literature


Sociology, history and a thrilling real crime all wrapped together with pure Crichton entertainment.

Sociology, history and a thrilling real crime all wrapped together with pure Crichton entertainment.

The Great Train Robbery

  • Author:  Michael Crichton  (1942 – 2008)
  • Published:  1975
  • Publisher:  Knopf
  • Pages:  281
  • First Line:  “Forty minutes out of London, passing through the rolling green fields and cherry orchards of Kent, the morning train of the South Eastern Railway attained its maximum speed of fifty-four miles an hour.”
  • Last Line:  “The money from The Great Train Robbery was never recovered.”
  • Film:  1979  (*** – dir. Michael Crichton)
  • First Read:  Spring 1993

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The Penguin Classics edition of the novel that first got me to read it.

The Penguin Classics edition of the novel that first got me to read it.

La Bête humaine

  • Author:  Émile Zola
  • Published:  1890
  • Publisher:  Charpentier
  • Pages:  366
  • First Line:  “Roubaud came into the room and put the pound loaf, pâté and bottle of white wine on the table.”
  • Last Line:  “With no human hand to guide it through the night, it roared on and on, a blind and deaf beast let loose amid death and destruction, laden with cannon-fodder, these soldiers already silly with fatigue, drunk and bawling.”
  • Film Version:  1920 (possibly lost), 1938 (**** – dir. Jean Renoir), 1954 (***.5 – dir. Fritz Lang), 1957
  • First Read:  2010

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The Bantam two volume Complete Sherlock Holmes.

The Bantam two volume Complete Sherlock Holmes.

The Complete Sherlock Holmes, consisting of:

  1. A Study in Scarlet  (1887, 104 p)
  2. The Sign of the Four  (1890, 102 p)
  3. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes  (1892, 246 p)
  4. The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes  (1894, 208 p)
  5. The Hound of the Baskervilles  (1902, 146 p)
  6. The Return of Sherlock Holmes  (1905, 263 p)
  7. The Valley of Fear  (1915, 144 p)
  8. His Last Bow  (1917, 168 p)
  9. The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes  (1927, 214 p)
  • Author:  Sir Arthur Conan Doyle  (1859  –  1930)
  • Published:  see above
  • Publisher:  various, mostly George Newnes, after initial publication in The Strand
  • Pages:  see above  (all page totals from the Bantam Complete Sherlock Holmes)
  • First Line:  “In the year 1878 I took my degree of Doctor of Medicine of the University of London, and proceeded to Netley to go through the course prescribed for surgeons in the Army.”
  • Last Line:  “Both police and coroner took a lenient view of the transaction, and beyond a mild censure for the delay in registering the lady’s decease, the lucky owner got away scatheless from this strange incident in a career which has now outlived its shadows and promises to end in an honoured old age.”
  • ML Edition:  #206  (1946 – Adventures and Memoirs published together); gold hardcover (Adventures and Memoirs published together); Modern Library classics (Adventures and Memoirs published together; A Study in Scarlet; Hound)
  • Films:  see below
  • First Read:  high school

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The best children's book ever?  Yeah, I'll go with that.

The best children’s book ever? Yeah, I’ll go with that.

The Wind in the Willows

  • Author:  Kenneth Grahame
  • Published:  1908
  • Publisher:  Methuen & Co.
  • Pages:  302
  • First Line:  “The Mole had been working very hard all the morning, spring-cleaning his little home.”
  • Last Lines:  “But when their infants were fractious and quite beyond control, they would quiet them by telling how, if they didn’t hush them and not fret them, the terrible grey Badger would up and get them.  This was a base libel on Badger, who, though he cared little about Society, was rather fond of children; but it never failed to have its full effect.”
  • Film Version:  numerous  –  see below
  • First Read:  sometime in childhood

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Immense talent gone so soon.

Immense talent gone far too soon.

A Good Man is Hard to Find and Other Stories

  • Author:  Flannery O’Connor  (1925-1964)
  • Published:  1955
  • Publisher:  Harcourt, Brace
  • Pages:  251
  • First Line:  “The grandmother didn’t want to go to Florida.”
  • Last Line:  “He came regularly once a week with a bag of breadcrumbs and, after he had fed these to the peacock, he would come in and sit by the side of her bed and explain the doctrines of the Church.”
  • Film Version:  television adaptation of one of the stories in 1957; short film of one of the stories in 1993
  • First Read:  Fall, 1995

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If your ex-wife gives you this look in these circumstances, odds are that she's not ready for the relationship to end.

