Anne Rice may be known for her gothic stories and blood-sucking antiheroes, but her personal taste runs the gamut from classic fiction to self-help. In honor of her 72nd birthday, Zola brings you nine of her best book reviews.
(Reviews found through Anne Rice’s website.)
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
One of the greatest novels of all time. Once you read it straight through and experience its immensity and depth, you can keep it around and dip into it when you need to be reminded that a work of art—novel, play, film, what have you—can give you not only continued enjoyment but profound truths. Tolstoy is one of the few writers I’ve ever read—indeed possibly the only writer I’ve ever read—who really treats men and women equally. Now in later life he wrote many provocative things about gender, but at the time he wrote Anna Karenina, he saw the soul inside a human with unlimited generosity. Note his loving attention to the emotions and suffering of the young adolescent Kitty Scherbatsky who becomes in fact a heroine of the work, and how he takes her every bit as seriously as he takes any male character in the book. If you go on to War and Peace, you’ll find the same inquiry into the depths of the soul in total disregard of masculine/feminine identity. It has been said that Tolstoy raised the novel to the level of Greek or Shakespearean tragedy. I believe that he did. I believe he did because, being Russian, receiving the novel as something of an imported form from England and/or France, he did not have any prejudice towards it as some sort of “domestic” or “popular” form. In other words, no one told him the novel couldn’t be great. And he made it great. Read this book, even if you have to carry it around with you for a while. I recommend the old translation by Constance Garnett, but there are other ones.
Last Exit to Brooklyn by Hubert Selby Jr.
This is a work of sheer genius by anyone’s standards. Yes, it’s raw, it’s shocking even to those of us who thought nothing in modern fiction could shock us but it’s one brilliantly sustained song of the brutal, the outcast, the desperate, and at times the cruel who exist inside all of us. I read it over and over again hearing it in my head aloud. I lose it for a few years, then grab it up again. The rhythm of the sentences is perfection. It’s for all the time, and the movie—though a different entity altogether—was pretty damned fine too. Of course it couldn’t be the book. No. It couldn’t be quite that dark. Yet it had its own magnificently wrought violence. Selby sings! Here’s to him from another writer!
The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers
I was a freshman in college when I first discovered this book—a paperback with a beautiful cover—and was at once caught up in its marvelously realized world of all too human characters. Like McCullers’ other masterpiece, The Member of the Wedding, this is a heartbreaking book, reflecting great sadness in its tender portrait of the ordinary people of an ordinary town, and the sweet, generous aspirations of a lone girl who wants so badly to embrace life and to make a difference. McCullers left us only a few books, but what an influence she had on my life and so many many others. She was the image of young genius, yet so incredibly wise. Her short story “A Tree, A Rock, A Cloud,” is unforgettable. Hers is an authentic Southern Gothic voice, yet always beautifully restrained, and unfailingly compassionate.
Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë
Is there anybody out there who hasn’t heard of Heathcliff, the dark villain/hero of this high pitched and utterly committed work of madness? Oh, I love it. It was difficult for me at first. I’m a writer, but not a natural reader. But once I was into this book, once I stopped asking questions of the narrative and just entered the shadowy world of Catherine and her doomed household, I was quite literally spellbound. Brontë died believing this book was a failure. What a dreadful irony that this quiet, disciplined woman who lived out her life in a cold parsons’ house with her brilliant sisters, her drunken brother and her eccentric father (The man memorized Paradise Lost: imagine. And outlived all his children!) never even had an inkling that this outpouring of her heart and soul would become a classic, overshadowing even her sister’s highly successful Jane Eyre. Both Brontë sisters had the capacity to create archetypes — to imprint upon the culture seminal patterns that endure to the present time. One last point: the father was Irish. Madness and genius in the blood, indeed. Enjoy it. I read it over every year or so, sometimes twice in a row. I study it; I watch all the film versions. I just love it, the way it works, its strange cruelty and enchantment.
Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
Why do I come here to “review” this? It isn’t anyone’s book club selection, no. But tonight I want to talk about this incomparably rich and wonderful book, and how as a fourteen year old kid I simply sank into it, taking it slowly week by week, glorying in its mysteries, its great grotesque portrait of Miss Havisham in her rotting bridal finery, its often painful recounting of a young boy’s awakening to a seductive world beyond the blacksmith’s forge to which destiny has condemned him. This book was about me. It was about wanting to learn, wanting to transcend, wanting to achieve while anything and everything seems hopelessly beyond one’s dreams. Of course life changes for Pip. And the world Pip enters was a world that dazzled me and only made my adolescent ambitions burn all the more hurtfully. I think this book is about all who’ve ever tried for more, ever reached for the gold ring—and it’s about some, of course, who’ve gotten it. It’s also a wondrous piece of storytelling, a wondrous example of how in the first person (“I am, etc.” ) a character can tell you more about himself than he himself knows. What a feat. And a very strange thing about this book, too, was the fact that Dickens said more about Pip and Pip’s dreams than Dickens knew he was doing. Dickens himself didn’t quite realize, I don’t think, the full humanity of the character he created. Yet the character is there—alive, captivating, engaging us throughout with full sympathy. Go for it. If you never read anything else by Charles Dickens, read and experience this book. Afterwards, David Copperfield will be a ride in the sunshine, I assure you. And both books will stand by you forever. For whom am I writing this? For myself perhaps just because Pip meant and still means so much. For someone perhaps who’s unsure about this book and needs a push to dive into a classic. Oh, is this book ever worth the effort.
