A Literary A-Z: L

Please continue to play along. Any book title, or the surname of an author, as long as it begins with ‘L’.

In 1961, Harper Lee’s novel ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ won the Pulitzer Prize. It went on to become well known as an example of modern American literature. Taught in schools all over the US and the UK, there was a time when almost everyone I knew had read this classic tale of racism, crime, and courtroom procedures. Depicting the deep South of the USA during a period when the country was in the midst of change, and populated with rich characters, who spring to life from the pages. The book feels as relevant today as it ever did, and still attracts a huge readership. It was made into a very popular film in 1962, starring Gregory Peck.

On to a book that divides the literary audience. ‘Lolita’ is a 1955 novel by Vladimir Nabokov, dealing with the uncomfortable subject of a man’s attraction to an underage girl. Humbert Humbert becomes involved with the mother of Dolores, in order to gain access to her precocious 12 year-old daughter, who he later begins a sexual relationship with, giving her the name ‘Lolita’. After the death of her mother, Humbert takes the girl on a trip across the country, controlling her life in every way that he can. The subject matter of this book is understandably disturbing to many, for obvious reasons. However, it remains as a compelling novel about obsession, and has been filmed twice, most notably by Stanley Kubrick, in 1962.

As a boy, I was fascinated by the historical novel, ‘The Last of The Mohicans’, by James Fenimore Cooper. Published in 1826, it is set during the turbulent times of the wars between France and Britain on the American continent, and the involvement of Native American tribes, on both sides. I even had a toy flintlock rifle, like the kind used by ‘Hawkeye’, the mixed race hero. This book has so much history on its pages, and the exciting events surrounding the battles are rich in detail and characterisation. I discovered more about the Seven Years War and the various Native American tribes from this book, than I would ever have bothered to learn from a dry non-fiction account. I haven’t read it again since, but I did watch the long-running TV series based on the book, as well as the superb film adaptation from 1992, starring Daniel Day-Lewis.

Being acclaimed as one of the longest novels ever written, the huge work from Victor Hugo, ‘Les Miserables’ is a far from easy read, believe me. I struggled with this famous book in my late teens, although I did manage to finish it. These days, many know the story based on numerous film and stage adaptations, as well as the notable long-running musical production. But this very long book has huge scope, exploring a long period in French history, social inequality, crime and redemption, and the uprising in 1832. It is fascinating in parts, though overwhelmed by excessive description at times too. Only for those with a real interest in the period, and the stamina for almost 1,500 pages.

My top pick for today is a novel I studied at school, and has stayed in my mind ever since. ‘Lord of The Flies’ by William Golding was published in 1954, some nine years before I was introduced to it in my English class. The plot is rather fantastic, dealing with a group of stranded schoolboys after their aircraft crashes on a remote Pacific island, during WW2. But what follows is a fascinating look at the mentality of a group, and their efforts to survive without adult supervision. The reader is soon swept up in the characters that stand out from the group of boys. They display all the best and worst characteristics of human nature, from cruelty to communal effort, and from the exclusion of some, to the laziness of others. Golding uses this situation as a convincing allegory of just about every social situation imaginable, and we can all see something of ourselves in one or another of the boys. This book has also been filmed, with the best version from 1963, starring James Aubrey as Ralph.

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77 thoughts on “A Literary A-Z: L

  1. You have some terrific selections there. “Les Misérables” is very special to me…precisely because I’ve never read it! …Oh, I’ve seen various film adaptations. And, of course, I’ve read Victor Hugo (novels, plays, poetry). But I haven’t read “Les Misérables.” You must be asking yourself, “Why?!” The answer may surprise you. Many years ago, I decided, after having read the vast majority of famous French classics, that I would save one major classic for my retirement years….just to give me something extraordinary to look forward to reading—a sort of literary pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. And I chose “Les Misérables.” I have the book in a very expensive Bibliothèque de la Pléiade edition, and I glance at it often enough. I won’t wait until I’ve got one foot in the grave to start reading it, but I’ll probably wait a couple more years… Perhaps you will think that I cannot choose “Les Misérables” here because I haven’t read it, despite the fact I’m familiar with its story. No, the actual reason would be that, for me, it’s an M book. Le…, La…, and Les… are the equivalent of The…

