dirac

Classics you haven't read...

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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.

Thanks for the reminisences, Bart. "Good for you" is part of what made me begin reread "Oedipus Rex" this past weekend, but not what made me finish it. How sad then to read this in today's NY Times report on the Russian reaction to Solzhenitseyn's death:

Mr. Vasilevsky said on Monday that young people considered figures like Mr. Solzhenitsyn to be artifacts, and that Russian society in general was no longer interested in towering cultural or social figures.

“There is no demand for great people,” he said. “I can’t say why, but this fact is simply obvious to me. Famous, notable, popular — yes. But not great, in the fullest sense of the word.”

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How sad then to read this in today's NY Times report on the Russian reaction to Solzhenitseyn's death:
Mr. Vasilevsky said on Monday that young people considered figures like Mr. Solzhenitsyn to be artifacts, and that Russian society in general was no longer interested in towering cultural or social figures.

“There is no demand for great people,” he said. “I can’t say why, but this fact is simply obvious to me. Famous, notable, popular — yes. But not great, in the fullest sense of the word.”

Well...old Soviet Union-(and its towerings)-is out...new Russia is in.

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How sad then to read this in today's NY Times report on the Russian reaction to Solzhenitseyn's death:
Mr. Vasilevsky said on Monday that young people considered figures like Mr. Solzhenitsyn to be artifacts, and that Russian society in general was no longer interested in towering cultural or social figures.

"There is no demand for great people," he said. "I can't say why, but this fact is simply obvious to me. Famous, notable, popular — yes. But not great, in the fullest sense of the word."

Is it that different here these days? Anywhere? Our cultural icons are so accomplished that one candidate recently compared his opponent to two of our more popular cultural icons in an attempt to disparage him.

Back to the topic, I tried Solzhenitsyn once or twice -- don't remember which book, but it doesn't matter, because I couldn't get beyond page 20 or so. Hardly dipped my toe in.

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Cristian, you are actually raising the issue of how "classics" are definied differently in different political systems. It makes sense that Dreiser, et al., who show characters at the mercy of a cruel social/economic system (American capitalism at the beginning of the 20th century), would win official support in Castro's Cuba.

kfw, thanks for mentioning Solzhenisyn. In his body of work there are at least two kinds of kind of "classic." I responded to One Day in the Life ... and Cancer Ward largely because of what they expressed about individuals and their personal experiences. What hapened to the characters depended, of course, on in a particular time and place, but they were somehow also universal..

August 1914 and Gulag Archipelago, on the other hand, appealed to me largely for what they revealed -- in great detail -- about a particular social system at a particular time in history. They're the kind of book I read haivng a couple of histories, atlases, etc., at hand

This mirrors, in a way, the division of War and Peace into two kinds of narration -- one small-scale, personal, familial; the other sweeping and geopolitical -- which we've mentioned earlier.

As I get older, I tend to prefer the second kind of classic, for reasons I do not understand at all. :)

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I couldn't get through a lot of Solzhenitsyn, unfortunately. August 1914 was unreadable. Brave man, of course.

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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...)

Estelle, did you read Dickens in English or French? I'd be curious to know how he translates.

I didn't finish 'Martin Chuzzlewit,' either. Liking Dickens doesn't mean you have to like all of him.

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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...)

Estelle, did you read Dickens in English or French? I'd be curious to know how he translates.

I didn't finish 'Martin Chuzzlewit,' either. Liking Dickens doesn't mean you have to like all of him.

I read it in French. Even now, I don't think I'd feel courageous enough to read it in English (my problem with reading literature in English is that either I spend much time with a dictionary, or I feel frustrated because I don't understand some words or expressions...) and when I read all of them (as a teen-ager) my English was weaker...

So I loved the translations, but since I don't know the original works I have no idea of how good they were.

I guess that lack of time probably had a role with my failure to finish "Martin Chuzzlewit" (besides the fact that I didn't find the characters especially interesting)- sometimes I'm a bit nostalgic of the time when I could spend whole days reading big books like "Les Misérables" or Dumas' "Joseph Balsamo" series (well, in that period I complained quite a lot about having to spend long summer holidays in a rather isolated house with little to do except reading... Grass always is greener somewhere else :) )

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One book I couln't finish during my first year in high school was Balzac's Le Pere Goriot. It was so boring and we were at the same time reading George Orwell's 1984 in our English class.

