A Literary A-Z: C

Please play along by adding your own favourite books that begin with a ‘C’, or the surname of an author with the same letter.

Most people know by now that I am no Royalist. This lifelong tendency led me to a great interest in the English Civil War, and to the Parliamentarian general Oliver Cromwell, who later became Lord Protector.
The definitive biography of this man was written by Antonia Fraser in 1973, and titled ‘Cromwell: Our Chief of Men’. It is a door-stop of a book, more than 1,000 pages, so not intended to be a comfortable holiday read by any means. This complete history of this often maligned historical character, has no equal. I say this, despite the fact that Lady Antonia Fraser, daughter of an Earl, is an aristocrat by birth, and her Royalist sympathies are allowed to surface frequently in this book. If you can overlook this, and I did, then you are still left with a fascinating and detailed account of the life of one of the great figures in English history.

‘The Catcher In The Rye’ by J.D. Salinger was published in 1951, a few months before I was born. The main character, Holden Caulfield, relates a coming of age experience that is instantly recognisable to any teenager in western society. Despite the differences in background between myself and Holden, I identified with his frustration and rebellion immediately. I don’t know how old Salinger was when he wrote the book, but the style, and expression of thought, is just perfect.

Ex-Police officer Joseph Wambaugh published his novel ‘The Choirboys’ in 1975. His inside knowledge of police procedures, allied to his no-holds barred attitude to their bad behaviour on occasion, produced a sparkling book that raised many controversial issues at the time. After reading his tales of depressed, suicidal, and alcoholic police officers in Los Angeles, you are unlikely to ever view the police in the same light, that’s for sure. The characters are so richly described, that after a few pages, you begin to think you know them. They offer a view of policing far removed from many worthy memoirs, and allow you to discover that behind those blue uniforms lurk all the same issues and fears that plague the rest of us. It was later made into a film, starring Charles Durning, Louis Gosset Jnr, and James Woods.

In 2002, I read an amazing book, set in 19th century London. I could identify with so many locations, and also felt instantly drawn into the lives of the characters. ‘The Crimson Petal, and the White’ by Michael Faber, is flawless historical fiction. Victorian prostitution, wealthy industrial magnates, and a consummate retelling of the life of the times. This all adds up to something you really want to read, characters you believe in, and a descriptive wonderland of a lost London. It was later shown as a TV mini-series, and beautifully done too. It doesn’t get much better than this.

My top pick for ‘C’ is a novel I have read twice, and never tire of. Set during the American Civil War, ‘Cold Mountain’ by Charles Frazier was published in 1997. It was his first novel, and became a huge international success, selling over three million copies. And if you read it, you will see why. The story of the Confederate deserter Inman, and his quest to return home to his wife and farm in Cold Mountain, is contrasted by the struggles of his wife Ada to manage during the harsh wartime conditions. This book is a descriptive marvel, and the characters come to life in your mind. It is a never to be forgotten read, with a simply amazing ending. One of the best books I have read in later life, without doubt. It was also made into a faithful film, starring Jude Law, and Nicole Kidman. Read the book, then watch the film. Magical stuff, believe me.

I have left you a lot of ‘C’ titles and authors, so off you go!

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69 thoughts on “A Literary A-Z: C

  1. Another great post, Pete – I’m a great fan of Joseph Wambaugh and you have another on my to-read list here: The Crimson Petal, and the White. I’d also like to add two more possibly past the cut-off point authors in a sometimes looked-down-on genre: Agatha Christie and Arthur Conan Doyle. Such enduring names for what many consider a niche (and non-literary) genre.

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    1. No problem with either of those, Elizabeth. I loved reading her Poirot novels, and when I was young, I was fascinated by Sherlock’s mysteries, and his prowess at detection.
      Best wishes, Pete.

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  2. After reading all the entries, I can’t think of any titles. I recently read one of Chevalier’s books and enjoyed it (must read more). I imagine the one I must add is Miguel de Cervantes and Don Quixote. I do love many of his lesser-known novellas (La ilustre fregona, that has a similar plot to Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, among them). Looking forward to more

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  3. Cast Iron by Peter May, but don’t start with that book as it is the last in a series of cold case detective stories featuring forensic expert Enzo Macleod, who is a Scotsman living in France. I really enjoyed this series.

