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Classic Literature
Portrait of Rudyard Kipling Portrait of Jules Verne Portrait of Mark Twain
Three greats of classic literature: Rudyard Kipling, Jules Verne, Mark Twain

To me, the terms "classic fiction" and "literature" include mostly older works, those published in the 19th and early 20th centuries ... and a few that are much older than that. Some of them border on other genres, but those genres didn't really exist yet when these books were written. I'm not much for the classics, but I have a few:

Classics of older times

For various reasons I've collected a few of the true classics: works many hundreds of years old, which have stood the test of time as well as any literary work can possibly hope to.

  • BEOWULF: A New Verse Translation
    Author: Heaney, Seamus
    Copyright:2000
    Publisher: Norton
    ISBN: 978-0-393-32097-8
    A new translation of the classic Anglo-Saxon epic poem.
  • HOMER'S ILIAD
    Author: Rouse, W.H.D. (trans)
    Copyright:1938
    Publisher: Mentor Books
    ISBN:

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Works from the 1800s

Here are the small number of 1800s-vintage works that I've read and found to be worth keeping. Some are just plain fun reads - anything by Mark Twain is a good example of that. Others are important ancestors of my favorite genres (and still fun reads!) like Jules Verne and H.G. Wells, both of whom were early examples of SF authors.

  • ADVENTURES OF HUCKLEBERRY FINN
    Author: Twain, Mark
    Copyright:1959
    Publisher: Signet Classic
    ISBN: 0-451-52373-3
    Sequel to Adventures of Tom Sawyer, this is Twain's classic rambling story of Huck Finn's travels with the escaped slave Jim and a couple of con men.
  • ALICE IN WONDERLAND
    Author: Carroll, Lewis
    Copyright:1971
    Publisher: W. W. Norton
    ISBN: 0-393-09977-6
    An omnibus edition of Lewis Carroll's fantastic tales of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and in the land beyond the Looking-Glass.
  • DRACULA
    Author: Stoker, Bram
    Copyright:
    Publisher: Signet Classics
    ISBN: 0-451-52337-7

  • FRANKENSTEIN
    Author: Shelley, Mary
    Copyright:1993
    Publisher: Barnes & Noble
    ISBN: 1-5661-9141-6

  • KIPLING: A SELECTION OF HIS STORIES AND POEMS (2 vol set)
    Author: Beecroft, John
    Copyright:1956
    Publisher: Doubleday & Co.
    ISBN:
    A two-volume collection of Rudyard Kipling's stories and poetry. The prose part includes the full Jungle Book and all of his Just-So Stories, along with many of his short stories. The poems include the classic "Ballad of East and West," "Danny Deever," and "If--".
  • TREASURE ISLAND
    Author: Stevenson, Robert Louis
    Copyright:1981
    Publisher: Bantam Books
    ISBN: 0-553-21046-7
    The classic adventure on the high seas: piracy, buried treasure, and the malevolent pirate chieftain Long John Silver.
  • TWENTY THOUSAND LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA (Annotated Version)
    Author: Miller, Walter James (Ed.)
    Copyright:1976
    Publisher: Meridian Books
    ISBN: 0-452-00474-8
    I found this as a library book when I was in college, and hunted for a copy of my own until I finally found one. For almost a century, the only way for an English speaker to read Jules Verne's classic 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA was in the form of a translation done in 1873 by one Mercier Lewis. In this "Annotated Edition," French-English translator and Verne scholar Walter James Miller mercilessly dissects the Lewis translation, documenting every one of Lewis's mistakes and edits, and showing how an accurate translation of Verne's original French makes the story much better and more powerful. Now Miller's book sits in my bookcase alongside a gorgeously illustrated edition of Anthony Bonner's 1962 translation of Verne's original novel. I read that version for entertainment, and this one for education, to enjoy Miller's bitingly accurate critiques of Lewis, and to remind myself that you can't take anything at face value.
  • TWENTY THOUSAND LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA (Full Translation)
    Author: Verne, Jules (tr. by Bonner)
    Copyright:2000
    Publisher: Bantam/Doubleday
    ISBN: 0-688-10535-1
    Generally considered one of the first (and still one of the best) science fiction novels written. Professor Pierre Aronnax and his assistant/servant Conseil are en route back to France from an expedition in the American West when they get hired by the US government to aid in the search for a mysterious sea monster. Also aboard is the Canadian master harpooneer Ned Land, a veteran of years of whaling all over the world. The "sea monster" eventually turns out to be not a monster at all, but a man-made undersea ship -- a submarine! Its name is the Nautilus, and its captain is a strange man who calls himself Captain Nemo -- Captain Nobody. Aronnax, Conseil, and Ned Land become the captain's unwilling guests on a voyage of discovery all through the oceans of the world. Along the way they discover some of the secrets of Nemo's past as well -- secrets that will lead to his grave, and to theirs if they don't escape.

