A Literary A-Z: S

My usual invitation to you to play along. Any book title, or the surname of an author, as long as it begins with ‘S’.

I have to give due credit to William Shakespeare in the letter ‘S’. Though he was not a novelist, his plays have undoubtedly been the basis of much of our education in English literature, as well as providing a fascinating look at different periods in history. Some of his interpretations have been challenged over details of historical facts, and others, such as his portrayal of Richard III, continue to be controversial to this day. There can be few people who have never seen one of his plays, whether on stage, in a TV adaptation, or as one of the many films adaptations. Anyone living in Britain has undoubtedly studied one or more of his works, just to be able to sit exams. He left us with many wonderful characters, including one my own enduring favourites, Falstaff, and a wealth of wit and humour in an unequalled body of work. Some academics argue that he didn’t even write them.
But it hardly matters any more who did.

Sir Walter Scott was a Scottish historical novelist who published most of his books in the early 19th century. As a child, I was given a copy of his novel ‘Ivanhoe’, and became lost in the tale of the brave Knights, and the chivalrous acts of derring-do. It also dealt with issues such as the persecution of the Jews in 12th century England, and the rigid class system at the time. I looked for more of his books in the local library, and found a copy of ‘Rob Roy’. This tale of combat, betrayal, and cruelty set during the 18th century occupation of Scotland by an English army, introduced me to the period of social deprivation imposed on the Scottish people, and the harsh living conditions they endured too. Both novels have been filmed, not always with an eye for accuracy, or faithful adaptation.

It is well known on this blog that I consider Alfred Hitchcock to be an overrated film-maker. However, I do love some of his films, including ‘Strangers on a Train’, made in 1951. It took me many years to discover that this was based on a novel of the same name by Patricia Highsmith, published a year earlier. Although I had seen the film, I got a copy of the book, and even knowing how it would end, I still enjoyed it immensely. If you don’t know the story, it is a marvellous psychological thriller, based on an unusual premise. Two men meet on a train, and share stories of how they are unhappy with the women in their lives. One suggests the idea of ‘mutual murder’. Each will kill the other’s troublesome female, establishing alibis by doing so. I can recommend both the book, and the film adaptation.

The hothouse atmosphere of the early Puritan settlements in America is the setting for ‘The Scarlet Letter’, a novel written by Nathaniel Hawthorne, and published in 1850. Convicted of adultery and of bearing an illegitimate child, Hester is forced to wear a scarlet letter ‘A’ on her clothing, so that everyone will be aware of her shame. This is a tale of lost love, morals, religion, and persecution. Although it is in essence a romantic novel, the historical detail and accurate descriptions of the everyday lives of the settlers raises the book far above many offerings in the genre.

Leaving you with a vast number of options for this letter, I come to my top choice today. Perhaps not considered to be an important work of fiction, I was nevertheless consumed by the fascinating historical novel ‘Shogun’, in 1975. The first of James Clavell’s Asian trilogy, I never got around to reading the other two books, I confess. But this story of feudal Japan in the 17th century taught me more about the history of that country than I ever knew before, and introduced many interesting characters to explain the clash of cultures when a western sailor is shipwrecked, and imprisoned by a warlord. This book has over 1100 pages, so it’s very long. That length gives Clavell the opportunity to develop the story, as well as following the history of Japan during very turbulent times. It was later made into a faithful TV mini-series, starring Richard Chamberlain, and the superb Toshiro Mifune.

62 thoughts on “A Literary A-Z: S

  1. Well, you certainly couldn’t get away with ignoring William Shakespeare!

    There are many French writers whose last name begins with the letter S. Here are some of them (three men; three women):

    Stendhal (Henri Beyle)—Le Rouge et le Noir; La Chartreuse de Parme
    Antoine de Saint-Exupéry—Vol de nuit; Pilote de guerre; Le Petit Prince
    Jean-Paul Sartre—L’existentialisme est un humanisme; Huis Clos (play)
    Georges Sand (Amantine Aurore Lucile Dupin)—La Mare au diable; La Petite Fadette
    Françoise Sagan—Bonjour tristesse; Aimez-vous Brahms…
    Nathalie Sarraute—Le Planétarium

    How about a few English language writers?

