A Literary A-Z: O

Please continue to play along. Add any choice of book title, or the name of an author whose work you enjoy, as long as it begins with ‘O’.

Given the current world situation, Nevil Shute’s 1957 novel ‘On The Beach’ may well be an appropriate title to start ‘O’ with. This is a post-apocalyptic tale, imagining a nuclear war has happened in the northern hemisphere. It is set in Melbourne, Australia, as a variety of characters await the impending doom of the nuclear fallout reaching their country. After receiving a morse code message from the US coast, a submarine is sent to investigate. This happens to be an American submarine that was in Australian waters at the time war broke out. When they arrive, they find nothing left, and the message proves to be a mechanical error. This is a far from uplifting read. Written during the Cold War, when such events seemed all-too possible, Shute offers no comfort, and nothing like a happy ending at all. It was made into a film two years later, starring Gregory Peck, and Ava Gardner.

Although not a novelist, Wilfred Owen left us with some of the most moving poetry about the experience of war, written during his service on the Western Front. At a time when much of the world is commemorating the centenary of that war, it seems appropriate to mention his moving poems, including the famous ‘Dulce et Decorum est’, and ‘Anthem for Doomed Youth’. He was killed in action exactly one week before the end of the war, in November 1918.

Another from novelist Frederick Forsyth, and one I couldn’t put down at the time. In 1972, he published ‘The Odessa File’, a cracking thriller that centres around Peter Miller, a young journalist who discovers a secret organisation still existing in Germany, in 1963. This organisation goes by the code name of Odessa, and is made up of former SS soldiers, determined to protect their members from any retribution for war crimes. Miller decides to infiltrate the group and expose them, helped by Israeli agents from their secret service, Mossad. This is a really exciting read, with Miller suspected, chased, and betrayed, and builds to a satisfying climax at the palatial home of a wealthy German industrialist, who is also a member of Odessa.

‘The Onion Field’ is a non-fiction book by Joseph Wambugh, published in 1973. It looks at the true-life event of the kidnapping of two LAPD police officers following a traffic stop, in 1963. They are driven to an onion field in Bakersfield, where one officer is killed, though the other manages to escape. This event was widely covered at the time, and caused much controversy, including a review of the laws on kidnapping. Wambaugh was a former police officer, and his eye for procedure and detail comes across in this powerful book. In 1979, it was adapted into an equally powerful film, starring John Savage, Ted Danson, and James Woods.

For my top pick today, I turn once again to the work of Charles Dickens, and his marvellous novel, ‘Oliver Twist’. Although filmed and serialised many times, as well as forming the basis for the successful stage musical, ‘Oliver’, nothing compares to actually reading the book. This tale of a young boy who falls into the clutches of The Artful Dodger, and is trained to become a thief by the oily Fagin never feels stale, no matter how many times you read it, or watch one of the adaptations. The vicious criminal Bill Sykes, with his fierce dog, ‘Bullseye’, the badly treated but kind-hearted Nancy, and the kindly Mr Brownlow. The awful Mr Bumble, and the undertaker Mr Sowerberry. All these characters are never forgotten, after reading Dickens’ excellent descriptions. The harsh conditions of Victorian England, from life in a Workhouse, to trying to get by on the streets, are all faithfully documented too. I cannot imagine that there is anyone left who has neither read the book, nor seen one of the films. But if that is you, then I urge you to read it at the earliest opportunity.

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47 thoughts on “A Literary A-Z: O

  1. Although the English patient was already mentioned, I would like to add Michael Ondaatje.
    The German author Katharina Ohana writes books about psychology.

    Everything else has already been mentioned in your post or in the comments.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Excellent list. I agree that “On the Beach” is not a comforting book, but it’s a good choice. It seemed very effective to me, because it doesn’t read like a typical sci-fi fantasy, and came across as all-too-much like real life. This would be a good time to pass it around. If anyone can read “Oliver Twist” and not think it’s terrific, I’ll eat my head, sir.
    And “Odessa File” is a perfect beach or rainy day read, it’s actually the only Forsyth book I’ve read, but really liked it, and I liked the twist near the end. It’s funny, the movie version was pretty well done, I guess, but I’ve totally forgotten it, while I remember the book very clearly. I see George Orwell and Eugene O’Neill are both listed, and several books I liked, the Odyssey was always “assigned reading” in school, and what a shock to find out it’s kind of a blast. So…nothing else to contribute!

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  3. Oliver Twist has always been one of my favorites from Dickens.

