Great Books of the World 25

“To be grateful is to find blessing in everything.
This is the most powerful attitude to adopt,
for there is a blessing in everything.”

Safa Sherin

 

In this post, I am reviewing a few more books that stormed the world with the power of imagination, dynamic storytelling, and always a moral message that would transcend cultural differences and be understood everywhere. And this is the sureproof recipe for budding writers of today. Gratitude, after kindness, is the greatest virtue. John Robins wrote pointedly: “One who forgets the language of gratitude can never be on speaking terms with happiness.”

E.B. White taking dictation from his dog

E. B. WHITE
1899  –  1985

Someone once called E. B. White the most companionable of writers and to be one of the most compassionate, and his books are proof of this description. White’s command of literary etiquette was so sure, he could even make entertaining a book of grammar and usage instruction. He was a modest person and this was evident in his prose, and one can easily imagine his taking pleasure in the fact that his legacy would rest on the books he wrote for children, especially “Charlotte’s Web”, which is in a class of its own.

This enchanting story will make you both laugh and cry, and will live with you forever. I love this book with a passion! Please read this extraordinary tale, it will reinforce your perception of what is important in life – friendship, constancy, love, and gratitude.

The book begins with a jarring question: “Where is Papa going with that axe?” It is asked by eight-year-old Fern Arable, who is distressed by her mother’s answer: “Mr Arable is on his way to the hoghouse to do away with the runt of the litter born the night before because as he will explain, ‘A weakling makes trouble.'”

After much begging her father not to kill the little runt, Fern was given a piglet to bring up like a baby on a bottle of milk.

The realities of farm life fall under the spell of the author’s invention, as hard facts – the hardest being of course, that Wilbur the pig’s likely destiny is summed up in the words “pork chops” – are transformed into a lovely, funny, and deeply moving tale. The collaborative ingenuity of the animals in the barn – even the rat, Templeton has his innate greed turned to good use – drives the tale to its satisfying conclusion, while the natural cycle of death and renewal is closely observed. White’s attention to nature’s truths is surpassed only by his allegiance to the human virtues.

Paramount released an animated film version in 1973; in 2006 a live-action film, featuring an all-star cast, including Julia Roberts and Dakota Fanning, was released. Best of all is the charming audiobook version, read by the author. White was awarded a Pulitzer Prize special citation for the body of his work in 1978.

An extract from “Charlotte’s Web”:

“The barn was very large. It smelled of hay and it smelled of manure. It smelled of the perspiration of tired horses and the wonderful sweet breath of patient cows. It often had a sort of peaceful smell  – as though nothing bad could happen ever again in the world. It smelled of grain and of harness dressing and of axle grease and of rubber boots and of new rope. And whenever the cat was given a fish-head to eat, the barn would smell of fish. But mostly it smelled of hay, for there was always hay in the great loft up overhead. And there was always hay being pitched down to the cows and the horses and the sheep.

The barn was pleasantly warm in winter when the animals spent most of their time indoors, and it was pleasantly cool in summer when the big doors stood wide open to the breeze. The barn had stalls on the main floor for the horses, tie-ups on the main floor for the cows, a sheepfold down below for the sheep, a pigpen down for Wilbur, and it was full of all sorts of things that you find in barns: ladders, grindstones, pitch forks, monkey wrenches, scythes, lawn mowers, snow showers, ax handles, milk pails, water buckets, empty grain sacks. It was the kind of barn that the swallows like to build their nests in. It was the kind of barn that children like to play in.  Wilbur’s new home was in the lower part of the barn, directly underneath the cows. Pigs needed warmth, and it was warm and comfortable down there in the barn cellar on the south side.

Fern came almost every day, to visit him. She found an old milking stool that had been discarded, and she placed the stool in the sheepfold next to Wilbur’s pen. Here she sat quietly during the long afternoons, thinking and listening and watching Wilbur. The sheep soon got to know her and trust her. So did the geese, who lived with the sheep. All animals trusted her, she was so quiet and friendly.”

“The sea is only the embodiment of a supernatural and wonderful existence.
It is nothing but love and emotion;
it is the Living Infinite…”

Jules Verne

 

20,000 Leagues Under The Sea
JULES  VERNE
1828  –  1905

Before submarines were actually invented, Jules Verne, a prolific French pioneer of science fiction and one of the most widely read authors in history, was dreaming of what it would be like to use one to travel around the world underwater. And although 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea is now considerably more than a hundred years old, it is still a thrilling and wonderfully entertaining fantasy of deep-sea adventure.