Enough. Read it, know it.
Forged by Bart D. Ehrman
This is another well written and persuasive book by Bart Ehrman that essentially questions the notion of biblical inerrancy. Here Ehrman makes available to the general public the conclusions, and reasoning, of scholars within the academic community, that the bible, far from being inerrant, does in fact include blatant forgeries. To people of faith who are interested in studying the bible critically this is of much more than passing importance. The better we understand the bible, the better we can weigh its many inconsistencies and inflammatory passages. But the political climate in America today makes this book essential reading. Why? Because we have fundamentalists actively working in the public arena today to influence American laws as they pertain to human rights, based on the opinion of these fundamentalists that the law of God is plainly laid out in an inerrant Holy Bible. This book raises legitimate questions about such a religious views and the political views it fosters. It raises questions about the quality of thinking of such persons.
As always Ehrman is a very clear and eloquent writer. His sentences are clean and simple; and one does not have to be a scholar to grasp his points. I recommend this and all his books on the bible. And I appreciate his candor as to his own personal history, that he was once a believer and is no longer a believer; and I appreciate his concern that he make available what he has discovered as a lifelong scholar of the bible.
The Great Divide by Peter Watson
Books like this have to be beautifully written. If they weren’t, I doubt anyone would read them. What the book offers is an interpretative overview of history that is well documented and makes for compelling reading. There is a wealth of material here and great bibliography. A book like this prompts us to put in coherent form what we know about thousands and thousands of years of history. And I think our minds long for this coherence, long to make sense of the tons of data we have accumulated in modern times about our past, and the wilderness of specialized studies published every day that are too numerous for any one reader to ever fully examine.
I found this highly readable and entertaining, an excellent book for the scholar and a delight for the mainstream reader who loves history and has wondered about many mysterious cultural developments and whether they are at all related. Quite an achievement. Quite a find. Highly recommended.
The Omega-3 Connection by Andrew Stoll
This is a book that can be life changing. It’s extremely solid, clearly written, for the lay person, and fully documented, and it concerns Dr. Stoll’s claims as to the benefits of taking Omega-3 oil supplements. It was recommended to me by a Nurse Practitioner at the Hospital Clinic where I go for regular medical care, and it has caused a revolution in my life. We live in a wilderness of self help and health care books that can confuse us and numb us with their contradictory claims. But be assured this book is a thorough and brilliant record of the results of actual medical research. Dr. Stoll’s work with Omega-3 was done at Harvard, and he knows whereof he speaks. He is not the only one recommending that we take Omega-3 supplements to make up for the deficiencies in our “modern” diet. Indeed many many doctors are now talking about this, and word can not spread too fast. Read this book. And take it from this reader: there is indeed a profound “Omega-3 connection,” and it’s vital that we avail ourselves of this substance for better health.
Unlikely Angel by Ashley Smith
The mixture of tragedy and triumph in this woman’s life has put her in the public eye with the power to do immense good. This book is clear, sincerely written, and will inspire others. Anyone who saw Ashley Smith on television, as I did, on the first night that she spoke to the public—anyone who has seen her since in numerous interviews—can not doubt that she is authentic, thoughtful and quietly courageous, and that her faith is not only genuine, but the guiding force in her life. This is an American chronicle, about loss, addiction, struggle, and the eternal striving to be good. Highly recommended for those who want to know about a moment in our history, and also about the power of faith and a generous heart.
In 2005, Rice also reviewed the film adaptation of her best-selling novel Interview with the Vampire.
This is the author talking. The film is shattering. For me, and of course I lack objectivity, it is The Red Shoes of horror films. It got my book, it got my script, and the person responsible was the producer David Geffen. He is the one who drew together the finest talent in every field to do this film. He asked me to write the screenplay. Was I part of “the finest talent?” I hope so. He is the one who sent me a video of the film even though I objected to casting and might have screamed. I loved it. I called him to tell him. When he sent a print of the film to New Orleans for a private viewing for me and my family and friends, I was so overwhelmed by this picture that I came out of it crying helplessly in the arms of my editor Victoria Wilson. I stood there sobbing, holding onto Vicky, as the whole crowd of concerned people looked on. I couldn’t snap out of it. I went out, got in the back of my car, and was driven home. The film took me back to the night I finished the book—4 a.m. in the morning in the year 1973—in Berkeley, California, in a shabby ground floor apartment full of junk shop furniture, a beautiful place, where I sat on the couch utterly overwhelmed by the experience of “the novel,” a coherence that had come out of me—vowing to myself that if no one published it, I’d sell it out of shopping bag to people on the street. The film took me back even further, into the soul that had exposed itself in the writing. Darkness. No grace. No salvation. The film got it. It got “the glamor of evil” and that darkness, that hopelessness, that despair. It is—and I say this now as a film buff—a great film. Forget me. Forget the book. It’s a piece of sublime work in which genius “happened” as it can in film when great directors like Neil Jordan, and great actors, and great professional on all levels are giving it everything that they can—when they have but one goal and that is to be true to something in which the author was true to himself or herself. It worked. It’s magic. And now ten years later people are discovering it. They are sharing that sublime vision. I’m thankful; I’m happy; I’m proud to have been part of it. I’m grateful. And I hope David Geffen knows. I hope he knows how the world values that film. He did that. I hope he’s proud.
This article originally appeared on Zola Books.