulation that any other book, and is present in part or in whole in about 2,400 of the world’s 6,900 or so languages.

It is the breeding ground for more furious debates than any book in history, and is the go-to book for Christians, atheists, deists, even Jews and Muslims. If you’re going to convince a Christian he’s wrong, you have to use his book to do it.

Atheists, in particular, regard it with extreme hatred, because it depicts God as particularly ruthless, cruel, barbaric (Old Testament) and then self-righteous and magical (New Testament). Logically speaking, they say, the Bible is its own worst enemy, because it appears notoriously ambiguous in places.

It is the center of authority on gay rights issues, gay marriage, abortion, even the very nature of democracy. The Founding Fathers of the United States used it as their primary template for drafting the Constitution.

Not even the most secular debate on morality can avoid it. Before the Bible, philosophers typically quoted Aristotle, Plato, Socrates, Confucius, Siddhartha Gautama, etc. After the Bible, even the most vehemently atheistic philosophers quote the Bible more than any other source of philosophy when attempting to prove or disprove any of its points.

Some even argue that all of the world’s wars after its dissemination have been caused by it.

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10 Books To Read Before You Grow Up

There are many lists throughout the web about books you should read before you die. I find that peculiar. What good is reading a piece literature that can give you a whole new perspective on life “before” you die? Wouldn’t it be worthwhile to have a list of titles you should read before you start truly “living?”

Young adults have a lot time on their hands. Sprinkling that time with books that will make them better prepared for life’s peaks and valleys can’t hurt. Especially at a stage in life when they can absorb it without the distractions of adulthood. The titles my teen gravitates to are wonderful if she plans to settle down with a handsome vampire or start her own crusade against evil wizards.

High School isn’t helping either. The reading lists she brings home hasn’t changed much in 30 years. “To Kill a Mockingbird”, “All ‘BORING’ on the Western Front”, “Lord of the Flies” all great books, but basically one-dimensional. Racism…Bad, War…Bad, Civilization…Good, o.k… we get it! How about titles that inspire, teach and help you learn from others mistakes. Because growing up is tough, but being a grown-up is tougher without a clue to what lies ahead.

Here’s a list of books that I’m encouraging my own teen to read before running off to college. I know if I had, I would have been better prepared for this big, bad and beautiful world.

Please feel free to add your own recommendations in the comments.


Harriett’s psychologically incestuous affection for her parents ultimately leads to misery, for herself, and those around her. No reader can walk away from this book without realizing the importance of leaving the nest and establishing you own identity. The lesson for teens is that to be an individual you must rebel against your parents at some stage in your development. If not, perpetual adolescence in adulthood will sabotage any chance happiness and self-respect. So erase the possibility of running home to mum & dad’s sofa when life gets tough.

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Don’t blindly trust your leaders!

Any government or political movement (not just Commies), no matter how well intentioned, can be transformed from a force of good to one of oppression if its citizens yield to State sponsored violence and propaganda. Political leaders, like all of us, are fallible. And if left unchallenged, can destroy a nation from within. Animal Farm poignantly demonstrates this reality. It stand as a lesson to all young readers that liberty and equality must be vigilantly guarded on a daily basis.

Golden Book Of Chemistry Expriments

This book has been out-of-print for a long time. But if you can find it…get it. It’s a wonderful introduction to the basic elements that make up our world. Ever wonder how to make Carbon Dioxide? or collect Hydrogen in a test tube? make your own soap? The Golden Book of Chemistry will show you how. This book serves two purposes for the young adult. It can spark a love of life long scientific pursuit or confirm, once and for all, that the sciences are not for you. Either way, the Golden Book is a keeper.


If you can put aside Mr. Sowell’s political affiliations long enough to read this book you will discover that Economic issues are not that difficult to comprehend. No matter what point on the political spectrum you put yourself in, the rules of economics are neutral. And knowledge of basic economic principles are essential to understand how our modern world functions. Concepts ranging from economies of scale to the price of a paper clip are explained in a readable and compelling style. But most importantly, the esoteric jargon used by media pundits and politicians to describe economic issues will no longer be a mystery.


Whether you love or hate the French, there’s just “something” about them that magnetically draws us into their culture. This book is a collection of memories from the authors’ time in Paris as a magazine correspondent in the 1950’s. He touches on many unique aspects of French culture and history to bring his account to life. Having lived there myself for a couple of years, it’s amazing how much the French haven’t changed in 50 years, but I digress. The book benefits a young reader by describing a culture similar to our own but fundamentally different in many strange and wonderful ways. So, get out and explore the World.


Bel Ami is a classic (and copyright FREE) novel about a former soldier turned Parisian journalist in the late 19th century. Georges Duroy is a shameless scoundrel who will use any means at his disposal to get ahead. Although scandalous at the time of publication, Georges’ tactics are tame by today’s standards and quite entertaining. Young readers need to know that throughout their adult lives they will come across their own “Georges Duroy’s” and will be better prepared to overcome the charm of these parasites.


Talbot’s investigation into the possible nature of reality is, at the very least, thought-provoking and at best mind-blowing. The first chapters in the book deal with how the Holographic Model could explain the nature of reality and how our brains interpret the universe around us. Both skeptics and mystics will walk away with something valuable from this book. The benefit to young adults is to provide an alternate view about the true nature of our World. A view in which answers may lie beyond what religious dogma, and “this-is-all-there-is” science can reveal. It’s not the easiest read in the list, but its definitely one you’ll keep on your bookshelf for a long time.


Ultimately, the goal of life is to find your own patch of land and tend to it…or something like that.

If God could not possibly create anything but a perfect world then mankind’s brutality against itself must be part of His “perfect” design. Candide and his companions endure a series brutal hardships mirroring real-world 18th century events and narrowly escaping them. Voltaire’s hyper-detailed narrative of these horrible events actually make them humorously fun to read. Just imagine someone today writing a tale incorporating 9/11, The War on Terror, the AIDS epidemic, The Rwandan Genocide, The Japanese Tsunami and somehow make it relevant and funny. That’s Candide.

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The Alchemist tells the tale of a young shepherd in Andalusia whose quest to find the meaning of a dream leads him on an adventure through many struggles and ultimately to his own fulfillment Fortune, poverty, love, war, bravery, fear, and heaping spoonfuls of mysticism fill the pages of this uncomplicated story. The Universe wants you to “succeed” and will present you with clues to help you reach your goals. Those clues, however, don’t always follow a straight line. The twists, turns and delays encountered on your path are an important part of the journey to who you really are and where you truly belong. So, trust yourself.


