Classics and the Western Canon discussion

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General > Planning for our next major read

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message 1: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Our bookshelf of proposed readings now contains 131 offerings. It's an awesome list! However, I realize that if we follow the idea of just selecting three or four from this list to vote on, we may not wind up with books that are of general interest to a sufficient number of readers here to raise a really good discussion.

Therefore, I'm going to follow a two-part approach. My first idea was to list a sizable number of books, around 20, and let people vote for five, then put those with the most votes up for a final vote, but unfortunately the Polls system apparently doesn't allow for multiple votes.

So I'll set up a longish list, perhaps 20 titles, and let people vote to winnow that down to a list of perhaps five for our final vote.

Now here's where it gets interesting. Since the point of this group is not just to read classics but also to discuss them, we want our voting list to include books people really want to read and talk about! So, I'll select ten books from our booklist at random. But I'll also take nominations here for books people really want to read and plan (at first I said promise, but maybe that's a bit strong, but maybe not?) to be active in discussing. We want to choose books that will raise the sort of vigorous and extensive discussion we've had with Oedipus and Don Quixote.

So if there's one of the books you really want to read and discuss, post your interest here in the next few days and as long as we don't get an endless number, I'll put those books on the initial poll list along with the random selections.

Whew. I sure hope this makes sense. If you have a better idea, you can send me a private message about it. But let's try this process and see whether we wind up with a great selection (or maybe two or three if we have a close vote for the top spots) for our next major book discussion.

Meanwhile, we still have plenty of great reading in Don Quixote and then Emerson.

Happy booktalking!


message 2: by Eliza (new)

Eliza (ElizaC) | 94 comments I'm going to say The Canterbury Tales I've been wanting to read them for some time.


message 3: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Eliza wrote: "I'm going to say The Canterbury Tales I've been wanting to read them for some time."

Good suggestion. I was very close to picking the Wife of Bath's tale for the interim reading.




message 4: by Peregrine (new)

Peregrine I would suggest adding Meditations, by Marcus Aurelius, to the booklist. I'm not championing it for the September '09 discussion, but I would like to read it sometime.


message 5: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Peregrine wrote: "I would suggest adding Meditations, by Marcus Aurelius, to the booklist. I'm not championing it for the September '09 discussion, but I would like to read it sometime. "

I have added it to the bookshelf, where it will be in line with all the others for possible random selection as a candidate for voting.




message 6: by Dianna (new)

Dianna | 393 comments Can I add Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass? I am reading a book called Cosmic Consciousness and now I want to read Leaves of Grass. Is it considered a classic according to our definition here?


message 7: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Dianna wrote: "Can I add Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass? I am reading a book called Cosmic Consciousness and now I want to read Leaves of Grass. Is it considered a classic according to our definition here?"

It definitely qualifies as a classic.

I admit to having a great deal of difficulty with Leaves -- when he says "What I assume you shall assume" I say "not so fast. You can assume what you want, but I'll assume what I want, thank you very much."

And when he says "I turn the bridegroom out of bed and stay with the bride myself, / And tighten her all night to my thighs and lips," my only response is, "try that with me, buddy, and you'll wind up with a bullet in the brain. Droit de seigneur, even if the right really ever existed, went out long before you were born."

Those are only two of hundreds of examples!

But although I have much trouble with Leaves myself, I also know that there are many readers I greatly respect who find him compelling, delightful, and enchanting. So if people here want to read him, fine, vote for him and I'll just spend a month or two biting my tongue into ribbons!



message 8: by [deleted user] (new)

With Everyman and Patrice, Leaves of Grass is not among my favorites either. However, I just finished a book by David S. Reynolds called Walt Whitman: A Cultural Biography. One of the things he explains is that in the poem Whitman is trying an act of identification with common people. He is obsessed with unifying the badly divided nation. He sets himself up (in the role of capital "P" Poet)as a sort of universal "I" to do it. Thus, "What I assume, you shall assume," etc.

Not saying I agree with it. Indeed, Reynolds notes the risk of a "totalitarian" impulse.

It's also interesting to consider Whitman in the context of Emerson's Self-Reliance, which declares a comparable form of individual "divinity."


thewanderingjew | 184 comments Zeke wrote: "With Everyman and Patrice, Leaves of Grass is not among my favorites either. However, I just finished a book by David S. Reynolds called Walt Whitman: A Cultural Biography. One of the things he exp..."

