Top 10 Films of 2015

Film

So it’s the end of the year and I thought it would be a good time to do a Top 10 of the films I’ve seen (so far) from this year. I haven’t been able to see all the films I’ve wanted to this year, so bear in mind that given another few months this list might look a bit different. As such, I’ll put a list at the bottom of this post of the films I missed that looked like they could’ve ended up in my Top 10. Anyhow, I hope you enjoy this list and tell me in the comments what your favourites from this past year have been!

10. The Martian

The Martian Poster

Ridley Scott’s best film since Gladiator (2000) and one of Matt Damon’s very best performances makes The Martian the best of the recent space-faring hard science-fiction films we’ve seen. Mark Watney, an astronaut, is left stranded on Mars by his crew and has to survive the harsh environments whilst the best scientists on Earth collectively find a way to bring him back home as soon as possible. Whilst the film does get pulled down by the heavy-handed science talk at points, The Martian is a great testament to the human spirit and it’s quest for further knowledge. I wouldn’t be surprised if The Martian does spearhead a renewed interest in space.

9. Mad Max: Fury Road

Mad Max Fury Road Poster

Australian director George Miller returns to the world of Mad Max in the brilliantly anarchic Fury Road. In what is essentially a remake of Buster Keaton’s The General (1926), we see Tom Hardy take up the role of Max Rockatansky and Charlize Theron’s kick-ass Furiosa team up to escape Immortan Joe and his War Boys. Never before has the world of Mad Max been so fully realized. It is perhaps the best Mad Max film to date and easily the one with the best action sequences. It’s depiction of women has also lead to many critics calling Fury Road a feminist action film, and it’s certainly something I would agree with. A new action film for a new century.

8. Kingsman: The Secret Service

Kingsman Poster

Director Matthew Vaughn teams up with comic-book writer Mark Millar for another brilliantly irreverent tribute / parody to genre fiction, this time spy literature / film with Kingsman. Colin Firth stars as James-Bond-type spy Harry Hart, who recruits street-kid Eggsy to the Kingsman secret agency. Together they’ll combat dangerous threats and become good friends. As deliciously violent and hilarious as Vaughn / Millar’s Kick-Ass (2010), Kingsman ranks as one of the best comic-book adaptations of the new century and is just pure cinematic pleasure from start to finish.

7. Ant-Man

Ant Man Poster

Who would have thought that Marvel’s smallest hero would have made for a better film than an Avengers sequel? Paul Rudd’s effortlessly charming Scott Lang teams up with the original Ant Man Hank Pym (Michael Douglass) and his daughter, Hope Pym (Evangeline Lilly) to save the world from Pym’s ex-student Darren Cross (Corey Stoll). It’s a film that is refreshingly simple, unlike the rest of the Marvel slate, and has a whole bunch of characters that you just can’t help but like immensely. Marvel’s best film this year for sure and definitely the best superhero film of 2015.

6. Slow West

Slow West Poster

Slow West is one of the best westerns I’ve seen in a while because it abandons the modern, gritty, McCarthyesque aesthetic that so many modern westerns go for and instead returns to the romanticised, beautiful (but deadly) West that originated in the films of John Ford. Jay Cavendish, a Scottish teenager, has come to the American West to find the woman he is infatuated with / loves. He employs a bounty hunter named Silas (Michael Fassbender) to protect him on his journey, and as they traverse the wilderness and meet both friend and foe, their relationship will have ramifications for all of the characters they meet. It’s beautifully simple and ends in a climactic shoot out that must rank as one of the best action scenes of 2015. Heartbreaking and bittersweet, Slow West is a solid, great film.

5. Jurassic World

Jurassic World Poster

I did really enjoy Steven Spielberg’s original Jurassic Park films as a kid, but even so, I was astonished at the financial success Jurassic World received. Jurassic World isn’t going to win any awards that praise the film as a piece of art. Rather, Jurassic World is just pure pulp fiction and escapism. 20 years after the original park fell apart, the new and improved Jurassic World is open to visitors. And guess what? It falls apart again! You can forgive Jurassic World it’s stock story because it is tied together by stunning set-piece after stunning set-piece, with a likeable cast that makes you care about their chances of survival. Those who liked the original films will love this newest entry. Pure nostalgia.

