Action & Adventure
Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
They say revenge is a dish best served cold and Dumas’ story of the false imprisonment and lustful vengeance of Edmond Dantes is one of the coldest. Wrongfully imprisoned by his best friend and various conspirators, Dantes vows to escape the confines of Château d’If, unearth the treasure hidden on the Isle of Monte Cristo and reclaim what was once his. It’s one of Dumas’ most famous works alongside The Three Musketeers, and for once, I actually enjoy the 2002 movie that goes with it.
Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson
Stevenson’s classic is described as “buccaneers and buried gold,” but that’s not all it is. Yes, it helped set the bar for iconic pirate stereotypes — treasure maps marked with the letter “X”, tropical islands, etc. — but it’s characters like Long John Silver that add a level of complexity and moral depth to an otherwise straightforward children’s tale. Plus, it’s filled with historical allusions and wry, moral commentary that should entertain adults and young audiences alike.
Call of the Wild by Jack London
It’s hard to argue Call of the Wild isn’t Jack London’s magnum opus. Based on London’s experiences as prospector in the Klondike, it follows a St. Bernard-Scotch Collie named Buck who is stolen, sold, and forced to survive as a sled dog in the harsh realities of the Arctic. It’s an endearing story, awash with themes of moral good doing and loyalty, and filled with London’s incredibly descriptive accounts of the terrain during the bustling gold rush of the late 1800s.
Moby Dick by Herman Melville
“Call me Ishmael” is one of the most well-known opening lines in all of literature. Melville’s class is a dense narrative, told from the viewpoint of a wandering sailor aboard the whaling ship Pequod, albeit woven with Shakespearean literary devices (i.e. stage directions, soliloquies). It muses on the sailing life and the obsession of Captain Ahab, a madmen hellbent on hunting down the massive white whale that claimed his ship and leg in a former scuffle.
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
Huckleberry Finn gets a lot of hype, but it’s the prequel the helped set the stage for later acts. It carries a somber notes amid the air of Twain’s iconic humor and English vernacular, accounting the tale of a young boy growing up on the Mississippi and the various escapades he encountered doing so. Although it often revels in the innocence of childhood and bittersweet nostalgia, it’s still teeming with adult themes and the harsh realities of slavery, starvation, and murder.
The Odyssey by Homer
The story of Odysseus is one that has been told for more than 2,700 years. The epic poem, a followup to the Iliad, traces Odysseus’ return, ten-year voyage to Ithaca following the end of the Trojan War. It’s an everyman’s tale — fraught with cyclops, sirens and the slaying of suiters — written in dactylic hexameter with a non-linear plot comprised of Greek mythology and legend. While you’re at it, you might as well snag a free copy of the Iliad (Amazon/Google).
Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe
We will probably never know the inspiration for Defoe’s classic castaway tale, but it has certainly inspired an abundance of film adaptations and literary spinoffs. The main character, Robinson Crusoe, becomes stranded on a desert island following a intense storm at sea, equipped with no more than a pipe, a knife, and an inch of tobacco. Needless to say, 24 years pass before he confronts anyone, and when he does, it’s certainly not with open arms.
Moonfleet by John Meade Falkner
Falkner’s most renowned novel is nothing short of gripping, which is likely the reason it was staple of children’s literature until the ’70s. It parallels Treasure Island in many ways, notably the coming-of-age theme and quest for treasure, but it’s centered around the coast of Dorset, England and focuses on young boy who takes up with band of smugglers after discovering their secret. Be forewarned, backgammon references run amok.