Aha, Zeke, Patrice is truly onto something here, then. There is a political context. It would seem that your explanation (by way of Reynolds) would indicate the current government is implicated in it, as well. Might it be too controversial or open up a can of worms??? This nation is quite divided now!


message 10: by Thomas (new)

Thomas | 4069 comments It seems to me that to avoid politics we will also have to avoid most of the Western Canon. I should think that we are capable of civil discussion (even on the internet) regardless of the reading matter. And if not, well, that's why we have a moderator.

I found my copy of "Self-Reliance" in the new books section of the library. It is a thin volume that also contains Obama's Inaugural address and the Gettysburg address. So much for avoiding politics.



message 11: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Thomas wrote: "It seems to me that to avoid politics we will also have to avoid most of the Western Canon."

I distinguish between discussing political ideas and theory, which you're right is rife throughout the Canon, and discussing specific highly controversial contemporary political issues. The former is very appropriate and even necessary to do justice to the Canon; the latter is less so.






message 12: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments I ran the Random Number Generator for an initial 10 titles to see what would pop up. And what popped up is a list of 10 titles every one of which I think would make a great read! And no, I did not fudge the selection. It was just smart enough to come out with great titles. I had sorted the list alphabetically by author before starting the count. Interestingly, the RNG came up with two adjacent pairs, which happens to give us two Tolstoy choices and two George Eliot choices.

At the bottom of this post is are the random numbers it generated and the books relating to those numbers. (As soon as anybody adds a book to the list, though, some of the numbers will point to other books, but this is what we get for this selection process.)

To this list I'll add the two books that seem to have been requested to add: Whitman's Leaves of Grass and Herodotus's History.

It's going to be a hard selection for many of you -- I sympathize since it will be hard for me, too! I think what I'll do is see whether any particular title emerges as a clear winner; if so, we'll pick that one for the next read. If there are several close choices for top spot, I'll run a follow up poll on those choices. I intend to be a wee bit flexible to get the selection that seems of most interest to the group for a great discussion!

So. As soon as I can get to it, I'll set up a poll so people can start voting. I'll leave it up at least through Friday to give people time to vote, but I want to have time for the follow-up poll if we need it and to give folks enough time to get the book selected and start reading if they want to get ahead a bit.

And, by the way, lobbying is definitely permitted. And I'll try to set up the poll so people can change their votes, so if the book you prefer is way back in the list you can switch to one of the front runners you would prefer. Strategizing and persuasion are definitely in order as long as they are intended to produce the most interesting and active read/discussion!

The books selected by the Random Number Generator are: TA DA -- drum roll, please, maestro

121 War and Peace
41 Crime and Punishment
122 Anna Karenina
84 Paradise Lost
50 Middlemarch
69 Les Miserables
25 Canterbury Tales
79 Le Morte D’Arthur
51 Adam Bede
105 King Lear




message 13: by Peregrine (new)

Peregrine Holey shamoley! I might have to RNG my vote!


message 14: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments In a comment on the poll, which not all might read, Peregrine asked Would someone who champions The Canterbury Tales please promote their choice a little? (smile) I'm really not wanting to read it so soon after Don Quixote because it seems to be to be another book on the same themes: stories of knightly valour, maidenly virtue, and wondrous histories, with a bit of hilarious raunchiness thrown in, I admit. Could you sell me on the choice a bit, so that I might have a different perspective on it, and therefore look forward to reading it if it wins?"

It's really very different from DQ. It's more like the Decameron or the Thousand and One Nights in its format -- a series of stories told (like Decameron but unlike Thousand Nights) told by a variety of participants in a religious pilgrimage from London to Canterbury -- though religious may be a misleading term for us; there was a lot of raucous behavior going on, and some of the tales are a bit risque, though not excessively so.

If you had asked about Morte d'Arthur, I would have agreed that it was more similar to DQ in being knightly tales. But the characters in Canterbury Tales mostly aren't knights but are drawn widely from all ranks of society, from a monk and friar to an of-married wife to a shipman, a plowman, a cook, etc.

There may be good reasons for voting for works other than the Canterbury Tales, but I don't think similarity to DQ is one of them.


message 15: by Peregrine (new)

Peregrine Um, okay. I still hope another book wins. I remember choking through this one over 20 years ago, and I guess the memories linger. Thanks, Everyman, for picking up my thread.


message 16: by Dianna (new)

Dianna | 393 comments I am not sure where I am supposed to put this but here is my choice in order from first to last:

1. (121) War and Peace (currently reading for the second time but have put on the back burner because of all the other reads and would like to get back to it. As of the first reading it has been my favorite book of all time.)

