The History of Literature Episode 34 – Borges and the Search for Meaning


When times are tough, what does literature have for us? Jacke takes a break from the history of literature to reflect on a death in his family, the loss of Sir George Martin, and some thoughts on the meaning of life from Umberto Eco and Jorge Luis Borges.


You can find more literary discussion at and more episodes of the series at

Contact the host at or by leaving a voicemail at 1-361-4WILSON (1-361-494-5766).

Works Discussed:

A Grief Observed (C.S. Lewis)

Music Credits:

Handel – Entrance to the Queen of Sheba” by Advent Chamber Orchestra (From the Free Music Archive / CC by SA).

“Danse Macabre – Sad Part” and “Lone Harvest” by Kevin MacLeod (
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0

“Pepperland” (Martin)


History of Literature Episode 33 – The Bhagavad Gita


Written over the span of 800 years from ca. 400 B.C. to ca. 400 A.D, the Mahabharata tells a riveting tale of disputed kingship and warring families. But just as the action-packed narrative reaches its climax, the story pauses to convey a dialogue between the reluctant warrior Arjuna and his charioteer Krishna, who dramatically reveals himself as the incarnation of God. This passage, known as the Bhagavad Gita, has proved inspirational to hundreds of millions of religious seekers and was regarded by philosophers from Henry David Thoreau to Mahatma Gandhi as perhaps the greatest distillation of philosophy and religion ever written.

How does this philosophical treatise fit into this fast-paced story? What lessons does it have for us? And how did a two-thousand-year-old argument that a warrior should fulfill his duty on the battlefield end up inspiring some of the most famous advocates of non-violence in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries?


A Literary Quiz: Who Invented the Cliffhanger?

To which author does this sentence refer?

The term “cliffhanger” is considered to have originated with the serialised version of this early novel, in which Henry Knight, one of the protagonists, is left literally hanging off a cliff.

  1. Edgar Allan Poe
  2. Bram Stoker
  3. Wilkie Collins
  4. Thomas Hardy

The answer is #4. Thomas Hardy.

I did not know he wrote a couple of potboilers for cash before he graduated into Tess-and-Mayor-and-Jude land.

Apparently Mr. Hardy’s uncompromising artistry fell victim to a little compromise, at least in his early days.

HoL 32 The Best Debut Novels of All Time (A Conversation with the President of the Literature Supporters’ Club)

history-of-literature-for-fb-dbWhat makes a great first novel? Which do we prefer: the freshness of a new style (even if it contains mistakes), or the demonstration of competence (even if it breaks no new ground)? Does it matter if the book is the best (or only) novel by that author? Or do we prefer the debuts that initiated a long, distinguished career? Join host Jacke Wilson for a conversation with his friend, the President of the Literature Supporters’ Club, on the best debut novels in the history of literature.


Books Discussed:

Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis

Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

The Broom of the System: A Novel by David Foster Wallace

Remembrance of Things Past by Marcel Proust

Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë

The Trial by Franz Kafka

The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates

A Study in Scarlet by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe

Wise Blood: A Novel by Flannery O’Connor

Don Quixote by Cervantes

The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway

This Side of Paradise by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling

Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen

Dangling Man by Saul Bellow

Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison

A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole

Soldiers’ Pay by William Faulkner

White Teeth: A Novel by Zadie Smith

Brick Lane: A Novel by Monica Ali

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

Speedboat by Renata Adler

Lord of the Flies by William Golding

Roderick Hudson by Henry James

The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens

Adam Bede by George Eliot

Childhood by Leo Tolstoy

I, Robot by Isaac Asimov

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams Continue reading

Proust as a Graphic Novel

Is Proust on your bucket list? Do you suspect he’ll stay there forever? Maybe this is the answer…

That’s right – Swann’s Way as a graphic novel. Here’s a sample in French:


And here’s one from the translated version:


Is it as good as the original? Well, of course not. But if you can’t make it to the Sistine Chapel, aren’t you glad to see a few postcards?