    Odyssey – Homer
    Oedipus Rex – Sophocles
    Of Mice and Men – Steinbeck
    Oh the Places You’ll Go – Seuss
    The Old Curiosity Shop – Dickens
    The Old Man and the Sea – Hemingway
    Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats – Eliot
    Oliver’s Story – Segal
    On Her Majesty’s Secret Service – Fleming
    On the Road – Kerouac
    The Once and Future King – White
    One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest – Kesey
    Odd Thomas series – Koontz
    Oryx and Crake – Atwood
    The Outsiders – Hinton
    One Hundred Years of Solitude – Marquez

    Authors: George Orwell, Patrick O’Brian, Flannery O’Connor, Scott O’Dell, Eugene O’Neill, Kenneth Oppel,

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  4. Flannery O’Connor for everyone who thinks that all Christian fiction is simplistic even though there are lots of corny lightweight writers out there. O’Connor is both serious about her faith and serious about her fiction. Flim flam Bible salesmen, prejudiced church goers, car top preachers all populate her stories. Worth reading many times.

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  5. Pete, classics across all genres and time periods. “The Onion Field” is a great book – and while the film is little known, it is also great. Here is another great non-fiction book by the terrific Travel Writer Bill Bryson: “One Summer: America, 1927” – he weaves an amazing story of one time in our history – one of triumph as well as tragedy.

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  6. Orwell is a given. I must read The Beach. The only Shute I’ve read is A Town Like Alice. The only ‘O’ I can think of off the top of my head is Oscar and Lucinda but I’ve yet to read it. I was given it as a gift years ago. Doing some research to jog my memory enables me to come up with those I have read: Othello, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, The Once and Future King, The Old Man and the Sea, Our Town, Of Human Bondage, Out of Africa, and Alan Garner’s The Owl Service. I’d mention Woolf’s Orlando but I loathed it! In fact, I enjoyed Woolf’s diaries but have always had trouble with her fiction. x

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  7. I’ve read a lot of Nevil Shute, but that enjoyment began with reading “On the Beach”, which I read … for pleasure … my last year in high school, when I knew I was going on to university to study literature. At the same time, I also read “1984”, “Animal Farm”, “Brave New World” and “Lord of the Flies”, so you can imagine what state of mind I was in that spring of 1972. (I just reread them all this past spring, due to the current state of the world. That reading kind of grounded me this time when I remembered we’ve been through all of this before. Not completely reassuring, but slightly soothing to think that way.) “On the Beach”, the movie version, I had planned to watch soon, as well.

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  8. Whoa! “On The Beach” and “Of Mice and Mice” mentioned here – they really do stick with you, don’t they?!!
    My contributions are: “Occupation” by John Toland; “Odd Thomas” by Dean Kontz and “Ozone”.

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      1. I think it’s his best work. I’ve read the entire series except the final one – I really don’t want it to end just yet. [plus it’s rough for me to get to fiction stories these days].

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  9. George Orwell. You’ve already mentioned ‘1984’, but there’s also ‘Animal Farm’ which I read at school. Around the same time, we also read ‘One day in the life of Ivan Denisovich’ by Solzhenitsyn. I guess we were learning about communism or something! Whatever, both books made an impression on me.

    C S Lewis wrote a book called ‘Out of the Silent Planet’. It’s a long time since I read it, but I vaguely remember a journey to Mars…

    Nothing on my bookshelf here except a book by John O’Donohue, who writes on Celtic Spirituality.

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    1. I also read ‘Animal Farm’ and ‘Denisovitch’ at school, Ros. Must have been around the same time as you, I suppose. Thanks for playing along, it is appreciated.
      Best wishes, Pete.

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  10. Great choices – thanks for sharing!

    My ‘O’ books are Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck (I did it at GCSE and I just completely fell in love with it); One Summer America 1927 by Bill Bryson (a case of the truth being stranger than fiction, I think, and Bryson is such a joy to read); and 1984 by George Orwell (I had this great version illustrated by Alex Williamson that I had to read for university – thought it was wonderfully eerie!)

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  11. On the Beach is all too plausible…. a seriously gloomy read, but well written. And my choice for O would have to be Wilfred Owen for his brilliant poetry – let me add ‘Strange Meeting’

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  12. There is only one writer that I could think of, the poet Mary Oliver. I love her books, A Thousand Mornings, Upstream and New and Selected Poems. Actually all her books are so inspiring.

    “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?
    Instructions for living a life. Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it.
    I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.”

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