2. (50) Middlemarch (I read in Wiki that Virginia Woolf said it was "one of the few English novels written for grown-up people". I loved To The Lighthouse and I have a great affinity with Woolf so I trust her judgement.)

3. (69) Les Miserables (Also one of my favorite books that I would like to read again and discuss.)

4. (79) Le Morte D' Arthur (I have read the book Mists of Avalon, which is the Arthurian Legends from the woman's point of view but I have never actually read anything else on them. I have seen lots of movies though.)

5. (105) King Lear ( I have always had trouble with Shakespeare unless it is comedy but I am willing to give this one a chance.)

6. (25) Canterbury Tales (I read it a long time ago and thought it was funny but I agree that it might be too much like DQ is a way.)

7. (51) Adam Bede (Meh)

8. (41) Crime and Punishment (I read and loved this book but I am really not into reading it again at the moment. However, if it is chosen I will probably go ahead and read it again and who knows, I may enjoy it even.)

9. (122) Anna karenina (I just finished reading this book for the second time in the late spring/early summer and I have to say it went down a notch in my estimation. I didn't like it as well the second time. I probably won't read it again but I will probably make comments.)

10. (84) Paradise Lost (I had so much trouble with Faust and this reminds me of that. It took me 3 years to read Faust and I just don't really get into this style of writing. I would give it a try but I'm not sure I could keep up.)



message 17: by Peregrine (new)

Peregrine Dianna, on the group home page, on the upper right, is a list of options ending with Polls. Click on Polls, and then click on your one choice for our next read.


message 18: by Dianna (new)

Dianna | 393 comments Thank you :)


message 19: by Peregrine (new)

Peregrine You're welcome! I see the vote for War and Peace there :-)


message 20: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Peregrine wrote: "You're welcome! I see the vote for War and Peace there :-)"

BTW, Dianna, if when we get close to the poll closing (which won't be at least until Saturday; I'll let people know) it looks as though War and Peace won't have enough votes to be selected, you're free to change your vote to one of your next choices that with a bit more support might make it into the top spot.




message 21: by Dianna (new)

Dianna | 393 comments sounds good


message 22: by Grace Tjan (new)

Grace Tjan | 381 comments Like Dianna, I consider War & Peace to be my all-time favorite novel, but I've read it twice last year, not counting the 'alternate', shorter version translated by Bromfield, and I don't want to read it again right now. Les Miserables is a novel that I have been wanting to read for years. I'd love to read it with this group.


message 23: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Sandybanks wrote: "Les Miserables is a novel that I have been wanting to read for years. I'd love to read it with this group. "

Unless things change dramatically throughout the day, it looks as though you'll get your wish.




message 24: by Laurel (new)

Laurel Hicks (goodreadscomlaurele) | 2438 comments Sandybanks wrote: "Like Dianna, I consider War & Peace to be my all-time favorite novel, but I've read it twice last year, not counting the 'alternate', shorter version translated by Bromfield, and I don't want to re..."

SandyB, what did you think of the short version of War and Peace?


message 25: by Grace Tjan (last edited Aug 23, 2009 08:17PM) (new)

Grace Tjan | 381 comments Laurele wrote: "Sandybanks wrote: "Like Dianna, I consider War & Peace to be my all-time favorite novel, but I've read it twice last year, not counting the 'alternate', shorter version translated by Bromfield, and..."

Spoilers for War and Peace

Laurele, it is a pale shadow of the original. Some parts are identical to the ones in the finished version, but others are radically different. Prince Andrei and Petya Rostov are alive at the end of the novel, therefore eliminating the extraordinary scenes related to their deaths. Apparently, this is the version that Tolstoy wanted to call 'All's Well That Ends Well'. Fortunately, he changed his mind. The long sections on Tolstoy's theory of history is also not present in this version.

I read that there was quite a bit of controversy when this 'original' version was published in Russia. It was largely based on the work of a Russian academic who reconstructed the text from Tolstoy's earlier drafts, and because there were gaps in the story, the publisher decided to insert sections copied verbatim from the finished novel. The result is an uneven mishmash.

