Classics, retold and revamped.
Cannongate Books ($18)
Jeanette Winterson adds her trademark postmodern touch to the classic stories of Atlas and Heracles (better known in the West as Hercules). Atlas holds the world on his shoulders both in the world of gods and where humans have begun to travel into space. For Atlas, holding the earth is a punishment on the body but also a chance for the mind to sit, quietly reflecting on the world resting on him. When Heracles needs to gather fruit from the garden of Atlas' daughter, Heracles ends up taking the world on his own shoulders for a short time and discovers that his place and punishment in the world is far more suited to his personality.
Everyone knows the basic story of the Iliad, Western literature's most famous tale and first epic poem. Alessandro Baricco has not only whittled the story down to a manageable 160 pages, but he has removed the two most fantastic elements: the gods and the repetitious quality of poetry. An Iliad is, instead of a poem, a narrative, told in first-person account by the characters, all of whom seem aware of the legendary Trojan War, in which they are in the midst. Baricco assumes that they know the end as much as we do and builds his story around particular events rather than context.
SAILING FROM BYZANTIUM
Delacorte Press ($22)
Quickly sweeping the reader through history, Sailing from Byzantium is one of those books that could easily be quite the scholarly pursuit. Instead, its author, Colin Wells, leaves pretension behind and embraces the art of storytelling. Taking readers from the ancient world of the fifth century to modern Rome, Wells reminds us that the books we learn our history from have almost been lost time and time again. He asks us to wonder what our world would be like without the complete track of philosophy from Plato, through the ancient Islamic world and back to the West.