Please feel free to add your own choices. Any book, fiction or non-fiction, or the surname of an author. As long as it begins with a ‘J’. I discovered that ‘J’ is quite a tricky letter, so I will be interested to see what you come up with.
I haven’t read that much of the work of American-born writer Henry James. But his powerful books have been the subject of much praise, as well as being made into films. Best known for his novel ‘The Portrait of A Lady’, I was first introduced to his writing by the novella ‘The Turn of The Screw’. This is a great tale of sinister goings on in a wealthy household in rural England. Told from the point of view of a newly-arrived governess, responsible for the care of brother and sister Miles and Flora. This is superb melodrama, with the governess overwhelmed by the strong personalities of the children, and the appearance of a ghostly character too. It has been filmed or dramatised on many occasions, and lends itself perfectly to such adaptations.
In 1997, Australian writer Peter Carey published a novel set in Victorian London. ‘Jack Maggs’ was based around the Dickens novel ‘Great Expectations’, and given the excellence of that book, Carey set himself a hard task indeed. ‘Stealing’ the theme from Dickens, Carey developed the idea into a really interesting novel, with fascinating detail, and compelling characters too. He did a great job, and I suspect Charles would have been both flattered and impressed.
No ‘J’ would be complete without ‘Jane Eyre’. This well-known novel by Charlotte Bronte has been a staple of school literature, and attracted the eye of many film-makers and dramatists too. Bronte’s talent for description brings both the settings and characters to life, with an intense prose bordering on the poetic at times. And this is a long novel, with lots of scope. From the childhood of young Jane, through to the events when she becomes the governess at the house of the forbidding Mr Rochester, the reader is taken along on her journey, as it builds to the exciting climax. This is Victorian writing of the highest order, and deserves the attention it has enjoyed since it was first published, in 1847.
I have to give credit to a famous English writer who shares my surname. Samuel Johnson, also known as Dr. Johnson, was an 18th century writer famous for his essays, translations, and travelogues. But his greatest work established the foundation of the English language that we know today. In 1755, he published ‘A Dictionary of The English Language’. This had taken him nine years to compile, and was the first complete dictionary, becoming the standard reference work for almost two centuries, until it was surpassed by the later ‘Oxford English Dictionary’.
My top pick today is a book written for children, but also enjoyed by adults. In 1894, the English author Rudyard Kipling published an illustrated collection of short stories under the title ‘The Jungle Book’. The tales of young Mowgli, the animals he encounters, and the excitement of life in the Indian jungles captured my imagination completely, when I received a lovely hardback copy of this book as a child. It could not have been more different to my life in Central London, and I was lost in the exotic world described. Of course, many people these days know the story from the film adaptations by Zoltan Korda, Disney Studios, and Jon Favreau. They may have some merit, but do not come close to the fascination of allowing your own imagination to bring Kipling’s characters to life in your mind.