The story opens with the sighting of a mysterious sea monster. An expedition is mounted to hunt it down, and the novel’s narrator, marine biologist Pierre Aronnax, joins the crew. The search extends into the Pacific, where the creature is finally found and attacked. During the fight, Professor Aronnax, his assistant Conseil, and harpooner Ned Land are thrown overboard. They end upright on top of the beast – which, they discover, is, in fact, an underwater vehicle.

Brought inside, the trio meets the ship’s inventor and commander, Captain Nemo. Brilliant, odd, slightly crazed, and with a name that is Latin for “No One,” Nemo teaches his guests about his amazing electrically powered submarine, which he has christened the Nautilus. Off they all set, through the underwater world, seeing its marvels as no one has before. Incidentally, twenty thousand leagues is the distance the Nautilus travels, not the depth to which it descends. Eventually, after feasting their eyes on awe-inspiring wonders as well as surviving the onslaught of a giant squid, Aronnax and his two pals escape from the Nautilus and make it back to land.

When it comes to describing life beneath the waves, Verne mixes reported facts with his abundant imagination, and this is what keeps the book still interesting today. And although Verne was prophetic in some ways, including military use of submarines, the real reason to read “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea” is to be on board as a master storyteller explores the watery deep.

Verne’s other famous works included “Journey to the Centre of the Earth” and “Around the World in Eighty Days.” There have been several adaptations of Verne’s works. From a 1916 silent movie right up to the present day, Verne’s sagas have attracted numerous filmmakers, TV producers, and animators. The famous adaptation is the 1954 Disney version starring James Mason as Captain Nemo and Kirk Douglas and Peter Lorre.

An image from “From the Earth to the Moon” by Jules Verne

An extract from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea:

“In the year 1866, the whole maritime population of Europe and America was excited by the mysterious and inexplicable phenomenon. This excitement was not confined to merchants, common sailors, sea captains, shippers, and naval officers of all countries, but the governments of many states on the two continents were deeply interested. The excitement was caused by an enormous  ‘something’ that ships were often meeting. It was a long, spindle-shaped, and sometimes phosphorescent object, much larger and more rapid than a whale. The different accounts that were written of this object in various log-books agreed generally as to its structure, wonderful speed, and the peculiar life with which it appeared endowed.

The sound of whales singing underwater, which could have been heard by the heroes of Verne’s novel:

 

If it was a cetacean it surpassed in bulk all those that had hitherto been classified. Moreover, reliable sightings many leagues apart, yet close in time, showed that the monster could move at tremendous speed, and was at home in warm water or in cold. In all the great centres the monster became the fashion; it was sung about in cafes, scoffed at in the newspapers, and represented at all the theatres. It gave an opportunity for hoaxes of every description.”

“In the year of 1867, some fresh facts changed it from a scientific problem to be solved to a real and serious danger to be avoided. On 5 March, the Moravian, of the Montreal Ocean Company, sailing in the northwest Atlantic, struck her starboard quarter on a rock which no chart gave in at that point. She was then going at the rate of thirteen knots under the combined efforts of the wind and her 400 horsepower. Had it not been for the more than ordinary strength of the hull in the Moravian she would have been broken by the shock, and have gone down with the 237 passengers she was bringing from Canada.”

By comparison, the different sounds made by humpback whales, which are famous for being the most altruistic animal. If interested, please take a look at my post “Can Animals Be Altruistic?”

 

 

 

“You are always someone’s
favourite unfolding story.”

Ann Patchett

 

ALEXANDRE  DUMAS
1802  –  1870

Alexandre Dumas was born in Villers-Cotterets, France, in 1802, and when his father died in 1806, the family lived in abject poverty. As soon as Dumas was able, he travelled to Paris to find work. After a few years, he made a name for himself as an innovative playwright. He became famous for his action-packed historical plays. From 1840, he began to produce action novels, including The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo.

Statue of D’Artagnan in Montreal, Canada

To be able to produce so many large volumes, he created something of a story mill; employing other writers, 75 of them, and researchers to provide him with the material. The flamboyantly gifted Dumas would add his own inspiration  – refining and embellishing the particulars in action-packed instalments published under his own name. The popularity and influence of his tales are undeniable. To thousands of readers, the compelling force of Dumas’s storytelling  – his unrivalled command of a tale’s movement across a large historical canvas – marks every page of his novels as his own.

The Three Musketeers

Cardinal Richelieu

Set in the seventeenth-century reign of Louis XIII and full of historical personages such as Cardinal Richelieu and the Duke of Buckingham, the story recounts the swashbuckling adventures of an impetuous young swordsman named D’Artagnan and the trio of soldiers in the king’s service who give the book its title: Athos, Porthos, and Aramis.