Saints and philosophers alike have debated over the centuries about what makes us human. Why are we hairless apes different from the rest of the animal kingdom? The answer is simple. Humans COOK their food and animals DON’T. Therefore it is necessary for all participants in the human race to have a basic knowledge of cooking beyond simply boiling water. Mastering four or five sauce recipes from this book is sufficient to make you a proficient human being. After all, a salad without vinaigrette is just rabbit food.

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Top 10 Greatest Shakespeare Plays

There is no doubt that Mr Shakespeare is the greatest writer of modern English to date – his plays have been made into movies, his sonnets have appeared in books and music, and his works translated in to hundreds of different languages. His contribution to the English language is probably larger than that of anyone else. If you have not read all of the plays below, you should certainly try – I definitely will be [JFrater].


This tragedy is believed to have been written in approximately 1603. The work revolves around four central characters: Othello, his wife Desdemona, his lieutenant Cassio and his trusted advisor Iago. Attesting to its enduring popularity, the play appeared in seven editions between 1622 and 1705. Because of its varied themes — racism, love, jealousy and betrayal — it remains relevant to the present day and is often performed in professional and community theatres alike. The play has also been the basis for numerous operatic, film and literary adaptations.

Taming Of The Shrew

This comedy is believed to have been written between 1590 and 1594. The play begins with a framing device in which a drunkard is deceived into thinking he is a nobleman who then watches the “play” itself, which depicts a nobleman, Petruchio, who marries an outspoken, intelligent and bad-tempered shrew named Katherine. Petruchio manipulates and “tames” her until she is obedient to his will. The main subplot features the courting of Katherine’s more conventional sister Bianca by numerous suitors. The content has become the subject of considerable controversy. The play has been adapted numerous times for opera, stage, screen and musical theatre.

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This play is named after the Twelfth Night holiday of the Christmas season. It was written around 1601 and first published in the First Folio in 1623. Like many of Shakespeare’s comedies, this one centers on mistaken identity. The leading character, Viola, is shipwrecked on the shores of Illyria during the opening scenes. She loses contact with her twin brother, Sebastian, whom she believes dead. Posing as a man and masquerading as a young page under the name Cesario, she enters the service of Duke Orsino. Orsino is in love with the bereaved Lady Olivia, whose brother has recently died and decides to use “Cesario” as an intermediary. Olivia, believing Viola to be a man, falls in love with this handsome and eloquent messenger. Viola, in turn, has fallen in love with the Duke, who also believes Viola is a man and who regards her as his confidant.


This tragedy is believed to have been written in 1599. It portrays the conspiracy against the Roman dictator of the same name, his assassination and its aftermath. It is one of several Roman plays that Shakespeare wrote, based on true events from Roman history, which also include “Coriolanus” and “Anthony and Cleopatra.” Although the title of the play is “Julius Caesar,” Caesar is not the central character in its action; he appears in only three scenes and is killed at the beginning of the third act. The protagonist of the play is Marcus Brutus and the central psychological drama is his struggle between the conflicting demands of honor, patriotism and friendship. The play reflected the general anxiety of England over succession of leadership. At the time of its creation and first performance, Queen Elizabeth, a strong ruler, was elderly and had refused to name a successor, leading to worries that a civil war similar to that of Rome might break out after her death.


The play is an unflattering depiction of the short reign of Richard III of England and is believed to have been written in approximately 1591. The play is sometimes classified as a tragedy (as in the earliest quarto); but it more correctly belongs to the histories, as classified in the First Folio. It picks up the story from Henry VI, Part III and concludes the historical series that stretches back to Richard II. After Hamlet it is Shakespeare’s second longest play and is the longest of the First Folio, whose version of Hamlet is shorter than the Quarto version. The length is generally seen as a drawback, for which reason it is rarely performed unabridged. It is often shortened by cutting peripheral characters.


This is among the best-known of Shakespeare’s plays and is his shortest tragedy, believed to have been written between 1603 and 1606. It is frequently performed at both amateur and professional levels and has been adapted for opera, film, books, stage and screen. Often regarded as archetypal, the play tells of the dangers of the lust for power and the betrayal of friends. For the plot Shakespeare drew loosely on the historical account of “King Macbeth of Scotland” by Raphael Holinshed and that by the Scottish philosopher Hector Boece. There are many superstitions centred on the belief the play is somehow “cursed” and many actors will not mention the name of the play aloud, referring to it instead as “The Scottish Play.”


This romantic comedy was written sometime in the 1590′s and portrays the adventures of four young Athenian lovers; a group of amateur actors; their interactions with the Duke and Duchess of Athens, Theseus and Hippolyta; and with the fairies who inhabit a moonlit forest. The play is one of Shakespeare’s most popular works for the stage and is widely performed across the world.

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Believed to be written in 1599, it’s based on the life of King Henry V of England and focuses on events immediately before and after the Battle of Agincourt during the Hundred Year’s War. The play is the final part of a tetralogy, preceded by “Richard II,” “Henry IV, Part 1″ and “Henry IV, Part 2.” The original audiences would thus have already been familiar with the title character, who was depicted in the “Henry IV” plays as a wild, undisciplined lad known as “Prince Hal.” In “Henry V,” the young prince has become a mature man and embarks on an attempted conquest of France.

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This play is an early tragedy (and likely Shakespeare’s first) about two teenage “star-cross’d lovers” whose “untimely deaths” ultimately unite their feuding households. The play has been highly praised by literary critics for its language and dramatic effect. It was among Shakespeare’s most popular plays during his lifetime and, along with “Hamlet” is one of his most frequently performed plays. Its influence is still seen today, with the two main characters being widely represented as archetypal young lovers. This is the singularly greatest romance ever written and has been continuously adapted to each generation in musicals, cinema and the theatre.

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Written between 1599 and 1601, this play is set in Denmark and recounts how Prince Hamlet exacts revenge on his uncle Claudius, who murdered the King, takes the throne and marries Hamlet’s mother. The play vividly charts the course of real and feigned madness — from overwhelming grief to seething rage — and explores themes of treachery, revenge, incest and moral corruption. “Hamlet” is Shakespeare’s longest play and among the most powerful and influential tragedies in the English language. During his lifetime the play was one of Shakespeare’s most popular works and it still ranks high among his most-performed, topping, for example, the Royal Shakespeare Company’s list since 1879. It has inspired writers from Goethe and Dickens to Joyce and Murdoch and has been described as “the world’s most filmed story after ‘Cinderella.’” The title role was almost certainly created for Richard Burbage, the leading tragedian of Shakespeare’s time. It’s arguably the greatest drama ever written and in the four hundred years since, it has been played by the greatest actors and sometimes actresses, of each successive age.

This article is licensed under the GFDL because it contains quotations from Wikipedia.

