Guide to English Literature
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This is a book intended as a guide to English literature for the layman. We intend to provide the reader with an overview of different schools of books, with recommendations, so that he/she may find the right books of interest easily. This book is intended for readers who might not have got a chance to pursue literature since childhood, but are trying to get hold of it, or just experiment with reading, in later stages of life, like youth or middle age.
Fast paced, thrills and spills
Many people like thrillers. Thrillers are fast-moving stories. Fast-moving means that the story will be attracting, and makes the reader stick to the book, read it eagerly. Good thrillers induce a passion, a compelling addiction, to the story. As such, they do not go into lengthy discourses about deeper subjects, do not usually take pages to describe, or prove, human nature or any such deep mechanisms. These books deal with topics that capture the imagination of people, like detectives, romance, mysteries etc.
Undoubtedly, the best place to enjoy mysteries is in the stories of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. If you have not read Sherlock Holmes yet, it may be the best place to start enjoying good books. Maybe you can start at the Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - "Five Orange Pips", "The Beryl Coronet" or The Return of Sherlock Holmes. Holmes is a fictitious detective in the Victorian era created by Doyle whose methods are still studied, so the rumours have it, at Interpol. All in all, there are 64 short and 4 long stories. They are intellectually enthralling and highly exciting at the same time. The stories do not have cruelty or any ghastly scenes, so are appropriate even for children. As he so confidently says in the Five Orange Pips, "I am the final court of appeal."
Agatha Christie is another famous author in the detective genre. Be sure to read her stories of Hercule Poirot, the fictitious detective created by her self.
Looking to the future
Science Fiction is another major genre for entertainment. These are often novels, though short stories have been written by Isaac Asimov, Phillip K. Dick and Jeff Noon. These can be a sub-group of thrillers, but are characterised by the storyline being driven by some kind of scientific achievement or by being set in the future. Although these driving forces are at many times far fetched, some of them have accurately predicted true scientific progress.
One of the best known authors for this genre is Jules Verne (a French author). He is often praised as the person who invented the future. His inventive ideas have such a realistic appeal, that, in fact, the first submarine was modelled on the idea he had proposed in Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. Other enjoyable titles are A Journey to the Centre of the Earth, Around the World in Eighty Days.
H. G. Wells is also a well known early science fiction writer, responsible for The War of the Worlds and The Time Machine both of which have been adapted for film on more than one occasion. One of the earliest, possibly the first, science fiction novel ever written was Mary Shelley's Frankenstein which has spawned endless film versions. Science fiction translates well into film because it is often dramatic and shows you things you wouldn't normally see in real life, but it can be just as thrilling on the written page.
Many of these novels depict the life of various time periods, reflecting on social thoughts and values. A nice suggestion is A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens, whose story follows the French Revolution and depicts life in a family. Originally Dickens's books were published in serial form with a few chapters coming out in each issue of a magazine and were the contemporary equivalent of a soap opera. In this sense they are very much involved in the emotional lives of the people, though like modern soaps can be laced with tragedy and long-lost relatives. Dickens was also keen to point out how hard life could be in cities and how unhealthy it was living in the London smog.
Jane Austen has enjoyed a resurgence in popularity in the last decade since the release of new film adaptations of Pride and Prejudice and Emma. Her light-hearted stories of young women in need of husbands (quite literally, as women of their class were entirely dependent on men for money at that time) are still firm favourites with modern readers and their comedy makes them all the more accessible. Although Persuasion takes a slightly more sombre tone Austen's earlier novels are lighter, with the quick wit of Lizzie in Pride and Prejudice and the lively energy of Marianne in Sense and Sensibility making compelling characters for an engaging read. Austen's books can be likened to the chick lit of their time, and Bridget Jones's Diary is known to have borrowed heavily from the story of Pride and Prejudice.
Heart of Darkness, a short novel written by Joseph Conrad, is an exploration of colonial domination of Europeans over Africa. Its significance lies in the fact that the novel is also a symbolic journey into the human mind. It has been successfully adapted into the movie Apocalypse Now. The movie has mid-twentieth century Vietnam as its setting, and Americans are depicted as abusers of natives.
For fans of horror there is the infamous Dracula by Bram Stoker. The novel is written as a compilation of the main characters letters and diaries with the occasional news clipping of murder slipped in for a touch of realism. Having the character's first hand versions of events raises tensions high as they all consider the nature of the creature in the shadows. A must for all fans of the movies to see where the legend began.
Poetry can fall roughly into three types: epic, dramatic and lyric. Epic poetry is the style favoured by ancient cultures, such as ancient Greece, where travelling bards would remember long adventure stories more easily by saying them all in rhyming couplets. Homer's Odyssey would fall into this category, telling the story of Odysseus, a warrior returning from the Trojan War, and his adventures with Gods and monsters as he tries to return home to his wife and son. Milton revived the epic form in his poem Paradise Lost recounting the story of Man's fall from the Garden of Eden.
Dramatic poetry - so called because all plays (i.e. dramas) used to written in a poetic form. All Shakespeare's plays are written this way - they may not rhyme but all the lines have ten syllables written in iambic pentameter, a rhythm that makes the lines flow (this is what makes it sound so articulate when we hear it read aloud today).
Lyric poetry is what we normally think of when poetry is mentioned: poems of no longer than a page or so, with a particular theme or idea. These range from Shakespeare's Sonnets to modern poetry and song lyrics. A good place to start may be William Blake's Songs of Innocence and Experience a dual collection that also often comes with the original paintings. In the first section the poems are often deceptively simple, like lullabies, and can be an enjoyable read for both adults and children. The second section seems harmless enough on the surface but when you delve into the meaning you can see a lot of Blake's criticism of the society he lived in.
Modern poetry varies widely from the expressions of mental illness e.g. Sylvia Plath to witty humour, such as Roger McGough. Many countries have a poet laureate - a poet chosen, usually for a few years, as the country's premier poet who may be called upon to write poems commemorating certain public occasions as well as writing their own works. Looking up your country's poet laureate may be a good way to find poetry that reflects your culture.