dirac

Classics you haven't read...

76 posts in this topic

I thought I would ask BTers about classic books they disliked, weren't able to finish, or never got around to starting.

I've never been able to get all the way through Tom Jones. It's a great book and I enjoy it, up to a point. It just doesn't hold my interest all the way through.

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I could never get through Scarlet Letter. And believe me I tried.

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I have to admit - I quit on Vanity Fair. Just couldn't slog through it. Then some other book caught my fancy and I never picked it up again.

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Yup, I also had problems with 'Vanity Fair'. And Tom Jones and Huckleberry Fin. Also (so far) Anna Karenina - I'm working on it. Also any Anthony Trollope.

Then there are books that I could only get through on my second (or more attempt). This includes Jane Eyre and Ivanhoe. I really enjoyed both, in the end.

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Also any Anthony Trollope.

So glad you brought this up, because this I just keep forgetting to do. Someone please recomend one ASAP, while I still have it on my mind.

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Tom Jones was total hell for the first half, but there came a point when you felt like you were over the hump and coasting downhill. (Oh my. This is almost 30 years ago . . .)

I had a few books I out and out refused to read, almost all from the same period. Clarissa and Pamela top that list. It took me about 10 attempts to get past the first chapter of Silas Marner. I actually gave up on Middlemarch in complete exhaustion 50 pages before the end.

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I also tried "War and Peace" multiple times, and never was able to make it past the first half. Another one is "David Copperfield" but I suspect that's one I can give another shot to, because I know how many people say that they tried it as a teen and couldn't make it, but it was easier as an adult.

Oh, "Divine Comedy." I tried. I really did.

The biggest heresy though is "Diary of Anne Frank." We had to read it in school and I admit after awhile I just used the Cliff Notes.

On the other hand there are "classics" that I breezed through. Great Expectations, Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre, Pride and Prejudice, Emma, Don Quixote, Huckleberry Finn, and Great Gatsby are good examples.

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Yup, I also had problems with 'Vanity Fair'. And Tom Jones and Huckleberry Fin. Also (so far) Anna Karenina - I'm working on it. Also any Anthony Trollope.

I love Tom Jones, I guess I'm the only one here who did!

Hated Anna Karenina though--we read it in HS, and I was just screaming "kill yourself already!!" by the end of it.

That, Crime and Punishment and (shudder) Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man were the books I read in school that if I wasn't a neurotic overachiever, I *never* would have finished.

Yuck.

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I loved all the Trollope novels that make up the "Palliser" series but the best was "Can You Forgive Her?" Things haven't changed much for smart, single women. But I would recommend startng with the first book of the series - the name of which, of course, escapes me.

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So many that I've forgotten all but a few of the experiences. (When I repress memory, I repress memory.)

Finnegan's Wake was my all-time most excruciating act of penance. David Copperfield.

Scarlet Letter (has anyone actually liked this; the little known Marble Faun is much more enjoyable).

Beowolf, even in a recent free translation. Norse and Germanic sagas, generally.

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Moby Dick I found underwhelming when I first read it as a read-aloud with my wife. A second, private reading, was more satisfying, but the numerous digressions from the plot still bored me.

Beowolf, even in a recent free translation. Norse and Germanic sagas, generally.

Beowolf came alive for me, many years after reading it, when I bought a recording of Seamus Heaney reading his own translation.

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It's funny how sometimes you don't read what you're supposed to but read something else in lieu of the classic.

I didn't finish "Madame Bovary" (I still must) but I did read the short and perfect "A Simple Heart" and "Sentimental Education" instead. Nor did I finish the "Golden Bowl" but did read the easier "Ambassadors" and the incredible "Portrait of a Lady" (version 1). And the short Tolsoi "Family Happiness"--about very slow changes of heart in a perfect relationship--and "Childhood, Boyhood & Youth" will have to do for "War and Peace," at least for a while.

"Remembrance of Things Past" was an avoidance of Joyce.

And like Dale and Patrick I read only part of "Vanity Fair," though there are such great characters. With Thackery it's more that you have to push your way through, rather than be pulled along by its currents--there's a sort of missing booky eros.

Yes, this is a good confessional booth.

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Interesting responses, all.

On the other hand there are "classics" that I breezed through. Great Expectations, Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre, Pride and Prejudice, Emma, Don Quixote, Huckleberry Finn, and Great Gatsby are good examples.

Many of these books are very high in the entertainment quotient, I'd suggest, and also they are not too long, with one obvious exception. (I note that many of the books under discussion here tend to be longer rather than shorter.:off topic:)

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Quiggin, you raise some very important points.

It's funny how sometimes you don't read what you're supposed to but read something else in lieu of the classic.

You mention some reasons which certainly are true of me: looking for something easier, shorter, more humane.