If your ex-wife gives you this look in these circumstances, odds are that she’s not ready for the relationship to end.

My Top 6:

  1. The Awful Truth
  2. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
  3. The Lower Depths
  4. Stage Door
  5. Dead End
  6. Night Must Fall

Note:  This list has fluctuated while I was working on it.  It started with 8 films.  Two of them I re-watched and then dropped: Lost Horizon and Sabotage, the latter of which is a bit of a shame given the source material.  I also re-watched three films that weren’t on my list but are considered classics by some, though not by me: Make Way for Tomorrow, Topper and Nothing Sacred.  In the end, they all stayed in the *** range and their scripts didn’t make my list.  And even within the list things fluctuated – The Lower Depths went up enough that I had re-watched it before doing my 1936 Nighthawk Awards it would have gone up a spot in Best Foreign Film and it went up a few spots here.  So, this is my list and I am not sticking to it.

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DUKE (to those remaining): You'd better stay where you are for a while.  Good night, folks.

DUKE (to those remaining): You’d better stay where you are for a while. Good night, folks.

My Top 7:

  1. The Petrified Forest
  2. Mr. Deeds Goes to Town
  3. My Man Godfrey
  4. A Tale of Two Cities
  5. Dodsworth
  6. After the Thin Man

Note:  The Petrified Forest would have won in 1935 but Deeds would have been in 5th place.  Notice there are also only 6 rather than 10 because there just isn’t as loaded a list of qualities scripts in 1936 (1937 won’t be any better).  I originally had Hitchcock’s Secret Agent here, but after rewatching it, it got bumped off the list.  Though, to be fair, this is a better list than you’ll find in Best Original Screenplay for 1936, where I can’t even manage to find a full slate of nominees.

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The best short story collection since Dubliners.

The best short story collection since Dubliners.

Interpreter of Maladies

  • Author:  Jhumpa Lahiri
  • Published:  1999
  • Publisher:  Houghton Mifflin Company
  • Pages:  198
  • First Line:  “The notice informed them that it was a temporary matter: for five days their electricity would be cut off for one hour, beginning at eight P.M.”
  • Last Lines:  “I am not the only man to seek his fortune far from home, and certainly I am not the first.  Still, there are times I am bewildered by each mile I have traveled, each meal I have eaten, each person I have known, each room in which I have slept.  As ordinary as it all appears, there are times when it is beyond my imagination.”
  • Acclaim:  Pulitzer Prize
  • Film Version:  none
  • First Read:  Summer 2000

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It's all up for Gyppo.

“His mind was struggling along aimlessly in pursuit of his actions, impotently deprecating them and whispering warnings.  But it was powerless.”

My Top 10:

  1. The Informer
  2. Les Misérables
  3. The 39 Steps
  4. Mutiny on the Bounty
  5. Captain Blood
  6. Bride of Frankenstein
  7. The Scarlet Pimpernel
  8. The Dark Angel
  9. David Copperfield
  10. Ruggles of Red Gap

Note:  After a weak year that could only muster seven for its list, we have a complete list.  And a strong list at that – I am sorely tempted to nominate six films, but I draw the line at the traditional five – indeed, for Picture, Director and Adapted Screenplay these six films will move around, with a different one being the 6th, and non-nominated film, in all three of those categories.  The only downside is that eight of the ten are dramas – 1935 is a much better year overall, but 1934 had those really great comedies. (more…)

"I made myself comfortable on the living-room sofe.  We had the afternoon papers sent up.  Morelli, it seemed, had shot me - twice for one of the papers and three times for another - when I tried to arrest him for Julia Wolf's murder, and I was too near death to see anybody or to be moved to a hospital."  The Thin Man, p 38.

“I made myself comfortable on the living-room sofa. We had the afternoon papers sent up. Morelli, it seemed, had shot me – twice for one of the papers and three times for another – when I tried to arrest him for Julia Wolf’s murder, and I was too near death to see anybody or to be moved to a hospital.” The Thin Man, p 38.

My Top 7:

  1. The Thin Man
  2. It Happened One Night
  3. Vampyr
  4. The Gay Divorcee
  5. Of Human Bondage
  6. Death Takes a Holiday
  7. Twentieth Century

Note:  Only seven?  Yes, only seven.  I’ve seen 79 films from 1934, at least 30 of which were adapted.  But many of them don’t rise above the mundane and some of them are just downright bad.  A list of notable films that didn’t make the grade are down at the bottom, as usual.  And really, this year is all about three films, one of which (Vampyr) is questionable as to whether it belongs here (records of its first U.S. screenings are sketchy). (more…)

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