'Lost' Literature: Not Just For Desert Islands The ABC series Lost may focus on a mystical island, but it's also about larger themes like religious faith and the importance of community — the stuff of memorable novels.


'Lost' Literature: Not Just For Desert Islands

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The TV show "Lost" has some obsessive viewers, and Jen Chaney is one of them. The show's new season premiers next week, and in anticipation of that big moment, for our series "Three Books," Chaney suggests this is the perfect time to discover the "Lost" literature connection.

JEN CHANEY (Film Columnist, Washington Post): I am a "Lost" addict. I think constantly about the ABC drama - when I'm in the shower, walking my dog, even when I'm watching other TV shows. I also frequently visit my local library to dig up copies of the books that have appeared on the show. Hold up, you say; there's literature on "Lost"? Oh, yes, there is. "Lost" may center around a mystical island, but it's also about larger themes like religious faith and the importance of community, the stuff of memorable novels. Happily, the show's writers weave in so many literary references that each installment also opens up a world of transcendent reading. Here are three books I re-fell in love with courtesy of "Lost."

"Watership Down," the first book ever prominently featured on "Lost," is technically a story about bunnies. But there is nothing cuddly about it. Like "Lost," the story focuses on the members of one community forced to scrap and struggle their way toward survival. But what makes it a joy to read is the way author Richard Adams personifies those bunnies, endowing them with stubbornness, fear and resourcefulness, as well as a unique, melodic vocabulary.

It's also easy to get buried in "The Turn of the Screw," the 1898 novella written by Henry James. Well, that is, after you adapt to the author's sometimes flowery Victorian prose. Once that relatively minor adjustment is made, the eerie power of this classic ghost story will inevitably creep up on you. In this twist-filled tale, a skittish governess begins to care for two spookily well-spoken young charges at an isolated country estate in England. Almost immediately, she sees visions of a seemingly sinister couple. Is this mysterious pair a danger to the children? Or is the governess truly mad? The reader is never quite sure whether the version of events she's being told in "Turn of the Screw" is gospel, a trait it shares in common with "Lost." Another connection? In both James's book and the ABC drama, people from the past often return in spectral form to tidy up unfinished business.

There are no ghosts in Kurt Vonnegut's "Slaughterhouse-Five," but there is a plane crash, a former soldier who gets unstuck in time, and a group of characters connected to each other in ways they don't initially understand. If that all sounds very "Lost"-esque, it is. Also like "Lost," "Slaughterhouse" defies genre. Is it a war novel? Science fiction? Social commentary? Yes, yes and yes. As protagonist Billy Pilgrim attempts to revisit the events of the bombing of Dresden during World War II, he hops backwards and forward through the major events in his life. The result is a complicated, thought-provoking and absurd look at the choices that define one man's time on earth and, briefly, away from it. Vonnegut doesn't follow the standard, linear approach to storytelling. For that, I salute the late author. And as a "Lost" addict, I feel grateful that the writers of my favorite show have the courage and the latitude to shake up their narrative every week, too.

BLOCK: Jen Chaney oversees film coverage and, with her colleague Liz Kelly, blogs about "Lost" at washingtonpost.com. Her fiction suggestions are "Watership Down" by Richard Adams, "The Turn of the Screw" by Henry James, and "Slaughterhouse-Five" by Kurt Vonnegut. You can comment on your favorite books inspired by "Lost" or other things by posting a comment at npr.org.

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