I suppose that the short version is something like a a compilation of out-takes or deleted scenes in a DVD's special features, interesting for its history, but not a substitute for the final version of the novel.

I read somewhere that there is a sequel published a few years ago in Russia in which Pierre, exiled to Siberia for his role in the Decembrist uprising, has a hot affair with a native girl. Nooo !




message 26: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Okay, it's a wrap on our first poll. Les Miserables wins it running away.

I can't find a way to close the poll, but closed it's over.

Middlemarch, Anna Karenina, and the Canterbury Tales each garnered more than 10% of the votes. Given this interest, I'm tempted to retain them for the next poll along with another random selection of books, but we'll see. Anyhow, we're on for Les Miserables.


message 27: by Laurel (new)

Laurel Hicks (goodreadscomlaurele) | 2438 comments Sandybanks wrote: "Laurele wrote: "Sandybanks wrote: "Like Dianna, I consider War & Peace to be my all-time favorite novel, but I've read it twice last year, not counting the 'alternate', shorter version translated b..."

Thanks, Sandybanks. You just saved me a bundle.


message 28: by Selina (new)

Selina (selinatng) | 62 comments Everyman wrote: "Middlemarch, Anna Karenina, and the Canterbury Tales each ga..."

Yes, good idea. I do hope one or more of these books get to be selected at a later date.




message 29: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments I am planning for the vote for our next major reading, which will start in January.

We had decided to include on the list of titles for voting the two works which tied for second place in our last poll (that would be Anna Karenina and the Canterbury Tales) plus several selections chosen at random from our bookshelf. (The moderators also reserve the right each to add one book to the list if they want to. Rank hath is privileges! And anybody who really wants to see a given book on the list can lobby us by private message and it might get slipped on also. This seems a good way to make sure that there's a selection of interesting books plus some kickers that nobody might have thought of but turn out to be winners.)

If there is one clear winner from this group, that would be our January selection. If there are two clear winners, we'll probably do those for the next two reads. If there are no clear winners, we'll have a runoff among the top titles. This process may be a wee bit subjective, but I hope it will select the books most conducive to group interest.

Most groups send out an announcement of their polls to all members of the group. But I have noticed that usually a lot of members vote but then don't participate in the discussions. (If you go to the last poll and click on the "15 votes" next to Les Mis, you'll see all the members who voted for the book but haven't joined in the discussion.)

If every member of the group, even those who aren't active, vote on the selections, then the book selected might not be the primary choice of people who actually are active in the group. Since the object of this group is both to read and to discuss, I'm thinking of only announcing the poll here on the boards so that people who are members in name but don't visit the board won't be involved in choosing the next book.

However, there might be more interest in the selection if all members know about the poll, so that some who aren't interested in LesMis and thus aren't reading the board now might vote for and participate in the discussion of the next selection.

We would of course still send out the announcement of the selection to all members and encourage them all to join in the reading and discussion. But I wonder whether there might be more interest in the books if everybody were invited to vote.

What do people think about this? Is it better to have more involvement in voting even if the book selected might not be the book of greatest interest to active participants? Or is it better to make sure that those actively participating choose a book that interests them, and then invite everybody else to join in?

I'm a bit conflicted. What will make the best reading and discussing experience?


message 30: by Laurel (new)

Laurel Hicks (goodreadscomlaurele) | 2438 comments I would say send the announcement to everyone. That will keep the group before their minds. Some who did not participate in the Hugo reading might be really interested in other books, and sometimes the timing is just not right for people. Also, I think there are people reading along but to shy to write anything yet. They'll speak up eventually.


message 31: by thewanderingjew (new)

thewanderingjew | 184 comments My opinion is post it on the Classics and Western Canon thread, those like me, that follow along on occasion although they didn't read Les Mis, will see the notice and decide whether or not to participate.
Perhaps you should write a disclaimer not to vote for a particular book if you don't plan on participating so that when a book is chosen, it is the book that those actually reading do prefer. I thought what you already wrote explained that perfectly. They do that on Barnes and Noble's First Look book thread.


message 32: by Grace Tjan (new)

Grace Tjan | 381 comments thewanderingjew wrote: "My opinion is post it on the Classics and Western Canon thread, those like me, that follow along on occasion although they didn't read Les Mis, will see the notice and decide whether or not to part..."

