A Literary A-Z: E

Please play along. You can use any book title, or the surname of an author, as long as they begin with ‘E’. I soon realised that I had not read that many books with an ‘E’ in the title. There are quite a few, it’s just that I haven’t read them. I had to resort to the surnames of authors for my top choice, instead of using the same book title later in the alphabet, as planned.

Jack Higgins is a very successful author. He has written at least 60 books, mostly fictional thrillers. And he writes them very well indeed, with convincing research, and realistic locations. In 1975, I read his most successful book, ‘The Eagle Has Landed’. I recall that I read it in one sitting, unable to put it down. This ‘what if?’ idea of a German plan to assassinate Churchill is full of detail, yet fast-paced, and thrilling to read. When German troops are landed in England, pretending to be Polish, they contact pro-Nazi agents in a Norfolk village, eventually taking over the small community. Higgins gives humanity to those German soldiers, and we see them in a different light, as brave men, set on their mission. One of the best of the genre, and later made into a faithful film, starring Michael Caine, and Robert Duvall.

A short story, but an enduring moral tale that has always stayed with me. ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’ by Hans Christian Andersen was first published in 1837. But this tale of vanity and pride is just as relevant in 2017. It also gave me a lifelong catchphrase, which I use to describe any display of false vanity, or the promise of something that cannot be achieved. I don’t know exactly how old I was when I read it, certainly under ten, but I have never forgotten it.

J. G. Ballard wrote ‘Empire of The Sun’ about his childhood experiences in China, and internment by the Japanese during WW2. A novel of survival and endurance during harsh times, made all the more powerful when you know it actually happened to the author. It was made into a film by Stephen Spielberg, and very well done indeed. A young Christian Bale played the boy, his first starring role.

Another book that was well-served by its film adaptation is ‘The English Patient’. This 1992 novel by Michael Ondaatje was a big seller at the time, winning the prestigious Booker Prize, and deservedly so. Set during WW2, it examines the lives of four very different characters, and how they all come together in one place, a bomb-damaged monastery in Italy. Hard to say more, without revealing too much of the story, but this is a compelling read that you are unlikely to forget.

My top pick today is from the Italian author Umberto Eco. Like three of the others in this post, it was also made into an excellent film, but the book is so much more. I was lucky to buy an early hardback edition in the 1980s, which I still own. This came with maps of the monastery interior on the insides of the front and back covers, which enhanced the pleasure of reading this murder mystery, set in the 14th century.
‘The Name of The Rose’ is not only a complex and intriguing tale of jealousy, greed, and murder set in a monastery. It is also a richly rewarding historical novel, packed with fascinating detail, and an overwhelming sense of time and place. One of my favourite books, and highly recommended.

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59 thoughts on “A Literary A-Z: E

  1. Pete, I’m also going to choose Umberto Eco for his book, which I’ve read in French translation: “Le nom de la rose.” I’ve seen the excellent film, too, and would dearly love to have it on DVD. Both the book and the film are…amazing!

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  2. I saw Kirstyn Scott Thomas in the Seagull and was very impressed and I’ve also watched her in quite a few French films I’ve enjoyed… Yes, I agree with the comments. If I had to make a Spanish suggestion, Espronceda was a well-known romantic poet that I can still quote by heart. (I should have added Bécquer to B but did not think about him.) Very inclusive list…

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  3. I am presently reading The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco. Have you read Like Water for chocolate by Laura Esquivel? I love all the books of Nicholas Evans, an excellent fiction writer. I collect all books by Richard Paul Evans. Some books of his are given by friends as gifts.

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  4. The fairy tale of Hans Christian Andersen is also very lasting in my memory.
    I also like The English Patient and Eco`s The Name of the Rose!

    I can only add German writers again:
    Julia Engelmann: A young woman *1992, she makes poetry slam and wrote some nice books.
    Giulia Enders: also a young woman *1990 in Science-Slam, she wrote a very funny, successful book on the functions of the intestine. Her book was in 2014 the best-selling non-fiction book in Germany.
    This is still in my bookshelf and will also be read!

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  5. As always, you have great taste! I love that you mentioned The Emperor Has No Clothes. Every time I see a certain orange-faced buffoon, I think of that story. I also loved The Name Of the Rose and The English Patient. I’d also include:
    Emma – Austen
    The Excorcist – Blatty
    Ender’s Game – Card
    East Of Eden – Steinbeck
    The Eyre Affair – Fforde
    Eye Of the Needle – Follett
    Ella Enchanted – Levine
    Eragon – Paolini
    Eloise – Thompson
    Eleanor of Acquitaine -Weir
    Eva Luna – Allende
    Eleanor and Park – Rowell
    Eight Cousins – Alcott
    Elantris – Sanderson
    Esio Trot – Dahl
    Ethel and Ernest – Briggs
    The Elephant Man – Pomerance
    Everything That Rises Must Converge – O’Connor
    East Wind, West Wind – Buck
    Elmer Gantry – Lewis
    The Eleventh Hour – Base
    The Executioner’s Song – Mailer
    Edward and the Pirates – McPhail
    The Emperor of All Maladies – Mukherjee
    Ellen Foster – Gibbons
    The Elegance of the Hedgehog – Barbery
    Emma – Bronte
    Everything I Never Told You – Ng
    The Emperor of Ocean Park – Carter
    The Eight – Neville
    The Eye of the World – Jordan
    The Elephant’s Child: and Other Just So Stories – Kipling
    Exodus – Uris

    Authors: Umberto Eco, Rosemary Edghill, Julie Andrews Edwards, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Jennifer Egan, Dave Eggers, Barry Eisler, Delia Ephron, Nora Ephron, Louise Erdrich, Janet Evanovich, George Eliot, Anne Enright, Euripides, Michael Ende

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    1. Terrific list as always, Kim. Many thanks for including ‘East of Eden’. That Steinbeck novel was on my shortlist. (The film was pretty good too, and featured in my film challenge comments)
      Best wishes, Pete.

