Labor Day Weekend Recommendations: Try a New Series

Aside from taking a few Jane Austen-style walks, many of us plan to spend Labor Day weekend at home. And so I have compiled a list of spellbinding series you might want to read.  Have fun!

1  Margaret Drabble’s The Radiant Way trilogy. This spellbinding trilogy consists of The Radiant Way, A Natural Curiosity,  and The Gates of Ivory. Beginning at a New Year’s Eve party in 1980, the trilogy delineates the complex friendship of Liz, a pyschiatrist, Alix, a  social worker, and Esther, an art historian. In addition to describing their lives and loves,  Drabble explores history, social issues, and world politics.  One of the great achievements of the 20th century!

2  George MacDonald’s Phantastes and Lilith. Though not exactly a duology, these two novels share the same surreal ground. The Dover edition says Phantastes is “a fairy tale for adults, it is the captivating story of a wealthy young man who takes an unplanned journey into a fantastic nether world.”

And Dover says of Lilith: “Written in 1895, Lilith is a fantasy novel for adults that’s rich with symbolism and suspense. A recent heir to his parents’ English country manor, Mr. Vane has been troubled by visions of an elderly gentleman in his library. Curious, he follows the old man through a passageway and discovers a dusty mirror that leads him on a spiritual journey into another world.”

3  Lawrence Durrell’s The Alexandria Quartet. I wrote about this remarkable tetralogy in 2015:  “In Durrell’s  gorgeously-written, percipient tetralogy, Justine, Balthazar, Mountolive, and Clea, the prose is moody and lush.  The narrative is psychologically-oriented and fragmented. Over the course of the quartet, Durrell’s narrator, Darley, reiterates and augments a series of events in the lives of his lover Justine and a group of friends in Alexandria, Egypt.  Other characters, particularly Balthazar and Clea (Mountolive is the hero of the prequel), contribute their viewpoints, so that a clearer picture is revealed.  Published from 1957 to 1960, these books are elegant but occasionally too flowery.   In the ’50s, Durrell’s poeticism flourished.  I love every word!”

4  Richard Adams’s Shardik and Maia. Best known for Watership Down, Richard Adams wrote other remarkable fantasy novels. Two  are set in the Beklin Empire. I loved Shardik, described by Overlook Publishers as “a fantasy of tragic character, centered on the long-awaited reincarnation of the gigantic bear Shardik and his appearance among the half-barbaric Ortelgan people. Mighty, ferocious, and unpredictable, Shardik changes the life of every person in the story.”  I admit I didn’t finish the prequel, Maia, which is 1,000 pages long and set in the same world.  Maia, a peasant girl, is  sold into slavery and then recruited as a spy.  Lots of adventures!

5  When Hillary Clinton ran for president, she said in an interview that she enjoyed  Jean Auel’s Earth’s Children series. I did indeed love these books when I read themo, but I didn’t make it through the whole series. Set during the Ice Age, the heroine is Ayla, a Cro-Magnon girl raised by Neanderthals, who must eventually leave and find her own people. Penguin Random House describes the series as “A literary phenomenon, …Employing meticulous research and the consummate artistry of a master storyteller, Auel paints a vivid panorama of the dawn of modern humans. Through Ayla, an orphaned girl who grows into a beautiful and courageous young woman, we are swept up in the harsh and beautiful Ice Age world, home to the Clan of the Cave Bear.”

E. Nesbit’s Psammead trilogy consists of the fantasy novels, Five Children and It, The Phoenix and the Carpet, and The Story of the Amulet.   I did not enjoy the first book, in which a bad-tempered Psammead (a sand fairy) grants four children and their baby brother wishes, which all go wrong, but I loved The Phoenix and the Carpet, in which the same characters  have access to a magic carpet and a talking Phoenix. I loved The Story of the Amulet , which  centers on a magic amulet and time travel, but it has been a while. 

7  The editor Terri Windling published The Fairy Tale Series, eight retold fairy tales, many in a modern setting, and I have enjoyed those I’ve read. I recommend Pamela Dean’s wonderful novel Tam Lin, a modern retelling of the ballad set at a college, and Tanith Lee’s White As Snow, a beautifully-written retelling of the Demeter and Persephone myth combined with the fairy tale Snow White.

Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World and Brave New World Revisited are the ultimate dystopian classics. And, yes, Huxley was often prescient. 

Ursula K. Le Guin’s Haimish Novels & Stories (Library of America). If you loved her best-known classic, The Left Hand of Darkness, you will want to know more about the League of All Worlds. Here is a link to the Library of America boxed set with a list of the novels and short stories.

10  J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. Why not reread it this weekend and watch the movies? That will take care of Labor Day Weekend!

Happy Labor Day !  And let me know your favorite series books.

4 thoughts on “Labor Day Weekend Recommendations: Try a New Series”

  1. What about Anthony Powell’s 12-volume sequence, A Dance to the Music of Time? An unequalled picture of English life in the middle of the 20th century. The trilogy of books covering World War Two are at least as good as Evelyn Waugh’s Sword of Honour sequence. And there’s also Simon Raven’s Alms for Oblivion series, a louche version of what Powell was doing.

    Philip Gooden

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    1. I seem to have gone heavily “pop” on this list, but I do love Powell and Waugh, and though I’ve never heard of Raven, all three clearly belong here. Thanks!

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  2. I know there are substantial differences in the Canada/U.S. statutory holiday system, but up here, Labour Day weekend is only THREE DAYS LONG. Yes, indeed, why not add the Powell series as the commenter above suggests? Or the Angela Thirkell Barsetshine volumes? Or Enid Blyton’s Famous Fives? LOL (But, seriously, you’ve got lots of my faves on this list. Particularly Drabble and Le Guin and the Fairy Tale series!)

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    1. I meant we could START a new series. I am such a fan of series books; I love returning to the same characters again and again. Thirkell is a fabulous suggestion, because I read them as though they aren’t series books, which is confusing, if you read a middle one, and have no idea who the characters are, even if you’ve met them before!

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