Reading is fun, but sometimes you might want to mix things up a little. One way to do that is by embarking on a reading project. Here are a handful of small reading projects that will spice up your reading, each of which pairs up a classic story with a more modern one…
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley / Frankenstein in Baghdad by Ahmed Saadawi
Mary Shelley's Frankenstein: Or the Modern Prometheus is the book often cited as being the first true science friction novel. It's also a certified literary classic. In this cautionary tale about the dangers of mankind using science to act as god, young scientist Victor Frankenstein uses an unorthodox procedure (to say the least) to reanimate a corpse built from disparate body parts. Motivated by the death of his mother, Victor vows to understand the source of life. His experiment is a great success in one way, and a horrible disaster in another. Victor immediately regrets giving life to the grotesque abomination he's created. The monster escapes to wreak havoc, mostly aimed at the man whom he sees as his father. It's a tragic story that's interestingly framed inside a narrative by an explorer looking for the North Pole who, hopefully, will see the futility and perils of blind ambition.
Now consider Ahmed Saadawi's Man Booker International Prize finalist Frankenstein in Baghdad. It takes place in U.S.-occupied Baghdad where Haidi, a junk dealer, collects human body parts found at the sites of suicide bombings and stitches them together to form a corpse. Since the government doesn't recognize the individual parts as citizens, Haidi aims to force them to recognize the victims and give them a proper burial by presenting a complete corpse. Unfortunately, Haidi's bizarre project becomes animated when the soul of another victim (a hotel security guard killed by a truck bomb) enters into the corpse Haidi calls "Whatsitsname." Whatsitsname, advised by the ghost of a child, seeks retribution on the people who have turned Baghdad into a killing field. If there's a warning in this modern-day fable, it's about the cruelties of war, and Saadawi's prose cuts to the chase by putting distinct human faces throughout the engrossing tale.
A Study in Scarlet by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle / A Study in Honor by Claire O'Dell
Doyle's 1887 detective novel is the one that started it all. A Study in Scarlet in introduced the world to consulting detective Sherlock Holmes and his partner Dr. Watson. Told from Watson's perspective, the story shows how Watson came to be partnered up with the remarkably observant and often abrasive Holmes. Soon, Holmes is challenged with solving a murder case. As expected, the trail leads inevitably to the murderer, but Doyle is not done yet! Readers are then immersed into a comprehensive and just-as-enjoyable back story about the motivation behind the murder, which reads like a Western adventure.
A good pairing for Doyle's classic is Claire O'Dell's new novel A Study in Honor. This is a futuristic, gender-flipped take on a Sherlock Holmes story, though not specifically the story of A Study in Scarlet itself. Instead of the foggy streets of London, this one's set in a near-future Washington, D.C. where a murderer is targeting veterans of the second U.S. Civil War. Dr. Janet Watson (recently and honorably discharged from that war after losing her arm), teams up with Sara Holmes, a covert government agent with amazing powers of deduction. O'Dell's refreshing cast of characters are believable (Watson's problems with a temperamental prosthetic arm are a nice touch) and, as expected, the trail of clues leads readers to a satisfying conclusion.
Jaws by Peter Benchley / Devil Sharks by Chris Jameson
While you may have been partying at the theater watching The Meg, this summer I was partying on the beach like it was 1975! That's the year that Steven Spielberg struck gold with his summer blockbuster film Jaws, an adaptation of Peter Benchley's 1974 bestselling novel. I had seen the film numerous times over the years, but never read the book. This summer, I fixed that. I read a good chuck of Jaws on a beach and it was interesting to see the differences between book and film. We all know the story, right? A monster shark terrorizes a small Long Island beach community and the local sheriff must deal with local politicians and, oh yes, the shark. What you may not know is that the film left out the parts about the Mafia and infidelity. In short: Jaws is still a great beach read.
A more recent take on shark-infested waters can be found in Chris Jameson's Devil Sharks. Here, a bunch of friends get together for a college reunion of sorts, hosted by Harry, a friend who owns a house in the Hawaiian Islands. The plan is for the friends and their significant others to spend a relaxing weekend aboard Harry's private yacht. There's a slight detour to an atoll where Harry's father once served at a Coast Guard station. But now the station is deserted and that's where the action really kicks in. Cue the drug-running pirates who are using the station as a base and the sharks who are served the pirates' victims. Devil Sharks starts unassumingly enough, but it quickly migrates to thriller territory and then to a page-turning survival story.