A Literary A-Z : A

Thanks to a suggestion from Robbie, writer and cake-maker extraordinaire, I am embarking on a new A-Z. This time, it is about books and authors. You can use the title of any book, fiction or non-fiction, or the surname of any author, as long as it begins with ‘A’. For readers who do not have English as a first language, feel free to include foreign titles. Hopefully, we will all discover lots more about literature, and find many new books and authors to investigate. Before you play along, please check out Robbie’s excellent blog. https://robbiesinspiration.wordpress.com/

I am starting with one of the greatest anti-war books ever written. The powerful novel about the First World War by Eric Maria Remarque, ‘All Quiet On The Western Front’, published in 1929. This tells the story of excited young soldiers from their time at school, through to their harsh military training, and eventual involvement in the horrors of the trenches. Those soldiers are Germans, but the nationality is immaterial, as the experience was the same, whatever side the young men were fighting on.
This novel is rich with characterisation and description, and you really feel yourself taken on the journey with Baumer, Muller, Kropp, and Kat. As well as insights into life at the front, the fighting, and the occasional breaks from the trenches, we also see how the youth of a nation became detached from the life back home. When Baumer goes on leave back to Germany, he can no longer settle in his former life, and longs to return to his comrades, and the war. This book was later banned by the Nazi regime, and made into a classic film of the same name, in 1930.

By contrast, the 1991 novel ‘American Psycho’ by Brett Easton Ellis, deals with the vain and vacuous lifestyles of the super rich executives during the financial boom on America’s Wall Street, in the 1980s. Young men who compete to have the most impressive business card, or to get a table in the best fashionable restaurants. They have affairs with each other’s girlfriends, and spend time styling their bodies in the same way that they style their lives. These men have no real friends or attachments, and appear to be devoid of normal emotions. Their sole aim in life is to appear to be better than others, and to acquire more wealth and possessions.
What is shocking about this book, is that its main character and narrator, Patrick Bateman, is also a serial killer, preying on those around him with a callous air of complete detachment that reflects his everyday business dealings. Despite the descriptions of murders, and the overwhelming sense of the sheer pointlessness of the lives led by the characters, I thought this book was a wonderfully impressive allegory on the society of greed and indifference that existed at the time.

My third choice for ‘A’, and today’s top pick, is a novel I have written about before on this blog, ‘And Quiet Flows The Don’, by Mikhail Sholokhov. (And the sequel, ‘The Don Flows Home To The Sea’) In my late teens, I was becoming interested in politics, Left-Wing politics in particular. I discovered these books by the Russian writer, published in full in 1940, and was immediately drawn into the world described in them. He had won the Nobel Prize for literature a few years earlier, and deservedly so. The story deals with a vast array of characters from the Cossack heartland of Russia, and their experiences from the outbreak of the First World War, until the end of the Russian Civil War. He was writing from personal experience, having served in the Bolshevik army, and coming from the area he describes. Reading these books I learned a lot about Russian history, but also about following characters, wanting to know what happens to them, and being swept up in an unfamiliar world, made familiar by skillful writing.

Please add your own favourites in the comments. It can be a children’s book, a serious novel, or a major work of non-fiction. There are no rules, except the letter ‘A’.

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98 thoughts on “A Literary A-Z : A

  1. The books came to my mind is Around the World in 80 Days by Jules Verne, Originally published on December 22, 1872, Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain.

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  2. Fantastic post, Pete, and thank you for the shout out. All Quiet on the Western Front sounds terrific – I am going to get this. I like Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy and of course Hans Christian Anderson with my favourite tale the The Elvin Mound.

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  3. Another wonderful initiative Pete. I have read All Quiet on the Western Front which was very impressive, and And Quiet Flows the Don which was an introduction into Russian culture that has fascinated me at various times in my life.

    Not much to add (if we don’t count books starting with the word ‘A’) though I like Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker books of course.

    How about some non-fiction with Eric Hobsbawm’s ‘Age’ books, particularly Age of Extremes and Austerity: History of a Dangerous Idea by Mark Blyth which I thought was particularly good?

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    1. Thanks for the non-fiction suggestions, Peter. I read a Hobsbawm book when studying history, called ‘Industry and Empire’. Being a one-time Commie myself, I was interested in his left-wing leanings, but found myself questioning some of his conclusions. Happy to hear that you have read Sholokhov.
      You can have books starting with ‘A’ by the way. 🙂
      Best wishes, Pete.

