I won’t even venture to guess how many books have been published over the course of human history, but safe to say, it’s more than we’ll end up remembering. With such limited time available to us and so many different books to read, we were forced to come up with a system which would help us classify and identify the works which ought to stand timelessly.
Thus, the idea of classic literature was born. An all-encompassing genre for all the stories which transcend the times they were written in, and more often than not, imparting some valuable wisdom about any given aspect of life.
With our access to books growing easier than ever before, we’ve found the need to sort the best from the rest faster and faster, giving birth to what are known as modern classics. Though they haven’t stood the test of time like their traditional classic brethren, they’ve very much managed to leave a strong impact in their wake and are expected to remain current for the foreseeable future.
As you can surely imagine by now, in this category we will be reviewing books which have been classified as modern classics. From Kafka and Hemingway to Lovecraft and Capote, these are literary works which defined the 20th century, and I believe will remain without equal so long as our love for the written word exists.
Kurt Vonnegut’s extensive bibliography isn’t short on bestsellers, but I see many people overlooking his first novel, Player Piano, which seems a little strange considering how well it resonates with modern times. It tells the story of an engineer, Paul Prodeus, living in a totally automated American society in the future, increasingly desperate to find some true meaning to his life.
Herman Hesse is an author whose literature can be best-described, in my opinion, as profoundly introspective, affording each and every person it touches the tools to peer further within themselves. Steppenwolf is one of his most popular and influential novels, telling the story of Harry Haller, a profoundly sad and lonely individual struggling to reconcile the civil and primeval halves of his own identity.
Emile Zola is a name most people are familiar with, even those who haven’t read his works. Objectively one of the greatest authors in our short history, his novels always had the ability to move people, and have been consistently doing so for over a hundred and fifty years. In Germinal, one of his more famous works, he tells the story of Etienne Lantier, a clever and unemployed machinist who eventually stirs a mining community to a strike unlike any other, threatening to open the first cracks in a rotten and unjust world order.
Estimated reading time: 7 minutes Short Summary Erich Maria Remarque captured like none other the chaos of an uncertain daily life in Germany between the two World Wars, and Three Comrades is one of his more iconic works on the subject. The story follows three friends earning a meagre living through a garage they own, searching desperately for a meaning to their wasting lives amidst the upheavals which shook Germany in 1928… a meaning they might just find when a new comrade enters the fold. Read more …
Erich Maria Remarque has managed to capture like few others the atmosphere of his era, and in The Black Obelisk he takes us to the heart of Germany after the First World War. It introduces us to Ludwig, a young veteran from the war, now working for a monument company, mostly selling stone markers to the loved ones of the recently-departed. With the historical inflation in his country only worsening by the hour, Ludwig tries to find a meaning for his life amidst a turbulent and collapsing society.
Richard Bach is without the shadow of a doubt one of the most original and inspiring authors of the twentieth century, somewhat ironic considering his self-professed disdain for writing. In Illusions and Illusions II he tells a tale starring himself, one where he meets Donald Shimoda, a self-professed messiah capable of elevating Richard’s world to new and unseen heights.
Kurt Vonnegut has many novels through which he established his lifelong fame as an essential author of the 20th century, and the first of those was titled The Sirens of Titan. Published all the way back in 1959, it tells the story of Malachi Constant, Earth’s richest and most depraved man, as he embarks on a grand interplanetary voyage against his own will, learning much about the universe in the process, and forgetting even more about himself.
Richard Bach is one of the few authors whose works continue to stand the test of time, with his classic Jonathan Livingston Seagull still being as current as back when it was written. A tale of inspiration, it follows the titular seagull as he learns the art of flight and finds his own way through life, despite his peers’ lack of approval.
Joseph Heller forever gifted humanity a slightly deeper understanding of human nature and the utter folly pervasive in war when he published the eternally-current Catch-22. The novel, drawing in part on Heller’s experiences as a bombardier, follows the story of Captain John Yossarian and his mates who experience the incongruous insanity of the Second World War as they fly their missions over Italy.
Irwin Shaw is one of the writers whose works have a defined place in history, chronicling a reality we can never afford to forget. The Young Lions is perhaps his best-known work, depicting the Second World War and its immense complexity through three different perspectives: an observant young Nazi, a weary American film producer, and a shy Jewish boy who just got married.
Gabriel Garcia Marquez, winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1982, is a figure who needs little introduction among book lovers. His works have always been distinguished by their profound and meaningful nature, and One Hundred Years of Solitude represents those qualities like none other. Telling of the rise and fall of a mythical town called Macondo, the story follows the lives of multiple generations belonging to the Buendia family.
E.L. Doctorow is revered as one of the greatest and most influential authors of the 20th century, and I think anyone who picks up his works, whether they like them or not, can understand why.
Ragtime was considered one of his best works and a true classic, presenting a relatively disjointed narrative following many characters, some real and others imagined, across their trials and tribulations in a snapshot of early 1900s New York City.
Ernest Hemingway has always had a real talent for portraying complex characters in equally complicated situations, made even more impressive with his concise vocabulary. For Whom the Bell Tolls might be one of his more popular stories, following a young American, Robert Jordan, as he fights through the Spanish Civil War as a member of the International Brigades, attached to an antifascist guerrilla unit in the mountains.