    As for L, some French authors come to mind: Gaston Leroux, whose great book, “Le Fantôme de l’Opéra,” is one of the classics on my shelf that for some reason I’ve yet to read; J. M. G. Le Clézio (here, Le is part of his last name, so he’s an L author!), whose master novel, “Le procès-verbal,” I read in graduate school (at the time, I complained it was a bit too deep); and Maurice Leblanc, who wrote 17 novels featuring detective Arsène Lupin. I’ve read at least four of them, and would give my eye tooth to read the remaining ones in the series. My favorite poet is Alphonse de Lamartine, but I’m not sure whether poetry qualifies in your literary challenge…

    Another surprise! I’m not going to choose a French writer! Rather, I’m going to elect as my number one L author an American! Perhaps the first book I ever read in elementary school (though I read Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Lost World” at about the same time), and one that I’ve read numerous times in English and French translation since then, is Jack London’s “White Fang” (“Croc-Blanc” in French). I’ve often said that this is my favorite book in any language. Perhaps it’s for sentimental reasons, but, if that is true, why do I enjoy rereading it so much? It’s just a great book! Of course, that’s not the only book by Jack London that I’ve read. But it’s the one that I’ll read again…and again!

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  2. Lord of the Flies and Little Women were both brilliant, though weird to mention them in the same sentence! I’ll be reading Little Dorrit soon in my Dickens group. Meanwhile it’s October so I’ve been reading Horror books! I can recommend Letter to the Damned by Austin Crawley. It’s about a black post box in a small English village where people send letters to their dead relatives to ask for favors. Sort of Twilightlight Zone-ish!

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  3. Oh, again a good selection: I like Lee Harpers “To kill a Mockingbird” and the “Little house in the prairie” and ” The last of the Mohicans”.
    Et « Les Misérables » est très bon.
    I add Judith Lennox, Selma Lagerloef and Roma Ligocka – She is a cousin of Roman Polanski and writes about her rescue from the Holocaust.
    Some German authors: Iny Lorentz – writes historical novels
    Charlotte Link – She writes thrillers.

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  4. Great list and I agree with all of your choices. Robbie bit me to Little Women, that I had mentioned before and some great suggestions. I will have visitors for a few days so I won’t be able to visit much, but hope to catch up next week. Thanks, Pete.

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  5. I couldn’t think of more books and authors that start with the “L”. I read Lord of the Flies a few months ago, Lolita is in the can. I enjoyed to Kill a Mockingbird many years ago. Oh yes, Denise Lehane mystery novels come to mind and of course the inspirational books of Max Lucado. I could totally relate with The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch. I forgot, Lang Leav’s poems too.

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  6. Fantastic choices!

    I read To Kill a Mockingbird for the first time last summer and, I must say, it really grabbed me, haunted me, and moved me. I saw it as a tale of a girl growing up to realise that the people around her, even those she might see as her friends, aren’t good people just by virtue of proximity. It was so real, and I loved it. I keep meaning to watch the movie!

    I’ve also read Lolita. If a book’s success is measured by the magnitude of the feeling it brings about in its reader – even if that feeling is disgust – then I have no choice but to judge Lolita as an amazing book, despite its subject matter (which made me pretty uncomfortable – but, I guess, it’s supposed to). It had me hooked the entire way through, and forced me to hate Humbert Humbert in a way I have never hated or been disgusted by a fictional character before.

    My picks for ‘L’ (other than the above two) would Sea and Sardinia by D. H. Lawrence (basically, a guy goes off on a jolly and slags off everyone he meets – but reading it feels like going on holiday, which I like); The Gracekeepers by Kirsty Logan (which I can’t quite describe, but ranks in as one of my top five books); and Agua Viva by Clarice Lispector (a liberation of a book that changed the way I write, if only, perhaps, for a moment). Honourable mentions also to Looking for Alaska by John Green, The Lottie Project by Jacqueline Wilson, and The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George.