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  6. Well, George Eliot of course, even though that was her pen name to get her published. “Middlemarch” was another of those 19th Century novels I had to read in a week. I have read it twice since, finding new connections with it as I get older. “The Mill on the Floss” was good too. I think in high school we read “Silas Marner,” but I was a little “other focused” in high school!

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  7. Great list, I was going to mention Eco but you of course had it, so I will add something more fun and pulpy – “Evil Under The Sun” by Agatha Christie – as for “English Patient”….NOT the book but the movie – I think Elaine from “Seinfeld” was right when he went on a rant about how horrible it was….again, the movie not the book!

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    1. Thanks, John. I didn’t mind the film adaptation of the book that much, mainly because the casting was very good. I have only read the Poirot novels of Christie, so naturally that one. I think he’s a great character, and perfectly porrtrayed on TV by David Suchet, just as I always imagined him.
      Best wishes, Pete.

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  8. The Eagle Has Landed and The English Patient are both good picks, good books and good movies. And I loved The Name of the Rose (but even though Sean Connery was in it, I didn’t think the movie was as good). As you said, it was complex, but even though I know nothing of medieval internecine fights over doctrinal matters, etc. I couldn’t put it down.
    T. S. Eliot is listed above, and he’d be #1 on my list of authors.
    Empires of the Sea: the Siege of Malta, the Battle of Lepanto, and the Contest for the Center of the World by Roger Crowley, is one of the best history books I’ve ever read. I don’t know anyone who’s read it, who didn’t think it was great. It is solid history, told like an exciting novel. I’d seen old crazy paintings of Lepanto, looking like an insane mosh pit, but on boats, with spears, and wondered what the artist was smoking, but it turns out, that’s what the battle was like.

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    1. I agree that the book was better than the film of The Name of The Rose. It had more space for detail.
      I still liked the film though, maybe for Ron Perlman most of all.

      I have read about Lepanto, but not the book you mention. One to catch up on.
      Best wishes, Pete.

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  9. I wasn’t sure whether non-fiction was allowed because I would definitely have added The Diary of Anne Frank under ‘D’. So now ‘E.’ Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynn Truss, L’etranger by Camus, Every Man for Himself by Bainbridge, the work of E M Forster, particularly A Passage to India, Eat, Peach, Pear, Plum by Janet Ahlberg (great picture book). I recently finished reading The Embroiderer by Kathryn Gauci and enjoyed it immensely. It’s set in the 19th and 20th centuries in Turkey and Greece focusing on a line of indomitable women struggling to survive against the odds of war and revolution. It’s probably a cliche to say that it’s as finely woven as the exquisite fabric around which their lives depend but it is so!

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    1. Non-Fiction was allowed from the start, Sarah. Thanks for mentioning the Lynn Truss book, I really loved that. Forster brings his worlds alive indeed, and ‘Howard’s End’ is my personal favourite. I had to read L’ etranger in French in sixth form, and found it rather depressing. That might have been because it was hard to get to grips with it, as well as having to write essays (in French) about it as well.
      Best wishes, Pete. x

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      1. It has so much to do with how good the English teacher is. Ours was terrible. I read L’etranger at a particular time in my twenties and it spoke to me! I’m not sure it would now. I’ve never been able to read his other books.

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        1. Because I was studying it for French, with Mlle Diligence, a demanding Simone Signoret lookalike, French lady teacher, I felt under too much pressure to enjoy it. (She was attractive, in an older woman, rather voluptuous way. She used to smoke Disque Bleu cigarettes in class too…)
          Reading an English translation side by side was also a mistake. x

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  10. Ondaatje’s English Patient was a marvellous book… I’m going to throw in Hannah Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem, a profound report on the trial, and the issues facing those within a totalitarian system. And also, how about TS Eliot’s Notes towards a definition of culture, an early 20th century definition, pre WW2 (George Steiner wrote a redefinition, post WW2, and I shall mention that under the appropriate letter)

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  11. I said that I was a bit of a suspense/crime and thriller fan. Recent books that I have enjoyed (and I confess often more for the landscapes than the actual plot) by Martin Edwards who writes about murders in the Lake District. And Kate Ellis who sets her crimes around Dartmouth. I recently read a different one by her ‘A High Mortality of Doves’ which was set around the end of the first world war. A little strange.

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  12. I do not normally read fiction but I have in the past…a bit….”Eaters Of The Dead” by Michael Crichton (was the book that brought about the movie 13th Warrior)…….non-fiction…..”Everything Guide To Socialism” by Pamela Toler……Economic History Of The United States”….by Tuttle……”End Of Iraq” by Galbraith…..”Economic Interpretation Of The Constitution Of The United States” by Charles Beard….and now it is coffee time…..this is fun….chuq

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