A new favorite

December 16, 2009 at 12:00 am 3 comments

While there are many books I like and enjoy reading, rare is the case where I snap a book shut at the end with a huge grin on my face, a song in my heart, and a new favorite author on my mind. I think in many ways we choose our favorite books early and they become nostalgic stepping stones on our reading life-paths. This makes it rather unusual to find a new book that rivals the nostalgia-steeped books already on the favorites list. The new book has to be good on its own and then doubly good to counter the “ah, I read that back in those halcyon days of yore” aspect of other favorite books. To be blunt, Jules Verne’s Around the World in Eighty Days is just that good.

For those of you out of the cultural loop, Around the World in Eighty Days tells the story of one Phileas Fogg, his French valet Passepartout, and their various adventures as they attempt to win a bet predicated on a London newspaper’s claim that, with modern technology newly available in the 1870s, it is now possible to go completely around the world in a mere 80 days. While a bit quaint to modern ears, the bet is a more impressive feat when you realize that it took Captain Cook’s crew more than three years to do the same thing about a century before Fogg. It is a less impressive feat when you take Nellie Bly into account. In any event, Fogg benefits from being fictional and thus rather more exciting than Cook or Bly.

Since I am a fan of adventure novels of almost any stripe (bring on the Zorros, the Musketeers, the Pimpernels, the Captain Bloods, and the islands filled with treasure, please!), I expected to enjoy Around the World in Eighty Days. I had never read any Verne before, but I figured this would be a nice easy read of mild enjoyability and probably a good dose of Victorianism. All of this was true if you first multiplied it by 5,000 and then jumped up and down with excitement on top of all that. Around the World in Eighty Days was absolutely riveting, inspiring, and undeniably, wonderfully Victorian.

Verne takes us on a fantastic journey with possibly the least excitable character in literary canon (Fogg), which actually serves to amplify the drama. Instead of some character running around constantly shouting “Oh, how fantastic this journey is! And how long and how swift!” which would necessarily undercut the truths of all three of those statements, Verne supplies the reader with a very scientific account of what happened and to whom, with Passepartout occasionally serving as the shouting character when needed for dramatic effect. The prose is absolutely spot-on and manages to be both exciting and not remotely hyperbolic or superlative. We know that this journey is necessarily fantastical and Verne recognizes that there is no need to overload the story with spice. His point is made from the moment Fogg makes the bet.

Additionally, the places the characters visit are drawn in accurate but exciting terms that inspire the reader to travel. While many travel books make one sigh expressively at the loveliness of the place described without inspiring the least twitch of even one limb towards actually going, Around the World in Eighty Days really grabs the reader and forcibly propels him or her out the door to the train station. You leave the book absolutely itching to take a train across America or a boat across the Pacific or perhaps an elephant across India.

On top of all this, the book (published in 1873) is absolutely unapologetically Victorian in almost every way. Fogg has a valet who is dispensable, but still treated with respect; they traverse many colonized lands (like India) where the native people are looked at with vague interest and a little bit of British desire to help them be “better” (by the British definition); American Indians are shown as unrepentant, completely wild savages with absolutely no individual traits or personality; and women (interestingly of any race) should never know want and should be cloistered and protected at all costs. I found this all rather charming, but if you’re not so much into this sort of Victorianism, then perhaps this is not a book that’s going to thrill you as it did me.

To sum up, to me this is a book worth buying immediately and in as fine a copy as possible. It is worth keeping for your entire life, rereading on your own, reading to your children and grandchildren, and forcing upon others whenever possible. It is so rare to be so pleasantly and thoroughly shocked by the goodness of a book that I cannot say enough good things about this one. Suffice it to say: Read it. Now.


Entry filed under: Classics. Tags: , , , , .

The Game by Neil Strauss Clip Show: Book Cover Edition

3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. KT  |  December 16, 2009 at 1:48 pm

    Amazing — would you believe I’ve never read Jules Verne? I will definitely check him out after this post!

    • 2. Corey  |  December 17, 2009 at 6:36 am

      You must, you must! This book was just so delightful! I’m currently debating which Verne to read next. :)

  • 3. Amusing Search Queries « Literary Transgressions  |  February 14, 2011 at 12:02 am

    […] term: facts about february 8 Jules Verne‘s […]


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