dirac

Classics you haven't read...

76 posts in this topic

'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?

Those chapters on whaling are trying, aren't they? I can never make myself skip anything, and I dutifully read these through the second time around, thinking I had to for the full Great Literature Experience. dirac, if only you'd opened this thread sooner. :lol:

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Are there PARTS of classic novels you've avoided?

Yes, definitely. Or, to rephrase, there are classics that I love, but only in part. The most striking example I can think of right now is Daniel Deronda. The first half - I can't stop reading; the second half - I really only forced myself through it because I liked the first part so much and thought the story would pick up again.

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I backed into reading the metaphysical poets because I was going through a Barbara Pym phase and wanted to find out what everyone in the novels was quoting to each other. "A glass of blessings" led me to George Herbert. But I soon left the clever but dour Herbert ("who would have thought my shriveled heart could have recovered its greeness") for Andrew Marvell who gives immediate pleasure a looser rein ("He hangs the orange bright, like golden lamps in a green night...he makes the figs our mouths to meet; and throws melons at our feet"). I always get a kick out this last verse of a long Marvell poem (a bit like a Corot painting):

But now the salmon-fisher's moist

Their leathern boats begin to hoist;

And, like Antipodes in shoes,

Have shod their heads in their canoes.

How Tortoise-like, but not so slow,

These rational Amphibii go!

Let's in: for the dark hemisphere

Does like one of them appear.

* * *

There's also the question about a classic that we would have never, never have read and caused us a lot of anxiety (say Thomas Pynchon or the above discussed War and Peace) but did read because someone we were mad about was reading it. The someone is long gone but the book has become a nice part of us.

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I loved Tom Jones, every bit of it, but I was reading it at the same time as my husband, to whom I was newly married. :wink: He had to read it while at St. John's College. I think that was the motivation I needed to continue with the book. Because we were talking about it daily, I think it was easier to enjoy.

Started and stopped Moby Dick though. I don't even want to bother going back to it.

I like the question about getting through parts of books. Yes, that happened to me with my earlier readings of War and Peace. I read it once a decade. I see my evolution as a person and as a reader through each new time spent with this book.

As a young person, I read it mostly for the romance, skimmed through the war parts, settings, and anything much to do with the older folks. As I've aged in the last two decades, I started to read other parts with much greater interest. Now I really love the settings, and take great care reading them.

I also love the historical perspective; it's sent me off to Russian history textbooks on a number of occasions. And the family dynasty part! That is most intriguing now, in my mid-50's and thinking about my own family past, present, and future, watching the younger ones finding their mates and trying to integrate their families.

It's my favorite classic.

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Yes, definitely. Or, to rephrase, there are classics that I love, but only in part. The most striking example I can think of right now is Daniel Deronda. The first half - I can't stop reading; the second half - I really only forced myself through it because I liked the first part so much and thought the story would pick up again.

I feel the same way, Ostrich, and when I was watching the adaptation shown awhile back on Masterpiece Theatre (now retitled "Masterpiece") the exact same thing happened.

There's also the question about a classic that we would have never, never have read and caused us a lot of anxiety (say Thomas Pynchon or the above discussed War and Peace) but did read because someone we were mad about was reading it. The someone is long gone but the book has become a nice part of us

How true. I only picked up John Gardner's Grendel for that reason, my previous experiences with his fiction not being happy ones, and it turned out to be a great book. It would take infatuation of Tristan and Isolde proportions to force me back to Pynchon, though.

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I loved Tom Jones, every bit of it, but I was reading it at the same time as my husband, to whom I was newly married. :wink: He had to read it while at St. John's College. I think that was the motivation I needed to continue with the book. Because we were talking about it daily, I think it was easier to enjoy.

Greetings, vagansmom, it's good to hear from you. It's true, sometimes circumstances, especially romantic ones :), help. My attempts with Tom Jones took place outside an academic context, and maybe it would have helped if I had been forced to read it through to the end.

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I'm pretty obsessive about finishing books I start, but after a number of attempts, I admit I've never made it though Joyce's Ulysses. And I really wanted to like it since I bought my copy at the Trinity College bookstore in Dublin. I just couldn't get into the rambling thing. Maybe it also had something to do with never being excited about The Odyssey, even after a couple of readings. But I have enjoyed Fagles translation of The Iliad very much.

The major classic I've never read is War and Peace. While I certainly didn't hate Anna Karenina, I found it got tiresome in places and have to admit that like Aurora, by the end of it I was sort of ready to shove her under the train myself. I decided that was enough Tolstoy for a while. Maybe someday I'll go back.

In a slightly different category, I think the hardest classic I've read that I still loved was The Brothers Karamazov by Dostovsky.