    Robert Louis Stevenson—Treasure Island; Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
    Bram Stoker—Dracula; The Lair of the White Worm
    Jonathan Swift—Gulliver’s Travels
    Mary Shelley—Frankenstein

    Who do I select as my #1 author? I have to go with the brilliant Stendhal.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. What a great choice! I love The secret Garden and Shogun. And no list without Shakespeare.
    I will add to my wish list the scarlet letter.

    Now I add the following authors: Jonathan Swift, Nicholas Sparks, John Strelecky, Patricia Shaw, Siba Shakib.
    German authors: Christina Schwarz, Helge Schneider, Hans Scheibner, Angelika Schrobsdorf, David Sieveking and the great Theodor Storm (1817-1888), He is one of the most famous writers in Germany.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. The Story of Little Babaji is one of my favorites. It was written in 1899 by Helen Bannerman. I think she was British and lived in India with her family. Remember,the tigers running around the tree and melting into butter? Unfortunately the story was turned into Little Black Sambo, and later banned. The original is fantastic.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Ah, Shogun. Was going to be one of my suggestions, and I also read Noble House, Tai Pan and Gai Jin too though the latter took me ages to get through. I shall add (The) Savoy Cocktail Book – for obvious reasons though to be honest I really only make Margarita cocktails!
    Anita Shreve is an excellent American writer and many of her books have a ‘dark’ side to them.
    Chris Stewart for ‘Driving Over Lemons’ and the follow ups of life farming in Andulucia. I have always loved reading those ‘ex-pat’ books where an Englishman/woman moves to France/Italy/Spain and build a new life for themselves.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Great S suggestions. I studied American literature and we discussed the Scarlet Letter in detail (and yes, I do love it). I agree with your recommendation of Shogun. I read it and remember the series very well. I can’t think right now of any great suggestions with S that nobody has mentioned (they might come) but the comment about Ripley made me think of another great movie version of the same novel, a French one, that is superb Plein Soleil (or Purple Noon in English) with Alain Delon as Ripley. In case you’ve never watched it…
    (Oh, and I love Strangers in a Train. If I had to choose another one of Hitchcock’s movies, and I know you aren’t a fan, ‘Shadow of a Doubt’ I’ve always enjoyed as it is a bit less showy and I like the depiction of the characters).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. ‘Shadow of A Doubt’ is another favourite of mine, and perhaps Cotten’s best performance. I have seen ‘Plein Soleil’, but don’t own the DVD. I tried to watch everything Delon had done, at one time.
      Best wishes, Pete.


  6. Ah, letter S. It seems we got a lot. I have already posted those with different authors already in your other posts.

    The Shadow of the wind – Carlos Ruiz
    The Secret Ways of Perfume – Cristina Caboni
    The Soft Whispers of Dreams – Christina Courtenay
    A Step of Faith – Richard Paul Evans
    The Sunflower – Richard Paul Evans
    Morrie in his Own Words – Morrie Schwartz
    A Tree Grows in Brooklyn – Betty Smith
    Joy in the Morning – Betty Smith
    Message in a Bottle – Nicholas Sparks
    The Other Side of Midnight – Sidney Sheldon
    The Light Between Oceans – M.L. Stedman
    The Help – Katryn Stockett
    Dracula – Bram Stoker

    There are many more but not that significant.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Haven’t read any of your offerings today, except, of course, some Shakespeare.

    I found S an easy letter, even with some of my choices already gone, so I’ve narrowed it down to two that I thought perhaps others were less likely to mention:

    One of the books my girls brought home from school was ‘Holes’ by Louis Sachar, about a boy who was sent to a juvenile detention centre where they spent their days digging holes in the middle of a desert. There was, of course, a little more to the plot than that, but to go into detail would spoil the story.