Contributor: Heroajax

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13 Of Your Favorite Books If Their Titles Were Honest

1. The Fault In Our Stars by John Green

2. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling

3. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

4. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

5. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

6. Metamorphosis by Franz Kakfa

7. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

8. Hamlet by William Shakespeare

9. The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

10. Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez

11. The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros

12. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

13. Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace

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Top 10 Best Novels of the Last 20 Years

The ten novels on this list all substantiate the belief that books are the most elastic, introspective, human and entertaining form of media that exist. Not movies, not music, not art, not the theatre. A famous author once said that novels are the best way for two human beings to connect with each other. I believe this, and I believe that people who do not find pleasure in words have never had the opportunity to read one of the great novels. The first introductions students often have to literature are stale century-old books that do not translate well to this new modern era. Frankly they are boring, and a lot of kids drift into the living room and turn on the television and stay glued for the rest of their lives. So, here I will present the ten greatest novels of the last twenty years, without apologies.


First Sentence: ”It is after midnight on one of those Friday nights when the guests have all gone home and the host and hostess are left in their drunkenness to try and put things right again.”

As the only woman on the list, A. M. Homes deserves recognition for her amazing writing skills, her unique voice and her gloomy view of the world. Homes shines when writing about screwed-up, out-of-love or on the brink of out-of-love couples. Torching is no exception. The married couple, Paul and Elaine, first appeared in a short story in The Safety of Objects, and then took on a life of their own. Married in suburbia, with two young boys, we follow them in their search for happiness, or some form of contentment, which they never seem to find. Smoking crack in the dining room, having affairs, trying to burn down their own house…nothing seems to change their boredom and disappointment. They’re stuck. They’ve become strangers to each other, to themselves, to their children.

Homes makes this common enough theme of suburban ennui feel real with her shining prose, a secondary cast of interesting plots and characters, and lack of a fairy-tale ending.


First Sentence: “Tyler gets me a job as a waiter, after that Tyler’s pushing a gun in my mouth and saying, the first step to eternal life is you have to die.”

Of course, Palahniuk had to be on this list. And while he may have written better novels than Fight Club (see Survivor), this is the one that brought him to the show and inspired a new, fed-up generation to push back. I won’t insult you by giving a summary of the plot, but I will say that nobody in the world writes better, sentence to sentence, than Palahniuk. His quick, intelligent prose keeps the attention of the worst ADHD-sufferers, and the themes in Fight Club of revolt, of going back to zero, of anti-consumerism are universal, accessible and desperately needed in the world we live in today.


First Sentence: ”While enthusiasts and detractors will continue to empty entire dictionaries attempting to describe or deride it, “authenticity” still remains the word most likely to stir a debate.”

Words to describe this novel: Dazzling, original, mind-bending, genius, heart-breaking, addicting, wonderful, jaw-dropping. The list goes on and on and on. No other novel has created its own world quite like Leaves. Danielewski made us question our own sanity. He led us through the 3-and-a-half-minute hallway and then left us there, shivering and alone, waiting for the monster, who we’ve only ever felt, but that we know (for certain for certain) is the most terrifying thing in the world.

The main plot follows a family who moves into a new house that they quickly find out is haunted. Sounds simple and cliché right? Imagine if you will a book that you have to take over to your mirror to read passages written backwards. Imagine twenty-two page rants about the origins of the word echo. Imagine endless footnotes dripping with blood and perfectly normal characters slowing getting drawn deeper and deeper into neurosis and insanity until they can’t find their way out, until you can’t tell the characters in the book from the people reading it. Imagine.

The house is alive. It breathes. Don’t go any further. Forget you ever read this. Go on with your life, and move down the list. Do NOT read this book. You’ve been warned.

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Dubus is considered by many the greatest short story writer of the 20th century, and there is fairness in this claim. This book consists of three novellas, woven together and taken from earlier Dubus publications. It is also a wonderful movie starring the enigmatic Laura Dern and Naomi Watts. It’s about two middle-aged couples who can’t seem to keep their pants on. Affairs are had, feelings crushed, epiphanies thwarted, friendships tested.

But what makes this one of the great books is the “realness” it elicits from the reader. It puts the reader in every character’s mind, and it puts us right there in the bedroom, in the woods, or on the back porch. Not only does “We Don’t Live Here” entertain us, it gives us a rubric of how to live our own lives. Shows us that nobody ever has anything figured out, not really. That what we do and feel morphs and shifts. Shows us what to do when everything we’ve held on to for so long goes away, how to bear it. It’s about desperation, and love, and marriage. It’s about paralyzing loneliness, kids, and housewives, and betrayal. Ultimately it’s about what it’s like to live in a world where we get to make all the decisions, and have to bear the repercussions of what those decisions mean. It does what a great book is supposed to do: it makes us feel.


First Sentence: “When he woke in the woods in the dark and cold of the night he’d reach out to touch the child sleeping beside him.”

Cormac McCarthy is one of the greatest novelists still alive today (a phantasm of Faulker), and his newest book, The Road, clearly exemplifies this claim. It’s full of McCarthy’s terse dialogue, minute detail (but not TOO much, like Blood Meridian) stream-of-consciousness, masculinity, and an excruciatingly intense violent plot (win!). Not to mention that, in addition to all of these things, it’s also overwhelmingly sad, which is not an easy thing for a novel to be. It’s the perfect combination of everything, with exact measurements dolled out like a recipe for brownies.

It’s about a father and a son walking south to Mexico, to find warmth in a post-apocalyptic world, whose journey is beset on all sides by cannibals, and hunger, and the freezing cold. The sun is gone behind clouds of black dust, and the only light comes from the father’s love of his son. Without each other, all will be lost. This book is heart-wrenching, desperate and mesmerizing. The intensity of their journey, of the book itself, is indescribable, so I won’t even try. Let me just say that I was literally in tears in the middle of a crowded Barnes and Nobles, trying to pretend like there was something in my eyes. You will not be able to breathe until you finish it. It’s a fast read, because you have to see have to see have to see what happens next.


First Sentence: “And it’s a story that might bore you, but you don’t have to listen, she told me, because she always knew it was going to be like that, and it was, she thinks, her first year, or actually weekend, really a Friday, in September, and Camden, and this was three or four years ago, and she got so drunk that she ended up in bed, lost her virginity (late, she was eighteen) in Lorna Slavin’s room, because she was a Freshman and had a roommate and Lorna was, she remembers, a Senior or a Junior and usually sometimes at her boyfriend’s place off-campus, to who she thought was a Sophomore Ceramics major but who was actually either some guy from N.Y.U., a film student, and up in New Hampshire just for The Dressed To Get Screwed party, or a townie.”

