Book List

10 Classics That Won't Put You to Sleep

INVISIBLE MAN

An extremely powerful story of a young Southern Negro, from his late high school days through three years of college to his life in Harlem.

His early training prepared him for a life of humility before white men, but through injustices- large and small, he came to realize that he was an "invisible man". People saw in him only a reflection of their preconceived ideas of what he was, denied his individuality, and ultimately did not see him at all. This theme, which has implications far beyond the obvious racial parallel, is skillfully handled. The incidents of the story are wholly absorbing. The boy's dismissal from college because of an innocent mistake, his shocked reaction to the anonymity of the North and to Harlem, his nightmare experiences on a one-day job in a paint factory and in the hospital, his lightning success as the Harlem leader of a communistic organization known as the Brotherhood, his involvement in black versus white and black versus black clashes and his disillusion and understanding of his invisibility- all climax naturally in scenes of violence and riot, followed by a retreat which is both literal and figurative. Parts of this experience may have been told before, but never with such freshness, intensity and power.

This is Ellison's first novel, but he has complete control of his story and his style. Watch it.

Pub Date: April 7, 1952

ISBN: 0679732764

Page Count: 616

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Sept. 22, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 1952

TENDER IS THE NIGHT

Again an author who has built up a more or less established market, and his non appearance (in book form) over a period of several years, has stimulated interest in this first full length work since the publication of The Great Gatsby.

A story of a psychiatrist, and of his lovely wife — a marriage, on the surface ideally happy, but eaten underneath by the insecurity of its basis, and the coils that riches have placed around the husband. Against a background of the Riviera, of Paris, of Switzerland and a mental sanitarium, the drama is played out. The comparison with Private Worlds, which is inevitable, is not a sound one. The selling point of this book is the story itself, the almost morbid fascination of the lurking mystery, the deft shift of atmosphere from the gay nonchalance of the Riviera sands, to the horrors of the tragedy in a Paris hotel, and the final, and rather unexpected denouement. The psychological aspects are neither so sound nor so interesting as the Bottome book. This is for a less serious audience — though not the college crowd that drank in his early books. Not wholly satisfactory, in final analysis — but good reading.

Headlined as the leading book on the publisher's list and sure of a good send-off.

Pub Date: April 1, 1934

ISBN: 068480154X

Page Count: 338

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 1934

TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD

A first novel, this is also a first person account of Scout's (Jean Louise) recall of the years that led to the ending of a mystery, the breaking of her brother Jem's elbow, the death of her father's enemy — and the close of childhood years. A widower, Atticus raises his children with legal dispassion and paternal intelligence, and is ably abetted by Calpurnia, the colored cook, while the Alabama town of Maycomb, in the 1930's, remains aloof to their divergence from its tribal patterns. Scout and Jem, with their summer-time companion, Dill, find their paths free from interference — but not from dangers; their curiosity about the imprisoned Boo, whose miserable past is incorporated in their play, results in a tentative friendliness; their fears of Atticus' lack of distinction is dissipated when he shoots a mad dog; his defense of a Negro accused of raping a white girl, Mayella Ewell, is followed with avid interest and turns the rabble whites against him. Scout is the means of averting an attack on Atticus but when he loses the case it is Boo who saves Jem and Scout by killing Mayella's father when he attempts to murder them. The shadows of a beginning for black-white understanding, the persistent fight that Scout carries on against school, Jem's emergence into adulthood, Calpurnia's quiet power, and all the incidents touching on the children's "growing outward" have an attractive starchiness that keeps this southern picture pert and provocative. There is much advance interest in this book; it has been selected by the Literary Guild and Reader's Digest; it should win many friends.