    Thanks for sharing! 🙂

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  7. “To Kill a Mockingbird” is an all-time favorites, both the book and the movie. Cooper’s “Leatherstocking Tales” are interesting to me, despite struggling a little with the archaic language, because I studied the Iroquois in college, and are set in New York of course. (The 1992 movie was well done but they didn’t film it here) “Last of the Mohicans” is the best part of the saga. I’d also suggest Erik Larson “The Devil in the White City” and Peter Lovesey “The False Inspector Dew” etc.

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  8. All those that immediately came to my mind have been mentioned: C. S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia, ‘Lord of the Rings’ (which prompted my mother to say that she’d never buy me a book for Christmas again because she hardly saw me for 3 days), Jack London’s ‘White Fang’ and ‘The Call of the Wild’, ‘Lord of the Flies’, Primo Levi’s ‘If this is a man’ (which, if I remember rightly, concluded that shoes are more important than food) ‘To Kill a Mocking Bird’ (which I read when my daughters were reading it for GCSE and found good deal more interesting than what I’d had to read e.g. ‘Sons and Lovers’ by D. H. Lawrence!)

    To come up with something new, I have resorted to looking at my bookshelf (which is somewhat reduced here in Romania) and have come up with: ‘The low-FODMAP diet’, which I have for health-related reasons and Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s ‘Letters and Papers from Prison’ which I haven’t read yet. Being a religious book, it probably wouldn’t interest you. However, it does have a poem in it: ‘Who am I?’ which I discovered in the early years of the ME and found very meaningful. It’s a reflection the differences between the way others see him and the way he sees himself:

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        1. Dietrich Bonhoeffer: He was a theologian who took a stand against the persecution of the Nazis and on April 5, 1943, he was arrested, and two years later, on the express orders of Adolf Hitler, as one of the last Nazi opponents, who were linked to the assassination attempt of July 20, 1944.

          Thank you for the mention.

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          1. It’s until we come back 😉 In other words, we’re not sure how long it will be yet, but my husband has been offered a job out here, so we’re expecting it to be at least a year.

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  9. I will add Lee Child with his Jack Reacher series, I think 19 books so far, all of which I’ve read, not highbrow at all of course, but great thrillers with a multi dimensional main character.
    Also Robert Low’s Oathsworn series, more Vikings, really great stories and well researched history.

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  10. Your list could have been mine. By Hook or By Book has listed them all. 😉
    My favorite L book would be ‘Little House on the Prairie’ by Laura Ingalls Wilder. I remember reading her series as a girl and it marked my childhood in a favorable way.

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    1. I have to confess to a ‘guilty pleasure’ for watching almost every episode of that TV series, Cindy. I never even knew about the books until then, and I was pretty grown-up at the time!
      Glad my list appealed to you too.
      Best wishes, Pete. x

      Liked by 1 person

        1. Melissa Sue Anderson

          Life wasn’t easy for the eldest daughter of the Ingalls’ clan. She went blind at 15, but somehow handled it all gracefully while looking impossibly pretty the whole time. Melissa Sue Anderson beat out 200 girls for the part of Mary. After the show, she continued to act in film and TV shows such as The Equalizer, Alfred Hitchcock Presents and Murder, She Wrote. She also wrote an autobiography entitled The Way I See It – A Look Back at My Life on Little House. Anderson won an Emmy in 1979 for an ABC Afterschool Special, Which Mother is Mine?. Twenty years later, she was inducted into the Western Performers Hall of Fame at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum. Yee haw!

          I have never seen her in anything else!

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          1. Wow, you have been busy investigating. Thanks!
            I haven’t either. I loved the television series The Waltons, too. Such great family stories and characters. Good for Melissa that she was inducted into a hall and fame. That’s cool.

