6. 1001 Arabian Nights (first published c. 840)
At Amazon UK or US.
Francsico: Firstly let me say that I haven't got the whole complete version of the Arabian Nights. Actually, there doesn't seem to exist one really, the closest is the 19th century Burton edition but he was a crap translator. You are better off with a good compilation of tales like the Penguin one, which is a nice 400 pages long instead of like 10 volumes.
These tales are the first book reviewed here which is pure entertainment. There is no serious moral to most of the tales and they are all the better for it. They are just plain entertaining. The whole book is set in its own universe of Arabian fantasy, where there seem to be as many Djinns around as people. And the whole magic fantasy thing really works in a universe which is as detailed as that of the Arabian Nights, which developed through centuries or even millenia of folk tales.
So, if you like the idea of magic lamps, Djinns and some deeply developed fantastic world this is something for you. Just remember that the book itself is nothing more than a compilation of many many tales from different areas of Arabic influence, and formulated in very different times. The idea of a framing story for it is also brilliant, and having Sherahzad telling these stories to the Sultan helps transport us to the fantasy world of the thing. I really loved it.
Vanda: This is another of the books I grew up with, although my version of the Arabian Nights, I recognise now, was considerably tamer. (It was for children, after all). It is still full of wonders now, though, at least to me.
These are beautiful, beautiful stories, and while the book is not short, it lets itself be read with ease, from story to story, and from story inside story inside story to next story. Metanarratives are again abundant, but not complicated, and they keep you interested in the book.
This is a very good collection that is easy to pick up, or to read a story from, and put it down again until it strikes your fancy. Also, if you have children, read them this book (well, maybe a slighter tamer version), because they'll love you for it.
Will forever look at brass lamps in a new light!
The nucleus of the stories is formed by a Pahlavi Sassanid Persian book called Hazār Afsānah ("Thousand Myths", in Persian: هزارافسانه). During the reign of the Abbasid Caliph Harun al-Rashid in the 8th century, Baghdad had become an important cosmopolitan city. Merchants from Persia, China, India, Africa, and Europe were all found in Baghdad. It was during this time that many of the stories, which were originally folk stories, are thought to have been collected orally over many years and later then compiled into a single book. The later compiler and translator into Arabic is reputedly storyteller Abu abd-Allah Muhammed el-Gahshigar in the 9th century. The frame story of Shahrzad seems to have been added in the 14th century. The first modern Arabic compilation, made out of Egyptian writings, was published in Cairo in 1835.