World Languages Instructional Director Ms. Abel is a has a slew of fave books she’d like to recommend, some of which she’s reread many times.
First up is La autopista del sur y otros cuentos, a collection of fantastical short stories by Julio Cortázar. “Cortázar is a master storyteller who plays with the reader until the very end. I have read some of my favorite stories over and over again. I find new details every time,” says Ms. Abel.
The book includes short stories about “A young girl (who) spends her summer vacation in a country house where a tiger roams…A man reading a mystery (who) finds out too late that he is the murderer’s victim…In the stories collected here—including Blow-Up, on which Antonioni based his film—Julio Cortazar explores the boundary where the everyday meets the mysterious, perhaps even the terrible. This is the most brilliant and celebrated book of short stories by a master of the form.”
Next up is literary classic, The Jungle, by Upton Sinclair. “This book blew my mind when I read it,” says Abel. “The image of Jurgis Rudkis bathing in a river with the soot, dust, and grime from the city melting away has had a lasting impact.”
Sinclair was the author of close to 100 books in various genres. The Jungle is his most famous work, noted for its depiction of the underside of the Chicago meatpacking industry.
This “dramatic and deeply moving story exposed the brutal conditions in the Chicago stockyards at the turn of the nineteenth century and brought into sharp moral focus the appalling odds against which immigrants and other working people struggled for their share of the American dream. Denounced by the conservative press as an un-American libel on the meatpacking industry, this book was championed by more progressive thinkers, including then president Theodore Roosevelt, and was a major catalyst to the passing of the Pure Food and Meat Inspection act, which has tremendous impact to this day.”
Another of Ms. Abel’s favorites is A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole. “My original copy is so worn that I have had to buy another one!” says Ms. Abel. “I howled with laughter at the main character. As badly as you feel for Ignatius, you also cheer for him quietly, as the people who surround him ooze corruption and hatred. I had visited New Orleans before reading this and afterwards. I will never think of the city the same again!”
Sadly, author Toole never lived to see his book published. He committed suicide and, years later, his mother convinced novelist Walker Percy to read the manuscript. Percy loved it and saw to it that the book was published. The book received critical acclaim and in 1981, Toole posthumously received the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.
Read on for the full synopsis…
“A green hunting cap squeezed the top of the fleshy balloon of a head. The green earflaps, full of large ears and uncut hair and the fine bristles that grew in the ears themselves, stuck out on either side like turn signals indicating two directions at once. Full, pursed lips protruded beneath the bushy black moustache and, at their corners, sank into little folds filled with disapproval and potato chip crumbs.”
Meet Ignatius J. Reilly, the hero of John Kennedy Toole’s tragicomic tale, A Confederacy of Dunces. This 30-year-old medievalist lives at home with his mother in New Orleans, pens his magnum opus on Big Chief writing pads he keeps hidden under his bed, and relays to anyone who will listen the traumatic experience he once had on a Greyhound Scenicruiser bound for Baton Rouge. (“Speeding along in that bus was like hurtling into the abyss.”) But Ignatius’s quiet life of tyrannizing his mother and writing his endless comparative history screeches to a halt when he is almost arrested by the overeager Patrolman Mancuso–who mistakes him for a vagrant–and then involved in a car accident with his tipsy mother behind the wheel. One thing leads to another, and before he knows it, Ignatius is out pounding the pavement in search of a job.
Over the next several hundred pages, our hero stumbles from one adventure to the next. His stint as a hotdog vendor is less than successful, and he soon turns his employers at the Levy Pants Company on their heads. Ignatius’s path through the working world is populated by marvelous secondary characters: the stripper Darlene and her talented cockatoo; the septuagenarian secretary Miss Trixie, whose desperate attempts to retire are constantly, comically thwarted; gay blade Dorian Greene; sinister Miss Lee, proprietor of the Night of Joy nightclub; and Myrna Minkoff, the girl Ignatius loves to hate. The many subplots that weave through A Confederacy of Dunces are as complicated as anything you’ll find in a Dickens novel, and just as beautifully tied together in the end. But it is Ignatius–selfish, domineering, and deluded, tragic and comic and larger than life–who carries the story. He is a modern-day Quixote beset by giants of the modern age. His fragility cracks the shell of comic bluster, revealing a deep streak of melancholy beneath the antic humor. John Kennedy Toole committed suicide in 1969 and never saw the publication of his novel. Ignatius Reilly is what he left behind, a fitting memorial to a talented and tormented life.
Ms. Abel’s final Fave can be found on a list of Top-100-Books-Everyone-Should-Read: The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger. “I have read this book once a year since I was 15. It reminds me that a great book can stand the test of time,” says Ms. Abel.
The Catcher in the Rye is one of those books whose main character, Holden Caufield, will stay with you for the rest of your life. Most students can’t get through high school without reading it (for pleasure or for English class!).
Did we pique your interest? Read the synopsis below, if you’d like to know more about this book…
The hero-narrator of The Catcher in the Rye is an ancient child of sixteen, a native New Yorker named Holden Caulfield. Through circumstances that tend to preclude adult, secondhand description, he leaves his prep school in Pennsylvania and goes underground in New York City for three days. The boy himself is at once too simple and too complex for us to make any final comment about him or his story. Perhaps the safest thing we can say about Holden is that he was born in the world not just strongly attracted to beauty but, almost, hopelessly impaled on it. There are many voices in this novel: children’s voices, adult voices, underground voices-but Holden’s voice is the most eloquent of all. Transcending his own vernacular, yet remaining marvelously faithful to it, he issues a perfectly articulated cry of mixed pain and pleasure. However, like most lovers and clowns and poets of the higher orders, he keeps most of the pain to, and for, himself. The pleasure he gives away, or sets aside, with all his heart. It is there for the reader who can handle it to keep.
J.D. Salinger’s classic novel of teenage angst and rebellion was first published in 1951. The novel was included on Time’s 2005 list of the 100 best English-language novels written since 1923. It was named by Modern Library and its readers as one of the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century. It has been frequently challenged in the court for its liberal use of profanity and portrayal of sexuality and in the 1950’s and 60’s it was the novel that every teenage boy wants to read.
If you’d like to read any of these books, stop by the library, or do a quick search to see if they’re on our shelves.
And let’s give a big shout-out to Ms. Abel for her wonderful contribution to our blog! Woot! Woot!