A Literary A-Z: K

Please play along with your choices for ‘K’. Any book title, or the surname of an author, as long as it begins with that letter. I am going to avoid the obvious, with Stephen King, as he has had many mentions already in book titles.

When I was in Primary School, I got a book as a Christmas present. I was fascinated by the illustrated historical fantasy of Tom, a young Victorian chimney sweep who falls into a river, and is transformed into a ‘water baby’. Tom then embarks on a series of adventures in the novel ‘The Water babies’, by Charles Kingsley. Now I am older, I can of course see that this was a story about morals, religious redemption, and the evils of child labour in 19th century England. At the time though, I just lost myself in the wonder of the idea.

Published in 1936, George Orwell’s novel ‘Keep The Aspidistra Flying’ is a book about a social rebel that preceded the British ‘New Wave’ by more than twenty years. The protagonist, Comstock, decides to abandon the routine of daily life, and his regular job, and pursue a love of writing poetry. This leads him down a trail of poverty, drunkenness, and difficult relationships, all set in run-down areas of London that have since become fashionable and expensive. Ultimately, he has to conform to survive, signified by his purchase of the previously despised aspidistra plant, displayed in the window of his flat.

James Clavell’s 1962 novel ‘King Rat’ is a prisoner of war story with a difference. I was used to reading about heroic prisoners, men planning escapes, and defying their guards. But in this book, we see an uncomfortable side of incarceration by the Japanese, with an American prisoner known as ‘The King’ literally running the camp at Changi, and operating a flourishing black market, with the full knowledge and cooperation of the captors. When he decides to breed rats to sell for food, King chooses who to sell them to, getting his own back on some of the corrupt officers in the camp. This is a sobering tale of survival, and an insight into how poor and brutal treatment can bring out the worst and the best in mankind. A powerful read that later became a very good film, starring George Segal.

Rudyard Kipling again, and a double ‘K’, with his novel ‘Kim’. Published in 1901, this is a fascinating look at India at the time, set in the late 19th century. Kipling brings the crowded streets and diverse cultures to life on the page, with the adventures of the young Kim, the orphaned child of an Irish soldier, forced to live by his wits, on the streets of Lahore. He is so much a part of the city, that few ever realise that he is actually white, and take him for a local. This has great scope, with spying against the Russians, a possible new war in Afghanistan, his friendship with a Tibetan Lama, and his eventual education and appointment into a government job. I was very young when I read this book, and have never forgotten it. It was also made into a film in 1950, starring Dean Stockwell, and Errol Flynn.

My top choice today had a brief mention earlier, when discussing the prequel and sequel that followed. I have long been interested in the US Civil War, and read a great deal about it. So, when I heard about a new book that had won the Pulitzer Prize in 1975, I bought it immediately. ‘The Killer Angels’ by Michael Shaara is a novel in the style that is best described as ‘Faction’. It takes real people, in real historical events, then adds fictional characters to develop the plots, and to provide imagined conversations. In this case, the four-day battle of Gettysburg in 1863, the point when that war turned against the Confederacy for the first time. This book is meticulously researched, and fascinating in its authenticity. By using the format of a novel, the reader is drawn into the actions of those historical characters in a completely different way. Aware of their doubts and fears, the indecision, and the differences of opinion that led to failure. One of the most important books ever written about that war, and later made into the film ‘Gettysburg’, in 1993.

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46 thoughts on “A Literary A-Z: K

  1. Pete, I’m going to choose Heinz G. Konsalik (1921-1999), a prolific German author. I’ve only read two of his books, and they were in French translation. They don’t seem to have been translated into English—which is a shame, if true. I finished reading “L’or du Zephyrus” (“Ein toter Taucher nimmt kein Gold”) (published 1973) on April 14, 1995 while hanging out in Paris, France. I finished reading L’Oncle d’Amérique” (“Das Gift der alten Heimat”) (published 1974) on January 19, 2011 (purchased in Paris, but read in Las Vegas). The first book is about a search for sunken treasure off the Yucatán Peninsula, and the other is about an American, Johnny Miller, who returns to Germany to seek out his family roots. Both of these books make for excellent reading. I would very much like to read more of his works. Perhaps some of your German-speaking followers would be interested in the original books.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I had also thought about the Kite Runner, King, of course, and a few already mentioned (yes, Kafka). I remember a movie version of Keep the Aspidistra Flying, but it is not one of the novels by Orwell I have read. Taking notes. Thanks, Pete!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Today I add some: Mary M. Kaye, Mascha Kaléko, Ephraim Kishon. Gottfried Keller, Elisabeth Kuebler-Ross,
    German authors: Heinrich von Kleist (1777-1811), Hape Kerkeling ( born 1964 is a comedian and author).