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      1. I liked Hobsbawm’s views on social change over long periods and his overview of the sweep of history in the Age books.
        For fiction, I’ll add An Imaginary Life by David Malouf and The Americans Baby by Frank Moorhouse, a couple of Australian books from the 70s and 80s.

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  4. A great new endeavor Pete! Here are two non-fiction books to add to the list: “Among The Thugs” by Bill Buford is a great account of the Author’s involvement with football fans in England….very gritty reporting. Second is a classic foodie book called “An Omelette And A Glass Of Wine” by Elizabeth David. Tasty indeed!

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  5. I suddenly realised how little I have read! Thankfully Kim helped me out with Animal Farm, which I still remember clearly despite reading it thirty odd years ago. She also reminded me of Douglas Adams, although I only ever read Hitchhikers. I would add The Alchemist (Paulo Coelho), although I still feel I missed some of the meaning, I will have to read it again! One from Malians book shelf would have to be Amelia Jane Again (Enid Blyton) A little dated, but great fun and mischief 🙂

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  6. Great new series, Pete. I arrive quite late and I’m not sure I can think of any right now not already mentioned (I love Allende too but she’s been mentioned and many of my favourites in Spanish will come later). I prefer Atonement to Amsterdam. Being a bit nostalgic, I should add one that I loved as a child (and I suspect I’d still like if I read it now, although the title says it all): ‘An Old-Fashioned Girl’ by Louisa May Alcott. I guess Alcott would count as an A… In that case, I would have to include ‘Little Women’ too that I adore and one of the reasons why I wanted to be a writer (like Jo). And also why I became interested in American Literature. And of course, plenty of screen adaptations for this one. Looking forward to more. 🙂

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  7. Nice, nice, nice topic Pete. I couldn’t think of several books at the moment that start with A. I remember A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini, one of the best books I’ve come across. A Wrinkle In Time by Madelein L. Engle. Alice Adventures in Wonderland (but of course), All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. I read this last year, a Pulitzer Prize winner. Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman, I am still in the middle of reading Anna Karenina. Still looking for other editions of Anne of Avonlea by L. M. Montgomery. There are several more books that I cannot remember.

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    1. I think you read more books than anyone else I know, Arlene, so I was looking forward to your participation on this A-Z. Thanks for your interesting selections. I am sure that other readers will seek out some of these.
      Best wishes, Pete.

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  8. Good choice…..but I read little to no fiction so all mine will be non-fiction……”The Art Of War” Baron De Jomini…….”The Arabs; A History” by Eugene Rogan……..”Anarchist Cookbook”……leave room for others chuq…LOL

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  9. Surprised no one has listed Anonymous so far, I’m always running across his stuff. “By Hook or by Book” has a terrific list, I see a lot of favorites, especially “Around the World in 80 Days”. And definitely Isabel Allende – I worked in Chile for a while, and read Chilean authors beforehand — and found out, I love the “magical realism” writers.

    I’m ashamed to admit, I did not recognize the name Mikhail Sholokhov, and a Nobel winner no less. I think after wading through “The Gulag Archipelago,” not that it was a bad book, just dense, I swore off Russian writers for a few years to recover. But I just finished a book about an anti-Bolshevik maniac “Baron Ungern” and would like to read more about that period.

    Well, definitely Dante Alighieri, “Inferno,” I guess it’s true you go to hell for the company. I don’t think it’s great literature, but funny, I loved Douglas Adam’s “Hitchhiker’s Guide,” all four books of the trilogy. And I rarely read mysteries or detective novels, but Margery Allingham’s are good vacation reading.

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    1. Thanks, Robert. You have added some good ones indeed. Sholokhov’s book is a sprawling saga, but nothing like the writing of Solzhenitsin, although there is a huge number of characters to try to remember. The only Allende book I ever read was ‘House of The Spirits’, which was also made into a quite good film.
      Best wishes, Pete.