This is the second novel from Ellis, of American Psycho fame. It doesn’t depart much from the style (run-on sentences, sex, drugs, 80’s MTV music videos, more drugs, more sex, some violence thrown in there) of his other works, except that here it works throughout the whole book. Here he gives us a little more to work with, like allusions (Howard Roark!), different narrators, a setting that’s not L.A, and a semi-coherent plot. His talent is endless and the sentences run on seamlessly until you’re almost disappointed when a sentence actually ends. Nobody in the world can write like Ellis, though many have tried, and failed miserably. Yes, Ellis is a deranged person (has to be), but he’s also a prolific, talented writer whose put his time in. And here he shines.

It’s about sex and drugs and horrible, self-absorbed, incomplete people, trying to get laid and quit smoking in a fictional University in New England. The things they do are despicable and immoral. There’s nothing redeeming about any of the characters in the entire book, no hope, and yet this book stings because nobody could write this well about people like this if they did not, in fact, exist in real life. When’s the last time you went to college? What do you think happens in Universities around America? What do you think most people are really like? This is a documentary of lost, attractive young people falling into the void. And nobody cares and nobody cares and nobody cares.


First Sentence: “Sometimes when people asked Eileen Holland if she had any brothers or sisters, she had to think for a moment.”

Another second novel. As always Franzen’s scope is immense, and his talent is clear on every page. If Palanuick is the very best writer, sentence to sentence, then Franzen is clearly the best living novelist. This story involves one Louis Holland, and a Harvard seismologist named Dr. Reneé Seitchek, and it revolves around abortion activists, big corporations, and strange sudden earthquakes appearing near Boston, which every Harvard seismologist knows is very strange indeed. It writes about the evil of corporations, but in a stronger, more mature way than Palanuick. Franzen is a historian, and he tells us exactly why the world is bad, how it came to be that way. He goes all the way back to the colonization of America, but not in a preachy or boring way. He personifies a raccoon for five pages, which is strangely one of the most poignant parts of the whole book.

The two main characters are what make the book. The medium-attractive Renee’ Seitchek and the lonely, lost Louis Holland, who fall for each other but seemingly never at the same time, and have painful rubbing sex as the earth shakes underneath them.

Franzen is a master and a genius; he builds and constructs. He creates suspense, and makes us wait for whatever’s going to happen. He makes us work for it. As with the #1 author on this list, you can imagine him standing behind a door somewhere laughing at all of his readers. He’s smarter than us, and God can the man write. This novel succeeds where The Twenty-seventh City fell a little short, and The Corrections overthrew.


First Sentence: “They say it came first from Africa, carried in the screams of the enslaved; that it was the death bane of the Tainos, uttered just as one world perished and another began; that it was a demon drawn into Creation through the nightmare door that was cracked open in the Antilles.”

This book reverberates with originality, authenticity and craftsmanship. It follows generations of a Dominican-American family, the struggles they encounter in the Dominican Republic, and the curses that follow them to America. The main protagonist Oscar is a 300-pound nerdy, RPG-playing guy in America, who desperately wants to find love. We follow him in his constant struggle to find it, and bear witness to his countless rejections. No girl wants anything to do with this sweaty, obese nerd, and at some point our pity turns to admiration, as we root for him to succeed, screaming “You can do it Oscar. You can do it!”

Now go back a few decades to when his mother was the hottest thing in all of Dominica, and broke guy’s hearts by just batting an eyelash. Who eventually falls for a gangster (Why Beli, why?) involved with the Trujillo (evil dictator) regime that raped and murdered and tortured like it was going out of style. Then go back a little more to her father (Oscar’s grandfather) and see what happens to a respected surgeon who’s looked away from all the raping and torturing going on in his country until Trujillo himself sets his eyes on his beautiful daughter. Then you might just believe that there really are “fuku’s” (horrible unbreakable curses) and that this family’s got a BAD one.

Diaz blends Dominican history and folklore, humor, love, sex, death, revolutions, Castro, and dictators into one of the best freshman novels of all time. He employs current pop references, historical footnotes, a bad-ass original refreshing writing style, a mysterious narrator, Spanish, a blazing humor, age-old plot devices, and one of the most heart-breaking characters in existence to make this an instant classic.

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First Sentence: “Last night at 3:00 A.M. President Kennedy had been killed.”

This mammoth odyssey about the Vietnam War transcends all other attempts to write about Vietnam, and makes them look like Hallmark greeting cards. It follows Skip Sands, working for the psychological operations department of the CIA, and his larger than life uncle “Colonel Sands”. It takes us everywhere in Southeast Asia, and even back to the United States. Johnson depicts a war where nothing is clear, where friends and enemies are indistinguishable, and where myths are created out of the land itself.

With a cast of half-a-dozen supporting characters, he portrays the war from the perspective of both sides of Vietnam, from two G.I. brothers from Arizona (who appeared in Johnson’s Angels), from a widowed Canadian nurse who can’t stop reading Calvin, from a Sergeant who seems to be perpetually tripping on acid, from a German hit-man, from a priest in the Philippines who thinks he’s Judas, from a “civilian” war-hero Colonel who’s trying to implement his own unorthodox campaign against the Vietcong.

Spanning thirty years, and over 700 pages, it’s still a disappointment when you arrive at the last page. This is Johnson’s masterpiece – a book you can imagine him writing under a succubus’s spell in a fallout shelter—hair long, unshaven, chain-smoking, frenzied to get the words out.

Infinite Jest Cover

First Sentence: “I am seated in an office surrounded by heads and bodies.”

So here we are. While it was very difficult indeed to rank the other nine books on this list, deciding where to put this book on the list was as involuntary as breathing. This is by far the best, the longest, the most difficult, the most frustrating, the most entertaining, the most rewarding book on this list.

The term Infinite Jest is an allusion to Hamlet, as well as the title of a film by auteur Jim Incandenza, that circulates throughout the book causing anyone who’s unlucky enough to watch it, to want to do absolutely nothing else but watch it again and again and again, even if that means starving to death, or going to the bathroom on themselves, or not taking their insulin and going into epileptic shock. Ultimately, this book is about addiction in every form you could possibly imagine: Heroin, alcohol, cannabis, crack, cocaine, Diludiad, Percocet, sex, sports, cleaning, and on and on and on.

With a cast of hundreds, and almost 400 footnotes, coming in at a whopping 3 lbs, Jest focuses mainly on a halfway house in the Boston suburbs, and the adjacent Enfield Tennis Academy. Wallace spent hundreds of hours going to AA meetings, and this book is considered by many to be the most realistic account of drug addiction and the Alcoholics Anonymous program in either fiction or non-fiction.

Wallace created his own world in Infinite Jest. This is not just a big novel with big ideas. It’s not just a grand achievement by a writer with the greatest voice of his generation. This is not something you finish and then say, “Well that was a really great book,” and then move on with your life. This book deserves its own cannon. It cannot be categorized. This book genuinely redefines the boundaries of what a novel can do.