I, like a lot of my fellows, choose what's considered as an heresy by litterature teachers :) : I read instead a short book on le Pere Goriot which contain a very shortened version of the text with an analysis.

I also have some very bad memories of Tacitus' Annals I had to read (in latin!) for a latin course.

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"There is no demand for great people," he said. "I can't say why, but this fact is simply obvious to me. Famous, notable, popular — yes. But not great, in the fullest sense of the word."

This is a related to some of Nietzsche's ubermensch obsession with 'Zarathustra', an extraordinary text (and not nearly so difficult IMO as some people I know have perceived it), as well as his expressed belief that the Greeks were interesting because conditions allowed them to produce great individuals, and they're not making them like they used to. That's a different meaning from the above quote--which refers to something more humane, but still, there have been Nelson Mandela and Jimmy

Carter, among many others-- but either seem sometimes true, sometimes not. Flattening out of society and individuals is often discussed in intellectual circles, and it's impossible not to notice a lot of it. I don't believe it in either case, although there is a lot of trash and mediocrity.

Never read any Zola, Dumas or Hugo, and probably won't get to it, but read 'Pere Goriot' around the same time as cygneblanc, and

thought it was gripping, as is

'Cousine Bette' . The stories and discussions and popularizations and extravaganzas of Dumas and Hugo, etc., or so all-pervasive that I don't feel the need to read them through

(same with 'Don Quixote', most likely, which Martin Amis found the most maddening to ever get through of the old Big "God Books") gven that there are so many other things that seem more crucial, but I do feel the need to get to Stendahl, The Red and the Black, which Cristian mentioned.

I've read a fair amount of Dickens, but don't really love any of it but 'Oliver Twist'. Have

read most of Faulkner, but 'A Fable' is especially demanding, I may or may not get to it. He's always profound and trenchant, and I think 'Absalom! Absalom!' is the best to see Faulkner at his most magnificently powerful, without some of the difficulties you encounter with novels like 'The Sound and the Fury', although that's worth it too, and 'Light in August' is close to perfect.

Doubt if I will care to struggle with 'Finnegan's Wake', but 'Ulysses' is definitely worth tje effort (especially 'Sirens' and 'Circe' and that amazing writing he does for the lame girl romanticizing,

'Nausicaa'), and I recommend Edna O'Brien's excellent book on it in order to get through it..

May want to read Willa Cather at some point, have not done so. Of Dreiser, I have very much liked 'The Bulwark'.

Most things I haven't read haven't been because they were ultimately too difficult, but because of lack of time for reading everything. Of difficult things completed, I'd definitely say 'Tristram Shandy' was the most maddening, and took me 3 1/2 years. I read the Recherches of Proust in 2 months, admittedly all of it first in English. But that's several thousand pages; I thought Sterne was much more forbidding, because there is almost no sensuosity to this kind of writing.

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I, like a lot of my fellows, choose what's considered as an heresy by litterature teachers :) : I read instead a short book on le Pere Goriot which contain a very shortened version of the text with an analysis.
I suspect that many of us have taken that route. :o:D

While we are in a confessional mode, I have to admit that Classics Comic Books provided me with a glimpse of a number of the more obscure and dated "classics." Two I recall were Hugo's Man Who Laughs and Dumas' Black Tulip. After enjoying the comic books, I did try to read both in full book format. But I didn't get very far.

Would these books be considered classics any longer?

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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.

sandik, I resorted to the same expedient with The Mayor of Casterbridge in high school. I never did get around to trying the book again and perhaps I should.

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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.

sandik, I resorted to the same expedient with The Mayor of Casterbridge in high school. I never did get around to trying the book again and perhaps I should.

I haven't managed to read the book again -- I couldn't even sit through the PBS Masterpiece Theater program!

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

I know, I know. I think it was part of a set, that came with an English lit curriculum, but by the time I got there the school had abandoned the full program and was just using the texts wherever they could. I used to wonder what other combos they had in the set.

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I haven't managed to read the book again -- I couldn't even sit through the PBS Masterpiece Theater program!
Ditto. :(

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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.

sandik, I resorted to the same expedient with The Mayor of Casterbridge in high school. I never did get around to trying the book again and perhaps I should.

