Month: March 2012

Philip Larkin’s “Collected Poems”

Bleak, unrelenting, and full of wit, with a sense of irony that cuts to the bone, something that the Norse would have identified with while sitting around a fire telling stories of Ragnarok. In Larkin you get that deep Northern sadness in the voice of a fussy, overeducated, exquisitely miserable English fuddy-duddy.  To fall in love right away, open it up to “Livings,” or “Church Going” and read aloud.

The Chrysalids by John Wyndham

ImageAn elegant, traditionally written novel about strange, strange things. Much like the ghost story, the post-apocalyptic story is a highly traditional form that’s difficult to wring surprises out of, but when done right–as this novel is–produces a pleasant sense of fright and unease, a feeling that the world’s familiar shape is both deeply contingent and menacing. Like the ghost story, the fright of a good post-apocalyptic is best enjoyed in cozy surroundings, and Wyndham’s reliable, elegant prose helps create that mood for the reader.

Parts of this book could have been written by Robert Louis Stevenson, and other parts read like J.G. Ballard writing for young adults. Vastly more sophisticated than the (highly enjoyable) Tripod books by John Christopher, and aimed at only a slightly older audience, this book is a masterpiece of young adult fiction.

Against the Fall of Night

That spooky feeling you got when HG Wells’s time traveler disembarks into the silent garden of the Sphinx at twilight? This is a whole book of that. It’s also an antiquarian mystery, an essay on the implications of deep time, a theological fantasia, and a sublimated love story.

Set aside a winter evening. Brew some tea. Banish the outside world, and read this in a single sitting.

Also, be sure to read this one rather than his later rewrite “The City and the Stars.” Deep-future always works better as poetry, and you can’t clutter up poetry with too many details, as the later version does.