Thursday, November 30, 1972

Richard Adams' Watership Down published this month

First posted 6/12/2020; updated 7/6/2020.

Watership Down

Richard Adams

First Publication: November 1972

Category: fantasy novel

Sales: 50 million


About the Book:

Watership Down is the compelling tale of a group of wild rabbits struggling to hold onto their place in the world.” AZ “Set in England’s Downs, a once idyllic rural landscape, this stirring tale of adventure, courage and survival follows a band of very special creatures on their flight from the intrusion of man and the certain destruction of their home.” AZ

Adams “takes us to a world we have never truly seen: to the remarkable life that teems in the fields, forests, and riverbanks, far beyond our cities and towns. It is a powerful saga of courage, leadership, and survival; and epic tale of a hardy band of Berkshire rabbits” BN as “they journey forth from their native Sandleford Warren through the harrowing trials posed by predators and adversaries, to a mysterious promised land and a more perfect society.” AZ

The book has been “a phenomenal worldwide bestseller for more than forty years, Richard Adams’ Watership Down is a timeless classic and one of the most beloved novels of all time.” AZ

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Sunday, October 15, 1972

E.B. White Charlotte’s Web: Published 20 Years Ago Today

Last updated 7/5/2020.

Charlotte’s Web

E.B. White

First Publication: October 15, 1952

Category: children’s literature

Sales: 50 million

Accolades (click on badges to see full lists):

About the Book:

In 2000, Publishers Weekly listed Charlotte’s Web “as the best-selling children’s paperback of all time.” WK “One reason may be that, although it was written for children, reading it is just as enjoyable for adults.” LC The story is “just about perfect,” AZ “a tender novel of friendship, love, life, and death that will continue to be enjoyed by generations to come.” AZ

The story focuses the friendship between Wilbur, a pig, and Charlotte, “a clever and compassionate spider.” LC “When Wilbur is in danger of being slaughtered by the farmer, Charlotte writes messages praising Wilbur (such as ‘Some Pig’) in her web in order to persuade the farmer to let him live.” WK The story “is especially notable for the way it treats death as a natural and inevitable part of life in a way that is palatable for young people.” LC

Readers will also be entranced with “Fern, the little girl who understood their language,” BN and “saved Wilbur’s life when he was born the runt of his litter.” AZ “Templeton, the rat who never did anything for anybody unless there was something in it for him,” BN is also instrumental in Charlotte’s plan to save Wilbur.

The book also “contains illustrations by Garth Williams, the acclaimed illustrator of E. B. White’s Stuart Little and Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House series.” AZ “The forty-seven black-and-white drawings…have all the wonderful detail and warmhearted appeal that children love in his work [and are] incomparably matched to E.B. White’s marvelous story.” BN

The book was made into an animated feature in 1973 and a live action film in 2006.

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Wednesday, February 2, 1972

James Joyce Ulysses: Published 50 Years Ago Today

Last updated 7/5/2020.


James Joyce

First Publication: February 2, 1922

Category: modernist novel

Sales: 880,000

Accolades (click on badges to see full lists):

About the Book:

Modern Library ranks Ulysses as the best novel of the 20th century while Time magazine calls it the 20th century’s most influential novel. EW It is considered “a must read for fans of the Modernist genre.” AZ It has, however, also earned a reputation as one of the most difficult novels to read. An unscientific study done in 2014 concluded that less than 2% of people who buy the novel actually read it in its entirety. EW The book is “filled with experimental forms of prose, stream of consciousness, puns, parodies, and allusions that Joyce himself hoped would ‘keep the professors busy for centuries arguing over what I meant.’” AZ “Its stream-of-consciousness narration deters many, but makes enraptured enthusiasts of others.” TG

While the novel may initially appear unstructured, it closely parallels Homer’s ancient Greek poem, The Odyssey in which the protagonist, Odysseus “(Roman name: Ulysses) encounters many perils – including giants, angry gods, and monsters–during his voyage home to Ithaca, Greece, after the Trojan War.” CSG Ulysses contains “containing eighteen episodes that correspond to various parts of Homer’s work,” AZ although Homer “presented the journey of life as a heroic adventure” CSG while Joyce depicts it as “humdrum, dreary, and uneventful.” CSG

Ulysses chronicles the events of a single day in Dublin, Ireland – June 16, 1904. The book is structured in three sections. Section 1 (chapters 1-3) focuss on Stephen Dedalus, a young, aspring writer seeking a father figure to replace his drunken dad. This parallels Telemachus’s search for his father Odysseus in The Odssey. CSG Dedalus “has just returned from Paris. This section presents Stephen's life on a typical day in which he finds Dublin depressing. He is pessimistic about realizing his dream to become a published author.” CSG

