Clumsy, Haphazard Reader

Updated: May 13, 2021

This LAPL staff member claims to stumble upon the great variety of books that they read which are mostly old and modern classics.

Book cover for Blood meridian, or, The evening redness in the West
Blood meridian, or, The evening redness in the West
McCarthy, Cormac, 1933-
Call Number: Ed.b
This is historical fiction based on the exploits of the real Glanton Gang. They were a band of mercenaries hired by the Mexican government to exterminate Indians in the Texas-Mexico borderlands. This is arguably the most violent work of fiction out there. One does not have to wait long to be plunged into something like Dante's violent Inferno. However, the violence is not the sort of violence you find in a horror movie where everyone is dreadfully mutilated because the movie is trying to be as violent as possible. It is not gratuitous and/or redundant in the least, but feels more like something out of a war movie. IT IS horrible and can be off-putting, but definitely serves the purpose of the narrative. That said, there are other less disturbing wonders in this book. The West is vividly portrayed, as both magnificently grand and a wasteland like no other, and the prose is among the most beautiful and epic in all of American literature. It can be easy to overlook these virtues amidst the carnage, but once you become aware of them, the book congeals into a true masterpiece.

Book cover for The Castle of Otranto : a gothic story
The Castle of Otranto : a gothic story
Walpole, Horace, 1717-1797.
Call Number: Ed.f

Often cited as the first Gothic novel, the Castle of Otranto is the estate of one Manfred (the hero-villain), whose only son is immediately killed by a giant piece of armor, many parts of which are wandering the halls of the castle. Manfred spends the rest of the book desperately trying to extend his bloodline to prevent a prophecy that foretells the loss of the castle by his family to the rightful heir. Mystery, love, haunted halls, stormy nights, dark forests, surprising twists in the plot, a damsel in distress, a bloody murder, ghosts that will not stay in their portraits, and the afore mentioned armor trying to reconstruct itself are all the charming components to be found in a Gothic novel.

Book cover for The Complete Essays
The Complete Essays
Montaigne, Michel de, 1533-1592.
Call Number: 844 M761-11 2003

Montaigne's essays were ultimately written for Montaigne. I often wonder how honest he was in writing the essays. He seems truthful enough, but from the beginning, he makes it very clear that someday he would publish his book. In the end, I suppose it doesn’t matter. Montaigne’s Essays is not a philosophical work concerned with debating the right and wrong, or piercing the veil of reality and gazing at the metaphysical truth. It is not a memoir or an autobiography, since he cares little for specific, factual events themselves, instead focusing on their impact on his mind. No, this book is more closely related to a work of fiction. Though the man lived, breathed and impacted his time and place, his thoughts, however clear, are now only real in print, like any other novel or poem dreamt by a beautiful mind. Montaigne is a character who ponders almost everything and leaves me thinking on these subjects and wanting more. He thought, questioned, and changed his mind in the process. He wrote those ruminations down and provided us with a wonderful template for the fiction in our minds.

Book cover for The complete poems of John Keats.
The complete poems of John Keats.
Keats, John, 1795-1821.
Call Number: 821 K25-21

Poetry is, to me, the classical music of literature. It is the symphony, the orchestration, the pure yet complicated and deceptively simple manifestation of sound. I say this because, unlike novels, or short stories, or any other form of writing, poetry has the ability to grab me immediately. I’ve memorized many poems and innumerable lines swirl within my brain, completely out of context, but with power nonetheless. Keats’ poems specifically consumed me in a way only Beethoven’s symphonies had before. His words enthralled me, haunted me. I found myself repeating lines as soon as I read them, trying desperately to commit them to memory. Keats was a romantic and an incredibly inventive writer. He thought beauty the ultimate truth and attempted to infuse every line he wrote with that truth. He achieved this more often than not and created some of the most sublime music I’ve ever read.


Book cover for The Decameron
The Decameron
Boccaccio, Giovanni, 1313-1375.
Call Number: 853 B664 1995
Seven Florentine women and three men flee to the countryside to escape the Black Death that was rampaging through Europe during the fourteenth century. In ten days they each tell a story a day, totaling a staggering one hundred tales. Like The Arabian Nights before it and The Canterbury Tales after, the tales are as diverse as can be. By turns brief, drawn out, tragic, comedic, insightful, crude, moralistic, inappropriate, exciting, uneventful, pious, or sacrilegious. There's something here for everyone and everything for one.

Book cover for Genius : a mosaic of one hundred exemplary creative minds
Genius : a mosaic of one hundred exemplary creative minds
Bloom, Harold.
Call Number: 809 B6547-1
Depending on whom you talk to, Harold Bloom is either the greatest of modern critics, or a tired old relic of criticism. Apart from whatever one may think of him, his great love of literature is undeniable. Nowhere is that more evident than in this book where he lists a hundred of the greatest writers and simply speaks his mind about what makes each person a genius of literature. That love is infectious and if you share that love, I guarantee a good read.