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          1. I’ll also add any of Ann Cleeves books – the Vera series which has been televised and also the Shetland series, also televised. I find that I enjoy the books a lot more than the TV productions.

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          1. The books are definitely an improvement. As with DCI Banks. I loathe the TV series, but enjoy the books. So many times characters and their lives are changed for television and you don’t get the small things that make the character who it is.

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  4. After your last reply I thought I better get the ball rolling on essential books for people who compost their nutrient rich toilet contents! Create an Oasis with Greywater (Art Ludwig) A must read for anyone who wants to make sure that nothing is wasted 🙂

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  5. As I’m a day late for this, you and everyone else have already thought of some of my favorites, but here goes nothing!
    Christine and The Cell -King
    The Camel Bookmobile – Hamilton
    The Casebook Of Victor Frankenstein – Ackroyd
    The Cellist Of Sarajevo – Galloway
    Charming Billy – McDermott
    The Children Act – McEwan
    The Children’s Book – Byatt
    Chocolate – Harris
    The City Of Ember- DuPrau
    The City Of Fallen Angels – Berendt
    The Color Of Water – McBride
    Commonwealth – Pratchett’s
    The Color Purple – Walker
    The Constant Princess – Gregory
    Coraline – Gaiman
    The Corrections – Franzen
    The Curious Incident Of the Dog In the Night-Time – Haddon
    Charlie and the Chocolate Factory & Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator – Dahl
    Cinder (Bk. 1 Lunar Chronicles) – Meyer

    Authors: Suzanne Collins, Orson Scott Card, Cassandra Clare, Agatha Christie, Truman Capote, Lewis Carroll, John le Carre, Willa Cather, Raymond Chandler, Geoffrey Chaucer, Anton Chekov, G.K. Chesterton, Tracy Chevalier, Kate Chopin, Mary Higgins Clark, Samuel Clemens, Harlan Coben, Paolo Coelho, Eoin Colfer, Susan Cooper, Bernard Cornwell, Michael Crichton, E.E. Cummings, Christopher Paul Curtis, Chris Colfer

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    1. I have written about ‘Christine’ on this blog before. One of my favourite King books. If you have never read ‘Cold Mountain’, I can really recommend it. (And the film)
      Thanks, Robbie.
      Best wishes, Pete.

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  6. For WWII I recall, “Churchill: By Himself” and “Combat: WWII Pacific” – then the Stephen King “Cell”. Having a good time pushing the old memory brain cells around, Pete – thanks.

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  7. Ifeel like a geek with my choices….I collect 1sr edition books and this is in my library…”Civics At Work”….1928….Williamson…..”Common Sense” Thomas Paine….”Che” by Joan Lee Anderson….now I need to catch up with the “D”s….chuq

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  8. Hi Pete, Some interesting and unusual choices, as is your usual way. But deliberately omitting Catch 22 was a bold move! That would be my choice for C.

    Anyway since I missed yesterday, I’ll combine B and C to choose Bliss – Peter Carey’s first novel and my favourite (although I love his short story collections such as War Crimes even more).

    For C I also liked Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut and The Crucible by Arthur Miller.

    Cheers Peter

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    1. I was expecting a lot of love for ‘Catch 22’, so left it out deliberately. I thought you might pick the Australian author Carey, and I have not read ‘Bliss’. I did read his story of the Kelly Gang though. Miller’s Crucible is a powerful play about the Salem Witch Trials that was also a good film.
      Thanks for your choices, and for continuing to contribute to this series.
      Best wishes, Pete.

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      1. Bliss is a delightful novel about a man who is revived after a heart attack and believes he is in hell. Carey’s 80s novels are my favourites, but I most recommend his 70s short stories, particularly War Crimes or the Collected Short Stories.