Louis XIII, King of France

Aspiring to join their ranks as a musketeer, D’Artagnan follows his temper and his taste for amorous entanglement into perilous situations from which his new friends must extricate him. Duels, romantic liaisons, and court intrigue come fast and furious as the dialogue-driven chapters fly by. The heroes’ primary antagonist, the scintillatingly seductive Milady, is one of the most vivid and alluring villains in all literature, and nearly a match for D’Artagnan and his fellows.

Literary entertainment gets no better than this; you will lose hours and hours of valuable time and relish every moment.

Dumas wrote two sequels to The Three Musketeers: Twenty Years After and The Vicomte de Bragelonne (sometimes called The Man in the Iron Mask.) There have been countless adaptations of The Three Musketeers and D’Artagnan has been played on-screen by Douglas Fairbanks, Gene Kelly, Michael York, and Chris O’Donnell.

An extract from The Three Musketeers:

“As Athos and Porthos had foreseen, at the expiration of half an hour D’Artagnan returned. He had this time again missed this man, who had disappeared as if by enchantment. D’Artagnan had run, sword in hand, through all the neighbouring streets, but had found nobody resembling him whom he was looking for. While D’Artagnan was running through the streets and knocking at doors, Aramis had joined his companions, so that on returning home D’Artagnan found the reunion complete.  ‘Well?’ cried the three musketeers all together, on seeing D’Artagnan enter with his brow covered with perspiration and his face clouded with anger.

‘Well’ cried he, throwing his sword upon the bed; ‘this man must be the devil in person. He has disappeared like a phantom, like a shade, like a specter.’

He then told his friends, word for word, all that had passed between him and his landlord, and how the man who had carried off the wife of his worthy landlord was the same with whom he had had a difference at the hostelry of the Franc-Meunier.

‘And did the mercer,’ rejoined Athos, ‘tell you, D’Artagnan, that the queen thought that Buckingham had been brought over by a forged letter.’

‘She is afraid so.’

‘Wait a minute, then.’ said Aramis.

‘What for?’ demanded Porthos.

‘Gentlemen,’ cried Aramis, ‘listen to this.

‘Listen to Aramis,’ said his three friends.

‘Yesterday I was at a house of a learned doctor of theology whom I sometimes consult about my studies.’

Athos smiled.

‘This doctor has a niece,’ continued Aramis.

‘A niece, has he?’ interrupted Porthos.

‘A very respectable lady,’ said Aramis.

The three friends began to laugh.”

 

The Count of Monte Cristo

These are the fastest 1,200 pages you will ever read! When it comes to page-turners, The Count of Monte Cristo is the greatest of them all. Despite the novel’s gargantuan dimensions  –  it runs to more than twelve hundred pages – each of its chapters is like an exhibit in a compendium of narrative suspense; it is hard to imagine any thriller plot on page or screen that isn’t foretold in the fantastic adventures of Edmond Dantes.

Dantes is an earnest, responsible young sailor who, as the novel begins, has returned to Marseilles to marry his beloved Mercedes. Yet, on the eve of their wedding, he is nefariously accused of being a traitor, wrongfully convicted, and sentenced to life imprisonment in an impregnable chateau. So begins Dumas’s sprawling tale of vengeance, cunning, patience, and hope. As Dantes is transformed into the unforgettable figure who gives the book its title, he comes to combine the attributes of Odysseus, Robin Hood, and James Bond, a Western gunslinger, and James Bond meting out his artful and implacable justice with equal doses of vindictiveness and generosity.

 

An extract from The Count of Monte Cristo:

“The vague disquietude which prevailed among the spectators had so much affected one of the crowd that he did not await the arrival of the vessel in harbour, but jumping into a small skiff, desired to be pulled alongside the Pharaon, which he reached as she rounded into La Reserve basin.

When the young man on board saw this person approach, he left his station by the pilot, and hat in hand, leaned over the ship’s bulwarks. He was a fine, tall, slim young fellow of eighteen or twenty, with black eyes, and hair as dark as raven’s wing, and his whole appearance bespoke that calmness and resolution peculiar to men accustomed from their cradle to contend with danger.

‘Ah, it is you, Dantes?’ cried the man in a skiff. ‘What is the matter? and why have you such an air of sadness aboard?’

‘A great misfortune, Mr Morrel,’ replied the young man – ‘a great misfortune, for me especially! Off Civita Vecchia we lost our brave Captain Leclere.’