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  10. Interesting selection though I couldn’t get on with American Psycho and must put Mikhail Sholokhov on my list. The first A that comes to mind is Nick Hornby’s About a Boy which surprised me with its depth of emotion and the joy of its fully-rounded characters whose behaviour does not follow predictable paths as in so much modern fiction, if I’m making sense. I’d read a couple of his previous books but would now say About a Boy is my favourite. x

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        1. Grant said that this movie captured his true essence more than any other performance – and yes, I agree he was a bit “too” Hugh Grant for what that character would have done in the movie – but still enjoyed it a lot!

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  11. I always figure you or Kim will beat me to the punch with my suggestions and you got me on most, but not “Atlas Shrugged” by Ayn Rand, for fiction. Non-fiction is [what else?!!] “Angels: The History of the 11th Airborne Division” by Gen. E.M. Flanagan.

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  12. Yay! I’ve been so excited about this Pete! I absolutely loved All Quiet On the Western Front. Off the top of my head I’d also include:
    Anne of Green Gables series
    The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
    The Adventures of Tom Sawyer
    The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
    Animal Farm
    Alice In Wonderland
    Atonement- McEwan
    The Awakening – Chopin
    And Then There Were None – Christie
    Angels & Demons – Brown
    Around the World In 80 Days
    Age of Innocence – Wharton
    All the President’s Men – Bernstein & Woodward
    American Gods – Gaiman
    Anansi Boys – Gaiman
    Auntie Mame – Patrick Dennis
    The Alienist – Carr
    As You Like It
    The Arabian Nights
    Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day – Viorst

    Authors: Douglas Adams, Jane Austen, Dante Alighieri, Jeff Abbott, Mitch Album, Isabel Allende, David Almond, Stephen Ambrose, Jeffrey Archer, Kelley Armstrong, Avi, Margaret Atwood, Richard Adams, Aesop, Lloyd Alexander, Hans Christian Andersen, VC. Andrews, Maya Angelou, Isaac Asimov,

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    1. I expected you would ‘go large’ on this one, Kim, and you didn’t disappoint me. Many titles here I have never read, and some of the authors too. Thanks for your comprehensive list, and undoubted enthusiasm.
      Best wishes, Pete.

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  13. Reblogged this on Reading Recommendations and commented:
    Here a new list of favourites from Beetleypete, and this time it’s all things literary! Since I already write this blog of recommendations, I won’t be playing along on a daily basis this time, but I do recommend to all readers of my blog that they check out Pete’s blog, subscribe to it, and follow his daily alphabetical choices. Make your own comments, too, and include your selections in the mix. Enjoy!

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  14. First of all, thanks for the advice to check out Robbie’s Inspiration. Great ideas to use with my grandkids. You have me hooked once again. As a retired English professor, I was hoping you might try this. I will stick to fiction, and hope to get a chance for poetry in the future. Jane Austen for sure. No matter how often I read her, I get the same enjoyment as the first time, sometimes even more.

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    1. Thanks, Elizabeth, Robbie is a great part of the blogging community, so thanks for checking out her blog. I agree that Austen captured the mood of a time and a class of people unlike no other.
      Best wishes, Pete.

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  15. Congratulations, Pete! The makings of another great list. I just don’t have time yet to play along with this one, unfortunately, but I can offer a link to my own Reading Recommendations blog, in case anyone is interested in the authors and their books I have promoted there since 2013. There are alphabetical lists for all the authors there (including H for Felicity Harley, who first informed me of your blog and the movie list), and I have many more personal favourites of books on my shelves (and eBooks), authors I’ve met whose books I’ve enjoyed over decades in the book biz, and books I’ve edited and published … and written. So I’m going to recuse myself from this series, but I do look forward to reading about your selections, Pete, and those of your readers. And, of course, sharing the blog posts on social media.
    https://readingrecommendations.wordpress.com/
    A-L: https://readingrecommendations.wordpress.com/authors-promoted-alphabetical-listing/
    M-Z: https://readingrecommendations.wordpress.com/authors-promoted-alphabetical-listing-m-z/

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    1. Thanks for the links, Susan. I have no doubt that will be of great interest to everyone who likes posts like these. I have featured a post on Felicity’s book before, and it was well-received.

      Best wishes, Pete.

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  16. What a great idea for your next A-Z! I loved “All Quiet on the Western Front” so much when I read it for class because I’m quite interested in WWI history. The first book that came to my mind was “A Distant Shore” by Caryl Phillips, which we read in my postcolonial literature class last semester. For writers, I also thought of Edward Albee, who I read a bit of for a theatre class.

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