Good to Know

New Classics at Caledon Public Library!

CPL has just received several European, American, and Canadian “classics” across many centuries and genres. We have Dickens, Dostoyevsky, and Mark Twain but there are so many more! Keep in mind that the idea of a “classic” is subjective and culturally defined. “Classic” should not be a prescriptive list but grounds to explore and debate artistic and historical values. Just because these books have been widely read, doesn’t mean they’re not terrible! This list is just meant to cast a wide net to find something you’re interested in enjoying or criticizing.

Two of the oldest books on our list were written in the 1600’s. Don Quixote, by Miguel De Cervantes is considered the first novel for its use of common language and is famous for being a parody of chivalric romance. It’s where the phrase “tilting at windmills” come from to mean fighting imaginary enemies. Some people hate it, and others claim it is still very funny. With Paradise Lost, from the same century, John Milton set out to re-write the story of Adam and Eve’s expulsion from the garden of Eden in the style of old epics like The Odyssey and The Aeneid but better (so he claims– he was not a humble man). Like anything this old, it helps to read the annotations, but it does reward you with some great quotes from Satan like “Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven” which you can imagine in the voice of Clint Eastwood if you’d like.

There are several classics by Canadian authors such as Margaret Atwood, Alice Munro, Mordecai Richler, Margaret Laurence, and Michael Ondaatje. Margaret Atwood titles include Cat’s Eye, The Handmaid’s Tale, The Edible Woman, Oryx and Crake, The Blind Assassin, Surfacing, and others. Oryx Crake is considered one of the first Cli-Fi books while the Handmaid’s Tale is a also a classic of dystopian Sci-Fi with a show, and an unsettling graphic novel adaptation (For more information on Cli-Fi, see this post from August 2023). We have many of the short stories of the late Alice Munro which can be found on this list in the CPL catalogue created recently in memoriam.  Michael Ondaatje is probably best known for The English Patient because of the movie with Ralph Fiennes, but The English Patient is actually a sequel to In the Skin of a Lion which my coworker says is the one you should start with. It’s a fictional account of immigrants building the city of Toronto in the early 1900’s.

There have been several classics of Sci-Fi that have been influential to the genre and have been adapted for graphic novels and films, sometimes multiple times! Some prominent names include Arthur C. Clark, Jules Vern, H.G. Wells, Philip K. Dick, Martin Delany, Octavia Butler, Ray Bradbury, John Wyndam, Isaac Asimov, and Kurt Vonnegut. Jules Vern (Around the World in 80 Days, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea) and H.G. Wells (The Time Machine, The War of the Worlds) are both considered pioneers of the Sci-Fi genre. The Time Machine has been adapted for film three times in 1949, 1960, and 2002. You can watch the 1960 version found on Internet Archive. There has been  a lot written about Vern and Wells as pioneers of Science Fiction but Greg Tate makes a case for Martin Delany’s Blake or the Huts of America being an early work of Science Fiction which Delany wrote during the American Civil War about a man leading a revolt against slavery. Delany was a literary critic as well and you can learn about his debates with Frederick Douglass and his criticism of Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe.

Other Sci-Fi classics include Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? which became the basis of the Bladerunner movies. The action-packed movies center on creating an dystopian futuristic atmosphere, but the book centers on the relationship humans and androids have with empathy and reminds me more of the 2016 Westworld show than the Bladerunner movies.  Arther C. Clark’s 2001: a Space Odyssey was adapted by Stanley Kubrick, Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 has been adapted into films twice (the most recent of which from 2018 was filmed in Toronto), Isaac Asimov’s I, Robot was adapted in 2004, and Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five has a graphic novel adaptation that enhances the surreal story of Billy Pilgrim who is unstuck in time. If you’re a fan of comparing film adaptations to the books, these Sci-Fi classics are for you!

There are some classics of the horror genre by Mary Shelley, Bram Stoker, Edgar Allen Poe, Anne Rice, and Stephen King. If you like vampires, you can satiate your thirst with Bram Stoker’s Dracula or Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire. Mary Shelley created one of the greatest horror stories with Frankenstein, I’m also the biggest fan of Misery by Stephen King.

Some titles from American writers including Khaled Hosseini, Richard Wright, Ralph Ellison, Toni Morrison, Maya Angelou, James Baldwin, Alice Walker, Zora Neale Hurston, Alex Haley, Mario Puzo, John Steinbeck, and Cormac McCarthy. Richard Wright’s Native Son, is about the psychological impact of systematic racism in 1930’s Chicago that garnered both praise and criticism from other writers of the time including James Baldwin. Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man (not to be confused with the H.G. Wells Sci-Fi of a similar name) is about social invisibility of the reclusive main character. Also of note is Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, and Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Recently, you have probably heard of Alice Walker’s The Color Purple because of a the new musical adaptation released early this year. We also have the 1985 Spielberg adaptation with Whoopi Goldberg and Danny Glover. Walker won the Pulitzer her novel which has frequently been challenged since its publication in the early 80’s.

There are several writers associated with the Beat Generation including Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsburg, and William S. Burroughs. Kerouac’s 1957 novel On the Road is a fictional account of Kerouac and his friends travelling the United States focussing on jazz and poetry. These friends include Ginsburg (who has the poetry collection Howl), and Burroughs who wrote the vignette/novel Naked Lunch.

Discussion of classics is always a work in progress with so many other great writers from other continents that are underrepresented on this list. Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart is one of the best-known books internationally by an African writer but there are so many others. In Broken Glass, author Alain Mabankou riffs and ridicules many of the European and American classics on this list, and Kamel Daoud’s the Mersault Investigation is a re-write of The Stranger by Albert Camus. These writers are deserving of their own list which will hopefully be coming in the next few months. Until then, thank you for reading.

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