4. The Gift

The Gift Poster

Joel Edgerton’s directorial debut is one of the best thrillers in years. It’s a genre that has been done to death, so it is truly wonderful when a new directorial voice comes along to shake things up. When a couple bump into a childhood friend of the husbands, they get involved in a friendship that gets more and more intense with each meeting and gift. To say much more would be to give away some great twists and turns. The Gift had me sitting on the edge of my seat throughout. It’s greatest mark of quality is that you can see yourself in all of the main characters – we have been all of these people at some point in our lives. Not to be missed.

3. It Follows

It Follows Poster

Whilst It Follows didn’t necessarily scare me, it’s creepy atmosphere, 80s Carpenter-esque aesthetic and skilful storytelling elevate it to be the best American horror film of the last decade, if not this century. Weaving a delightfully creepy story out of themes such as STDs, coming of age, childhood innocence, and suburbia, It Follows is a strange blend of horror film, coming-of-age film, and art film. It is taken to higher levels by the stunning electronic score by Disasterpeace. Stunning in its originality and intelligence.

2. Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Star Wars The Force Awakens Poster

As you can tell from my glowing (and spoiler free!) review of The Force Awakens, this film not only reinvigorates a classic franchise but also kicks off a wonderful new story with some great new characters. Poe Dameron, Rey, Finn, and Kylo Ren are some of the best characters that the cinema of 2015 has to offer. Full of emotional depth and genuinely thrilling action, The Force Awakens ranks as one of the best films in the franchise.

1. Macbeth

Macbeth Poster

Simply put, Macbeth is an absolute masterpiece. Director Justin Kurzel masterfully adapts the Shakespearean tragedy, exploding the world of the stage onto the moody landscapes of Scotland. Beautifully shot and powerfully acted, Macbeth never forgets that it is a film first and not simply a filmed play. This is its greatest strength. Michael Fassbender also turns in a career defining performance in an original interpretation of the classic role. Jed Kurzel’s powerful score is also the best film score of 2015. Moody, bloody, and powerful, Macbeth is everything you could want in a Shakespeare film adaptation. It’s also, in my mind, the best film of 2015.

As I said in the intro, I missed a few films this year that I feel could have changed this list somewhat. Here they are below:

Amy
Beasts of No Nation
Bone Tomahawk
Brooklyn
Carol
Cobain: Montage of Heck
Creed
The Diary of a Teenage Girl
The End of the Tour
Ex Machina
The Hateful Eight
Inside Out
Listen to Me Marlon
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
The Revenant
Sicario
Straight Outta Compton
Tangerine
While We’re Young
The Witch
Youth

Thanks for reading everyone! I hope you’re all having some good time off work on holiday and enjoying it with your families. Please comment below with your picks for the best films of the year!

Top 10 Horror Films

Film

And here we are! It’s October 31 and Halloween is in full swing. To celebrate this most momentous of holiday seasons, we’ve had a month full of horror with my retrospective on the Halloween films, The Nights He Came Home, a look at the German Expressionist classic The Golem (1920), and yesterday’s Top 10 Hellboy Stories. But it’s all been leading to this, folks. So without further ado, here are my Top 10 Horror Films!


 10. Bride of Frankenstein (1935)

Bride of Frankenstein Poster

Many consider Bride of Frankenstein to be not only the best Universal horror film ever made, but perhaps even the best horror film ever made. There’s a strong case going for it, but oddly what makes it such a richly potent film is not the scares or chills; it’s the way director James Whale was able to infuse a camp sensibility, rife with comic genius, into the gothic terror of the story. Whilst it is not a straight adaptation of Mary Shelley’s book, it is easily the best film based on the book. Elsa Lanchester’s Bride is the perfect mix of both beauty and gothic degeneration; resplendent, even in death.

9. The Exorcist (1973)

The Exorcist Poster

The Exorcist is arguably the greatest story of good and evil told in the horror genre since the publication of Dracula (1897). The film goes far beyond what has previously been established on camera as the work of the Devil, showing nothing less than the complete corruption, body and soul, of a 12-year-old girl. As Satan, in his manifestation as Pazuzu, destroys Reagan, two Catholic priests must battle for what is left of her. One has been hunting Pazuzu all of his life; the other’s faith is near its end, and he struggles to find meaning in existence. As full of power now as the year it came out, The Exorcist is a film that will swallow you up whole and grab you like no other.