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I'm pretty obsessive about finishing books I start, but after a number of attempts, I admit I've never made it though Joyce's Ulysses. And I really wanted to like it since I bought my copy at the Trinity College bookstore in Dublin. I just couldn't get into the rambling thing.

Ah, the sentimental impulse. :wink: I didn't read it myself till after visiting Ireland and the Martello Tower where the first chapter is set. Bloom's ramblings aside, it's not a rambling thing once you see what Joyce is doing, but for most of us to begin to understand that, we needs a good commentary. I bought or checked out a half dozen or so.

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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.

You're allowed to do that? :yahoo: Who knew?

I'm too OCD-ish, must read every word :flowers: , but next time I encounter something that looks boring (I'll start with a paragraph), I'll try the skip-and-flip method. I'm more inclined to reread anything knotty, boring, or not "gotten." I'm getting the sense that it can be counterproductive.

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I'm too OCD-ish, must read every word :( , but next time I encounter something that looks boring (I'll start with a paragraph), I'll try the skip-and-flip method. I'm more inclined to reread anything knotty, boring, or not "gotten." I'm getting the sense that it can be counterproductive.

As somebody said somewhere, if at first you don't succeed, try, try again. Then, the hell with it.

I think that your M.O. is in fact the right way to go, although I don't always follow it myself.

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Brave sidwich. I wish I'd had similar courage. What did he or she do?

She was pretty cool with it, and took it with a shrug. I still took the exams and had to write on it to a limited extent, but it actually turned out to be one of my best classes. :)

I don't think I ever did particularly well with Dickens, though. I know I had to read "Little Dorrit" in college and I know I must have, but I don't actually remember any of it. ANY OF IT. Strangely enough, my college advisor who I adored was a Dickens scholar, though.

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I'm pretty obsessive about finishing books I start, but after a number of attempts, I admit I've never made it though Joyce's Ulysses. And I really wanted to like it since I bought my copy at the Trinity College bookstore in Dublin. I just couldn't get into the rambling thing.

Ah, the sentimental impulse. :) I didn't read it myself till after visiting Ireland and the Martello Tower where the first chapter is set.

Count me in...so we make three.

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I know I had to read "Little Dorrit" in college and I know I must have, but I don't actually remember any of it. ANY OF IT.

I've had that experience. Most unnerving.

I don't have any trouble with Dickens, myself, possibly because when I was in school I attended a summer getaway devoted to Dickens every year - pleasant locale, nice people -- and while I hadn't been a huge fan to begin with I grew to appreciate him.

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The two tops of my list are Don Quijote and War and Peace.

Then, there is some Proust, Joyce...and yes, Tom Jones also.

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I know I had to read "Little Dorrit" in college and I know I must have, but I don't actually remember any of it. ANY OF IT.

'Little Dorrit' is the one and only Dickens that I couldn't finish - and I gave it my best. Funnily enough, I liked Dickens more when I was younger. I think the black-and-white characterisation didn't bother me as much then.

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... and while I hadn't been a huge fan to begin with I grew to appreciate him.

I have to confess that Dickens, of all the novelists mentioned so far, is the one I have never been able to "get." (On the other hand, I can understand his appeal to the Victorians -- British and American -- and why he was something of a superstar as writer and lecturer.)

Dirac, what are the elements of Dickens that attract you most -- and keep you going when you read him. Do you have any advice for those of us who have given up on Dickens?

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I don't have much time today, but briefly, Dickens makes me laugh, and he can also inspire pity and terror. His powers of characterization are as good as anyone's.

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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.

This made me giggle and twitch -- when I was in high school I was quite sick for a few months and did most of my work from home. My English class was reading Jude the Obscure, and the copy I had was one of those bargain school editions with two books bound in the same cover. Jude was paired with Pride and Prejudice, and for me Hardy just couldn't compete. I tried and failed so often with Jude that I finally had someone bring me a copy of the Cliff Notes and I forced myself to read each chapter of the Notes and then of the text, and find every dreary point the Notes brought up.

I read Ivanhoe when I was in junior high school (lots of free time) and liked it a great deal, but I've always been tickled by the comment from one of Vonnegut's characters: "Wuffo I gotta read no Ivanhoe? Wuffo?"

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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.

Oh, I wouldn't have expected Sue's "Wandering Jew" to be in such a list ! :icon8:

I read it as a teen-ager and had found it very entertaining, as well as "Les mystères de Paris", but as other Sue books, it's a strange mix of melodrama and politics (just in the middle of sad stories of abandoned young women, orphans or starving works, wham, long paragraphes against death penalty or reforms of jails or independence of women...) If I remember correctly, most of his books were banned by the Catholic church for decades (well, the villain in "The Wandering Jew" is a Jesuit monk who is absolutely devilish, and kills dozens of people in order to finally become the head of the Jesuits and then the pope...)

