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Book Club: Entertainment editor’s top 5 books minus Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings and ‘The Catcher in the Rye’

Now is the time to embrace the inner hermit, and figure out what the heck to do inside since we can’t have an easy day skiing, we can’t go to the bar and we can’t take the kids to their favorite restaurant.

Luckily for you, in high school, my social plans were after-school sports and hanging out with my best friend/neighbor on Friday nights. I wasn’t cool in high school – aside from a few standout parties and gatherings, most Saturdays and Sundays, I did weird stuff in my room. Watching movies, playing guitar, crafting, and of course, reading.

Me (left) and my best friend/neighbor Yonah Joffe, actually having plans. It was prom, in case you couldn’t tell.
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And I’m sure a bunch of you readers (haha, that was cute) are looking for something to stick your nose in while the coronavirus wreaks havoc on the world.

I’ve deliberately avoided Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings and things you may (or may not have) read in high school, because that’s boring and a cop out. But if you never actually read those books, like “The Great Gatsby” or “Catcher in the Rye,” now would be a great time to read them.

For the record, my favorites of all-time list is already filled by the seven Harry Potter books and the three Lord of the Rings books. That doesn’t even save space for “The Hobbit” or the high school lit stuff. It hurts me to exclude them, but if I did, the whole column wouldn’t be even worth reading for most of you.

I also gravitate towards classics, modern classics and other books that have a bit of a history and reputation behind them. I like reading something and understanding the social contexts in which it was written, and unraveling the broader picture of the story’s life before, during and after the time of writing. All of these books and authors capture a piece of that. Sorry to the people who prefer new releases.

Links to buy these titles online from the Bookworm of Edwards have been included. At time of writing, they are offering free curbside pick up for as long as possible, and will offer $1 shipping.

So, finally, I give you “Casey’s top 5 books minus Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings and ‘The Catcher in the Rye.’”

5. “The Count of Monte Cristo,” Alexandre Dumas

I don’t know much about other translations from the novel’s original French, but this is what the one I read looks like.
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Okay, so this miiiight count as high school lit, but it was a summer reading book for me so I’m letting it slide. I genuinely love this book. It reads like a classic, but if you take the time to internalize Dumas’ style – which I won’t lie, feels antiquated now – he paints a fabulously rich picture of every scene, much like Tolkien would years later. And, if you can believe it, I’ve read it twice. You should be able to get this for free on e-reader services since it’s in the public domain. I’ve read the translation from French by Lowell Bair: it’s paperback.

Buy from the Bookworm.

4. “The Bell Jar,” Sylvia Plath

This is the cover of “The Bell Jar” you’re most likely to find new. There are plenty of older versions, as well.
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This one will only appeal to a certain type of reader. Plath is known for her poetry and tragic suicide, and her only novel definitely captures the turbulent, emotional and chaotic mind she struggled with. This one will best be enjoyed by femme-identifying or particularly emotional teens and young adults, who will be the same age as Plath was when she penned the novel. Perhaps test the waters by reading some of her poems first.

Buy from the Bookworm.

3. “Blue Beard,” Kurt Vonnegut

Vonnegut’s books have all been rebranded with similar art, design and doodles from the author. I love the new aesthetic.
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Call me a basic hipster for including both Plath and Vonnegut on this list, but I love him. He’s Mark Twain and Ernest Hemingway (another of my favorites) in one writer, and it’s totally up my alley. If you’re looking for a quick read, the short story “2BR02B” (pronounced “To Be Or Not To Be”) is a good start into the world of Vonnegut. “Slaughterhouse Five” is his most famous, but I love “Blue Beard” because I borrowed my copy from someone who’ll always have a place in my heart, and he unexpectedly let me keep it. Anyone who’s ever loaned books to someone knows how special that is.

The novel itself is about an Abstract Expressionist painter, his decline into old age and flashbacks to his career in New York City in the ‘50s. I also dig that art movement, so there you go.

Buy from the Bookworm.

2. “Trainspotting,” Irvine Welsh

My (second) copy of “Trainspotting,” amidst a few other titles on my unfortunately sparse bookshelf here in Colorado. Ninety percent of my books are still located at my parents’ house back in Massachusetts.
Casey Russell | crussell@vaildaily.com

This book is also special to me for a similar reason: when the aforementioned person gave me his copy of “Blue Beard,” in literally pristine condition, I gave him my copy of “Trainspotting,” water-logged and tea-stained. I hope he still has it: I bought a new copy at the Edwards Thrifty just so I could look at it on my bookshelf and remember how much I love it.

“Trainspotting” is also not for the faint of heart, as it dives deep into the junkie world of Scotland in the ‘90s. The entire book is written in a working-class Scottish dialect, which can be quite tough to decipher at times. Sometimes even tougher than Old English. But if you liked the movie and you have a taste for the unusual, you’ll like “Trainspotting.” The plot twists and turns like it’s on I-70 in a snowstorm.

Buy from the Bookworm.

1. “Anna Karenina,” Leo Tolstoy

This translation by married translators has been approved by Oprah and my Russian Literature professor, who has taught the class for decades at Syracuse University.
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This is a serious undertaking. My translation of the book is more than 700 pages. But Tolstoy is a master of character, a master of plot and generally just a huge bro. You’ll really feel like you’ve accomplished something great when you finish reading this book. And it’s really worth it – it’s entertaining like a soap opera. There are a wide variety of translations available, and you can get it for free on e-reader services because it’s in the public domain, but the best translation, according to my Russian Literature professor (yeah, I really did take that class), is the Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky one. Oprah’s Book Club also used it, so you know it’s legit.

Buy from the Bookworm.

Casey Russell is the arts and entertainment editor. If you’re a stalker and a huge nerd, feel free to follow her on GoodReads if you can find her. Contact her at crussell@vaildaily.com. She won’t be at her phone due to the work from home situation.


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