8. The Blair Witch Project (1999)

The Blair Witch Project Poster

Also making an appearance on my Top 10 American Folk Horror Stories list, The Blair Witch Project is primal filmmaking. Many have tried to replicate it’s success, but few have succeeded. As three filmmaking students get lost in the woods, a menacing, terrifying presence starts to hunt them. As desperation sets in, they have to fight not only for their lives but for their minds. The film paints a picture that is relentlessly bleak and exhausting. And when the final climax comes, nothing will prepare the viewer for the wave of horror that will hit them. Easily the most terrifying film I’ve ever seen.

7. Psycho (1960)

Psycho Poster

The original slasher film is still the best. Marion Crane has stolen $40,000 from her employer. On her way to California, she stops off at the Bates Motel for the night. What she’ll find there will scar not only her but her family forever. Some might think Psycho somewhat naïve after the wave of slasher films it inspired, but it is still easily the most powerful and shocking of them all. The villain of the film will stick with you forever, and he easily ranks among the greatest villains in cinema history. I’ll never tire of Psycho for this exact reason. Timeless.

6. An American Werewolf in London (1981)

An American Werewolf in London Poster

Two college students decide to go on a European tour and start by backpacking across England. There, they are savagely attacked by a wild beast on the North York Moors. One is killed, and the other is left with strange dreams of running through the woods, free and uninhibited to give into a powerful lust for blood… An American Werewolf in London remains as biting today as in 1981 because of its brilliant fusion of comedy, horror, and tragedy. The werewolf transformation scene still ranks as the definitive moment in werewolf cinema. Shocking, funny, and sad all at once, An American Werewolf in London remains as John Landis’ masterpiece.

5. Vampyr (1932)

Vampyr Poster

Vampyr is criminally under-appreciated among horror aficionados. Perhaps the reason is that it is so totally unlike any other horror film and defies many of the conventions of the vampire film. It is nothing less than the most accurate cinematic representation of a nightmare. The whole film is mysterious, ghostly, and dream-like. You never feel that it is set in a real place. The landscape is apocalyptic and lies half in dream and reality. Vampyr is more like a series of random events linked only tentatively with plot. Completely absorbing, terrifying, and bleak, there will never be another film like Vampyr. It is one of those rare films that is completely original.

4. The Thing (1982)

The Thing Poster

John Carpenter’s body-horror classic is his best film because it is the most advanced in storytelling, characterisation, and craft. It also brings to cinema perhaps one of the greatest of all movie-monsters. Set in the Antarctic, Kurt Russell’s MacReady and the rest of his base must defend themselves against an ancient alien being. However, this being can transform into anyone it kills. And as the paranoia and isolation sets in and the sky goes dark, Macready must prepare to exterminate not only this being but perhaps everyone else. Abysmally dark and terrifying, The Thing is a film unlike any other. Cannot be missed.

3. Evil Dead II (1987)

Evil Dead II Poster

Ash Williams and his girlfriend go to a small cabin in the woods for a romantic get away. When he reads aloud from the Necronomicon Ex-Mortis, he awakens the spirits of the dead as they relentlessly assault the cabin. Ash must survive until morning. Simple in plot but brilliant in execution, Sam Raimi’s horror-comedy is full of blood, guts, and laughs. Imagine Buster Keaton making a slasher film and that’s what you get here; masterful in every sense and schlocky to the core. Simply put, a cinematic treasure and the greatest horror-comedy ever made.

2. The Mummy (1932)

The Mummy Poster

Featuring my favourite opening of any horror film, The Mummy tells the story of Imhotep, an Egyptian priest who is accidentally resurrected. In 1930s Cairo he begins his preparations to resurrect his long-lost love, and is prepared to kill anyone who comes in his way. Whilst it may objectively not be the best of the Universal Monsters cycle, I simply love the Egyptian setting. The film is faithful to its setting in a way that few films since have; this lends it the perfect atmosphere. On top of that you have the masterful direction of Karl Freund and perhaps the best performance Boris Karloff ever gave. I’ve watched it countless times and I’ll watch it countless more. A masterpiece of the Egyptian gothic.