    The most recent ‘S’ I’ve read was ‘The Croft in the Hills’ by Katharine Stewart, which describes her family’s experiences living in a croft in the 1950s. As a lover of wild and remote places, I found it a relaxing read that provided an interesting insight into a life and culture that was rapidly disappearing even then.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I’ve never seen the film, Pete, so I can’t comment. However, I don’t think the tedium of imprisonment is easy to depict visually. ‘The film ‘Room’ suffers from this problem. The audience feels like giving up long before anything much happens. So if the film of ‘Holes’ suffers from the same problem, it’s likely to come across as very ‘average’. Also, it’s a children’s book. Hence the plot having something of the improbability of Blyton about it 😉

        Liked by 1 person

  8. Shakespeare would definitely be at the top of my list as would all your other choices except Shogun. Someday I will get to that! I’d also include all the Stephen King ‘S’ titles that GP listed.My favorites are The Stand and Salem’s Lot.

    The Sandman – Gaiman
    Sarah Palin and Tall – MacLachlan
    The Satanic Verses – Rushdie
    Saturday – McEwan
    Spindler’s List – Keneally
    The Screwtape Letters- Lewis
    Scruffy the Tugboat – Crampton
    Seabiscuit – Hildebrand
    The Secret Life of Bees – Kids
    The Secret Seven series – Blyton
    Seize the Night – Koontz
    Sense and Sensibility – Austen
    A Series of Unfortunate Events – Lemony Snicket aka Daniel Handler
    Sex and the City – Bushnell
    Sex and the Single Girl – Gurley Brown
    The Shadow Line – Conrad
    Shiloh – Naylor
    Shoeless Joe – Kinsella
    The Sign of Four – Conan Doyle
    A Single Shard – Park
    Skipping Christmas – Grisham
    Sleeping Murder – Christie
    Smiley’s People/The Spy Who Came In From the Cold – le Carre
    Snow Crash – Stephenson
    The Snow Queen – Andersen
    So Long and Thanks For All the Fish – Adams
    Song of Solomon – Morrison
    Space – Michener
    Spartacus – Fast
    The Spy Who Loved Me – Fleming

    Authors: Louis Zachary, Carl Sagan, Antoine de Saint-Exupery, Brandon Sanderson, Jean Paul Sartre, Richard Scarry, Dr. Seuss, Sir Walter Scott, Maurice Sendak, Rod Serling, Anna Sewall, George Bernard Shaw, Mary Shelley, Shel Silverstein, Alexander McCall Smith, Jerry Spinelli, Johanna Spyri, John Steinbeck, Robert Louis Stephenson, Mary Stewart, Bram Stoker, Willim Styron

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I have just written a lengthy reply which has auto destructed, so suffice to say George Steiner is my top choice – ‘Language and Silence’ discusses the relationship between humanity, literate communication and the present course of history. Then I would suggest WG Sebald, whose books about travelling through the landscapes of the past really resonate with me. For lighter reading, Antal Szerb, ‘Journey by Moonlight’

    Liked by 1 person

  10. And today I remember what I wanted to put yesterday: Tracy Chevalier’s Remarkable Creatures. For today, I give you Sense and Sensibility, The Seagull, Suddenly Last Summer, A Study in Scarlet, Shakespeare And Co by Stanley Wells, Sophie’s Choice, She Stoops to Conquer, Schindler’s List, The Scarlett Pimpernel, The Sea Wolf, Snow Falling on Cedars, Smilla’s Sense of Snow and on and on! x

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Of course you couldn’t leave out Shakespeare! My favourite Shakespeare has to be As You Like It – I studied it at A-level a couple of years ago and just fell in love with it!

