Recently in Classic Category

It's Throwback Thursday! with Treasure Island

"Fifteen men on the dead man's chest--

...Yo-ho-ho, and a bottle of rum!"


Who needs Captain Jack Sparrow when Long John Silver has been around for over 100 years and was way cooler anyways? Besides being a villainous murderer, Long John Silver had an awesome parrot named Captain Flint (after an old, very mean pirate captain) on his shoulder spouting "pieces of eight, pieces of eight" at opportune times throughout the novel.

Pirate pop culture 101! Silver was missing a leg from an old naval battle and hopped about with a crutch waving swords and pistols! He lied to hero Jim Hawkins, committed mutiny against good Captain Smollett and still made off with bountiful booty at the end of the story! Long John Silver is simply a pirate rock star.

Seriously though, Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island is a fun book for boys ages 8 to 88 and is truly a classic of not only children's literature, but literature in general. Robert Louis Stevenson knew his way around a ship and it shows in his writing. Besides The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, this is Stevenson's most popular work and is as important today as it was in 1883 when it was first published in book form.(It was originally serialized in Young Folks magazine in 1881-1882) Shiver me timbers! Treasure Island is THE pirate book of all pirate books. #tbt

Dan @ Washington Park

Banned Book Week: Sci-Fi and Fantasy Friday

handmaidstale.jpegI can hardly believe The Handmaid's Tale, the 1985 Sci-Fi masterpiece, is only Margaret Atwood's fifth novel. And I can hardly talk about the book without getting overly excited, because it is one of my very favorite books by my very favorite author. When I finished reading it, I felt so energized by the subject, the themes, and the language. I kept thinking about it, turning it over in my mind, combing through the details, and letting it sink in.

It takes place in the dystopian, distant-ish future in the Republic of Gilead, ambiguously located somewhere within the former United States. The society is a theocratic military dictatorship initially founded by a radical pseudo-Christian cult via a terrorist coup d'├ętat. Some unnamed kind of environmental, social, and physical degradation presumably motivated the overthrow. Whatever happened left most of the women infertile and most of the newborn babies deformed. The job of having children falls to Handmaids, women conscripted into domestic servitude and used solely for their reproductive capacity. The idea of Handmaids is loosely based on the biblical story of Jacob impregnating his wife's handmaidens Bilhah and Zilpah. They distort that idea and use it idea to justify sexual slavery; they're trying to repopulate after all.

The main character (and first-person narrator of the book) is a handmaid named Offred - signifying that she is the handmaid Of Fred. The narrative flashes from the bleak present to her past. She remembers these totalitarian ideas taking hold and her world changing, slowly at first and then at a break-neck pace. In her past she was married to a man named Luke and had a daughter. They were all separated, and the extremely remote possibility of being reunited with either keeps her going. All Handmaids do on a daily basis is the grocery shopping, which seems dull except that all the while she has an intense inner world where she tries to preserve parts of her identity that are gradually being worn away. She has endless, uneventful days which she tries not to fill with painful memories of a world where things made sense.

This book is so rich with imagery and ideas that I could not possibly take it all in on one reading. It was banned in North Carolina for being "sexually explicit, violently graphic and morally corrupt" - hardly things we're unfamiliar with in our world today. Margaret Atwood is very careful to incorporate only things that either had happened in different contexts already or things that were in the realm of possibility. She takes ideas and historical events and pushes them to a very extreme conclusion. That idea gives you a novel that at times seems fanciful, until you really think about it and there are distinct historical precedents. This book forces you to look at the world and see what it could become of the straits were dire enough.

Allie @ Central

Central Reads


"Here's mud in your eye"

Reading that simple line in Dorothy Parker's semi autobiographical 1929 short story Big Blonde pretty much sums up the life and work of a woman who could slice and dice American culture to shreds with the sharpness of her wit and the slashing of her words (not to mention the egos of a few men she knew--look out Norman Mailer!).

Dorothy Parker is most often remembered for her quotes and drunken brashness and open honesty about love and sex during the heart of the Jazz Age. She was also a celebrated member of the Algonquin Round Table in Manhattan whee her booze soaked luncheons with other New York literary royalty were often filled with festivity and fizz. It was the 1920's and flappers were flying, Gatsby was Great, and the Sun was Rising on Hemingway's career. It was also primetime for Dorothy Parker.

The Portable Dorothy Parker is simply a goldmine of Parker poetry, prose, stories and letters. Her review of Dashiell Hammett's The Glass Key that appeared in a 1931 New Yorker is simply the funniest book review I've ever read. Describing Hammett she says, "It is true he is so hard-boiled you could roll him on the White House lawn." Wow.

Parker was a poet of such incredibly acerbic wit that I relish re-reading her works so I can etch the dust from the lobes of my brain. For instance, she says in a poem titled Oscar Wilde:

If, with the literate, I am

Impelled to try an epigram,

I never seek to take the credit;

We all assume that Oscar said it.

Pick up The Portable Dorothy Parker with steel-mesh gloves because these words can cut--but they're more like slicing a prime cut of tenderloin than skimming fat off pork-bellies. Forget about her ban from Hollywood and her claims of communism and look instead into the words of a brilliant and troubled woman who shot from the hip and hit between the eyes.