1. Nosferatu (1922)

Nosferatu Poster

The first of many great adaptations of Dracula, F. W. Murnau’s Nosferatu is also the best. It’s a film full of shadows and fog, and has a silent, waking terror that few films are able to conjure forth. Count Orlok is one of cinema’s greatest vampires. Completely inhuman, disgusting, and corpse-like, he is terrifying in a way that Dracula never was. One of my first true horror films, Nosferatu remains my favourite because you can see it’s influence in just about every single horror film. A masterpiece.


Well that’s it folks. Thank you for reading and joining me in this past month’s celebration of all things horrifying. Tomorrow we’ll be back to normal content. I’ve really enjoyed this month-long celebration, and look forward to doing it again next year. Thank you for reading, and see you in the funny pages!

Top 10 Hellboy Stories

Comics

After a month full of articles focusing on cinema, I thought it about time to switch gears and write about my favourite horror comic. Hellboy, created by Mike Mignola in 1994, is without a doubt one of the best modern American comics. Full of pulpy action, complex characters, classic gothic horror and a dose of Lovecraftian science fiction, this bizarre and utterly compelling comic is one of the great comics success stories of the last 50 years. 20 years later, Hellboy is still as compelling as ever, and so I thought it only fit to put together my Top 10 Hellboy stories for the month of October. Enjoy!


10. Wake the Devil (1996)

Hellboy 1

The second long-form story starring Hellboy could also be considered the real starting point of the Hellboy mythos. It introduces not only the main Nazi villains of the franchise, Karl Kroenen, Ilsa Haupstein and Leopold Kurtz, but also one of the most important of Hellboy villains, the goddess Hecate. In addition to this it expands Hellboy’s origins beyond the basic mythology set up in Seed of Destruction. In addition to all of this mythology work, Wake the Devil also functions as a really good one-off story. There are so many great elements here – Rasputin’s chat with Hellboy in the forests, the introduction of Roger, Hellboy’s long chat with Giurescu’s father – it’s the first long-form story to show the potential that the longer Hellboy stories had.

9. “The Island” (2005)

Hellboy 2

The spiritual successor to “The Third Wish” (2002), “The Island” is a confusing, foreboding, and disturbing story. You can see, reading it, why it took Mike Mignola five years to complete it and why it was the cause of so much strife in his own life. The story basically lays out the secret history of Hellboy’s universe, revealing the origins of God, angels, Earth, the Ogdru Jahad, and exactly what Hellboy’s Right Hand of Doom is. It has an atmosphere of dread that few other Hellboy stories have, and because of this it is singularly nihilistic. It’s a story completely devoid of any kind of hope, and in this respect it is perhaps the most Lovecraftian of all Hellboy stories. Utterly bizarre and unique among the stories of the Hellboy mythos.

8. “Hellboy in Mexico” (2010)

Hellboy 3

In perhaps what is one of the most pop-culture enthused stories that Mignola has written, “Hellboy in Mexico” is at its core a tragedy. Hellboy relates to Abe Sapien some events that occurred in 1956 in Mexico. There we see that Hellboy has been sent to Mexico by the B.P.R.D. to deal with an outbreak in supernatural occurrences. There, he meets three luchador brothers who have been sent by the Virgin Mary to eradicate all monsters. Hellboy becomes very close friends with the youngest, but tragedy is just around the corner. Inspired by the cult-favourite luchador films, on its surface “Hellboy in Mexico” sounds like a comedic story that you can’t take too seriously. Luchadors fighthing monsters – awesome! But it is actually perhaps one of the saddest of all Hellboy stories, made all the more memorable by the grotesque artwork of Richard Corben, whom Mignola would write several Hellboy stories for. Poignant and tragic, “Hellboy in Mexico” has everything you could ask of a Hellboy short story.

7. “The Wolves of Saint August” (1994)

Hellboy 4

“The Wolves of Saint August” is the second Hellboy story that Mike Mignola worked on and the first that he fully scripted. His artwork is still in it’s more detailed early stages, and the story here really benefits from this style of artwork. It is perhaps the most singularly gothic of all Hellboy stories. Hellboy and Kate Corrigan visit the town of Griart. What they find is true horror as every single person has been killed by a wild animal. They soon learn the dark, secret history of Griart, involving the ghosts of several werewolves. “The Wolves of Saint August” is a rougher, edgier story that is less refined that Mignola’s later works. But it has a savagery, darkness, and classic gothic that is unique among the Hellboy pantheon. This is the first Hellboy story I read that I truly, truly loved. Brilliant.