Though H.P. Lovecraft is generally considerate enough to spare his characters from more than one venture into the heart of madness, Randolph Carter suffered a rather different fate. The sole character written by the author with the distinction of being the protagonist across multiple stories, Carter appeared in the following three stories we will explore: The Dream-Quest of Kaddath, The Statement of Randolph Carter and The Unnamable.
As much as H. P. Lovecraft enjoyed writing about otherworldly horrors, he was also no stranger to the more grounded and dark compulsions laying dormant within us, seldom shying away from exploring them if his mind wandered this way. The Alchemist, The Cats of Ulthar and The Terrible Old Man are three of his lesser-known short stories, each one dealing in their own strange ways with the theme of retribution.
H.P. Lovecraft was undoubtedly a genius when it came to finding new angles from which to approach the horror genre. Shifting themes and focuses from one story to the next he left a great collection of works strewn across the genre’s entire spectrum. Today, we’re going to take a look at “Beyond the Wall of Sleep”, “Polaris” and “From Beyond”, short stories where we dive deep into overlapping and transcending realities beyond the waking world of awareness.
H.P. Lovecraft was an author who endeavored to push the boundaries of the horror genre and explore frontiers no writer has touched before. His stories cover an impressively wide array of subjects, with the horror elements often maintaining a more psychological rather than physical presence. In his short stories The Beast in the Cave, The Tomb and Imprisoned in the Pharaohs we actually get to see both types of horror at work as we are taken deep below the earth to become acquainted with the evils dwelling within.
H. P. Lovecraft’s tales cover a wide array of subjects and ideas, and many of them can be grouped in a thematic fashion. Take for instance three of his better-known stories: The Colour Out of Space, The Shadow over Innsmouth and The Whisperer in Darkness. Each of those stories, in its own fashion, deals with the idea of alien visitors from the beyond coming down to Earth from space or emerging from the depths of the sea in order to influence humanity for their own ends. While their intentions may be debatable, the unmitigated suffering they inflict upon their subjects is not.
H.P. Lovecraft has covered a vast array of themes and ideas in his stories, but more than anything he seemed to love when his protagonists were not only confronted with the kinds of horrors that would be specific to their perspective and/or madness, but also when they became the said horrors. In The Outsider, The Evil Clergyman and The Rats in the Walls, we are presented with three stories where the protagonists end up on the other side of the fence, so to speak, and we dive deep into the resulting evil and lunacy.
H. P. Lovecraft has pioneered much of the horror genre by himself, touching on an absolutely dazzling array of themes and concepts that have endured up until this very day. While most people know him as the creator of the Cthulhu Mythos there is indeed much more to his writings. For instance, he authored a few timeless stories which are centred around the macabre idea of conquering death at all costs, and what follows is a look at three of the most popular ones, the last of which you may already be familiar with: “Celephais”, “Cool Air”, and “Herbert West – Reanimator”.
H. P. Lovecraft has been one of the most influential horror writers of all time, pioneering many of the concepts and tropes we’ve come to enjoy time and time again in all kinds of media. It is safe to say that without his groundbreaking work, we wouldn’t be enjoying the likes of Stephen King and his peers. Among the many short stories he wrote where Dagon, Nyarlathotep and the all-time famous The Call of Cthulhu , all three revolving around the theme of ancient and otherworldly gods coming to Earth.
Truman Capote may very well have revolutionized the world of journalism when he wrote the novelized yet non-fictional account of the Clutter family murder, but more than that, he created one of the most powerful and compelling true crime narrations that takes us into the emotional and psychological depths of the American tragedy. Praised by one side and criticized by the other, In Cold Blood remains a rather controversial book to this very day, one that is nevertheless deemed an important milestone in American literature.
Franz Kafka was one of the more complex and thought-provoking authors of the twentieth century, and though he may have died young, his classics like The Trial will live on forever, telling the timeless story of an ordinary man, Joseph K., who one day wakes up only to find himself accused of a crime he has no recollection of committing. What’s worse, not a person in the world seems to be able to tell him what crime he’s actually being accused of. Standing before the grinding gears of the bureaucratic machine Joseph K. must resolve the impossible matter or be grinded down into nothingness, like so many before him.
Albert Camus was always known for his complex stories that were profound studies of human nature, and The Stranger fits that description perfectly, telling the story of a young disinterested in life whose fate quickly spirals out of control for seemingly inexplicable reasons. Meursault isn’t the kind of person anyone is used to, having his own outlook on life and a curious way of justifying his actions and inactions. However, when his unusual philosophy leads him into dire straits, he cannot help but question all he has ever held true and whether or not a human life, even one such as his, can have a real meaning to it.
Umberto Eco has demonstrated many times over the course of his illustrious career the ability to concoct complex and engaging stories centred on unique and imaginative topics. In Fouctault’s Pendulum, Umberto Eco introduces us to a trio of Milanese book editors working for a small publishing firm, who concoct a vast conspiracy stretching from ancient times to the modern era out of sheer boredom, only to realize there might be more truth to it than anticipated.