Great Reads

Just a Thought -- John Carter of Mars

The current blockbuster action movie, John Carter, has a lot of people confused and a few more people worried. The movie, you see, is actually based on a series of science fiction novels written about one hundred years ago by Edgar Rice Burroughs—yes, that Edgar Rice Burroughs, more famous as the author of another series that has often been brought to the silver screen, Tarzan.  The confusion about the current John Carter movie seems to lie with the producers’ decision to remove “of Mars” from the title. I have read that this was to distance the film from other recent flops containing the word Mars, such as Mars Needs Moms, but it also serves to confuse people who only know the name John Carter as Noah Wyle’s character on the TV show E.R.!  Meanwhile, the original book series has a large and very passionate fanbase (among whose number I count myself!) who are concerned that the movie will do a disservice to their beloved characters. I have yet to see the movie myself, but I have been re-reading the books over the last year or so and getting as swept up in them now as I did when I was twelve. Despite having been written so long ago, they hold up very well and hold appeal for a wide age group.  If you’re wondering what all the John Carter buzz is really about, take a look at the source!


  • A Princess of Mars
  • The Gods of Mars
  • The Warlord of Mars
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Dee, Jonathan. The Privileges

The Privileges is a satirical portrayal of Adam and Cynthia—a  charmed New York couple blessed with a great love for each other, beautiful children, and all of the privileges of increasing wealth—who find themselves desiring more.  Because of this greed, Adam, who works in the world of private equity, makes a decision that sends him down the path of the immoral and corrupt.  If you want a personal glimpse into one reason why the nation’s financial crisis occurred, this is the book for you.  The Privileges is a highly readable novel with well-drawn characters whom you both empathize with and despise.

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Smith, Patti. Just Kids

Just Kids is about Patti Smith’s relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe with a focus on their early years, when Smith was in her early twenties and fresh to New York City. But it is also so much more.   It is a story of love and friendship.  It is a story of the New York artist community during the 1970s.  And it is a meditation on what makes an artist, as well as a meditation on life and loss.  Even if you are primarily a fiction reader, you will adore this book because it contains all the elements of great fiction.  Patti Smith’s writing is eloquent and insightful, and the 2010 nonfiction National Book Award she received for Just Kids is well-deserved.  

Byatt, A. S. Ragnarok: the End of the Gods


In Byatt’s slender, slender, semi-autobiographical novella, an unnamed young girl who has fled to the countryside during the Blitz attempts to make sense of the war-torn world around her. Her father is a flier in the war so far away and the girl is convinced he will never return. The darkness and violence that the adults speak of in hushed tones does not match the brightly optimistic emptiness of the words mouthed at church each week. It isn’t until a copy of “Asgard and the Gods” comes into the girl’s possession that the world around her begins to make sense as seen through the lens of the much darker and more violent Norse mythology contained in her book.

Interspersing scenes from the daily life of the girl with retellings and reinterpretations of the mythology she is reading, “Ragnarok: the End of the Gods” serves as an able allegory for our times as well.

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Groff, Lauren. Arcadia

In the 1970s, a group of idealistic hippies come together with a vision of utopia, following their charismatic leader, Handy, on a cross-country trek which ends in western New York state at a decaying mansion known as Arcadia House. Bit (the littlest bit of a hippie) is the first child born to the new Arcadians and he grows up in the commune among the optimistic, romantic, and ultimately all-too-human adult founders. We see through his eyes as his mother struggles with a deep and abiding clinical depression, as his father challenges the increasingly haphazard “leadership” of Handy, as the commune grows from a tightly-knit core of like-minded individuals with a vision of cooperation into a sprawling morass of the lazy and the criminal and the insane, as the commune eventually dissolves away into nothing after Handy’s arrest. Having never lived “Outside,” young Bit is thrust into a whole new world and must make sense of it as well as he can until, as an adult, circumstances return him to an Arcadia very much changed, but still a place of refuge.

A plot summary cannot do justice to the lyrical and poignant power of this novel. Bit is a thoughtful, sensitive, and entirely sympathetic narrator and it is a pleasure to grow up alongside him, watching as his perceptions and understandings change with time. Highly recommended.

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