Recent research has demonstrated that young boys are falling behind girls in reading comprehension and that part of the problem may be that they are less enthusiastic recreational readers. There are lots of theories on why this is, and how to correct it, but one of the most common solutions is simply to provide more reading material targeted specifically to boys. Of course, that’s a political-correctness minefield (after all, if we “gender” things like adventure and science, are we now excluding girls from those things?). But the way I see it, there are also plenty of young girls who also crave traditionally “boyish” reading material who are also left adrift in search of their next adventure fix, so everyone wins if more of that material is produced or brought to light.
I was one such girl — as a middle schooler I loved few things more than Indiana Jones, The Mummy, and the swashbuckling tales of C. S. Forester. As a grown-up, I often feel nostalgic for those yarns as I slog through the drier, more nihilistic literary offerings that will supposedly enhance my mind. So, for the next few months, I’m going to review some forgotten gems of adventure fiction. If you have a reluctant reader, maybe curling up with him (or her) and one of these books will inspire the same love of reading that I found in my first fictional adventures. Here’s a list of classics to kick it off.
5. Mr. Midshipman Hornblower by C. S. Forester
Horatio Hornblower, born to an educated but poor family, joins the British Navy at the dawn of the Napoleonic Wars and uses his smarts and his unmatched leadership abilities to outsmart the enemy, survive the plague, and escape captivity. Mr. Midshipman Hornblower is the first book (chronologically) in the Hornblower series by C. S. Forester, and each chapter is a self-contained story, making it a perfect introduction to this classic adventure series for a young, reluctant reader.
4. The Woman in White by Wilke Collins
Mystery, murder, mistaken identities — a great gateway to one of the best Victorian “sensational” writers. The Woman in White is an early detective novel, but with enough travel and adventure to capture impatient readers, and enough emotional depth to appeal to girls, too.
3. Dracula by Bram Stoker
I’m fully adult and I still find this book scary. It’s hard to believe, when we’ve all be exposed to every possible iteration on the story, but the original remains suspenseful and chilling. It move slow, but it thoroughly teaches the lesson that patience in reading has its rewards — and it has just enough gore and fear to keep you hanging on through the long, winding plotlines.
2. Over Sea, Under Stone by Susan Cooper
Arthurian legend, magic, and reincarnation collide in the first book of Susan Cooper’s The Dark Is Rising series. A great read for any kid (or adult) who wishes he could slip into the world of knights and heroes.
1. A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs
It’s cheesy, overwritten, outdated, ridiculous, and wonderful. A Princess of Mars was Edgar Rice Burroughs’s big break; later he’d go on to write Tarzan, and spent the rest of his life mostly contributing to those two franchises. Despite all its flaws, A Princess of Mars is still a fantastic introduction to adventure literature — just over-the-top enough to come back around the other side into camp classic.