Section 2 (chapters 4-15) focus on Leopold Bloom, a Jewish advertising representative of Hungarian origin who lives in Dublin. His character parallels Odysseus in The Odssey. For example, Odysseus visits the underworld, or the land of the undead, known as Hades, while Bloom attends a funeral in the chapter entitled “Hades.” Bloom’s “adventures” aren’t adventurous at all, but the mundane everyday tasks “of getting breakfast, feeding his cat, …doing legwork for his job, visiting pubs or restaurants, and thinking about his unfaithful wife.” CSG Bloom and Dublin are described in detail via “free-flowing thoughts – many of them either about his unfaithful wife, Molly, or other women.” CSG Molly is presented as a contrast to Penelope, the faithful wife of Odysseus. CSG

Section 3 (chapters 16-18) focusses on Stephen, Leopold, and Molly. “Bloom and Dedalus meet each other. Dedalus goes to Bloom’s home and talks with him for several hours. The novel ends with a chapter on Molly…[which] consists of more than 30 pages occupied by seven sentences with no punctuation except for the period at the end of the novel.” CSG

In 1918, extracts from the book were published in The Little Review in the United States. The publishers were fined and charged with obscenity BN “for its depiction of female masturbation.” TG It wasn’t published in book form until 1922 when American Sylvia Beach published it in Paris. It wasn’t until 1934 that the book was legally published in an English-speaking country “when Random House successfully defended Joyce against obscenity charges and published it in the Modern Library.” BN

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In July 2018, I became the organizer of the Classic Novels Book Club. Check out the Book Club tab here or Meetup for more information. This is our June 2019 book.

Tuesday, February 1, 1972

Ken Kesey's One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest published 10 years ago

First posted 7/5/2020.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

Ken Kesey

First Publication: February 1, 1962

Category: psychological fiction/allegory

Sales: ?

Accolades (click on badges to see full lists):

About the Book:

“An international bestseller and the basis for the hugely successful film, Ken Kesey's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest is one of the defining works of the 1960s.” AZ

“Set in an Oregon psychiatric hospital, the narrative serves as a study of the institutional processes and the human mind as well as a critique of behaviorism and a celebration of humanistic principles.” WK

“Kesey’s hero is Randle Patrick McMurphy, a boisterous, brawling, fun-loving rebel who swaggers into the world of a mental hospital and takes over. A lusty, life-affirming fighter, McMurphy rallies the other patients around him by challenging the dictatorship of Nurse Ratched. He promotes gambling in the ward, smuggles in wine and women, and openly defies the rules at every turn. But this defiance, which starts as a sport, soon develops into a grim struggle, an all-out war between two relentless opponents: Nurse Ratched, backed by the full power of authority, and McMurphy, who has only his own indomitable will. What happens when Nurse Ratched uses her ultimate weapon against McMurphy provides the story’s shocking climax.” AZ

“It was adapted into the broadway (and later off-broadway) play One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Dale Wasserman in 1963. Bo Goldman adapted the novel into a 1975 film directed by MiloŇ° Forman, which won five Academy Awards.” WK

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Saturday, January 1, 1972

George Eliot's Middlemarch published 100 years ago this year

First posted 7/3/2020; last updated 7/5/2020.

Middlemarch: A Study of Provincial Life

George Eliot

First Publication: 1872

Category: realistic English novel

Sales: ?

Accolades (click on badges to see full lists):

About the Book:

“Often called the greatest nineteenth-century British novelist, George Eliot (the pen name of Mary Ann Evans) created in Middlemarch “one of the great achievements of English literature.” AZ The book focuses on “a vast panorama of life” BN in “the fictitious titular town” AZ and “the intersecting lives of [its] inhabitants.” AZ “The narrative…addresses the status of women, the nature of marriage, politics, religion, and education” AZ with a “gallery of characters drawn from every social class, from laborers and shopkeepers to the rising middle class to members of the wealthy, landed gentry. Together they form an extraordinarily rich and precisely detailed portrait of English provincial life in the 1830s.” BN

“Eliot’s characters make terrible mistakes, but we never lose empathy with them.” TG “At the story’s center stands the intellectual and idealistic Dorothea Brooke – a character who in many ways resembles Eliot herself. But the very qualities that set Dorothea apart from the materialistic, mean-spirited society around her also lead her into a disastrous marriage with a man she mistakes for her soul mate. In a parallel story, young doctor Tertius Lydgate, who is equally idealistic, falls in love with the pretty but vain and superficial Rosamund Vincy, whom he marries to his ruin.” BN

“Strong parallels can be drawn between the two characters; they both have great aspirations in their work and find themselves in marriages in which they are not happy.” AZ “Dorothea’s and Lydgate’s struggles to retain their moral integrity in the midst of temptation and tragedy remind us that their world is very much like our own. Strikingly modern in its painful ironies and psychological insight, Middlemarch was pivotal in the shaping of twentieth-century literary realism.” BN

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