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I definitely second (or third) Stephen King, Kafka, Susan Monk Kidd, Rudyard Kipling, Daniel Keyes, Ken Kesey, and Killer Angels, The Kite Runner, and Keep the Aspidistra Flying

    I Also nominate:
    Kidnapped -Stevenson
    Kane and Abel – Archer
    Kids Say the Darnedest Things – Linkletter
    Killing Mr. Griffen – Duncan
    The Kindly Ones – Powell
    Kindred – Butler
    King of the Wind – Henry
    King Solomon’s Mines – Haggard
    A Kiss Before Dying – Levin
    Kiss Me Again, Stranger – du Maurier
    The Kitchen God’s Wife – Tan
    The Kite Fighters – Park
    Kon-Tiki -Heyerdahl
    King Arthur and His Knights of the Round Table – Green

    Authors: Alex Kava, John Katzenbach, Ezra Jack Keats, Carolyne Keene, Helen Keller, Sherrilyn Kenyon, Jack Kerouac, Marian Keyes, Raymond Khoury, Jamaica Kincaid, Owen King, Tabitha King, Martin Luther King, John Knowles, Jayne Ann Krentz, Susan Krinard,

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  5. Definitely second “The Killer Angels” – – I love history, and it’s a rare skill to to create something that’s both a well-written novel and historically accurate. I’d also nominate Jerzy Kosiński for “The Painted Bird” and “Being There,” and George S. Kaufman for “The Man Who Came to Dinner,” and other funny stuff.

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  6. Wow – a lot of great choices by Pete and others! Here are two I wanted to add: if you like “Nordic noir” mystery thrillers, then try “The Keeper Of Lost Causes” by Jussi Adler-Olsen, the first of the series of “Department Q” books – a grizzled Detective is put in the basement (Department Q) with a pile of “very cold cases” just to get him out of the way and of course, he brings them back to life – really intricate and entertaining – here is a look at the series –

    https://johnrieber.com/2016/06/21/classic-nordic-noir-terrific-crime-fiction-from-department-q-jo-nesbos-harry-hole-novels-rock/

    The second is close to home, Pete – Paul Theroux’s great travel book “The Kingdom By The Sea”, where he travels the entire coastline of Great Britain – a fascinating look at the country in the mid-80’s…

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    1. Not long ago, the BBC showed the foreign language serialisation of those ‘Department Q’ books. Really enjoyable as a detective programme, with some unusual characters. I can’t imagine travelling the whole coastline of the UK, though there are few parts I haven’t seen, in more manageable ‘chunks’.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Like

      1. Pete, I think he took a year to do it, and included Ireland and Scotland as well – fascinating as he took mostly local trains and walked….he stayed in small towns, some barely still alive…not a travelogue as much as a moment in time for country…and I haven’t seen the “Department Q” films yet but I think he first three books were made into movies

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I only saw the TV film adaptations, but they were as good as films, and very involving. I can’t imagine being able to get very far around the British coast by train these days. So many local networks have been closed down.
          Best wishes, Pete.

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  7. My top pick for K has to be the late Dr Paul Kalanithi’s ‘When breath becomes air’, a very moving summation of what makes human life meaningful, even in the face of death…..he was 36, and diagnosed with terminal lung cancer.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. The Flamethrowers, Rachel Kushner, about a young artist girl who goes to Italy as part of a motorcycle team and ends up involved in the ‘movement of 1977’ , a spontaneous political movement that arose in Italy in 1977, by groups of extra-parliamentary left.

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  9. Again I got nothing in the line of fiction….but non-fiction is cool. “Kilroy Was There” by Tony Hillerman a book of WW2 photos…..”Killing The Rising Sun” by Bill O’Reilly…..”Kiss: Behind The Mask” by David Leaf…..smile I need coffee…LOl chuq

    Liked by 2 people

  10. This one was tough, but I have a post drafted about the author of “King Kong” which lead my mind to “King Solomon’s Mines” and then Patterson’s “Kiss The Girls.” Did better than I thought i would.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Sorry for the letter I, it just went to your comment. Kindly just erase it please. Here’s for today Pete:

    One flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest – Ken Kesey
    Flowers for Algernon – Daniel Keyes (One of my best reads last year I think)
    The Secret Life of Bees – Sue Monk Kidd (One of her best)
    The Invention of Wings – Sue Monk Kidd
    The Mermaid’s Chair – Sue Monk Kidd (I just love her)
    On Writing: Memoirs of the Craft – – Stephen King (His non fiction book that I learned a lot from)
    Books by Sophie Kinsella and Judith Krantz
    The Early Birth Catches the Worm But the Second Mouse Gets the Cheese – Francis Kong (He is a local author, a motivational speaker and columnist)

    Liked by 1 person

  12. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini – about a boy’s experiences in Afghanistan during the fall of the monarchy and the rise of the Taliban. I found it an excellent read, even though it’s not always enjoyable.

    Liked by 1 person

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