If youâ€™ve checked the news recently â€¦ maybe you wish you hadnâ€™t. These are
anxiety-provoking times, overwhelming and draining times; times that make it
seem four horsemen may just be galloping ever closer on the not-so-distant horizon.
Since I learned how to read, books have been where Iâ€™ve turned for consolation,
hope, and a clarifying dose of perspective. Lately, my solace seems to come from
classic literature. Classics remind me how resilient humans are, how much beauty
exists in the world. They remind me of the cyclical nature of human history.
They illuminate all that humans have survivedâ€”insane rulers, endless wars of all
kinds, devastating plagues, more devastating plagues â€¦ yet another devastating
plague. We have survived it before, and we can survive it all over again.
- The Iliad by Homer (maybe)
That this poem, set in the 10th year of the Trojan War, has survived thousands
of years provides hope in itself. Gruesome battle scenes play counterpoint to
moments of grace, as when a Greek and a Trojan honor their past friendship by
refusing to strike each other down. Woven throughout the poem are timeless
snapshots familiar in any time and place â€“ the pleasure of a cozy sleep, a
satisfying meal, children at play.
- Antigone by Sophocles
In Sophoclesâ€™ tragedy, conflicting duties between Antigone and Creon lead to,
well, tragedy. As the play progresses, our loyalty shifts according to who is
telling the story and how. By the end, we understand that the deepest impediment
to reaching consensus isnâ€™t Antigone and Creonâ€™s incompatible loyalties but
their pride and refusal to engage with each other.
- Plutarchâ€™s Lives by
Plutarchâ€™s collection of biographies of famed Greeks and Romans is quite the
tome. But the biographies donâ€™t demand to be read cover to cover. Readers can
dip into them as they might a recipe book, in this case, a recipe for
recognizing that our little planet has survived millennia of turbulence. As a
starting point, I recommend Spartan Lycurgus and Athenian Solon.
- Beowulf by Unknown
The poem begins with a young Beowulf presenting himself to Danish king Hrothgar.
A monster called Grendel threatens to destroy Hrothgarâ€™s kingdom, and Beowulf
offers to fight the beast. He wins, but his labors are far from over. Until our
time has passed away, the poem seems to suggest, the next beast forever lies in
- The Decameron by
This collection of tales dates to the mid-14th century and features a frame
narrative readers wonâ€™t envy: A group of men and women fleeing the Black Death
who hole up together in Florence. They wile away the hours swapping stories that
run the gamut, from bawdy to funny to moral.
- The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey
Like Boccaccio, Chaucer wraps a frame narrative around a collection of stories
that fall along a broad continuum. Here, itâ€™s pilgrims headed to Canterbury and
Thomas Beckettâ€™s shrine. The pilgrims represent a range of classes and
occupations, which creates moments of tension as well as connection.
- Macbeth by William
After Macbeth hears a prophecy that, he believes, predicts heâ€™ll become King of
Scotland, he hastens to bring that prophecy to fruition: With his wifeâ€™s
encouragement, he kills the King of Scotland. His act of murder leads to a
downward spiral of paranoia and violence until he meets the same end.
Apparently, there is nothing terribly new about power-obsessed madnessâ€¦
- Frankenstein; or, The Modern
Prometheus by Mary Shelley
When we need help reconciling ourselves with humanityâ€™s imperfection, with all
that is unknowable, Shelleyâ€™s novels makes excellent company. Budding scientist
Victor Frankenstein becomes obsessed with solving the riddle of human existence.
The thrill of success lasts approximately 4.7 seconds before things go horribly
wrong, and then go worse from there.
- A Traveller in Time by Alison
Uttleyâ€™s moving story reminds us that even when we cannot change outcomes, there
is power in witnessing. Young Penelope travels from the 1930s back to the late
16th century, where she becomes embroiled in a plot to save Mary, Queen of
Scots. The plot, however, is doomed to fail, and Penelope is powerless to change
it. All she can do is listen and provide comfort.
- Nothing Gold Can Stay by Robert
When all else fails, I find comfort reading Frostâ€™s gentle poem. It captures a
simple but painful truth culled from his observations of the physical world:
Nature is cyclical. The moment of perfect beauty inevitably dies away. And that
is precisely what enables it to be reborn.
Sally Allen is an award-winning author who holds a PhD in English Education
from New York University, with an emphasis in writing and rhetoric, and an MA in
English Language and Literature. She has taught writing and literature at New
York University and Fairfield University, and is the recipient of New York
Universityâ€™s Willy Gorrissen Award for Dedication and Skill in the Academic
Development of Student Writing. Currently, Allen is a faculty member at Post
University where she teaches literature, writing, and communications. She is the
founder of Books, Ink at HamletHub, a website dedicated to Connecticut books
news, where her writing has earned her three Connecticut Press Club awards.
A Reading Companion for Book Lovers
Award-winning writer and teacher Sally Allen knows that good books donâ€™t just
draw us in; they talk to us, shape us, and transport us to times, places, and
minds different from our own.
In Unlocking Worlds: A Reading Companion for Book Lovers, Allen deftly weaves
personal stories with fifteen thematized, annotated, and illustrated reading
lists for what to read next. By sharing some of the treasures in her library and
the secret lives they reveal, she gives us permission to embrace the shameless
book lover inside each of us. Unlocking Worlds is a testament to how reading
passionatelyâ€”and compassionatelyâ€”can unlock the world beyond our back yard.
Celebrating books and those who read them, Allen shows how the solitary act of
reading can be a powerful thread that creates community and connection.
Thought-provoking and eloquent, Unlocking Worlds: A Reading Companion for
Book Lovers is a must-have for anyone who canâ€™t leave the house without a book
Non-Fiction [Griffin, On Sale: September 2, 2015, Paperback / e-Book,
ISBN: 9780983644613 / ]
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