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  9. I see a lot of favorites already listed, including Centennial and Chesapeake, just above this. Samuel Clemens is listed of course, I am a dedicated fan, and Lewis Carroll.
    Stephen Crane (not just “The Red Badge of Courage,” he wrote a lot of neat short stories)
    Raymond Chandler is listed, and would add, James M. Cain — “The Postman Always Rings Twice,” “Double Indemnity” (especially because I went to the same college).
    Alejo Carpentier – “The Kingdom of This World” Truman Capote – “In Cold Blood”, an incredible book. John Dickson Carr (mysteries) John le Carré (spy novels). Geoffrey Chaucer, Samuel Coleridge, Winston Churchill.
    And finally, Will Cuppy “The Decline and Fall of Practically Everybody” which is a unique blend of history and humor, and is perfect in its own strange way.
    I definitely will look up the Michael Faber novel, sounds great.

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    1. I have only read Crane’s ‘Red Badge’, but love it of course. ‘In Cold Blood’ was a great book, (and film) and Le Carre’s books are British classics of course. But as he worked in the security services, his inside knowledge was second to none. Chaucer left us a fascinating glimpse of history with his characters, proving that people haven’t changed that much since the 14th century.
      Thanks for your other suggestions, Robert, I hope you manage to read Faber’s novel one day.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

        1. He’s new to me, which is surprising, as I have mainly read non-fiction accounts of that war and individual battles, including the amazing Shelby Foote’s three-volume epic account of the whole war. Thanks for the tip, I will be investigating further.
          Best wishes, Pete.

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  10. Another good series Pete, and I will be taking notes on books for future reads. I like James Michener’s historical fiction, and particularly enjoyed two of his “C” books (though very long ago.) Centennial and Chesapeake.

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  11. There was a time I got so engrossed with Chicken Soup for the Soul Series and almost all the medical thrillers of Dr. Robin Cook. I love Girl With A Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevaller, The Alchemist and Eleven Minutes by Paulo Coelho, books by Jenny Colgan, The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins, most Michael Crichton books, Night School series by C. J. Daugherty. A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens and Cather In The Rye by J.D. Salinger complete the books I like under letter C. Couldn’t think of the other titles.

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  12. “Cashelmara” by Susan Howatch. Not her best which were about evil in the church. Still memorable because I was reading it when I went into labor and had to wake my husband to get to the hospital!

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  13. A terrific list, and “The Choirboys” is a great addition – he also wrote the nonfiction “The Onion Field” about that notorious police murder….as for “C” entries, Raymond Chandler created Detective Philip Marlowe in a string of classic crime novels – and the first one was “The Big Sleep!”

    “Catch-22” by Joseph Heller is also a masterpiece, and the film by the same name is also incredible with an all-star cast – here is a link if you want to see more about the film and the source novel upon which it is based:

    https://johnrieber.com/2014/03/24/the-brilliant-black-comedy-catch-22-a-neglected-movie-masterpiece/

    Really enjoying this countdown so far Pete!

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    1. Thanks very much, John. ‘The Onion Field’ and ‘Catch 22’ are both great books and films, and I have seen and read them both. Thanks also for your detective novel suggestions.
      Best wishes, Pete.

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  14. The Catcher in the Rye is one of my favourite books! So glad to hear you also love it. For authors, I thought of Albert Camus (I loved his novella The Stranger) and my favourite childhood author, Beverly Cleary. For novels, I thought of the children’s novel Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White (personally, I prefer White’s Stuart Little, but for the sake of the challenge…).

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    1. I had to read Camus in French, at school. ‘L’Etranger’ is a powerful, if depressing book. I have not read those others, so many thanks for adding them, and for continuing to play along with this series.
      Best wishes, Pete.

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      1. Glad to play along! Our professor had to read Camus in French as well when she was an undergraduate, but thankfully, she gave us an English translation to read for class. It’s such a fascinating (and sad) novella and covered a wide range of topics we’d studied in literature classes.

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  15. Christ stopped at Eboli, by Carlo Levi….a book I had to read after visiting Matera and Craco Vecchia in Basilicata. Levi was exiled to Basilicata due to his opposition to Mussolini, and tells of the struggles of the local peasants who still lived in caves in a region still plagued with malaria in the swampy land…a very humane book.

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