College, for all its rewards, is very expensive. However, as Scottish funnyman Billy Connolly says, the library is free. So is the internet, considering the fact that just about every free public library these days has an internet kiosk. Therefore, what excuse does anybody have for not availing themselves of the work of great authors? Not a one.
With that in mind, here are five more recommendations.
G.K. Chesterton (1874-1936)
Gilbert Keith Chesterton was undoubtedly one of England’s most prolific writers, having penned around 80 books, several hundred poems, some 200 short stories, 4000 essays, numerous hymns and several plays. Many of his works, particularly the Father Brown mystery stories, are replete with Christian themes and imagery, an exponent of his deep religious devotion. However, despite his profound faith, which culminated in his 1922 conversion to Catholicism, Chesterton maintained a balanced worldview. Despite one of the seven deadly sins being sloth, his essay “On Lying In Bed” stated the case that people can be productive at any time of day and that sleeping in through the morning from time to time is quite all right.
One of Chesterton’s greatest successes as a writer was his 1906 biography of Charles Dickens, which upon publication, renewed interest in the latter’s body of work. Mahatma Gandhi counted himself among Chesterton’s admirers, having been deeply impacted by a newspaper column published by Chesterton in 1909, and the Argentine author Jorge Luis Borges cited him as a major inspiration.
Suggested Works: The Father Brown short stories, “The Maniac,” “On Lying In Bed,” Orthodoxy, The Napoleon of Notting Hill.
Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849)
Although Edgar Allan Poe sought success with his macabre stories and poems to appease the taste of the general public, he perhaps did not have to look very hard or very far for inspiration. His mother died shortly after his father deserted the family, and despite enlisting with the Army, he was a failure as a soldier, eventually flunking out of West Point.
Throughout the 1830s, Poe found appreciable recognition as a writer of horror stories such as “The Cask Of Amontillado, in which a man kills an old enemy by walling him up in his wine cellar; and “The Tell-Tale Heart,” in which a murderer is driven to madness as he hears the heart of his victim beating beneath the floorboards. With stories such as “Murders In The Rue Morgue,” a profoundly analytical mystery story set in Paris that features a flabbergasting surprise ending, Poe earned the reputation for being the inventor of the detective fiction genre. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, famed for writing the Sherlock Holmes series of books, said of Poe that “each of his stories is a root from which a whole literature has developed .” In 1845, he became a household name with the bleak poem “The Raven.”
Nonetheless, Poe’s life continued to be fraught with conflict and hardship. He was frequently short of money because of bad business deals with publishers, his drunken antics strained his relationships with magazine editors, and in 1847, his wife Virginia Clem died of tuberculosis at the age of twenty-five. The strain of her illness and death exacerbated his alcoholism, and many count that as a factor in his mysterious demise two years later.
Suggested Works: “The Raven,” “The Tell-Tale Heart,” “The Fall Of The House Of Usher,” “The Cask Of Amontillado,” “Lenore,” “The Pit And The Pendulum,” “The Murders In The Rue Morgue.”
Ambrose Bierce (1842-1913?)
This American writer’s sardonic outlook on life and reputation for being a truculent literary critic earned him the nickname “Bitter Bierce.” In addition to his short story “An Occurrence At Owl Creek Bridge,” in which a Confederate sympathizer is sentenced to death by Union solders, Ambrose Bierce’s best known work is The Devil’s Dictionary, a cynical satirical lexicon mocking widespread double-talk in society.
Despite Bierce’s mysterious disappearance in Chihuahua while traveling with rebel troops during the Mexican Revolution, his legacy is particularly notable. “An Occurrence At Owl Creek Bridge” was praised by Kurt Vonnegut as the greatest American short story, and has thrice been adapted as a film. His mysterious disappearance has also been referenced in numerous films, short stories and novels.
Suggested Works: “An Occurrence At Owl Creek Bridge,” “Eyes Of The Panther,” The Devil’s Dictionary.
Khalil Gibran (1883-1931)
Khalil Gibran was born in northern Lebanon and emigrated to the United States at the age of twelve, subsequently enrolling in art school. Within three years, he was illustrating book covers for publishers. When he was fifteen, he returned to Lebanon to further his studies in Beirut, where he founded a small literary magazine.Gibran’s primary focuses in his writing were mysticism and spiritual love, and his worldview was informed by Christianity, Islam, Sufism, Hinduism and theosophy. His most famous work, The Prophet, a collection of poetic essays giving spiritual insight into life, has been continuously in print since 1923 and has been translated into over forty languages. One of the most notable lines from his poem “Sand And Foam” – “Half of what I say is meaningless, but I say it so that the other half may reach you” – was quoted by John Lennon in the Beatles song “Julia.”
Suggested Works: The Prophet, The Madman, Sand And Foam.
Gaius Petronius Arbiter, born in what is now Marseille, France, was a Roman courtier under the reign of emperor Nero, eventually being appointed consul in A.D. 62 with a reputation for a blunt manner and a love for luxury. His best known work, the Satyricon, which became a widely popular work of Western literature beginning in the Middle Ages, is a bawdy satire of Ancient Rome at the time of Nero detailing the misadventures of Encolpius, a former gladiator who struggles to quell the wandering eye of his lover, Giton.
In addition to inspiring F. Scott Fitzgerald’s masterpiece The Great Gatsby, the Satyricon was also referenced by T.S. Eliot in his poem “The Waste Land.” However, perhaps the tribute that cemented the reputation of the Satyricon for all time was the 1969 film adaptation by Italian filmmaker Federico Fellini.
Suggested Works: The Satyricon.