I've never even tried "Salammbo"...

I had to read two Zola books when I was in junior high school and high school ("Germinal", which I unfortunately studied twice at school, and "La Curée") and I disliked it enough so that I never tried another one. I don't have a fond memory of Balzac's "La Peau de chagrin" (studied at school too) and admit I read almost nothing else from him.

On the other hand, I really loved "Great expectations", "David Copperfield", "Oliver Twist", "A tale of two cities" and "Hard times" when I read it as a teen-ager (but have started at least three times "Martin Chuzzlewit" later and never finished it...)

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I had to read two Zola books when I was in junior high school and high school ("Germinal", which I unfortunately studied twice at school, and "La Curée") and I disliked it enough so that I never tried another one. I don't have a fond memory of Balzac's "La Peau de chagrin" (studied at school too) and admit I read almost nothing else from him.

On the other hand, I really loved "Great expectations", "David Copperfield", "Oliver Twist", "A tale of two cities" and "Hard times" when I read it as a teen-ager (but have started at least three times "Martin Chuzzlewit" later and never finished it...)

Interesting...I, on the other side, absolutely ADORED all of Zola's books, and devoured everything I found of him. including Germinal. Other favorites i found fascinating during my teen years were Stendhal and Balzac, both of whom i also extensively went trough. On the other side, i didn't find Dickens that appealing back then, so i basically flipped trough his works...

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Oh, I wouldn't have expected Sue's "Wandering Jew" to be in such a list ! :icon8:

Estelle, you have to rememember that "when I was a child" is something that happened long, long ago. :) The book was old even when I found it on a shelf in our attic.

Zola, for me, is a wonderful source of detailed historical and social information about France during and after the Second Empire. Nana is the best, imo. I'm partial to La Bete Humaine and The Ladies' Paradis (Au bonheur des Dames), which tells you a huge amount about the rise of consumerism and the origin of department stores like Bon Marche.

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Oh, I wouldn't have expected Sue's "Wandering Jew" to be in such a list ! :icon8:

Estelle, you have to rememember that "when I was a child" is something that happened long, long ago. :) The book was old even when I found it on a shelf in our attic.

Bart, that was not meant to be disparaging about your age :-)

Actually, what surprised me most is that I didn't even know that the book was known too in the English-speaking world...

Zola, for me, is a wonderful source of detailed historical and social information about France during and after the Second Empire. Nana is the best, imo. I'm partial to La Bete Humaine and The Ladies' Paradis (Au bonheur des Dames), which tells you a huge amount about the rise of consumerism and the origin of department stores like Bon Marche.

I guess I should give it a second try someday.

By the way, what a pity that reading an author for school often discourages people from reading some more... (Of course the opposite exists too.)

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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.

This made me giggle and twitch -- when I was in high school I was quite sick for a few months and did most of my work from home. My English class was reading Jude the Obscure, and the copy I had was one of those bargain school editions with two books bound in the same cover. Jude was paired with Pride and Prejudice, and for me Hardy just couldn't compete. I tried and failed so often with Jude that I finally had someone bring me a copy of the Cliff Notes and I forced myself to read each chapter of the Notes and then of the text, and find every dreary point the Notes brought up.

I read Ivanhoe when I was in junior high school (lots of free time) and liked it a great deal, but I've always been tickled by the comment from one of Vonnegut's characters: "Wuffo I gotta read no Ivanhoe? Wuffo?"

I'm still trying to get my mind around the pairing of P&P and Jude the Obscure......

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:)

Bart, that was not meant to be disparaging about your age :-)

site exists too.)

Estelle, I didn't think you were implying that that at all. :):wink:

Back in the late 50s, when I was in high school, the list of "classics" was probably not all that different from what it is today. On the other hand, I don't remember many people questioning whether they should be classics. The canon of "great books" was pretty much accepted and agreed upon, even when young students didn't particularly enjoy the books. These books were, like certain foods, "good" for you even if unpalatable. My own interest in European classics came later, in college when I came acrdoss them while roaming around the library stacks.

I wonder who the American "classic" equivalents of Zola are: Theodore Dreiser? Sinclair Lewis? Upton Sinclair? I notice that no one has mentioned them.

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I wonder who the American "classic" equivalents of Zola are: Theodore Dreiser? Sinclair Lewis? Upton Sinclair? I notice that no one has mentioned them.

Well, if mentioned by me, I guess this would be the wrong forum, for which this is basically a discussion about dislikes. Anyways, a little :) I just want to add that Dreiser has always been one of my favorite American writers. It's been years since I read him, but i have great memories of "Sister Carrie", "An American Tragedy" and "The Financier".

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