Haruki Murakami said, “If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you will only think what everyone else is thinking.” So here’s a list of unusual books to curl up with as the weather changes — from Gothic tales for dark and stormy nights to novels set in strange, romantic places.
A Tour of Literary Haunted Houses
What’s the difference between a stay-away house and a hungry house? If you love nail-biting novels about carnivorous or rejecting homes, check out Adam O’Fallon Price’s taxonomy of eerie houses. Read one of these tales out loud on Halloween.
Why Old Places Matter
Old places tell us who we are and what we value. The National Historic Trust recommends visiting the houses of writers and artists, including Mark Twain’s home in Hartford, Donald Judd’s Manhattan loft and Faulkner’s Rowan Oak in Oxford, Mississippi: viewing sacred spaces from a Kwan Tai Temple in Mendocino, California to the Acoma Sky City in New Mexico; and taking a tour of the haves and the have-nots, from the Rockefeller mansion, Kykuit, in the majestic Hudson Valley, to a lower East Side tenement. But we suggest you open up a book and try some arm-chair travel.
Dip into Mark Twain’s rambling autobiography to find out why mankind is defective and we fail to blame his maker.
Enjoy the no-holds-barred art criticism of minimalist sculptor Donald Judd.
Revisit the rich emotional world of William Faulker in The Sound and the Fury.
Reread Willa Cather’s Death Comes for the Archbishop set in the Acoma Pueblo.
Learn about the Rockefeller mansion and other Great Houses of the Hudson Valley.
Contrast that elegance with photographer Jacob Riis’ portraits of the poor in New York City.
And for a wonderful essay on historic preservation, try Tom Mayes’ Why Old Places Matter.
Storytelling at the Hearth
Hestia was the goddess of the hearth, and actor/playwright Stephen Fry asks us all to gather round her fire and consider the myths that make us human. In his traveling one-man show Fry reminds us that Hera’s breast milk gave us the word for galaxy, and that tales of the Greek gods influenced everyone from Tolkien to J.K. Rowling and Marvel Comics. Says The Guardian’s Brian Logan, “Fry regrets that many find the classics distant and intimidating. Best not think of Philoctetes and Clytemnestra, he says: just call them Arnold and Susan.”
For a great synopsis of the show, try this reviewer’s take. Fry recently performed this nine-hour feat of epic storytelling at the Edinburgh Festival, and is taking his show on the road. But you can read all of his wonderful stories in Mythos: The Greek Myths Retold. Memorize them and share your own version with friends, next to a roaring fire.
Calling Literary Giants: Support Our Refugees
After the first world war Edith Wharton gathered all her literary pals together to produce The Book of the Homeless, raising funds to help displaced children and refugees. Contributors included Joseph Conrad, Jean Cocteau, Paul Claudel, Thomas Hardy, Henry James, Maurice Maeterlinck, George Santayana, Igor Stravinsky, and W.B. Yeats. Theodore Roosevelt provided the introduction, in which he wrote: “We owe to Mrs. Wharton all the assistance we can give.” Read these contributions to understand the compassion of another era. For extra credit, write to your favorite authors and tell them we can use another Book of the Homeless to help a generation dispossessed by war and climate change.