Pub Date: July 11, 1960

ISBN: 0060935464

Page Count: 323

Publisher: Lippincott

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1960

ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST

This is a book which courts the dangers of two extremes. It can be taken not seriously enough or, more likely, critical climate considered, too seriously. Kesey's first novel is narrated by a half-Indian schizophrenic who has withdrawn completely by feigning deaf-muteness. It is set in a mental ward ruled by Big Nurse — a monumental matriarch who keeps her men in line by some highly original disciplinary measures: Nursey doesn't spank, but oh that electric shock treatment! Into the ward swaggers McMurphy, a lusty gambling man with white whales on his shorts and the psychology of unmarried nurses down to a science. He leads the men on to a series of major victories, including the substitution of recent issues of Nugget and Playboy for some dated McCall's. The fatuity of hospital utilitarianism, that alcohol-swathed brand of idiocy responsible for the custom of waking patients from a deep sleep in order to administer barbiturates, is countered by McMurphy's simple, articulate, logic. This is a thoroughly enthralling, brilliantly tempered novel, peopled by at least two unforgettable characters. (Big Nurse is custom tailored for a busty Eileen Heckert.) Though extension is possible, make no mistake about it; this is a ward and not a microcosm.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 1961

ISBN: 0451163966

Page Count: 335

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Sept. 26, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1961

LORD OF THE FLIES

Coming soon!!

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1954

ISBN: 0399501487

Page Count: 212

Publisher: Coward-McCann

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1955

GONE WITH THE WIND

Don't sell this as primarily a novel of the Civil War. Sell it rather as a novel in human emotions against the background of the Civil War and its aftermath. It has the finer qualities of So Red The Rose, — the authentic picture of people and places and incidents, something of the moonlight and honeysuckle of the glamorous Old South, much of the traditions and manner of life and thought. It has too great length — the author will learn with experience the valuable and essential lesson of selection. But, from the point of view of story and characterization, I found it more absorbing reading, more vital characterization than the Stark Young book. Instead of taking form as a succession of pictures from a family album, the characters come to life with the impact of life upon them, and their impact, one upon the other. The central figure is a girl, spoiled, selfish, dominating, wilful, magnetic, — you hate her, you long to throttle her — but you can't help acknowledging her fascination and admiring her spirit. An opportunist, yes, but she pays the price. The author comes from the state of which she writes — Georgia — and she knows her background thoroughly. She can write.

Pub Date: June 30, 1936

ISBN: 1416548890

Page Count: 33

Publisher: Macmillan

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 1936

THEIR EYES WERE WATCHING GOD

I loved Jonah's Gourd Vine—thought some of her short stories very fine—and feel that this measures up to the promise of the early books.

Authentic picture of Negroes, not in relation to white people but to each other. An ageing grandmother marries off her granddaughter almost a child to a middle-aged man for security—and she leaves him when she finds that her dreams are dying, and goes off with a dapper young Negro, full of his own sense of power and go-getter qualities. He takes her to a mushroom town, buys a lot, puts up a store and makes the town sit up and take notice. His success goes to his head—their life becomes a mockery of her high hopes. And after his death, she goes off with a youth who brings her happiness and tragedy.

A poignant story, told with almost rhythmic beauty.

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 1937

ISBN: 0060199490

Page Count: 231

Publisher: Lippincott

Review Posted Online: Sept. 26, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1937

This book sings with the terrible silence of dead civilizations in which once there was valor.

THINGS FALL APART

Written with quiet dignity that builds to a climax of tragic force, this book about the dissolution of an African tribe, its traditions, and values, represents a welcome departure from the familiar "Me, white brother" genre.

Written by a Nigerian African trained in missionary schools, this novel tells quietly the story of a brave man, Okonkwo, whose life has absolute validity in terms of his culture, and who exercises his prerogative as a warrior, father, and husband with unflinching single mindedness. But into the complex Nigerian village filters the teachings of strangers, teachings so alien to the tribe, that resistance is impossible. One must distinguish a force to be able to oppose it, and to most, the talk of Christian salvation is no more than the babbling of incoherent children. Still, with his guns and persistence, the white man, amoeba-like, gradually absorbs the native culture and in despair, Okonkwo, unable to withstand the corrosion of what he, alone, understands to be the life force of his people, hangs himself. In the formlessness of the dying culture, it is the missionary who takes note of the event, reminding himself to give Okonkwo's gesture a line or two in his work, The Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of the Lower Niger.