I haven't managed to read the book again -- I couldn't even sit through the PBS Masterpiece Theater program!

Funny thing is, it's one of my favourite books. I've read it several times and it ranks as my favourite Thomas Hardy novel. But I only got through Jude the Obscure because I insisted on having read every Hardy novel...

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Certainly The Mayor of Casterbridge has a dramatic story, Ostrich.

A lot of people can’t get through Middlemarch, a favorite of mine. Go figure.

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A lot of people can’t get through Middlemarch, a favorite of mine. Go figure.

Mine too :FIREdevil: But I couldn't stand Silas Marner and, while I got to the end, it was due to a lot of cheating and skipping.

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Does Lord of the Rings count as a classic? After three tries, I finally got as far as Tom Bombadil, at which point I found myself fighting an irresistable urge to strangle a novel with my bare hands :FIREdevil: .

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Does Lord of the Rings count as a classic? After three tries, I finally got as far as Tom Bombadil, at which point I found myself fighting an irresistable urge to strangle a novel with my bare hands :FIREdevil: .

I had the same experience, PeggyR. LOTR is certainly a classic, just not my kind of classic, I guess. I enjoyed the movies, oddly enough. Major Mel may have some tips for us in the best way to approach the books.

I couldn't get through Silas Marner either, Ostrich. In fact, I don't like any Eliot novel as much as I do Middlemarch, which I love.

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[W]hile I got to the end, it was due to a lot of cheating and skipping.
Ostrich, you've uttered the great unspoken secret that keeps so many classics in print. Skipping!

I am currently reading Herodotus in the Landmark edition, published by Pantheon. This features many footnotes, maps, illustrations, appendices, etc. One of the editorial features of this edition is 2-inch-wide outer margins containing a brief summary of each paragraph. Herodotus is fascinating and quite "modern" in many ways. But there have been times (as when he enumerates and explalins the tribute paid by every province in the Persian Empire) that I found myself reading the margin notes and passing quickly (but guiltily) on.

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I am currently reading Herodotus in the Landmark edition, published by Pantheon. This features many footnotes, maps, illustrations, appendices, etc. One of the editorial features of this edition is 2-inch-wide outer margins containing a brief summary of each paragraph.

Thanks for the information, bart. Herodotus (Penguin Classics) has been begging to come off the shelf for awhile now. I'm sure I'll consult him alongside the Landmark edition. At the moment I'm luxuriating in Salman Rushdie's "The Enchantress of Florence."

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On the classics I haven't read list, the ones I have read would make a much shorter list.

The big two that I started but was unable to finish are "Moby Dick" -- the bookmark is still at the halfway mark from about twenty years ago -- and "The Scarlet Letter".

I've never been able to get past the first 50 pages of the first LOTR book or past the first chapter of "The Hobbit."

I found "Anna Karenina" a great read, but I was shocked that they get together so quickly and so uneventfully.

"Middlemarch" is my favorite novel, but "Daniel Deronda" almost killed me. It took everything I had to slog through that one.

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Dear PeggyR and dirac...Regarding LOTR, forge a bit further ahead of Tom Bombadil. I feel certain that you won't regret it! It's one of my all-time favorite reads...I've read it on and off at least ten times since the 60's...I read it a couple of times to my elder son when he was a child. It's still one of his favorites, too, at age 37! Perhaps this is why Bombadil doesn't make an appearance in the films! :rofl: Currently, I'm finally reading Jane Eyre. I can't believe I've never read this novel. I'm loving it!

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Regarding LOTR, forge a bit further ahead of Tom Bombadil. I feel certain that you won't regret it!
I second Gina's suggestion. Bombadil, I believe, was a very early creation of Tolkien in his folksey-fey mode. I may be alone in this, but the Shire sections of the books come close to turning my stomach. Lorien, home of those quaint, transparent, Good Fairies, comes a close second. More interesting and gripping are the grittier, imperfect worlds of Rohan, Gondor -- even what we get to see of Mordor.

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I've never been able to get past the first 50 pages of the first LOTR book or past the first chapter of "The Hobbit."

'The Hobbit' is my all-time favourite fantasy classic - no contest! Just shows you...

Some more confessions:

I never finished

The Way of All Flesh

Canterbury Tales (eeew, boooring)

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