    Be very, very careful when buying this book. Many of the older English editions are reprints of a very bad translation by one Mercier Lewis. The Lewis translation is both badly translated and heavily edited, resulting in a story that is missing many of its important bits, and sometimes makes no sense at all. Recent versions have much better translations.
  • UNCLE REMUS: His Songs & His Sayings
    Author: Harris, Joel Chandler
    Copyright:1981
    Publisher: Cherokee Publishing
    ISBN: 0-87797-230-3

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Works from the 1900s

A handful of 20th-century general fiction that I've read and found to be worth keeping.

  • A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS
    Author: Bolt, Robert
    Copyright:1962
    Publisher: Vintage Books
    ISBN: 394-70321-9
    Robert Bolt's famous play about Sir Thomas More, counselor to Henry VIII who faces charges of treason and died rather than compromise his honor.
  • CAPTAINS COURAGEOUS
    Author: Kipling, Rudyard
    Copyright:1994
    Publisher: Reader's Digest
    ISBN: 0-89577-601-4

  • DEVIL AND DANIEL WEBSTER
    Author: Benet, Stephen Vincent
    Copyright:1965
    Publisher: Pocket Books
    ISBN:
    Stephen Vincent Benet's wonderfully fun story of how legendary New Hampshire lawyer Dan'l Webster faced the Devil and beat him at his own game.
  • FIRE
    Author: Stewart, George R.
    Copyright:1948
    Publisher: Random House
    ISBN:
    A highly realistic fictional account of a forest fire in a Western forest, from its origin in a lightning-strike to its end.
  • STORM
    Author: Stewart, George
    Copyright:1941
    Publisher: Random House
    ISBN:

  • TALES OF THE SOUTH PACIFIC
    Author: Michener, James A.
    Copyright:1974
    Publisher: Fawcett Crest
    ISBN: 0-449-20652-1

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Edgar Rice Burroughs

Edgar Rice Burroughs's adventure yarns are hard to classify. It looks like when he wrote them he was trying to be scientific about it ... but his idea of what was 'scientific' shows a pretty pathetic grasp of even early-1900s science. Still, it doesn't really feel right to call them fantasy either. So I just call them "fiction," and here's where they go in my library. The later Tarzan novels fell into something of a rut, but the early ones have held up surprisingly well for books that are a century old. However, the rampant racism and prejudice will really bother a modern reader. Which is as it should be.

  • TARZAN OF THE APES
    Author: Burroughs, Edgar Rice
    Copyright:1939
    Publisher: Ballantine Books
    ISBN: 0-345-25830-4
    The classic that started the whole Tarzan phenomenon. "The mildewed diary of a man long dead" begins the tale of Tarzan of the Apes. John Clayton, Lord Greystoke, is on a mission to Africa and has the bad luck to sail aboard a ship with a mutinous crew. When the crew rebels against its brutal captain, Clayton and his wife Alice survive, but they are marooned on a desolate stretch of the West African coast, surrounded by savage jungle. When they are both killed, their infant son lives and is adopted by a she-ape, member of a local tribe of apes. He grows up among the apes, and the strenuous, savage life develops him to the physical peak of what a human can be. Then his life is interrupted by another party of humans ... including the first white men he's ever seen besides himself.
  • RETURN OF TARZAN
    Author: Burroughs, Edgar Rice
    Copyright:1913
    Publisher: Ballantine Books
    ISBN: 0-345-28996-X

    Direct sequel to Tarzan of the Apes. Having abandoned his heritage and the woman he loves, Tarzan returns to Europe. On the sea-voyage he meets a French nobleman, Count Raoul de Coude, and his wife Olga. He also meets a Russian named Nikolas Rokoff for the first time ... and the meeting does not go well for Rokoff. Tarzan then finds himself entangled in Rokoff's schemes, for Rokoff is a mercenary spy, stealing secrets from whomever he can and then selling them to the highest bidder, or using them for blackmail.

    Tarzan then goes to North Africa as an agent of the French secret service, where he again encounters Rokoff ... and again, the encounter goes badly for Rokoff. The Russian's increasingly furious attempts at revenge lead Tarzan back to his jungle and to further encounters with Rokoff, Jane Porter, his cousin William Clayton, and other characters from Tarzan of the Apes.