This seems like a good solution to the problem.


message 33: by Thomas (last edited Nov 09, 2009 09:25AM) (new)

Thomas | 4069 comments thewanderingjew wrote: "Perhaps you should write a disclaimer not to vote for a particular book if you don't plan on participating so that when a book is chosen, it is the book that those actually reading do prefer.

I agree with this. Unless there is a conspiracy to punish the moderator by making him read, by himself, something nobody else wants to read. While that appeals to my sense of humor, it would make more sense to assume that if your choice wins, you are in theory obligated to join the discussion. Otherwise you go to Goodreads jail. :)


message 34: by Gerald (last edited Nov 10, 2009 07:49AM) (new)

Gerald Camp (GerryC) My life has been complicated by some extensive travel, a touch of brain surgery, and a committment to reading all of Barbara Kingsolver to prepare for her visit to my town (San Miguel de Allende, Mexico) to our Literary Sala Writers' Conference in February. (For anyone who likes contemporary literary fiction, her new book, The Lacuna, is a masterpiece!) These are not excuses, just explanations of why I have not participated in the discussions of DQ and LM. I did read the first third of DQ, but was always behind, so I didn't join the discussion. LM is a "soon" on my list, and I will preserve the discussions to assist my reading.

Now, for next. I am 150 pages into Middlemarch and am loving it. I will continue that reading, so could be an active participant in the discussion. I finished Anna Karenina a few months ago, and would also enjoy participating in a discussion of that book. Paradise Lost, King Lear, or Adam Bede would fit my agenda as well. (I'm a bit handicapped if you pick a book that is not on my shelf here in Mexico--several thousands of books, mostly classics--or is not in our local library (one of the best bilingual libraries in Mexico).

What I'd really like to read next is The Divine Comedy. I have two translations of that on my shelf.
Gerry


message 35: by Evalyn (new)

Evalyn (eviejoy) | 93 comments Thomas wrote: "thewanderingjew wrote: "Perhaps you should write a disclaimer not to vote for a particular book if you don't plan on participating so that when a book is chosen, it is the book that those actually ..."

And...Do not pass Go, Do not collect 200 dollars. :)


message 36: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Gerald wrote: "My life has been complicated by some extensive travel, a touch of brain surgery, and a committment to reading all of Barbara Kingsolver to prepare for her visit to my town (San Miguel de Allende, M..."

Like Patrice, I'm sorry to hear of your health problem, and am glad that you may be able to join us for future reads.

I agree that Middlemarch is a wonderful book. It was also high on the voting after LeMis, so maybe I'll stick it onto the list. All your other choices would be excellent ones if they get onto the random selection list.

I'm not sure we're ready for the Divine Comedy so soon after two very challenging reads, but if we do get to it, Laurel ran a superb discussion of it a year or two ago on another book discussion site, so we would have her expertise for that discussion along with that of so many other great posters here.






message 37: by Peregrine (new)

Peregrine I'd be glad to see Middlemarch on the voting list too.


message 38: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Peregrine wrote: "I'd be glad to see Middlemarch on the voting list too."

Your wish is our command. :)



message 39: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments I have run the Random Number generator on our To-Read list and combined it with the carryover selections from the last poll, plus I added Laurel’s choice (each moderator gets one choice to add, but I didn’t need to because the RNG chose the book I would have added in!) Here is the list that I will put into a poll as soon as I can get to it. I’m posting it here so you can start thinking about your preference. Also, the poll process only lists book titles, not authors and titles, and there may be a few titles where you aren’t sure of the author. So you will have that information here.

There are some really neat offerings on the list. It’s going to be hard to choose!

I know this may seem a bit early for a book to read starting in January, but we may need a run-off, and I wanted to get the process done before we all get too engrossed in holiday activities. I also want to give people plenty of time to get the book and to give slow or busy readers a chance to start reading early.

I’m not going to send the poll link to the whole group, but will send out a message just saying that the poll is available and adding a comment about only voting for books one wants to discuss.

Remember that you can change your vote up to the end of the poll, so if you vote for a book that isn’t getting any traction, but your second or third choice is in the running for the top slot, you can swing your vote onto your other preference.

And yes, lobbying is allowed, but if you lobby for a book and it gets chosen, you might get drafted to co-lead the discussion!

BTW, the RNG also came up with two plays, Aristophanes The Frogs and Checkov Uncle Vanya. They seem to me better choices for a shorter, interim read, so I’ll slip them into the mix at some point.

