Matthew Pearl is the author of the bestselling novel The Dante Club. His latest novel, The Poe Shadow, is a thriller centered around the mysterious death of Edgar Allan Poe. He has also edited and introduced a new standalone volume of Poe’s three stories featuring the detective Auguste Dupin, The Murders in Rue Morgue: The Dupin Tales.
“Edgar Allan Poe is a writer who claimed to have taken little influence from writers who came before him, but whose own influence on literature and culture has been endless. He is traditionally credited with almost single-handedly inventing the genres of fantasy, science fiction and mystery. Yet Poe’s work has seeped into our consciousness in more subtle ways. Indeed, some writers – TS Eliot and EL Doctorow included – would say that Poe has had an impact on our world out of proportion to his actual talent as a writer. Judge those claims by reading Poe’s own work, but revel in Poe’s never-ending influence and resonance by picking up a few of these. Poe seems to have at least one consistent effect on writers: he makes them react.”
1. Poe Poe Poe Poe by Daniel Hoffman
A playful meditation on Poe by Hoffman, himself an important poet. Poe’s poetry and his theories on poetry influenced all of his writing. Hoffman is extremely knowledge about Poe, but also not afraid of personal insights into Poe’s work. This book doesn’t try to explain to us why Poe is important to the world, or what Poe is “about” in some large sense; instead, it tells us what Poe is about for one reader’s life, perhaps an angle more appropriate to Edgar.
2. Labyrinths: Selected Stories by Borges
Borges is a reader and student of Poe’s mystery fiction. Poe’s original tales of C Auguste Dupin, the first literary detective, still excite interest and raise questions about exactly what the substance of detective fiction really is. Borges complicates those questions further and helps us see the genre more clearly inside his interlocking, fascinating puzzles. A great introduction to Borges and a gloss on Poe.
3. Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle
Conan Doyle freely admitted that Sherlock Holmes was inspired by C Auguste Dupin. Look for the amusing comment on Dupin by Sherlock Holmes in his first appearance, A Study in Scarlet. You can pair this with the brand new Vintage edition of The Murders in the Rue Morgue: The Dupin Tales. The similarities are shocking, and the differences speak volumes about the quick birth and evolution of detective fiction.
4. Ghost Story by Peter Straub
Originally, Straub planned that the characters in Ghost Story would retell the tales of several early American horror writers, including Poe. Although he took this out of the plan for the book, Poe’s traces can still be found in this smart, addictive novel about a group of friends haunted by personal and societal demons.
5. An Antarctic Mystery by Jules Verne
Speaking of novels, Poe wrote only one, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym. Never heard of it? Most people haven’t, but this urgent, staccato transatlantic tale is oddly hypnotic. Verne was preoccupied with the intentionally incomplete and mysterious (and possibly supernatural) ending, and wrote a sort of sequel that completes the narrative. Read both Poe’s and Verne’s books for a rare treat of following the path of one master’s influence on another.
6. The Afterlife of Poe by Scott Peeples
Peeples, president of the Poe Studies Association in the United States, chooses a perfect framework for a study of Poe. Poe did not really become the Poe we know until after his death. Peeples expertly examines responses to Poe’s writings as well as his life in the century and a half since his death. His chapter on Poe’s death, and the way it has been perceived, stands among the very best texts on the subject.
7. Portraits of Poe by Michael Deas
As the title suggests, photographer Deas compiles a beautiful edition of photos and portraits of Poe. Some of the surprisingly interesting parts of this book concern the apocryphal portraits once thought to be Poe. Someone should put together a similarly beautiful book that selects some of the remarkable illustrations made from Poe’s work, too.
8. The Pale Blue Eye by Louis Bayard and The American Boy by Andrew Taylor
The Pale Blue Eye is a new novel from a talented Washington DC author who takes on Poe as a cadet at West Point military academy. Most people find it surprising that Poe was a military man (or quasi military man, since he never quite finished his training or service), and indeed he is the only major American writer to have attended West Point. Bayard cleverly matches up cadet Poe with a heinous outbreak of murders. To continue your fictional path through Poe’s youth, read Taylor’s American Boy, which treats Poe as a child living with his foster family in London, and there being mixed up in an appropriate amount of intrigue.
9. Portnoy’s Complaint by Philip Roth
One of Poe’s most lasting legacies is that of the narrator who is frantic, frenetic, a little deranged, who nevertheless somehow grows on us. We trust his world vision even when we don’t believe a word he’s saying. Roth’s Portnoy is a great example of a latter-day evolution of that species of Poe’s narrators. He is delusional but somehow in touch with a cultural and emotional reality that is evocative and unforgettable. There is also a sexual self-torture that cannot fail to remind us of Poe’s characters and his persona. (Similarly, think of Humbert Humbert in Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita, who explicitly tips his hat to Poe.)
10. The Goldbug Variations by Richard Powers
One of Poe’s most popular stories in his own day was The Gold Bug, about a perplexing quest for pirate treasure. Powers uses this as well as other cultural, scientific, musical and mathematical materials to create an ambitious, complex, challenging novel that will keep you thinking and questioning. Not always reader friendly, but it is worth remembering that neither was Poe.
Full article: http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2006/may/23/top10s.poe