The legendary British actor Terence Stamp reads the book that he says 'changed his life'. This is an exploration of our existence and a journey towards enlightenment. In what the author calls 'the fine print' at the start of the book, David Carse wrote: 'There are many books out there that will help you to live a better life, become a better person, and evolve and grow to realise your potential as a spiritual being. This is not one of them....'
"No words for this"
The story of young Tom Brown's seemingly hideous years spent at rugby school and his spirited and astonishingly stalwart response to the institutionalised bullying prevalent at the 'Great' British public schools became exactly the campaigning tool its author hoped it would. The regimes at these schools had been largely unchallenged, with the assumption being that the education and training received were the best.
Written as the letters of the five members of Squire Bramble's household sent as they journey around Britain, The Expedition of Humphrey Clinker is a grouchy, very funny examination of how one story varies depending on who's doing the telling. The tale is centered around the arrival of Mr. Clinker into the otherwise uneventful household, who never speaks and does not even enter the novel until a third of the way through.
The epic story of this hero's battle against dragons, monsters, and their mothers is particularly suited to being recorded as an audiobook given that for the first 300 years of its existence it was only ever spoken. The first known (and indeed the only surviving manuscript) of the poem was written in AD 1,000. It survived Henry VIII's attempts to destroy it (as a religious artifact) and a catastrophic fire that destroyed many other historical British documents.
Riotous, sexy and groundbreaking, Henry Fielding's Joseph Andrews: The History of the Adventures of Joseph Andrews and His Friend Mr. Abraham Adams, published in 1742, was one of the first English novels. Fielding was melding and parodying the two major forces battling for control of the fiction market at the time - the mock heroic, neoclassical tradition as practiced by Pope and Swift and the popular and populist fiction of the new novelists such as Defoe and Richardson.
Three Men in a Boat was intended to be a serious travel guide. It failed dismally in this respect but succeeded in becoming an hilarious account of a boating holiday on the Thames between Kingston and Oxford. The three men were based on the author and two of his friends. The holiday was a typical boating holiday of its time, carried out on what was known as a Thames camping skiff. The dog, Montmorency, however, was entirely fictional, but, as Jerome remarked, 'had much of me in it'.
Everyone has a swipe at their parents and the way they were brought up at some point in their lives. Very few of us exact revenge to the extent that Edmund Gosse did upon his father in this superbly funny, agonising account of a very strange childhood. The subtitle of the book is A Study of Two Temperaments, and these were temperaments not destined to get on. Gosse, Sr. was an eminent naturalist and zoologist and a keen follower of the Plymouth Brethren.
"Wonderful reading of a tender and funny memoir"
The most personal of Oscar Wilde's works, The Picture of Dorian Grey was also one of the earliest. It was published in 1891 and caused immediate controversy and great notoriety for its writer. The story of an immensely beautiful and hedonistic boy whose conscience becomes separate from his body and housed in a portrait which slowly and hideously ages and decays in keeping with his increasing depravity whilst the boy himself remains untouched plays with all of Oscar Wilde's theories of art and life.
The Chronicles of Clovis, published in 1911, was the third in Saki (H. H. Munro)'s series of very funny and very vicious stories. As an insider, Saki was ideally poised to eviscerate the Edwardian middle class way of life, and his pitiless and magnetic sense of humour - teamed with an ability to wield that sharpest of writer's tools, the (very) short story - makes these some of the funniest and most quotable of tales. All of the running themes in Saki's work are here.
"The Joy of Saki"
One of the wittiest and most scathing of Henry James' novellas, The Aspern Papers chronicles the attempt to extract the valuable letters of the famous and recently deceased poet Jeffrey Aspern from the hands of his past lover and formidable adversary in the battle Juliana Bordereau. The plot was reputedly suggested to James by a story he heard of an illicit attempt to get hold of several of Lord Byron's letters.
Framed for a theft he didn't commit and expelled from the church which has been his life, Silas Marner, the weaver, exiles himself to the remote rural village of Raveloe to bury himself in making money with his loom. The arrival of a golden-haired orphan toddler at his door, however, drags the recluse back into the world and away from his obsession with his hoard.
Christmas wouldn't be Christmas without A Christmas Carol. At the time Dickens was writing it, many of the time-honoured customs linked with Christmas were beginning to disappear. It is largely due to this book that we carry with us much of the imagery that is now associated with the traditional celebration and spirit of Christmas.
In 1886 Arthur Conan Doyle, whilst struggling to make a success of a failing medical practice in Portsmouth, set about writing a novel in order to boost his income. He began a story about a fiercely intelligent sleuth called Sheridan Hope. A year later A Study in Scarlet was published, and one of the most successful of literary characters began to take hold of the public's affections.
This is the story of Alice's second visit to Wonderland, where again every idea Alice has of logic and reason is logically and rationally challenged by her adventures. From the classic Red Queen, with her manic racing to enable her to stay exactly where she is, to the highly meaningful nonsense of the Jabberwocky, Alice's trip through the looking glass has provided us with a host of now familiar but no less teasing puzzles which somehow manage to give us a whole new reflection on 'normal' life.
Robinson Crusoe is considered by many to be the first novel in the English language. The term 'Robinsonade' has even been coined to describe the various spin-offs of Robinson Crusoe. It is astonishing how much of the book has become part of the language; the very term 'Robinson Crusoe' has become synonymous with the concept of a castaway.
The three tales that make up Edgar Allan Poe's The Dupin Mysteries introduce us to the cracking character of Chevalier Auguste Dupin. As a rationalist and practitioner of brilliant deduction, he was to become the template for most of the detective fiction that followed speedily in his wake. The first tale, "The Murders in the Rue Morgue", details a form of murder solving that was to become only too familiar.
"Bill Nighy is snsx"
The wild adventure that David Balfour takes in Robert Louis Stevenson's Kidnapped starts with the newly orphaned boy travelling to his uncle's terrifying House of Shaws. Having failed in an attempt to murder young David, the miserly Ebeneezer Balfour, who would rather keep the fortune to which the child is now entitled, arranges for a kidnapping aboard a ship bound for the new world.
These fairy tales are nasty. This is the land of goblins and sorceresses, with serious lines in revenge, not the land of unicorns and once upon a Barbie. The tales that the Brothers Grimm collected during their time as linguistics professors, first at the University of Göttingen and then in Berlin, at the request of the King of Prussia, were an attempt to map the folklore of the German-speaking people.
'The Rape of the Lock' was one of Alexander Pope's most popular poems. It was a satirical attempt to reconcile the real-life warring of two Catholic families whose feud had started with the supposed nicking of a lock of hair from the undeniably beautiful head of Arabella Fermor by her admirer, Lord Petre.
"Great reading: selection of poems could be better"
Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tales have become so much a part of the Western culture that they are often assumed to be a part of folklore and not credited to the strange and gangling Dane who wrote them. Several years before the fairy tales came out, the Brothers Grimm had published their tales taken from the folklore of European stories, but Andersen was to change the understanding of what a tale can achieve.