6. “The Crooked Man” (2008)

Hellboy 5

Anyone who’s read my article on the Top 10 American Folk Horror Stories will know that this fantastic story would have to come along eventually. It’s the best story that Mignola has done with Richard Corben because it is so suited to Corben’s own sensibilities as an artist. In 1958 Hellboy visits the Appalachian Mountains of Virginia, where he meets Tom Ferrell, a man who in his youth had congress with a witch and now owes his soul to the horrifying Crooked Man, one of Mignola’s truly most terrifying villains and an embodiment of pure evil. The story is made all the more spooky by its setting in a backwards, forested America, and experiments with a type of horror that is rare to see in the pages of Hellboy. If you’re a fan of films like The Evil Dead (1981), you will find much to love here.

5. “Almost Colossus” (1997)

Hellboy 6

“Almost Colossus” is a follow up to the second long-form Hellboy story, Wake the Devil, and continues the narrative thread in which Liz Sherman found and revived a homunculus. That homunculus is the focus of the story, as he traverses Europe seeking an end to his own life of misery. He eventually finds his “brother,” created by the same guy who created the homunculus, who promises to take him into his fold. Meanwhile, Hellboy and Kate Corrigan discover that Liz is actually dying as her power was used to revive the homunculus, and they search for him to restore Liz’s power. The homunculus, who henceforth would be known as Roger, is one of Mike Mignola’s most complex and fascinating characters. This first story to feature him is a truly excellent debut, as Hellboy is initially set against Roger. Intriguing and thought-provoking stuff, with a shade or two of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818) thrown in for good measure.

4. “The Third Wish” (2002)

Hellboy 7

In his follow up to the Hellboy story Conqueror Worm, Mike Mignola decided to send Hellboy to Africa to explore his origins and further investigate his destiny. There he meets three mermaids in the service of the undersea witch the Bog Roosh. They take him captive and bring him to the Bog Roosh so she can kill him to prevent the apocalypse. It’s a stunningly crafted story and the Bog Roosh ranks among the most memorable of Hellboy villains. Mignola’s artwork fully realises the unique underwater environment that gives this Hellboy story a very different appearance to most other Hellboy tales. However, this is also a story that will tug at the emotional chords, as you really symapthise with the horrible plight of the lead of the mermaids. Exceptionally plotted and with complex characters, a good case could be made that it is actually the finest Hellboy short story. However, that distinction here goes to…

3. “The Corpse” (1996)

Hellboy 8

Most Hellboy fans agree that this is the very best Hellboy short story, if not story period. I cannot agree more that it is the strongest short story Mignola has created. Constantly changing, twisting, and surprising, the story finds Hellboy in Ireland in 1958, searching for a missing child. To get the child back to her parents, Hellboy must find a final burial space for body of a man who was a good friend to the faries. Weird, gothic, and full of humour, humanity, and horror, “The Corpse” is one of the finest moments in the Hellboy universe. Not only is at an excellent standalone story, but it also introduced several characters such as Alice Monaghan, Gruagach, and King Dagda of the Faries who would become incredibly important in later stories.

2. Conqueror Worm (2001)

Hellboy 9

Another very strong contender for greatest Hellboy story, Conqueror Worm sees Hellboy and Roger deployed in Austria to confront the Herman von Klempt. Klempt is awaiting the return of a Nazi rocket sent during the initiation of a Nazi space program in 1939. The B.P.R.D. have confirmed that it is re-entering the atmosphere, but no one can predict what it carries inside of it, sent by the Ogdru Jahad to initiate the end of the world. Featuring perhaps one of the great monsters of the comic-book form, Conqueror Worm is an absolutely riveting story, one full of emotion as Hellboy and Roger fight to save the world. Conqueror Worm remains as one of the most important of Hellboy stories, having major lasting impact upon both the character and its world. It also ranks as one of the finest stories featuring Roger the homunculus.

