Author Interviews & Guest Posts Fiction

A Well Rounded Literary Reading List – from Alexis Levitin

An intro from @OneReadingnurse: Hi everyone! I have been working on compiling a not-to-be-missed reading list from all over the world, for those who – like me – either feel like their reading isn’t necessarily well rounded, or are simply looking for new ideas.  I originally posed this question to my PHD of something-literature-related father, who then asked his extremely well read, travelled, and translated, friend, Alexis Levitin.  Both are published short story writers, professors of lit, and Levitin has translated poetry and other works from many countries. He focuses on the Portuguese.  I would really encourage everyone to check out his links, which are posted at the end.

What I’ve got here is, to be honest, a copy and pasted email, but so much thought was put into it. It is by no means a total list, and you can note that he doesn’t focus so much on known “classics” as simply great writing.  I got their permission to turn this into a guest post, so enough from me, here it is!

Dear Athena,
      Hi. I am happy to help you build up a good reading list. But let me first give you some general advice. It is wiser to start with shorter pieces by great authors, rather than delving immediately into a one thousand page monstrous epic that might kill your desire to read any further.
1) Read short stories by Anton Chekhov, probably the greatest short story writer ever. “Lady with a Pet Dog” is the greatest short story ever written, but very adult.
2) Read Lermontov’s A Hero of Our Time, a very short novel that is very Russian.
3) Read all the short stories you  can find (there are hundreds, in fact) by Leo Tolstoy, probably the most intelligent novelist of all time.
4) Read Tolstoy’s painfully great novela, The Death of Ivan Ilych.
5) Although it is very long, read Dostoevksy’s Crime and Punishment.
1) Read the very short, very accessible The Stranger by Camus. It is my favorite 20th century novel. Anything else by Camus is also worthwhile.
2) If you are interested in religion and sex and love, there is a great short novel that no one reads. It is Strait is the Gate by Andre Gide.
3) Read various short stories, always amusing, by Guy de Maupassant.
4) You can try Flaubert, who is truly great, but not easy to read. About the clash between romanticism and ordinary boring life, try Madame Bovary.
1) It is very, very long, but absolutely hilarious and great fun: Don Quixote. 
2) Miguel de Unamuno is great, but no one reads him nowadays. Try his wonderful novela Abel Sanchez.
3) She is not famous, but she is excellent: Esther Tusquets from Barcelona.
4) Garcia Lorca, Europe’s greatest 20th century poet, murdered for being gay.
1) Dino Buzatti is a great Italian writer, a little like Kafka. His short stories are great and so too his short novel The Tartar Steppe.
2) Easy to read, accessible, but really not bad is Alberto Moravia.
3) Zeno’s Conscience by Italo Svevo.
1) Kafka is the greatest European writer of the 20th century. You should read everything he wrote, but especially short stories such as “Metamorphosis.”
2) Slow, but highly intelligent, try “Death in Venice” by Thomas Mann.
3) Rilke is the greatest European poet of the 20th century, along with Lorca.
1) Joseph Conrad, especially the great short novel Heart of Darkness.
2) E.M. Forster, especially Passage to India. 
3) Graham Greene. Anything he wrote. You will love him because he is full of action, full of intrigue, full of the struggle between morality and sin, etc. The best
novel to start with is The Power and The Glory.
4) D. H. Lawrence. Read all his short stories. There are many of them and they are full of inner action, emotions, inner conflict, class struggle, men vs. women, etc. His poetry is also very interesting and accessible, but his novels are just too much.
5) James Joyce. Avoid the huge books and read Dubliners.
                             The United States:
1) All short stories by John Steinbeck. Easy to read, but rich in human experience. You can also try the short novels Of Mice and Men and The Red Pony, but the latter is extremely painful in its realism.
2) The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Essential reading for any educated person in the 20th century (and thereafter, ha ha). Alsdo his short stories.
3) Hemingway’s short stories, especially the greatest ones: “Hills Like White Elephants,””Cat in the Rain,” “The Snows of Kilimanjaro,” “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber,” and “A Clean Well-Lighted PLace.” Perhaps for love of your father you should also read the two stories called “Big Two-Hearted River,” about trout fishing and mental health. Also try the lively early novel The Sun Also Rises.
4) William Faulkner: try short stuff like “The Bear” and “Barn Burning.”
 His greatest novel, which no one reads, is called The Wild Palms. It is about varieties of love, romanticism, and death. Two novels interlaced.
5) Truman Capote- Breakfast at Tiffany’s
6) William Styron- Lie Down in Darkness (your Dad did his PhD on this great writer).
7)  James Agee- A Death in the Family
8)  Philip Roth- Everyman (short and right-to-the-point.)
9) Saul Bellow- Henderson, The Rain King
10) maybe Sherwood Anderson- Winesburg, Ohio.
As I was saying to your father today, I left out some great stuff from the 19th century: Hawthorne’s Short Stories, Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, Melville’s “Bartleby, the Scrivener” and maybe his Billy Budd.  Edgar Allen Poe’s
best short stories, such as “A Cask of Amontillado,” “The Tell-Tale Heart,” and, best of all, his great doppleganger story,”William Wilson.” Also Twain’s Huck Finn.
      From Greece there is Kazanztakis’s Zorba, the Greek” and the great poetry of Cavafy.
     It goes on and on…….
That should get you started. Good luck.

You can “Meet the Author” here at this link!  He also has a website, that I am told is not updated but does list some publications and such to check out