This book sings with the terrible silence of dead civilizations in which once there was valor.

Pub Date: Jan. 23, 1958

ISBN: 0385474547

Page Count: 207

Publisher: McDowell, Obolensky

Review Posted Online: April 23, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1958

FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS

This is good Hemingway. It has some of the tenderness of A Farewell to Arms and some of its amazing power to make one feel inside the picture of a nation at war, of the people experiencing war shorn of its glamor, of the emotions that the effects of war — rather than war itself — arouse. But in style and tempo and impact, there is greater resemblance to The Sun Also Rises. Implicit in the characters and the story is the whole tragic lesson of Spain's Civil War, proving ground for today's holocaust, and carrying in its small compass, the contradictions, the human frailties, the heroism and idealism and shortcomings. In retrospect the thread of the story itself is slight. Three days, during which time a young American, a professor who has taken his Sabbatical year from the University of Montana to play his part in the struggle for Loyalist Spain and democracy. He is sent to a guerilla camp of partisans within the Fascist lines to blow up a strategic bridge. His is a complex problem in humanity, a group of undisciplined, unorganized natives, emotionally geared to go their own way, while he has a job that demands unreasoning, unwavering obedience. He falls in love with a lovely refugee girl, escaping the terrors of a fascist imprisonment, and their romance is sharply etched against a gruesome background. It is a searing book; Hemingway has done more to dramatize the Spanish War than any amount of abstract declamation. Yet he has done it through revealing the pettinesses, the indignities, the jealousies, the cruelties on both sides, never glorifying simply presenting starkly the belief in the principles for which these people fought a hopeless war, to give the rest of the world an interval to prepare. There is something of the implacable logic of Verdun in the telling. It's not a book for the thin-skinned; it has more than its fill of obscenities and the style is clipped and almost too elliptical for clarity at times. But it is a book that repays one for bleak moments of unpleasantness.

Pub Date: Oct. 21, 1940

ISBN: 0684803356

Page Count: 484

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1940

THE COLOR PURPLE

Walker (In Love and Trouble, Meridian) has set herself the task of an epistolary novel—and she scores strongly with it. The time is in the Thirties; a young, black, Southern woman named Celie is the primary correspondent (God being her usual addressee); and the life described in her letters is one of almost impossible grimness. While young, Celie is raped by a stepfather. (Even worse, she believes him to be her real father.) She's made to bear two children that are then taken away from her. She's married off without her consent to an older man, Albert, who'd rather have Celie's sister Nettle—and, by sacrificing her body to Albert without love or feeling, Celie saves her sister, making it possible for her to escape: soon Nettle goes to Africa to work as a Christian missionary. Eventually, then, halfway through the book, as Celie's sub-literate dialect letters to God continue to mount (eventually achieving the naturalness and intensity of music, equal in beauty to Eudora Welty's early dialect stories), letters from Nettle in Africa begin to arrive. But Celie doesn't see them—because Albert holds them back from her. And it's only when Celie finds an unlikely redeemer—Albert's blues-singer lover Shug Avery—that her isolation ends: Shug takes Celie under her wing, becomes Celie's lover as well as Albert's; Shug's strength and expansiveness and wisdom finally free up Nettie's letters—thus granting poor Celie a tangible life in the now (Shug's love, encouragement) as well as a family life, a past (Nettie's letters). Walker fashions this book beautifully—with each of Celie's letters slowly adding to her independence (the implicit feminism won't surprise Walker's readers), with each letter deepening the rich, almost folk-tale-ish sense of story here. And, like an inverted pyramid, the novel thus builds itself up broadeningly while balanced on the frailest imaginable single point: the indestructibility—and battered-ness—of love. A lovely, painful book: Walker's finest work yet.

Pub Date: June 28, 1982

ISBN: 0151191549

Page Count: 316

Publisher: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich

Review Posted Online: Oct. 6, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 1982

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