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Not Your School’s Reading List 3: Fiction for the Ages

At Intellectual Takeout, we strive to offer not only commentary on current events but also tangible advice for engaging with our increasingly chaotic world. That’s why we’re proud to present this ongoing series of literature recommendations.

This week’s entries include fictional stories with timeless themes and insight into reality, in addition to being enjoyable tales in their own right.

Read the previous list here.

Joseph Conrad. Heart of Darkness. 1899.

“From humble beginnings as the son of a dissident in Poland, to a life of adventure on the far corners of the globe, to at last a dignified position as an elder statesman of the English literary community, Conrad’s personal story is as engaging as his writing. … His incredible stories and the characters in them captured the human condition with a degree technical and artistic perfection often imitated but never full captured again.”

Norman Mailer. The Naked and the Dead. 1948.

“Hailed as one of the finest novels to come out of the Second World War, The Naked and the Dead received unprecedented critical acclaim upon its publication and has since enjoyed a long and well-deserved tenure in the American canon. … Written in gritty, journalistic detail, the story follows a platoon of Marines who are stationed on the Japanese-held island of Anopopei.”

Ray Bradbury. Fahrenheit 451. 1953.

“Guy Montag is a fireman. His job is to destroy the most illegal of commodities, the printed book. … But when he meets an eccentric young neighbor, Clarisse, who introduces him to a past where people didn’t live in fear and to a present where one sees the world through the ideas in books instead of the mindless chatter of television, Montag begins to question everything he has ever known.”

Frank Herbert. Dune. 1965.

“Widely considered among the classics in the field of science fiction, the Dune saga, set in the distant future and taking place over millennia, dealt with themes, such as human survival, human evolution, ecology, and the intersection of religion, politics, and power. … Herbert’s evocative, epic tales are set on the desert planet Arrakis, the focus for a complex political and military struggle with galaxy-wide repercussions.”

Alexander Solzhenitsyn. The First Circle. 1968.

“Moscow, Christmas Eve, 1949. The Soviet secret police intercept a call made to the American embassy. … On that same day, a brilliant mathematician is locked away inside a Moscow prison that houses the country’s brightest minds. He and his fellow prisoners are charged with using their abilities to sleuth out the caller’s identity, and they must choose whether to aid Joseph Stalin’s repressive state—or refuse.”

V.S. Naipaul. The Enigma of Arrival. 1987.

“The story of a young Indian from the Crown Colony of Trinidad, who arrives in post-imperial England. He observes the gradual but profound changes wrought on the English countryside by the march of progress. Naipaul (…) is known for the wistfully comic early novels of Trinidad, the bleaker novels of a wider world remade by the passage of peoples, and the vigilant chronicles of his life and travels.”

Tom Wolfe. The Bonfire of the Vanities. 1987.

“The Bonfire of the Vanities is a 1987 satirical novel by Tom Wolfe. The story is a drama about ambition, racism, social class, politics, and greed in 1980s New York City, and centers on three main characters: WASP bond trader Sherman McCoy, Jewish assistant district attorney Larry Kramer, and British expatriate journalist Peter Fallow. The novel (…) has often been called the quintessential novel of the 1980s.”

Wendell Berry. That Distant Land. 2005.

That Distant Land includes twenty-three stories from Wendell Berry’s Port William membership. Arranged in their fictional chronology, the book shines forth as a single sustained work, not simply an anthology. It reveals Wendell Berry as a literary master capable of managing an imaginative integrity over decades of writing with a multitude of characters followed over several generations.”

Cormac McCarthy. No Country for Old Men. 2005.

“McCarthy returns to the Texas-Mexico border, the setting of his famed Border Trilogy. The time is our own, when rustlers have given way to drug-runners and small towns have become free-fire zones. One day, Llewellyn Moss finds a pickup truck surrounded by a bodyguard of dead men. … He sets off a chain reaction of catastrophic violence that not even the law–in the person of aging, disillusioned Sheriff Bell–can contain.”

Michel Houellebecq. Submission. 2015.

“In a France quite similar to ours, a man embarks on an academic career. Unmotivated by teaching, he expects a boring but calm life, protected from great historical dramas. However, the forces at play in the country have cracked the political system to the point of causing its collapse. This implosion without jolts, without real revolution, develops like a bad dream. … This book is a striking political and moral fable.”

Intellectual Takeout does not necessarily endorse any particular publisher. All credit for these descriptions goes to the original sources.

Image credit (clockwise from top left): Store Norske Leksikon, CC BY 2.0; Flickr-whatleydude, CC BY 2.0; Warner Brothers Pictures; Wikimedia Commons-Tomas Castelazo, CC BY-SA 3.0

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