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    1. Thanks very much, Teagan. I had to look up your choice, but I confess it sounds right up my street! A great addition to ‘L’ indeed.
      I just bought a used copy from Amazon, for the princely sum of 1p! That’s the same as one cent. (Plus £2 post and packing) What a bargain. If you recommend it, I will look forward to reading it.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Ha! Not that’s an irresistible bargain, Pete. It’s been several years since I read it, and I’m neither reviewer nor scholar, but I did enjoy it. Of course, as a fantasy writer/reader I’m usually willing to let go of inconvenient realities that can get in the way of some stories. Although, I don’t remember if that applied to this one. As I recall it seemed well researched. I hope you enjoy. More hugs.

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  11. Perfect picks once again Pete! I’d have all of those on my list plus:
    Lake Wobegon Days – Keillor
    The Land of Mist/The Lost World – Conan Doyle
    The Land That Time Forgot – Burroughs
    Last Picture Show – McMurty
    The Last Samurai – DeWitt
    The Lathe of Heaven – Le Guin
    Leaves of Grass – Whitman
    Life of Pi – Martel
    Life On the Mississippi – Twain
    Life, the Universe and Everything – Adams
    Like Water For Chocolate – Esquival
    Lillies of the Field – Barrett
    Lincoln: A Novel – Vidal
    Lincoln: A Photobiography – Freedman
    The Lion In Winter- Goldman
    The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe – Lewis
    The Little Prince – de Saint-Exupery
    Little Dorrit – Dickens
    Little Lord Fauntleroy/A Little Princess/The Lost Prince – Burnett
    Little Women/Little Men – Alcott
    Live and Let Die – Fleming
    Lonesome Dove – McMurty
    The Long Goodbye – Chandler
    The Long Walk – Stephen King writing as Richard Bachman
    Looking For Mister Goodbar – Rossner
    The Lorax – Seuss
    The Lord of the Rings – Tolkien
    Lost Horizon – Hilton
    Love and Mr. Lewisham – Wells
    Love You Forever – Munsch
    Love In the Time of Cholera – Marquez
    Love Story -Segal
    The Loved One – Waugh
    The Lovely Bones – Sebold
    Lucky Starr series – Asimov

    Authors: Harper Lee (I know you led off with her Pete, but To Kill a Mockingbird is one of my favorite books), Stein Larsson, D.H. Lawrence, Munroe Leaf, Edward Lear, Ursula K. LeGuin,Madeleine L’Engle, Gail Carson Levine, C.S. Lewis, Sinclair Lewis, Astrid Lindgren, Arnold Lobel, Jack London, H.P. Lovecraft, Lois Lowry,

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  12. Ah, The Lord of the Flies…. A great social documentary, lost on me when I was, say, 12 …but later I realised it’s merits as a piece of literature.
    My list of Ls would have to include the incomparable Primo Levi, for ‘If this is a Man’, ‘The Drowned and the Saved’ etc; Carlo Levi ‘Christ stopped at Eboli’; Rosamund Lehmann especially for ‘The Ballad and the Source’; Lampedusa ‘The Leopard’; Patrick Leigh Fermor ‘Between the Woods and the Water'(which sent me off to explore Romania); D H Lawrence

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      1. Thank you, Pete. You should read some of Primo Levi’s output….wonderful, sparing prose, he was non-judgemental and his books are the more powerful for that, given what horrors he witnessed.

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  13. Some major literary works on this “L” list, Pete. I have a non-fiction book to share: “Lost On Planet China” by J. Maartan Troost is a fascinating look at his trip through, of course, China. Troost also wrote several other travel books, but since those letters haven’t shown up yet, more to come!

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    1. Thanks, Elizabeth. I confess that I was never a fan of Lawrence myself, but I do appreciate his important contribution to literature. I expected him to get many mentions.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Like

  14. Great choices,Pete.

    I’ll have to go back and re-read Lolita.

    Lord of the Flies was one of my O Level books. I can still remember Mr Francis reading passages aloud, sat on the edge of a desk. He was one of the best teachers I had in school (though the bar was set quite low).

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