Which got me to thinking (always a dangerous act), there have been many books I've recommended that I see very few others writing about. Some of that happens because of my book choices—many are out of print or difficult for some people to obtain. But many are available and I feel I have failed them somehow in not getting readers more excited about them.
To some extent I jest. If someone isn't interested in Thucydides or Fortunata and Jacinta, it doesn't matter how many posts I make. They aren't going to read it. And the last thing a book lover usually wants is someone grabbing them by the arm, shoving a book in their face, and saying "You HAVE to read this." That's when I start looking for the nearest exit and ineptly making an excuse to slip away.
I'm going to put aside that hesitancy and talk about three books I loved, reviewed, and recommend, but I don't see anyone else posting on them. Again, apologies to those who have. Sometimes I overstretch. I also want to hear from others on books they've read that they just KNOW readers would enjoy IF only they would give them a chance. Comment here or on your blog, but let me know and I'll be happy to append this post with your recommendations.
I'm not including works like José Maria Eça de Queirós' The Maias and Vasily Grossman's Life and Fate since I have seen a few posts by others (by Amateur Reader and Richard, respectively, now that I think about it). I wish would read them, though. And I won't include books such as Vladislav Vančura's The End of the Old Times, Zsigmond Móricz's Relations, or Pío Baroja's The Struggle for Life trilogy, even though I think they are remarkable, because they might be difficult for the average reader to obtain a copy. And there are some books, like Andrei Platonov's Chevengur, that I can't recommend enough but want to wait until new translations are available to trumpet them again. So given those constraints, here are three books I would really love to see book lovers read.
1. La Regenta by Leopoldo Alas
Too often compared to Flaubert’s Madame Bovary (inaccurately, too). I'll lift the description from the back of my copy once again since it's a good summary:
Its subject is a shabby provincial Spanish town and, in particular, an intelligent and sensitive woman’s unsuccessful—and eventually disastrous—quest for fulfilment through marriage, adultery and religion. By dint of a remarkably complete and skilful use of realism, Alas combines a lively and satirical portrait of the society as a whole with an incisive exploration of the inner life of its principal characters.Alas’ most famous role was probably that of literary critic “Clarín” (bugle), but the two novels he finished and his short stories stand up as great writing. La Regenta provides wonderful observations of what Alas believed to be major reasons for Spain's decline, presented with plenty of rich irony and ambiguity. When you address (and skewer) mediocrity, pretense, and hypocrisy, you're book is going to remain timely. You HAVE to read this book.
2. Bolesław Prus' The Doll
Everything I've read from the Central European University Press has been a winner, and I was happy to see this picked up by NYRB for publication. From the NYRB site:
Prus’s work centers around the stories of three men from three different generations: Wokulski, the fatally flawed and hopelessly love-struck hero; Rzecki, the methodical and romantic old clerk; and Ochocki, a bright young scientist who hopes for universal progress in the midst of a darkening political climate. As the stories of the three men intertwine, Prus’s novel spins a web of encounters with an embattled aristocracy, the new men of finance, and the urban poor. Written with a quasi-prophetic sensibility, The Doll looks ahead to the social forces of imperialism, nationalism, and anti-Semitism that would soon hound the entire continent.Prus intended this book "to present our Polish idealists against the background of society’s decay." Czesław Miłosz called Prus the most important novelist of his day and that The Doll demonstrated "nineteenth-century realism at its best." I found it a little heavy-handed at times with Prus reiterating his points, but the serialization of the novel may have been one reason he did so. The central female character may be the weakest part, and some of the scientific discussion isn't believable. Regardless, it's a rich introduction into some of Poland's history, showing there are no easy answers to the problems encountered. You HAVE to read this book.
3. I was going to mention Parade's End by Ford Madox Ford here (oops, I guess I just did), but instead I'll go with Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's In the First Circle. Be sure to get the uncensored version, recently translated by Harry T. Willetts. Solzhenitsyn looks at what it takes to defy the evil of the Soviet regime and what is the cost of such defiance. He doesn't let the West off the hook either, highlighting the willful blindness of many who didn't wish to see the evil. Striving to live in Limbo, Dante's first circle of hell, means you're still in hell, and the book's prisoners echo those in Dante's Limbo: “We have no hope and yet we live in longing.” What struck me most about the book was the compassion Solzhenitsyn had with his characters, as well as the humor and irony he included. Plus it has a variation on the "ticking time bomb" plot! You HAVE to read this book.
Your turn, either in the comments or on your blogs—what books would you love to see more readers read?
Other readers' recommendations. Be sure to check out the comments to see why they chose what they did.
Count Miklós Bánffy's Transylvanian trilogy
Bomarzo by Manuel Mujica Láinez
Vincent McHugh's I Am Thinking of My Darling
Terry Andrews' The Story of Harold
More by Isak Dinesen, especially Seven Gothic Tales
From Amateur Reader:
The Entail by John Galt
Anthony Powell's A Dance to the Music of Time
Three novels by Walter van Tilburg Clark
The Ox-Bow Incident
The Track of the Cat
The City of Trembling Leaves
Robert Musil's The Man Without Qualities
Augusto Roa Bastos' Yo el Supremo/I the Supreme
Three short works:
Aurélia by Gérard de Nerval
Maldoror by the Comte de Lautréamont
Los siete locos/The Seven Madmen by Roberto Arlt
Christina Stead's House of All Nations
Miss MacIntosh, My Darling by Marguerite Young
Atiq Rahimi's Curse on Dostoevsky
Grace Dane Mazur's Hinges: Meditations on the Portals of the Imagination
Walking the Woods and the Water: In Patrick Leigh Fermor's footsteps from the Hook of Holland to the Golden Horn by Nick Hunt
The later work of William Faulkner
Ermanno Cavazzoni's The Voice of the Moon
Emmanuel Bove's My Friends
Another recommendation for Isak Dinesen