The idea of avoidance (eg., reading Proust to justify skipping Joyce) is brilliant. Some of us DO want to avoid a monumental work but don't want to sink too far from the level of "classic."

Some of the monuments have had their day. I remember as a child finding around the house a book entitled something like The Hundred Greatest Novels. Eaach was summarized in quite some detail. Most were long and turgid books from the 19th century. Flaubert's Salammbo was one I remember. Another was Eugene Sue's Wandering Jew. I doubt that many of them are considered great by experts today.

Yes, this is a good confessional booth.
Absolutely! :wink::off topic:

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Nor did I finish the "Golden Bowl" but did read the easier "Ambassadors" and the incredible "Portrait of a Lady" (version 1).

I often wonder whether anyone ever enjoys some of Henry James's novels such as The Golden Bowl and The Wings of the Dove. I find them almost unreadable, and I tried hard because I really love many of his works(Portrait of a Lady, The Europeans, Washington Square), and I feel like I am missing out...

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I often wonder whether anyone ever enjoys some of Henry James's novels such as The Golden Bowl and The Wings of the Dove. I find them almost unreadable, and I tried hard because I really love many of his works(Portrait of a Lady, The Europeans, Washington Square), and I feel like I am missing out...

I did enjoy the Golden Bowl, although sometimes the enjoyment was similar to the pleasure of reading philosophy or concentrating on a "difficult" piece of music. Sometimes the work was half the fun!

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Ostrich, I love 'The Golden Bowl' but I can understand not doing so. Many people don't care for late James. I once felt as you do, but acquired the taste. 'The Wings of the Dove' I don't like quite as much, but I think it's great, too. Maybe try them again a few years from now??

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I often wonder whether anyone ever enjoys some of Henry James's novels such as The Golden Bowl and The Wings of the Dove. I find them almost unreadable, and I tried hard because I really love many of his works(Portrait of a Lady, The Europeans, Washington Square), and I feel like I am missing out...

I did enjoy the Golden Bowl, although sometimes the enjoyment was similar to the pleasure of reading philosophy or concentrating on a "difficult" piece of music. Sometimes the work was half the fun!

Sorry, kfw, I missed your comment. 'Difficult' music is a good analogy - you have to really focus on the writing and allow yourself to be drawn in.

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'Difficult' music is a good analogy - you have to really focus on the writing and allow yourself to be drawn in.

This probably applies to subject matter as well as style. For example, many of us love War and Peace . But how many have read (or, more challenging, RE-read) Tolsoy's long disquisitions on the meaning of history? I had to do so for a history class -- once! Since then, I flip past all those pages pages until I get back to the fictional characters.

The incredibly long sections on whaling in Moby Dick probably fit into this category as well.

Are there PARTS of classic novels you've avoided?

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'Difficult' music is a good analogy - you have to really focus on the writing and allow yourself to be drawn in.

This probably applies to subject matter as well as style. For example, many of us love War and Peace . But how many have read (or, more challenging, RE-read) Tolsoy's long disquisitions on the meaning of history? I had to do so for a history class -- once! Since then, I flip past all those pages pages until I get back to the fictional characters.

The incredibly long sections on whaling in Moby Dick probably fit into this category as well.

Are there PARTS of classic novels you've avoided?

That's a good question, bart. I can't think of whole sections I've ignored, but it's true that I don't always read as closely the second time around.

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Nor did I finish the "Golden Bowl" but did read the easier "Ambassadors" and the incredible "Portrait of a Lady" (version 1).

I often wonder whether anyone ever enjoys some of Henry James's novels such as The Golden Bowl and The Wings of the Dove. I find them almost unreadable, and I tried hard because I really love many of his works(Portrait of a Lady, The Europeans, Washington Square), and I feel like I am missing out...

I love his short stories/novellas, and always stop reading his novels in the middle. I don't know why. I *like* them, it is just if I get at all distracted while reading, i can't get back INTO them.

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Halfway through "Great Expectations," I told my high school English teacher that I was not going to finish it. I eventually finished four years later in a college level class (it made much more sense reading it in tandem with "David Copperfield.")

I'm still working on "The Awakening" three years later.

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Halfway through "Great Expectations," I told my high school English teacher that I was not going to finish it.
Brave sidwich. I wish I'd had similar courage. What did he or she do?

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I remember our high school class revolting against the teacher because of 'Ethan Frome.' I was the only person who liked it, but I love all Wharton novels. On the other hand, Odyssey ... I feel guilty even saying this.

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I remember our high school class revolting against the teacher because of 'Ethan Frome.' I was the only person who liked it, but I love all Wharton novels. On the other hand, Odyssey ... I feel guilty even saying this.

A lot can depend on translations when it comes to the Iliad and the Odyssey, but I also cop to not having read them line by line....

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