Wallace hung himself in late 2008. Infinite Jest is his second, and last, finished novel.

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Top 10 Great One-Sit Reads

Callimachus, librarian of Alexandria, once said “A big book is a big evil.” Today most publishers will not look at a book of anything less than novel sized from an unknown author. The thinking seems to be that a slim book must be slight in every way. Here are ten of the best books that are what my teacher used to call ‘one-sit reads.’ Disclaimer – Length of time you are willing to sit may vary depending on patience and comfort of seat.


This was the book which won Hemingway the Pulitzer and Nobel Prizes. Not bad for a book which comes in at around 110 pages. It tells the story of an old Cuban fisherman, Santiago, who has not caught anything for 84 days. This streak is so bad that his devoted assistant, Manolin, has been forced to take other work. On the 85th day, the fisherman takes his boat out to new waters and lets his bait go deep. When a gigantic marlin bites, it becomes a bodily struggle between the old man and the fish. Hemingway denied putting explicit symbolism in his works, preferring to let readers find their own meaning. The ability of the work to support multiple interpretations has made it popular with the public ever since its publication.


This is another work by a Nobel laureate, but of a completely different sort than the bluff, manly works of Hemingway. The Stranger tells the story of a man, Meursault, who’s mother has just died. At her funeral he displays no emotion. He then becomes involved in assisting a friend in getting revenge on the friend’s supposedly unfaithful girlfriend. The turns of this plot of revenge will lead to Meursault, for no obvious reason, shooting a man dead. Meursault’s indifference and atheism infuriate everyone and he is sentenced to death. Waiting to die Meursault considers the coldness of the universe but comes to find comfort in the ‘gentle indifference of the world.’ A deeply philosophical work, it may take more sitting and thinking than one’s buttocks can take in a single session to fathom out the meaning.

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Called a fairy story by Orwell, Animal Farm is an allegory for totalitarian regimes of the 1930s, particularly the Stalinist regime of the Soviet Union. In a hundred or so pages Orwell charts a revolution on Manor Farm where the animals drive out their human overlords, and how the Utopia they seek to create is driven astray. The story is not easy reading as every member of society comes under attack for allowing totalitarianism to rise; the unthinking sheep who follow every new diktat, the pigs who turn everyone’s work to their benefit, the intellectual donkey who sees what is happening and does nothing, and the hard working horse who trusts blindly in the people in charge. These are all too human mistakes.


All Quiet on the Western Front is the story of the lost generation of boys who went off to fight in the First World War. Narrated by Paul Bäumer it tells of the disconnection men who fought feel from their lives before the war, and the uncomprehending people who wait at home for them. Before the war, the boys are puffed up on patriotism and the epics of Homer, and pushed into enlisting by men too old to fight themselves. As the war goes on, all of Bäumer’s friends are killed and he finds he no longer cares about the future. The book ends with a message reporting “Nothing new in the west.” All the deaths and stories the book tells are reduced to one line for the people for whom these men ostensibly died for.


This book sparked a wave of suicides when first published, so best to wait until you are feeling stable before reading it. The story is told in letters between a temperamental young man, Werther, and his more settled friend. Werther is a romantic person with a love of drawing and poetry, though his father pushes him to take up a profession. While living in the country he becomes enamored with Charlotte, his Lotte, despite her being engaged. This love consumes Werther, and when Lotte’s fiancé, and later husband, Albert forces Werther to leave them alone, it pushes Werther to suicide. Dressed in the suit in which he first met Lotte, he shoots himself. Goethe, whose other works were on far grander scales and themes, came to dislike being associated just with Werther. But late in life he admitted that he thought it would be bad for a person not to have felt as Werther did, at least once.


The Picture of Dorian Gray is the sort of book you would expect from Wilde. It is packed with wit and overflows with sumptuous detail. It tells the story of Dorian Gray, a sweet young man of money, who is corrupted by the world. Or is he corrupted by himself? When Dorian’s angelic face is captured flawlessly in paint he wishes that it was the painting which would age and that he could stay forever the same. As Dorian descends into sin and vice the toll of these is taken on the painting, where the face becomes cruel and twisted. Unable to look on the ruined picture Dorian hides it in his attic. Dorian makes an attempt to regain his innocence through good works but finds it hollow. In the end, he murders even the friend who loved him best and destroys the painting, breaking the wish which became a curse. To us the veiled hints at homosexuality are clear and the prim Victorians found this work upsetting to their sense of decency. If a book was upsetting to Victorian morality it is often worth a read, and that is certainly true of this one.


The Little Prince is one of those children’s books that offer a great read whatever your age. Deceptively simple in structure the book tells the story of a Prince who rules over an asteroid, and his adventures as he travels to Earth. The adults he meets ruling their own asteroids are comic masterpieces. There is a king who wishes to sentence the rat he suspects lives on his asteroid to death. However, he would also pardon the rat if he ever caught him; “For the economy’s sake. There’s only one rat.” Some find the end of the Prince’s travels too much for young children, and some find it hard to understand even as adults.


Perhaps the most notorious book on this list, A Clockwork Orange was written in just three weeks, to earn money quickly. Burgess would later wish he had never written it, claiming it was misunderstood. The story is set in a dystopian future, and follows a gang of teenagers who revel in performing ‘ultra-violence.’ The book does not hide from describing the terrible things done by the gang, and the narrator, Alex, speaks with a flat voice as though weary of everything. The book follows Alex’s treatment for his addiction to violence, and how it affects his attempts to re-enter society. Definitely worth reading if you enjoyed the Kubrick film as, the book’s final chapter changes the meaning of the story significantly.


Candide is a young man raised under the influence of a teacher, Pangloss, who teaches that this is the best of all possible worlds, and all that happens is for the good. The book then proceeds to test this theory by subjecting the characters to the worst the world has to offer. Every page contains a new horror and should, by all rights, make for a very depressing book. Even after earthquakes, attempting hangings, beatings, impoverishment and disfigurement by syphilis, Pangloss clings to his optimism. Candide, however, learns his lesson that this is not the best of all possible worlds, but since it is the only world we have we must make do. As Candide says “We must tend our gardens.”

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Night is the account of what Wiesel experienced as a young boy in the Holocaust. Eliezer, Wiesel’s stand-in for himself within the book, is a studious young Jew who wishes to learn all he can about the Kabbalah. Unfortunately, it is the Second World War and the Hungarian government is coming under pressure to restrict the rights of Jews. Night tells how Eliezer loses his mother and sister in the concentration camps. He comes to hate his father in the camp, as his father requires Eliezer to take care of him. The pious boy finds he can no longer believe in a god who would allow this to happen. Yet Eliezer survives the camps and must now reconcile what has happened with life after the Holocaust. Those who find Night too harrowing might be interested in Wiesel’s other books, Dawn and Day.