  • BEASTS OF TARZAN, THE
    Author: Burroughs, Edgar Rice
    Copyright:1914
    Publisher: Ballantine Books
    ISBN: 0-345-28324-4
    Nikolas Rokoff escapes from prison and attempts to get revenge on Tarzan by kidnapping his wife and son, and stranding him alone on a jungle island off the African coast. Rokoff fails to realize that as long as there are jungle beasts around Tarzan will never be alone. So the ape-man collects a band of gorillas and a leopard as allies, finds a way to get to the mainland, and sets out in pursuit of Rokoff and his gang.
  • SON OF TARZAN, THE
    Author: Burroughs, Edgar Rice
    Copyright:1916
    Publisher: Ballantine Books
    ISBN: 0-345-28130-6
    Ten years after the events of The Beasts of Tarzan, Alexis Paulvitch is rescued by a passing steamship. The ship also picks up a very strange ape. Man and ape travel aboard the ship to London, where it turns out that the ape is Akut, one of Tarzan's animal allies from The Beasts of Tarzan. Paulvitch still dreams of revenge on the ape-man who ruined him and Rokoff, and tries to accomplish this by killing Tarzan's son Jack. But Akut the ape kills Paulvitch instead, after which he and Jack flee to Africa and vanish into the jungle.
  • TARZAN AND THE JEWELS OF OPAR
    Author: Burroughs, Edgar Rice
    Copyright:1916
    Publisher: Ballantine Books
    ISBN: 0-345-28917-X

  • JUNGLE TALES OF TARZAN
    Author: Burroughs, Edgar Rice
    Copyright:1917
    Publisher: Ballantine Books
    ISBN: 0-345-29478-5
    More a collection of short stories about Tarzan than a single novel. All the stories are set during Tarzan's youth, before he met men from Outside and left his jungle home for civilization.
  • TARZAN THE UNTAMED
    Author: Burroughs, Edgar Rice
    Copyright:1948
    Publisher: Ballantine Books
    ISBN: 0-345-27697-3
    The outbreak of World War I finds Tarzan away from home, unable to intervene when a company of German soldiers finds his estate. When Tarzan returns home he finds his home destroyed and his wife cruelly murdered. Enraged, he sets out on a quest of revenge against the entire German army and specifically the unit that murdered his wife.
  • TARZAN THE TERRIBLE
    Author: Burroughs
    Copyright:1949
    Publisher: Ballantine Books
    ISBN: 0-345-27982-4
    Burroughs's favorite hero meets the Lost World. Trailing his wife Jane and the escaped German officer Lt. Obergatz, Tarzan finds an isolated land called Pal-ul-don, inhabited by man-like 'pithecanthropi' with prehensile tails and feet, and other prehistoric beasts. Tarzan arrogantly tries to use the locals' own religious ideas and prejudices to aid his search for Jane. It doesn't end well.
  • TARZAN AND THE GOLDEN LION
    Author: Burroughs, Edgar Rice
    Copyright:1951
    Publisher: Ballantine Books
    ISBN: 0-345-27983-2
    Returning from Pal-ul-don, Tarzan and his family find the war over and their home rebuilt by Waziri workers. Along the way they rescue an orphaned lion cub. Tarzan raises the cub to adulthood, then takes it along when he travels to Opar to steal more of that city's ancient hoard of gold.
  • TARZAN, LORD OF THE JUNGLE
    Author: Burroughs, Edgar Rice
    Copyright:1928
    Publisher: Ballantine Books
    ISBN: 0-345-28986-2
    A very typical Tarzan story -- Tarzan is traveling through his jungle when he encounters a very nasty American hunter named Wilbur Stimbol on safari. Stimbol soon learns why it's a bad idea to get Tarzan mad at you. His safari partner, another American named Blake, soon has problems of his own after a storm separates him from his safari. Deep in the jungle, Blake stumbles onto an isolated valley that contains a city of Englishmen, remnants of a Crusader party that became lost, and still talking and acting like their knightly ancestors. A band of treasure-hunting Arabs adds more danger and confusion to the mix.
  • TARZAN AND THE CITY OF GOLD
    Author: Burroughs, Edgar Rice
    Copyright:1932
    Publisher: Ballantine Books
    ISBN: 0-345-28987-0

  • TARZAN AND THE CASTAWAYS
    Author: Burroughs, Edgar Rice
    Copyright:1941
    Publisher: Ballantine Books
    ISBN: 0-345-28615-4
    One novella and two short stories starring Burroughs's jungle man Tarzan of the Apes.

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