1. Darkness Calls (2007) / The Wild Hunt (2008-2009) / The Storm and the Fury (2010-2011)

Hellboy 10

Alright, so it might be cheating to include three stories as my number one pick for the Top 10 Hellboy Stories, but the three really do form a trilogy that acts as the closing of what is now being known as the first half of the Hellboy saga. Most people would balk at the thought of anyone but Mignola illustrating perhaps the most pivotal of Hellboy stories, but newcomer Ducan Fegredo is just as good an artist, and if anything I think these epic stories benefit from his more detailed, but not totally dissimilar style. Everything since Hellboy’s initial appearance in 1994 has been leading up to this: the Ogdru Jahad, Gruagach’s revenge, Hellboy’s ongoing feud with the Baba Yaga; it’s all been leading to these three stories as Hellboy must finally face his destiny as the Beast of the Apocalypse. The trilogy also doubles as perhaps the greatest modern fantasy epic, perfect for those who love The Lord of the Rings or A Wizard of Earthsea, only with a slightly more gothic tone. The story also benefits from being stretched out over three parts, as Hellboy and his true love Alice Monaghan become more deeply portrayed. A comic that will fill you with all emotions, This trilogy is the most heart-stirring of all the Hellboy stories. It is without a doubt Mike Mignola’s greatest artistic achievement, and his magnum opus.


For those who have read and enjoyed the Hellboy series, I hope you’ve enjoyed this Top 10. For those who have never read Hellboy before, I hope this Top 10 has given you some hints at some great places to start! Many thanks for reading, and I’ll see you next on Halloween to reveal my personal Top 10 Horror Films of all Time!!! See you then!

Top 10 books I read at the University of Warwick, 2014-2015

Literature

In my second year of study at the University of Warwick, reading English Literature, my modules focused on mostly American literature. I did three modules covering the time period of 1780 to the present day, and a fourth module on science fiction and fantasy writing.

I really enjoyed my reading this year so thought it would be cool to rank the books I read for the first time this year. Below are the novels (and two short stories) that I thought were the best of my reading.


10. Benito Cereno by Herman Melville (1856)

Benito Cereno

This novella, inspired by the real-life experiences of Captain Amasa Delano, follows a fictionalized Delano, sea captain of the Bachelor’s Delight, as they approach and board the battered San Dominick, a slave ship in a coastal region. Delano meets the captain of the ship, Benito Cereno, and his personal slave Babo, who seems a bit too close to his master. The ship has conscpicously more black than white people on deck. As Delano ventures deeper into the mystery of the San Dominick, he realizes all is not as it may seem. The novella is a brilliant examination of the American slave trade and is debated to this day whether the novel is pro or anti slavery. Melville’s minor masterpiece is thrilling, horrifying, and thought-provoking, and at only 100 pages or so it is a quick and gripping read.

9. Passing by Nella Larsen (1929)

Passing

Set in 1920s Harlem, Passing examines the friendship of two black women, Clare Kendry and Irene Redfield. Clare is happily married to Brian, a black man, and they have two children. Irene, however, has passed as white since she was a teenager, and is married to a racist white husband. As Irene begins to entangle herself in Clare’s world, her dangerous activities begin to threaten the safety of all concerned. A brilliant, short novel that examines the politics of passing for a different race, as well as the racial tensions of the era, Passing is also one of the most memorable novels of the Harlem Renaissance. Thoroughly gripping.

8. “The Call of Cthulhu” by H. P. Lovecraft (1928)

The Classic Horror Stories

Possible H. P. Lovecraft’s greatest short story, “The Call of Cthulhu” follows Francis Wayland Thurston, as he begins to piece together the notes of his granduncle George Gammell Angell. What waits for him is the truth of the universe as he discovers the horrifying Cthulhu cult and it’s figurehead. Terrifying, atmospheric, and doom-laden, it is one of the best pieces of horror and science fiction writing ever. Despite the out-and-out racism throughout, the short story is captivating and speeds along to its horrifying climax. Unforgettable.

7. The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon (1966)

Crying of Lot 49

Thomas Pynchon’s psychedelic, post-modern second novel is a slice of brilliance. Capturing brilliantly the insanity and decay of 1960s America, the novel follows Oedipa Maas as she uncovers a conspiracy dating back centuries concerning postal delivery. Haunted by the image of a muted post horn, she meets many weird characters on her journey, which is a 1960s odyssey through the seedy underbelly of America. Utterly unique in it’s approach to the novel, I wouldn’t try too hard to understand exactly what is going on at all times – simply fall under Pynchon’s spell and let the whole thing wash over you. At just over 100 pages it is easily one of the most readable books I’ve read.