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10 Brilliant Quotes

Some of the funniest words are spoken on the spur of the moment. This is a collection of ten brilliant or witty quotes. If you have a favorite witty quote, be sure to put it in the comments for all to enjoy.

1. W. C. Fields

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I always keep a supply of stimulant handy in case I see a snake, which I also keep handy.

And another:

I am free of all prejudice. I hate everyone equally.

2. Oscar Wilde

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I am not young enough to know everything.

And as he was probably one of the most witty men in history, we need another:

Anyone who lives within their means suffers from a lack of imagination.

3. Sir Winston Churchill

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Lady Nancy Astor (to Churchill): “Sir, you’re drunk!”
Churchill: “Yes, Madam, I am. But in the morning, I will be sober and you will still be ugly.”

Churchill and Astor are famous for these repartees, so I have to include a second:

Lady Astor: “If you were my husband, I’d put arsenic in your coffee.”
Churchill: “Madam, if I were your husband, I’d drink it!”

4. Nancy Mitford

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I Love children, especially when they cry for then someone takes them away.

And another:

An aristocracy in a republic is like a chicken whose head has been cut off; it may run about in a lively way, but in fact it is dead.

5. Dorothy Parker


I’ve never been a millionaire but I just know I’d be darling at it.


If all the girls who attended the Yale prom were laid end to end, I wouldn’t be a bit surprised.

6. Douglas Adams


In the beginning the Universe was created. This has made a lot of people very angry and is widely regarded as a bad move.

7. Alice Longworth (daughter of Theodore Roosevelt)


“If you haven’t got anything nice to say about anybody, come sit next to me.”

8. Orson Welles


“In Italy for thirty years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder and bloodshed but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland, they had brotherly love; they had five hundred years of democracy and peace and what did they produce? The cuckoo clock.”

9. Margot Asquith


What a pity, when Christopher Colombus discovered America, that he ever mentioned it.

10. Margaret Thatcher


I am extraordinarily patient, provided I get my own way in the end.

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20 Brilliant Novellas You Should Read

The novella is the stepchild of literary genres. It’s too long for a short story and too short for a novel. Publishers look down on them because they are hard to sell. There is even confusion about what the word really means. Literally, it’s Italian for a “little novelty.” Originally the word was used for tales in frame stories like the Arabian Nights and Boccaccio’s Decamerone. However, in its modern meaning it’s a prose narrative of intermediate length. Although there is no consensus, this length ranges roughly from 20,000 to 40,000 words, or in an average publication something between 60 and 120 pages. You can finish a novella in one or two days without reading diagonally or skipping pages. Compared to a short story there is more room to develop round characters and an interesting plot. The main difference with a novel is that it centers around one main character and it has no subplots.

Some of the greats of world literature have one or more novellas among their best titles. I tried to collect some of the most noteworthy examples in this list. Some works aren’t included because they are slightly too short (e.g. “Nevsky Prospekt” by Gogol) or slightly too long (e.g. “A Clockwork Orange” by Anthony Burgess and “The Awakening” by Kate Chopin). I hope you enjoy this overview.

Graham Greene

Graham Greene wrote this novella as a preparation for the screenplay, not intending it for publication. It’s set in post-war Vienna, a city that was divided into four zones, including a zone controlled by the Soviet Union. American writer, Holly Martins, visits Vienna because his friend, Harry Lime, has promised him a job there. People tell him that Harry has died and that three men have carried his body outside. Holly easily traces the first two men, but they deny there was a third. This is the start of a story with a surprising twist. The film, directed by Carol Reed and with Joseph Cotten and Orson Welles in the lead roles, is considered a masterpiece. Although Greene didn’t initially intend to publish the novella, it’s still worth reading today.


François-Marie Arouet, or Voltaire, was a philosopher of the French Enlightenment. In “Candide” the title character is a young man who lives in a protected environment: the castle of a Baron. Candide and the Baron’s daughter Cunégonde are indoctrinated by Dr Pangloss, a philosophical optimist who teaches them that we live in the best of all possible worlds. After kissing Cunégonde, Candide is evicted from the castle. He and Dr Pangloss travel to a lot of countries, including Prussia, the Netherlands, Portugal, Argentina, Paraguay, El Dorado, Surinam and Turkey. They are confronted with all the suffering in the world, but Dr Pangloss keeps repeating that we live in the best of all possible worlds. This was actually a statement by German philosopher Gottfried Leibniz. Voltaire criticized Leibniz’s optimism after negative events like the Seven Years’ War (1756-63) and the 1755 Lisbon earthquake.


Capote will mostly be remembered for his true crime novel “In Cold Blood”, and for this novella. Holly Golightly is a young, somewhat mysterious woman in New York. She likes to visit the jewelry store Tiffany & Co. She appears to be rich, but she’s actually just trying to catch a wealthy husband. She meets a young man she calls Fred, the first person narrator whose real name we’re never told. Gradually Fred finds out more about Holly’s past. Blake Edwards directed a movie adaption that became more popular than the novella itself, with Audrey Hepburn singing “Moon River” as Holly Golightly.


“La Maison du chat-qui-pelote” is the first part of “Scenes of Private Life,” which is, itself, the first part of Balzac’s magnum opus “La Comédie humane.” Augustine Guillaume is the daughter of a Parisian cloth merchant. Against the initial will of her father, she decides to marry the artist Théodor de Sommervieux, who painted and exhibited a portrait of her. The marriage is an unhappy one. He is unfaithful and she dies eight years later. At the end of the story an unnamed man visits her grave, possibly Balzac himself. This author was a pioneer of literary realism, and the story is a good introduction to his work and to French literature in general.


“Three Blind Mice” is one of many titles by Agatha Christie taken from a nursery rhyme. The story is a classic whodunit set in an isolated environment: a manor that can’t be reached because of the heavy snowfall. Originally it was a BBC radio play in 1947, but she turned it into a novella. Sources often call it a short story, but it’s over 20,000 words. She later expanded it into the play “The Mousetrap” (1952), with a new title taken from “Hamlet.” Christie didn’t want the novella to be published in the UK as long as the play was running in the West End. She probably didn’t expect that it would still be running in 2011, so the novella still hasn’t been published in the UK, but it has in other countries.

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“Chess Novella” would have been a literal translation of the original German title “Schachnovelle”, but the publishers probably thought it would sell better as “The Royal Game.” Zweig was an Austrian Jew who fled to London because of World War II. He committed suicide, in Brazil, in 1942. This novella, written between 1938 and 1941, was published posthumously. It’s about a mysterious man on a cruise liner who, surprisingly, beats the world champion in a game of chess. It turns out that he learned to play the game on his own, while he was imprisoned by the Nazis. In spite of being a great chess player, it becomes clear that the man hasn’t overcome his traumatic experience and is still suffering mentally. Gerd Oswald made a German film adaption, in 1960.


