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Classics you haven't read......or couldn't get through


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#16 kfw

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Posted 29 July 2008 - 10:39 AM

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!

#17 dirac

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Posted 29 July 2008 - 11:57 AM

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??

#18 dirac

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Posted 29 July 2008 - 11:59 AM

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.

#19 bart

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Posted 29 July 2008 - 12:15 PM

'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?

#20 dirac

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Posted 29 July 2008 - 12:59 PM

'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.

#21 aurora

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Posted 29 July 2008 - 01:22 PM

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.

#22 sidwich

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Posted 29 July 2008 - 03:04 PM

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.

#23 bart

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Posted 29 July 2008 - 04:28 PM

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?

#24 canbelto

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Posted 29 July 2008 - 04:32 PM

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.

#25 dirac

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Posted 29 July 2008 - 05:11 PM

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....

#26 kfw

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Posted 29 July 2008 - 05:52 PM

'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:

#27 Ostrich

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Posted 29 July 2008 - 09:57 PM

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.

#28 Quiggin

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Posted 30 July 2008 - 01:17 AM

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.

#29 vagansmom

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Posted 30 July 2008 - 06:54 AM

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.

#30 dirac

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Posted 30 July 2008 - 09:32 AM

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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