‘And the cargo?’ inquired the owner, eagerly.

‘It is all safe, Mr Morrel, and I think you will be satisfied on that head. But poor Captain Leclere -‘

‘What happened to him?’ asked the owner, with an air of considerable resignation. ‘What happened to the worthy captain?’

‘He died.’

‘Fell into the sea?’

‘No, sir, he died of brain fever in dreadful agony.’ Then turning to the crew, he said. ‘Bear a hand there, to take to sail!’

All hands obeyed, and at once the eight or ten seamen who composed the crew sprang to their respective stations at the spanker brails and outhaul, topsail sheets and halyards, the jib downhaul, and the topsail clewlines and buntlines.” 

    

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

99 thoughts on “Great Books of the World 25

  1. I loved hands on learning. Much of that has gone by the wayside with the new “teach for the test” approach! :<(

    Like

  2. Another stunning read! I know them all, except Charlotte’s Web! Shame on me! 😉 Must do better! 🙏💌🙏

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  3. Dear Ashley, thank you, but all is not lost! You need to read this wonderful book, as it is known to everyone, translated into so many languages, and it means that it is a very special book.

    Joanna

    Like

  4. Thank you. Greatly appreciated.

    Joanna

    Like

  5. Great books ad I especially like the quote by Safa Sherin, thank you for sharing.

    Like

  6. Thank you, I am glad that you like the books, more next week! The quote is great!

    Joanna

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Such a beautiful post as always Joanna! Great quotes, books and pictures you chose. Love this post!
    💖

    Like

  8. Thank you, Cindy, I do appreciate your kindness – writing in such difficult circumstances. I was moved by your utmost care in making the life of your beloved pet blissful to the last. I am glad that you liked this post; did you know Charlotte’s Web?

    Joanna

    Liked by 1 person

  9. You’re welcome, and it’s worth it. You’re bringing attention to the important of history and helping in art preservation. And introducing/reminding readers of great books that never go out of style. You can learn so much from reading a great book from any time period or place. Have a great week!

    Like

  10. You’re welcome again!

    Like

  11. Thank you, Benjamin, you are very kind, greatly appreciated.

    Joanna

    Like

  12. Of course! 💖💖

    Like

  13. oh absolutely and thank you so much for seeing the love and dedication in that choice. You are very dear and kind hearted which is evident by your kind posts. I did like it and I loved Charlotte’s Web. Sooooo good! 💖

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  14. Thank you, Cindy, you will like next week’s choice.

    Joanna

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Can’t wait J!💖

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  16. Superb post, Joanna! All these books are familiar, most through reading, and all through the movies made from them. I loved the well-chosen illustrations throughout the post.

    Charlotte’s Web is a book read many years ago. I am more impressed now by the illustrations than when I first read the book. They are lovely. Thank you for listing the 2006 version of the movie. I would like to check it out.

    Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea I have not read, although I have seen several movie versions. I particularly enjoyed the whale songs you included. My oldest daughter used to have a recording of whale songs when she was growing up, and we enjoyed listening to them.

    I have read several books by Alexandre Dumas, and seen movies of all of those mentioned. I found it incredible that he had a staff of 75 writers!

    Thank you, Joanna, for promoting these great classic books. I hope some young people will be inspired to read them. I am not sure how often today’s curricula include them.

    Hope all is well with you! ❤

    Like

  17. Dear Cheryl, Thank you so much for your wonderful appraisal. I am very happy with the comments and interest in classics.
    This week more to come and I know that you will like the books and perhaps, even the sound too…

    Joanna

    Like

  18. I remember we had an excerpt in standard 8 from Jules Verne’s novel ‘Journey to the center of the Earth’. Since then I’m one of his biggest fan. I watched an English film called ‘The three Musketeers’ but don’t know really whether it’s based on Dumas novel.

    One question ma’am… How many books have you read till date?

    Like

  19. Thank you, Shayan, for your comments. The film you have watched, is indeed based on the book, it is so famous that there could not be this title used anywhere. As a professional, I have now (and is growing all the time!) a library of over 11,000 books. I read everything I buy. I just bought it from India fantastic editions of Encyclopedia of India, Mahabharata, and History of India on the horseback, all beautifully illustrated, very big books. Very happy.

    Joanna

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  20. Thank you again.

    Joanna.

    Like

  21. I love how you e structured your post
    It looks interesting…I ha e not read any of the books reviewed, I’ll definitely try them out

    Like

  22. 11, 000 books 😲
    I’m sure you’ll love the story of Mahabharata if you’ve not read it already. It is famous worldwide anyways.