Françoise Sagan was only eighteen when this debut was published, but it remains her best known work. It’s about a seventeen year old girl, Cécile, who goes on holiday to the French Riviera with her father and his latest lover, Elsa. They meet Anne, who becomes romantically involved with Cécile’s father. In contrast to his previous girlfriends, Anne is very serious about their relationship and wants to marry him. She starts behaving like a stepmother to Cécile, who wants to drive them apart. The story has a tragic ending, hence the title “Hello Sadness.” In 1958, Otto Preminger directed an English language film adaption, with Deborah Kerr as Anne.

If you want to learn about Herman Melville, and you’re not in the mood to read eight hundred pages about the hunt for a sperm whale, then “Billy Budd” is the best alternative. Melville worked on it from 1888, until his death in 1891. Almost twenty years later the manuscript was discovered by a student. It was published for the first time in 1924, but had to be heavily revised several times afterwards. Billy Budd is a seaman on the HMS Bellipotent, a ship from the Royal Navy. He is accused of conspiracy to mutiny by Master-at-Arms John Claggart. Billy, who suffers from a speech impediment, strikes Claggart, unintentionally, to death. Captain Vere now has to decide what will happen to Billy. Adaptions were made for several media, including an opera by Benjamin Britten (the clip above is “Look” from Britten’s opera – perhaps one of the most beautiful arias for baritone in a modern opera).


Scottish author Stevenson is mainly known for two stories: his adventure novel “Treasure Island” and this novella. The narrator is Mr Utterson, a lawyer who observes two people: the scientist Dr Henry Jekyll and the murderer Mr Edward Hyde. He finds out that Dr Jekyll actually has a split personality and that Jekyll and Hyde are one and the same person. Dr Hyde believed that every man has good and evil incorporated within himself, and he invented a potion to separate these two. There are lots of adaptions for stage, radio and film, but most of them aren’t very faithful to the original plot.

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Herbert George Wells was a pioneer of science fiction. His two most famous works are the novel “The War of the Worlds” and this novella. An English scientist invents a machine to travel in time. He travels to the year 802,701 A.D. and discovers two species: the small, child-like Eloi, and the aggressive, ape-like Morlocks, who live under the ground. He finds out that humanity has evolved into these two species, a result of the separation between leisure class and working class. An interesting detail is that the Eloi still have books, but can’t read them because they’re all illiterates. There are several film adaptions, including a 1960 movie by George Pal.

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Russian author Tolstoy is best known for his massive novels “War and Peace” and “Anna Karenina,” but he also wrote terrific shorter prose. Ivan Ilyich led a successful life in society by becoming a high court judge, but he didn’t have a happy marriage. In the first chapter we learn that he just died, and we see the hypocritical reactions of his wife and family. Then we jump back in time and experience the final days of Ivan Ilyich inside his head. The dying man regrets that his life was so selfish and hypocritical. He finds some comfort in the presence of his boy servant, Gerasim. This is a deep philosophical work about the meaning of life and death.


If you want to learn about Nobel Prize winner John Steinbeck, and you don’t have time to read “East of Eden” or “The Grapes of Wrath”, this is the solution. George Milton and Lennie Small are two field workers traveling through California in search of employment. Lennie is a tall, mentally disabled man, who loves to stroke soft objects. George acts as his protector. They find a job on a ranch near Soledad, but Lennie’s idiosyncrasy always brings the two of them in trouble. He accidentally kills his puppy, and an incident with their employer’s wife leads to a tragic climax. There are several film adaptions, among which a 1939 movie by Lewis Milestone.


Edith Wharton is one of the greatest female American authors, best known for “The House of Mirth,” “The Age of Innocence” and “Ethan Frome,” which is short enough to be called a novella. In the introduction an unnamed narrator meets Ethan Frome, a man in New England who is fifty-two years old but looks much older, and walks with a limp after being smashed up many years ago. It turns out that Ethan was unhappily married to the hypochondriac Zeena, and felt attracted to his wife’s niece Mattie, who lived with them as a household help. Infuriated by jealousy, Zeena wanted to replace Mattie by a hired maid. This conflict led to a tragic outcome. There was a film adaption in 1993, with Liam Neeson and Patricia Arquette.

Henry James

American author Henry James, whose novels include “The Portrait of a Lady” and “The Wings of the Dove,” might have been included more than once in this list, because “Daisy Miller,” “An International Episode” and “The Aspern Papers” all have the length of a novella. However “The Turn of the Screw” remains his most admired shorter work. Although James is a representative of literary realism, this is a gothic tale. In the introduction, an unnamed narrator listens to a man who starts reading a manuscript written by a governess. Together with a housekeeper, she became responsible for Miles and Flora, a orphaned boy and a girl living in a country house without their uncle. The governess started seeing the ghosts of two former employers around the house. In this eerie atmosphere her concern grew over the safety of the children. There are several adaptions, including a Benjamin Britten opera and the 1961 film “The Innocents” with Deborah Kerr.


Kafka, who was born to a Jewish family in Prague, lived from 1883 to 1924. His most famous work is his novel “The Trial” (1925), but his novella “Die Verwandlung” is better suited to learn about him, because you are more likely to reach the end. A traveling salesman, Gregor Samsa, wakes up transformed into a giant insect. Because of this he cannot go to work. The interesting question is how his family and his employer will deal with the absurd situation. The story can be read as a reflection on how society treats people who are different in some way or another. Several stage adaptions and a graphic novel were made of this tale.

“Der Tod in Venedig” is one of Mann’s finest works, and it’s much shorter than “Buddenbrooks,” “The Magic Mountain” or “Doctor Faustus.” Writer Gustav von Aschenbach travels to Venice, where he becomes obsessed by the Polish adolescent boy, Tadzio. He sees this boy as the ideal of beauty. Then Aschenbach finds out that there is a cholera epidemic. Tadzio was based on a boy who Mann really saw in Venice, in 1911. Opinions differ as to whether this admiration for a boy about 13 years-old should be interpreted as purely platonic or not. In Luchino Visconti’s 1971 film adaption of this novella, Von Aschenbach is a composer instead of a writer. His music was actually written by Gustav Mahler. Above is the trailer for Visconti’s stunning adaptation – a film you must see if you haven’t.


Hemingway, who saw economy of means and omitting the superfluous as an esthetic ideal, excelled is his shorter prose works. This novella, which he wrote in Cuba, was the last work to be published during his lifetime, and is arguably his best. Because fisherman Santiago hasn’t caught a fish in eighty-four days, his young apprentice Manolin isn’t allowed to join him anymore. So the old man sets out alone on his skiff, and catches a giant marlin. This is the start of an epic battle between a human individual and the forces of nature. John Sturges directed a film adaption in 1958, and there was a paint-on-glass-animated short film, in 1999.