Living well is the best revenge. --Dorothy Parker

Dan @ Central

Reflections on F. Scott Fitzgerald


"Show me a hero and I'll write you a tragedy." - F. Scott Fitzgerald

The works of F. Scott Fitzgerald are enjoying a renaissance of sorts. With the updated film of The Great Gatsby being released, now is a great time to take a peek at some other celebrated stories from the gifted but troubled author.

Fitzgerald is truly a writer of the Jazz Age (a term he created himself) in both literal and literary contexts. His best work is from the Roaring 1920's when flappers danced the night way and people were living high on the hog.

Named after his famous cousin Francis Scott Key (who penned The Star-Spangled Banner), Fitzgerald attended Princeton University where, due to poor grades and constant boozing, he never graduated. He joined the Army with hopes of serving overseas during WWI. The war ended without needing the soppy writer and along with Hemingway and T.S. Eliot, the Lost Generation was born.

"All good writing is swimming under water and holding your breath." - F. Scott Fitzgerald

talesofjazz.jpgFitzgerald routinely lived well beyond his means, so in order to pay the bills he wrote short stories for magazines and other publications. His most celebrated story collection is probably Flappers and Philosophers (1920). My favorite short story anthology is Tales of the Jazz Age (1922). Featuring eleven stories broken up into three sections roughly by subject matter, this compilation includes The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, later made into a film starring Brad Pitt that shares little resemblance to this story besides the title and the anti-aging process. Skip the film and read this instead! The Diamond as Big as the Ritz is another standout from this collection. A few stories from his Princeton days are also featured here.

beautifuldamned.jpgBesides The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald published 4 other novels. My favorite is probably This Side of Paradise (1920), but another, often overlooked work is The Beautiful and Damned (1922). Almost semi-autobiographical in theme and plot, the story revolves around New York socialite Anthony Patch and his fights with alcoholism, his wife and the society he circulates within. Inner demons abound and Fitzgerald certainly knew around personal conflict. Despite the downer of a story, the lavish language and rich character development create a world of 1920's grandeur that is romantic, gaudy and tragic.

The joy of reading Fitzgerald, in my opinion, is his choice of words that are lyrical but powerful; poetic but sharp; flowery but brutal. Beautiful but seriously damaged. Almost perfect.

"I'm a romantic; a sentimental person thinks things will last, a romantic person hopes against hope that they won't." - F. Scott Fitzgerald

Submitted by Dan@Central

I remember a 1955 Bugs Bunny cartoon where Bugs meets a nice little man in the park who feeds him carrots. Bugs comes home with nice Dr. Jekyll only to be confronted with a horrible Mr. Hyde. Man, I loved that cartoon as a kid.

That beloved cartoon was based on a short novella titled The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde penned by the great British author Robert Louis Stevenson in 1886.

The basic premise of the story is that Dr. Jekyll creates a special potion that turns him into a ghastly beast named Hyde when consumed. Mr. Hyde is a hideous, mean-spirited abomination of a man who commits murder and harms children. Hyde has an openly sexual side that is directly opposed to the entirely proper Victorian Dr. Jekyll. At times, it seems like Jekyll craves the transformation into Hyde the way a drug addict craves their poison. Dr. Jekyll clearly shows the reader that there is good and bad in every human regardless of situation.

Like the Frankenstein Monster before him, Mr. Hyde is created through science and shows the duality of all men, regardless of birthright and social status. When you finish enjoying this splendid novella, why not read another great story by Stevenson like Treasure Island or Kidnapped?

Dan @ Central

The Swiss Family Robinson by Johann David Wyss


Being a forty-something fourteen year old, I recently re-read The Swiss Family Robinson by Johann David Wyss and found it pleasantly diverting. The timeless story of a family working together for a common goal seems at timed dated, but with a genuine sincerity that I found both warm and endearing.

Published in 1812 and influenced by and possibly based upon Daniel Defoe's 1719 novel Robinson Crusoe, The Swiss Family Robinson is both an exciting adventure story and an instructional manual for Christian based morality for early Nineteenth Century dwellers.

I find the Robinson's heroically romantic as they conquer the island they so luckily find after being shipwrecked. The father comfortably teaches his four boys about hunting and how to do manly things while Elizabeth, the mother, dutifully cooks up whatever the menfolk hunt down after spending the day sewing.

Suggested for those who loved reading about Huck Finn and his friend Tom or Alice in her strange land of wonders or Emma setting up every dang person in her neighborhood. This is simply a good story and I whole-heartedly recommend it to readers of any age.

Dan @ Central

Curiouser and Curiouser!


"Curiouser and curiouser!" exclaimed Alice as her legs grew and grew after eating a cake labeled "eat me" in a scene from the imaginative novel Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Hmmm. Curious indeed. I find the stories and poems of Lewis Carroll to be totally absurd and totally engrossing at the same time.

Lewis Carroll (real name Charles Lutwidge Dodgson) published Alice's Adventures in Wonderland in 1865 and its sequel, Through the Looking Glass in 1871. Both are considered extremely important works of literature, and considered by some scholars to be works of "nonsense."

After being tantalized by the grinning Cheshire Cat or the Mad Hatter, give some of Carroll's poetry a try. It'll blow your mind. I suggest The Hunting of the Snark (1874) or Jabberwocky(1871), which appears in the text of Through the Looking Glass.

The writings of Lewis Carroll far transcend the time and space traveled since he created Alice in 1865. Besides being a brilliant mathematician and innovative photographer, Carroll had an imagination for the ages. To quote the grinning Cheshire Cat, "We're all mad here." Indeed we are.

Dan @ Central

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