6. “Rip Van Winkle” by Washington Irving (1819)

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Other Stories

“Rip Van Winkle” is perhaps the closest America has to a creation myth. Weaving together the folklore of the early settlements in America, particularly the Catskills, with the political revolution of independence, “Rip Van Winkle” effortlessly sums up and critiques the main problems of the beginning of the country. And it does this with a brilliant use of fantasy – lazy Rip Van Winkle falls asleep for 20 years and when he wakes America has won it’s independence from Britain. At the same time comic, disturbing, and weird, it’s a classic of American fantasy and perfectly captures the mysteriousness of the Catskills. It’s many passages describing the forests and mountains are unforgettable.

5. Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy (1985)

Blood Meridian

Cormac McCarthy’s epic western is an American revision of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness (1899). Instead of Kurtz, we have the Judge; instead of Marlow, we have the kid. Epic and spanning the vast swathes of desert and brush, Blood Meridian is easily one of the most disturbing studies of violence and the human condition you’ll read. The Judge proves to be one of the most memorable of American villains – up there with Robert Mitchum’s Reverend Harry Powell of The Night of the Hunter (1955).

4. Pastoralia by George Saunders (2000)

Pastoralia

George Saunders’ collection of short stories Pastoralia is a piece of genius writing. The stories assembled are all memorable. Saunders combines the real world of down and out America with the cartoony world of pulp fiction. An amusement park where staff are employed to permanently live as the exhibits; a male stripper targeted by the rotting corpse of his grandmother must help get his family out of financial decline; these are just two of the six stories in the collection and each is better than the last. Saunders’ stories are deeply affecting, emotionally gripping, intellectually stimulating, and absolutely hilarious.

3. Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave by Frederick Douglass (1845)

Narrative Frederick Douglass

Douglass’ masterpiece of a memoir charts his childhood born into slavery, his adolescence as he grasps the importance of reading and writing to his eventual freedom, and the struggle that nearly destroys him as an adult as he decides he would rather die than live another day as a slave. Douglass proves in this slim volume that he is at once one of the most remarkable people that has ever lived and also an economic writer of brilliance. A short memoir that captivates you and is a real page turner, by the ending you will be emotionally drained but you will come out feeling that you have become somehow a better person by sharing in his struggles. Douglass is someone who fought for years, by mind and by fist, for his freedom, and when he finally gets it the moment is so full of ecstasy and glory it is hard to describe. The fact that this novel, whilst debated at the time, didn’t mobilise the anti-slavery movement to the extent that the dire and melodramatic Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe (1852) astounds me.

2. The Virginian by Owen Wister (1902)

The Virginian

The novel that practically kick-started the western genre, Owen Wister’s The Virginian is a mythic and epic tale and also a modern mythology for the United States. The Virginian is one of the greatest of literary heroes. One third moral and social philosophy, one third romance, and one third western action and daring-do, the novel is gripping and a thrill to read. The Virginian’s on-going feud with Trampas, and their shootout that ends the novel is unforgettable. His courtship of Molly Wood is magical and will have you turning the pages. Their romance explodes on the page. An absolute treasure of a volume that should be read by everyone.

1. As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner (1930)

As I Lay Dying

Faulkner’s southern gothic novel is a harrowing read. Before Addie Bundren dies at home in the poor fictional county of Yoknapatawpha, Mississippi, she lets her family know that she would rather be buried in the town of her birth, Jefferson. The members of the family all narrate the novel in a stream-of-consciousness style as they traverse Mississippi with the dead body to honour her wishes. The characters are flawed, horrifying, and deeply disturbed. Darl, Anse, Jewel, Dewey Dell – these are characters that you will never forget. Their odyssey will change them all in ways they cannot forsee and reveal all of their true colours at their most grotesque. An absolute masterpiece.


There you have it folks. If you’ve read any of these novels or short stories and wish to talk about them don’t hesitate to comment. I enjoyed all of these works and cannot wait for my next year at University.