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Dickens is probably the greatest writer of English fictional prose, with masterworks like “A Tale of Two Cities,” “Great Expectations,” “David Copperfield” and “Little Dorrit,” but this novella remains, in competition with “Oliver Twist,” his most popular creation. On Christmas night, the archetypical miser, Ebenezer Scrooge, is visited by the ghost of his deceased business partner, Jacob Marley, and by the ghosts of Christmas Past, Christmas Present and Christmas Yet to Come. This will finally convince him to change his attitude, and become more generous towards society in general, and towards his clerk Bob Cratchit and invalid son Tiny Tim specifically. There are countless adaptions and parodies for film, TV and other media.


Eric Arthur Blair, or George Orwell, wrote two famous works which criticized the existence of totalitarian regimes: “1984″ and “Animal Farm.” In this allegory, the main characters are intelligent animals. Although everybody is supposed to be equal, the pigs are more equal than the others. The story shows how utopian ideas can lead to exactly the opposite of what was intended: a dystopian society. The farm represents the Soviet Union. Napoleon and Snowball are based on Stalin and Trotsky. Orwell, himself, participated in the Spanish Civil War, on the communist side, but he opposed Stalin’s totalitarianism. There are two film adaptions of “Animal Farm” – an animated film in 1954, and a TV live-action film in 1999.


In this novella, an unnamed narrator gets involved in a debate about women and marriage. A man named Pozdnyshev interferes, and starts telling the story of his own unhappy marriage. When he was young, he had a debauched lifestyle and was involved with a lot of women. Then he got married. Carnal lust alternated with marital quarrels. His wife got acquainted with a pianist, and they started rehearsing Beethoven’s ninth sonata for violin and piano, nicknamed the Kreutzer Sonata because it’s dedicated to violinist Rudolph Kreutzer. Pozdnyshev, who absolutely hated this music and what it can do to a man’s mood, began to suspect his wife of adultery and conceived a plan to catch them red-handed. Tolstoy was in favor of sexual abstinence and he did dislike Beethoven, but you don’t have to agree with all his viewpoints to enjoy Pozdnyshev’s narrative.

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10 Ancient Greek Writers You Should Know

The ancient Greeks have had a massive influence on Western society. Numerous sciences and literary genres were founded by Greeks, and many of their writings have survived more or less complete. This list describes 10 of the most influential ancient Greek writers. The thing that connects them is the huge impact their works have had – and still has – on modern culture and society. I’ve listed them chronologically.


Homer is best known for the two epic poems the Iliad and the Odyssey. The Iliad is generally considered the oldest work of Western literature. Even the Greeks themselves recognized Homer for his influence and did not consider themselves educated unless they had read his works. It’s disputed whether Homer actually is a historic person. Absolutely nothing is known about him or his life and some scholars believe that the Iliad and the Odyssey are the works of multiple authors rather than just one. No matter who wrote them, both the Iliad and the Odyssey have had a huge influence on literature. In fact, even Shakespeare based one of his plays on the Iliad.


Sophocles was a tragedian who wrote 123 plays during his life. Only seven have survived in entity, but they include classics such as Antigone, Oedipus the King and Electra. He developed theater by adding a third actor, reducing the importance of the chorus, and introducing scenography. Sophocles also abolished the traditional trilogic form of tragedies and made each play complete in itself – this added dramatic value to the plays.


Herodotus is considered the father of history in Western culture. He approached history as a science by collecting his material systematically and testing its accuracy. Herodotus was also a gifted narrator. The word history itself comes from Herodotus’ book The Histories, which means “inquiries” in Greek. This book is also considered the first work of history in Western literature.


Euripides was another Greek tragedian. He wrote about 95 plays, 18 of which have survived completely and many more as fragments. His most known works are Alcestis, Medea and The Bacchus. His plays were very modern for his time in that they portrayed the characters very realistically and included strong women and wise slaves – which was very unconventional at the time. Euripides is the Greek tragedian who has had the biggest influence on European tragedy.


Hippocrates was a physician and is the father of medicine. The Hippocratic Corpus is a collection of 70 works on different medical topics. A large portion of it is made up of case studies. The most famous work is the Hippocratic Oath which is about doctoral ethics. Derivatives of this oath are still taken by doctors today. Hippocrates has also made a direct contribution to medicine as he was the first to describe a number of illnesses. Whether Hippocrates was actually the author of the Hippocratic Corpus is disputed, and most seem to agree that at least parts of it were rather written by his students and followers.


Aristophanes was a playwright who wrote comedies. He wrote 40 plays, 11 of which have survived as complete manuscripts and some of the others have survived as fragments. Aristophanes’ pen was feared as he ridiculed famous Athenians. Plato pointed out his play The Clouds as a contributing factor to the trial and execution of Socrates. Whether that was really the case is disputable. Other notable plays from his hand are The Wasps and Lysistrata. His works have not only had artistic influence on later theater but have also served as historical documents about life in Athens.


Plato was the student of Socrates. While Socrates never wrote anything of his own, his philosophy is known through the works of Plato. Plato was very influenced by Socrates’ thinking and not least by his execution, which Plato witnessed when he was 29 years old. 35 dialogues and 13 letters have been attributed to Plato, the most famous being The Republic and Symposium. Plato is regarded as one the fathers of Western philosophy, and his Theory of Forms and idea of the ideal state, both put forward in The Republic are still discussed today.


Aristotle was the student of Plato and the first to criticize him. 47 of his works have survived, most of which are actually lecture aids. Aristotle is the last of the great Greek philosophers (the two others are Socrates and Plato) and is considered the first biologist as well. He founded logic as a science, lay the grounds of scientific method and wrote about several other subjects as well. Aristotle was also the tutor of Alexander the Great for some time. Aristotle was a large influence on St Thomas of Aquinas and consequently remains a major influence in Catholic education and theology.


Euclid was a mathematician and the father of geometry. Very little is known of his life, but he was active at the Library of Alexandria. His main work is The Elements which is still used as a textbook in mathematics and may only be exceeded by the Bible in terms of copies sold. The book includes a system of mathematical proofs that remains the basis of mathematics today.


Archimedes was a mathematician, engineer, inventor, physicist and astronomer. He is known for the invention of The Archimedes’ Screw, a mechanism for moving water that is still in use today. He also calculated the value of pi very precisely. Archimedes discovered how to define the volume of irregular objects by submerging them in water. According to legend, this discovery made him run out on the street naked (he was so excited that he forgot to get dressed) and cry “Eureka!” – I have found it.

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