    Like

  23. Yes, I have read it already, and I have an ordinary edition, but the other three books are exceptionally beautifully illustrated coffee table types of books and in English. I love them so much that I also bought those volumes for my friend in India.

    I think that you will, Shayan, like my choice of books for my post tonight!

    Joanna

    Like

  24. Thank you again.
    By the way, when I finish editing for tonight, I will come back to your last poem, as always impressively erudite, but so sad….

    Joanna

    Like

  25. Thank you, Lebogang, that is precisely why I am writing, to encourage the reading of worthwhile books.

    Joanna

    Like

  26. Joanna, I did a post on Charlotte’s Web today and gave you a shout out on my post. Thanks for the inspiration! Lots of great memories.
    dwight

    Like

  27. Thank you, Dwight, so much! I love the picture of your work with children. I just wish that everyone had a teacher like you.

    Joanna

    Like

  28. Thank you very much, greatly appreciated!!

    Joanna

    Liked by 1 person

  29. You are welcome Joanna! Hopefully it will introduce you to a few more folks.

    Like

  30. Thank you, but I only hope it will introduce more people to the books!

    Joanna

    Liked by 1 person

  31. Yes, that too! You do such a great job with these authors and their books!

    Like

  32. Joanna,
    Your story is just as fascinating as it is passionate!
    When I read you, I get to know you;)
    In the first passage, I can feel all the love you have for animals, and your devotion to the beauty of their nature.
    Everything is palpable, the scents, the looks, the feelings because you know them, that you observed them for a long time, that they crossed you and that you love them deeply.
    for your story on Dumas, I once again learned a lot of things, I did not know that he came from a miserable background, and that he had known how to surround himself with dozens of writers … an encyclopedia !!
    For the passage on Jules Vernes, this man is brilliant, I adore him, I have Jules Vernes a lot, because his stories fascinated me. I really liked “The Tribulations of a Chinese in China” and “The Green Ray”
    I come to read you late, especially do not blame me.
    I am cruelly short of time because I have a lot of work to do, and time has become even more precious on the weekends. I often need to just rest, do nothing …
    And pyus as you may have noticed I have big problems with my blog. I hope everything will be back to normal. but I have subscribers who can no longer leave comments, it’s problematic.
    I thank you again for the energy so beautiful that you bring to all your stories, I can feel your enthusiasm and all the brilliant sincerity that animates each of your words …

    je t’embrasse fort 💖🧡💜
    Corinne

    Like

  33. My Dearest Corinne, I have just found your wonderful comments in the spam! How is this happening?
    You will never know how much I needed your words! I do have in common with the writers their love of nature, Every and animals in particular. Everything you wrote is so special and beautiful that I am in tears reading it. Thank you.

    I am thankful that you exist, Corinne, for lifting my spirit like no one else does.

    Je t’embrasse fort

    Joanna

    Liked by 1 person

  34. My Dear Corinne, what can I say? Two extraordinary reviews, that I love!
    I have never met you but somehow in your wisdom and your perceptive mind, you seem to read what is written in my soul.

    “When you do things from your soul,
    you feel a river moving in you, a joy.”
    Jalal ad-Din Rumi (Persian poet)

    Thank you, Corinne, Greatly Appreciated!!

    Joanna

    PS I know about your problems with the blog – WordPress must be able to solve it!

    Like

  35. Thank you and Je t’embrasse fort,

    Joanna

    Like

  36. This is what drives us, it is what binds us together!
    In France we say “it is only the mountains that do not meet”.
    I vow to one day meet you.
    I think there will be a lot of emotion and a lot, a lot of tea;)

    Like

  37. What I love most about you, even if it’s hard for me, is your very British “never complain” spirit, it pushes me to hold my head high, out of the water!
    Ah these British, it’s been so much that I admire you, and that you inspire me …
    thank you for your words and for the breath you bring us!❤️💖💜
    Bien fort
    Corinne

    Like

  38. But your sensitivity is everywhere, in every word, between every silence Joanna.
    You never cheat, you are you.
    Nowadays, it is priceless, it is rare and very moving.
    Tout fort (all strong) Joanna💖♎️
    Corinne

    Like

  39. My Dear Corinne, I was working on my Saturday’s post and I didn’t see your lovely additional words. We definitely must meet and it would be such a wonderful day. I think you can count on something more than just tea!!

    With love and hugs,

    Joanna

    Liked by 1 person

  40. Yes, yes and yes – we are going to meet!!

    Bien fort

    Joanna

    Liked by 1 person

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