    My ‘S’ books are The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger (an emo-kid staple); The Songlines by Bruce Chatwin (an entirely different type of travel literature that reads like a poetic sort of novel); and Sputnik Sweetheart by Haruki Murakami.

    Liked by 2 people

  12. Good Morning Pete:
    My contribution for your S category is Thorne Smith who wrote supernatural fantasies, that always involved heavy drinking, in the 30s whom I read in paperback and hard cover from the Library in the 50s—Topper, The Night Life of the Gods, The Bishop’s Jaegers, and Turnabout, just to name a few.
    Warmest regards, Theo

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Pete, I’m sure you know that Highsmith also wrote “The Talented Mr. Ripley”, which was made into a great film with Matt Damon. As for “S” books, “Serpent In Paradise” by Dea Burkett is terrific – her non-fiction account of moving to the “Mutiny On The Bounty” island – and the sobering realization of what life is like there for the “far too few” who remain. Second, a more humorous travel adventure called “The Sex Lives Of Cannibals.” The Author, J. Maarten Troost, spent a year on a south seas island where his wife was stationed as a US Diplomat…hilariously funny and all true!

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Yea Seuss. “You’re off to great places! You’re off and away!”
    “Shogun” was excellent, and I read it non-stop. (“Noble House” I tried to read before I spent a semester at Lingnan University, it had a lot of good atmosphere, but it’s just not as good as Shogun, too over-stuffed)
    Dava Sobel’s “Longitude” is a really good mini-history. I’ve only read a handful, but Simenon’s police novels with Maigret are good. “The Scarlet Letter” was assigned reading in school, I liked it anyway! (but really disliked Demi Moore as Hester in the movie). And by tweaking the title, we could list “Seven Gables, The House of” which was also cool.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Ah, you are missing a treat with Dr Seuss, Pete. Better get some to read to your grandson, kids love the alliteration. The Cat in the Hat is a must read, and my kids loved the Butter Battle Book 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  15. Another deep woods writer, this time in the Adirondacks in New York, Julia Spencer-Fleming. I have had a chance to realize what kind of mysteries I enjoy, following this series of posts. Turns out I like consistent characters, well fleshed out locations and serious encounters with evil or corruption. Not horror. Not thriller. Not cozy. Don’t know what one might call the category which would also include Elizabeth George, Deborah Crombie, and Tana French.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. I absolutely loved Shogun, which I read on a trip to Japan! (Haven’t been back since, sadly…) Otherwise let me add ‘Stones for Ibarra’, by Harriet Doer. An absolutely wonderful book about a couple who leave their sophisticated lives to live in a small Mexican village. Not many people have heard of it, but it’s beautifully written. Highly recommended.

    Liked by 2 people

  17. Aw, you beat me to Shakespeare, but I guess, since it’s your blog and all, that’s O.K. Just for King alone I can think of: ‘Skeleton Crew’, Songs of Susannah’, ‘The Stand’, ‘The Shining’ and ‘Salem’s Lot.’ For the military: ‘Soldiers Stories’, ‘Surviving the Sword’, ‘Semper Fi’ and’ Senso’. And the authors – of course I had Shakespeare, but also in the line of thought for Stephen King, his partner on a couple of books, Peter Straub.
    Gee – I like “S”!!

    Liked by 2 people

  18. Acouple fiction….”Skinwalkers” by Tony Hillerman and “Sphere” by Michael Crichton…now the non-fiction I have a couple of first editions in my library in this category….”Socialism For Students”….1898….Joseph m Cohen, “Socialist Philosophy” 1903 Engels, “Social and State Structure of the USSR”…1926…V. Karpinsky…”Skorzeny” by Charles Whiting…time to live others a chance….chuq

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for those, chuq. I have actually read ‘Sphere’, and had forgotten it! I think I have seen a film based on it too.
      My comments on your blog posts are not appearing. I seem to have been sent to ‘WordPress Siberia’! Perhaps you will need to check your Spam folder for them.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

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