Book cover for The house of the dead
The house of the dead
Dostoyevsky, Fyodor, 1821-1881.
Call Number: Ed.c
Horrors and sadness abound in this semi-autobiographical story as a man recounts his time in a Siberian prison. This has some similarity to the Dostoyevsky of the later great novels, but the narrator of this story is uncharacteristically detached. Philosophical, social and political questions, which are the core of his other novels, are conspicuously unimportant here, plus the episodic nature of the story reads more like a documentary than a work of fiction. This is not the usual Dostoyevsky, but it is still great Dostoyevsky.

Book cover for Justice.
Call Number: 741.5 J965-1

For anyone who misses the comic books of old, where good and evil are as clear as black and white, night and day, then Justice is perfect.  The good guys will win and the bad guys are foild again, but there's plenty of action along the way. Justice doesn't try to change the way we think about comic book heroes like Watchman or the Dark Knight, but it will entertain. Add to that the iconic art of Alex Ross, and you might have one of the most satisfying comics around.

Book cover for The king of Elfland's daughter
The king of Elfland's daughter
Dunsany, Edward John Moreton Drax Plunkett, Baron, 1878-1957.
Call Number: Ed.a
This book is part love story, part sword and sorcery, with a little bit of hunting tossed in, but always pure fantasy. The love is between a human prince, Alveric, and an Elf princess, Lizarel. They escape Elfland with Alveric carrying a sword of lightning that was forged by a witch. The two lovers have a son, Orion, who is raised by the witch. The young prince grows up to love hunting with his greatest prey being the unicorn. It is all tied together nicely in beautiful, dreamy prose that flows very much like poetry.

Book cover for Meditations for the humanist : ethics for a secular age
Meditations for the humanist : ethics for a secular age
Grayling, A. C.
Call Number: 171 G783 2002

Grayling discusses everything from morality to trifles. The book is divided into three parts: Virtues and Attributes - ideas that usually help humanity; Foes and Fallacies - that which is often detrimental to us; and Amenities and Goods - which include more tangible ideas and less controversial discussions. No one will agree with Grayling one hundred percent of the time, and I doubt he would be happy if anyone did.

Book cover for The pilgrim's progress
The pilgrim's progress
Bunyan, John, 1628-1688.
Call Number: 823 B942 1981a
This book is one of the best allegories ever written. The first part is the story of Christian leaving his home and family (they decide to stay behind) in the City of Destruction to reach the Celestial City or "Heaven". On his way, he battles Apollyon and crosses the Valley of the Shadow of Death as well as other physical manifestations of the obstacles Christians face in life. The second part deals with Christian's family making a similar journey, although they have to conquer their own obstacles on the way to the Celestial City, such as the four giants and the Ill-favored Ones. Though obviously written for a Christian audience, anyone willing to give it a chance will find that like other "Christian works", Paradise Lost and The Divine Comedy, this is much more approachable. The Pilgrim's Progress can be enjoyed by anyone, and it is a fantastic tale of good overcoming evil and the striving that ultimately saves man's soul.

Book cover for The sorrows of young Werther  and, Novella
The sorrows of young Werther and, Novella
Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von, 1749-1832.
Call Number: Ed.f
This is the novel that first brought Goethe literary fame, and it reportedly influenced many lovelorn youth to commit suicide. The book was often found in their pockets when their bodies were pulled out of the river. The story unfolds through letters that Werther sends to his friend Wilhelm. In the letters he tells how he has fallen madly in love with a girl name Lotte, who is engaged to a much older man. This may sound like your typical tale of tragic star-crossed lovers who can't be together, but it's not. Lotte does not feel for Werther, at least not to the same extent he does for her. The tragedy here is of the kind that may only be understood by those who have experienced desperate and passionate love.

Book cover for The sound of waves
The sound of waves
Mishima, Yukio, 1925-1970.
Call Number: Ed.a
This is a tale of first-time love. The setting is a remote island village in Japan where the young couple must overcome the usual obstacles of social status and town gossip. This is a rather conventional tale, but it is Mishima's telling of it with simple honesty that never over-dramatizes the tribulations of the young couple. This book is for those in search of an old fashioned tale of first love conquering all odds, written with just the right mixture of realism and romance.

Book cover for We
Zami͡atin, Evgeniĭ Ivanovich, 1884-1937.
Call Number: SF

A classic dystopian novel. An engineer in One State is tasked with writing a diary that glorifies the state, but it turns into something else, which is about the engineer's life and how it is different because he falls in love with a woman in a resistance group. In order to cure everyone of their feelings, all citizens are forced to have a lobotomy.More powerful than1984 and Brave new world.