The choices will be:

Beowulf
The Epic of Gilgamesh
Austen, Northanger Abbey
Chaucer, The Canterbury Tales
Chesterton, The Man who was Thursday
Defoe, Moll Flanders
Defoe, Robinson Crusoe
Dickens, Our Mutual Friend
Dostoevsky, Crime and Punishment
Eliot, Middlemarch
James, The Turn of the Screw
Nietzche, The Birth of Tragedy
Quincey, Confessions of an English Opium Eater
Rabelais, Gargantua and Pantagruel
Tolstoy, Anna Karenina



message 40: by Peregrine (new)

Peregrine So many appealing choices here! Why can't one buzz up a book in the blender with yogurt and berries, and drink one down for breakfast every morning?


message 41: by Dianna (new)

Dianna | 393 comments When can we start voting?


message 42: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Dianna wrote: "When can we start voting?"

In a day or two when I get time to put this all into the form the poll feature requires.




message 43: by Adelle (new)

Adelle Thanks, Everyman. What a good organizer you appear are.


message 44: by Adelle (new)

Adelle Ha. Lack of editing. What a good organizer you are. (You are a good typist, too! I don't see to many errors in your posts.)


message 45: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments The poll is now up. Vote between now and November 19th. Good luck!


message 46: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Since not everybody may be familiar with all the works on the poll, I thought I would offer entirely subjective, biased, totally personal brief comments on the books. If you prefer not to be contaminated with my thinking, feel free to skip this post. Or feel free to agree or disagree with anything I say about the books. Because of Goodreads post limits, I’ll probably have to do this in several posts.

However, while this is all subjective, I have tried hard not to overly encourage or discourage interest in a book. If I have, please disregard it with my apologies. It isn’t my intention to influence the voting, but to introduce any of the texts which may be new to some members of the group.

Beowulf is generally recognized as the first major work in English literature (though most wouldn’t recognize it as English – try, for example, reading
Hwæt! We Gardena in geardagum,
þeodcyninga, þrym gefrunon,
hu ða æþelingas ellen fremedon.
Oft Scyld Scefing sceaþena þreatum,

Until Seamus Heaney came along with his translation in 2000, it was hard to find a translation that was both accurate and enjoyable to read. But the Heaney translation is, for me, very good, and makes reading Beowulf, for me at least, not the chore it used to be but a pleasure.

The Epic of Gilgamesh has been called the oldest story in the world. It is the Sumarian epic about the ruler Gilgamesh who sets out on an epic journey to find the person who can teach him how to avoid death. It is the first “quest story.” If it’s chosen, we’ll have to discuss translations a bit, because there are numerous versions of the text (hardly surprising for a story written a thousand years before the Iliad) and they can vary somewhat, though there’s also perhaps some benefit in reading slightly different versions as long as we know we’re doing it.

Northanger Abbey is a bit atypical for Austen. Of course it’s a romance, but it’s also a takeoff on Gothic romances, particularly The Mysteries of Udolpho, one of the most popular of the gothics (the original gothics, not the modern gothics).. If it’s chosen, people might want to read Udolpho first to get a flavor for what it is that Austen is parodying. (In fact, since the book is fairly short, I might propose scheduling a few weeks on Udolpho before we start Northanger Abbey. We’ll see. )



message 47: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Installment 2

The Canterbury Tales. Chaucer never finished his intended project, but what we do have is marvelous, filled with some of the most memorable characters in literature. You probably know the basic story: about thirty pilgrims on their way to the shrine of Thomas a Beckett in Canterbury decide to travel together and entertain each other on the way by telling stories, two each on the trip out and two each on the trip back. So it’s not a single unified story, but rather a collection of stories linked together by some interplay among the characters. It is, of course, written in verse, as most literature up to then was, but while that is strange to our modern ears when we first start reading, it quickly becomes natural and enjoyable.

The Man who was Thursday This is one of the strangest books I have read. It is a fantastic allegory mystery filled with anarchists, spies, and all sorts of excitement. On my first reading I was a bit lost; on the second, I was able to appreciate the allegorical elements more. Since it’s quite short, it’s easy enough to read twice.


Moll Flanders Prominent on my TBR shelf, so I can’t speak about it from personal experience, but it is, as the full title reveals, the story of a woman who was “born at Newgate [prison:], twelve year a whore, five times a wife (whereof once to her own brother), twelve year a thief, eight year a transported felon in Virginia, at least grew rich, lived honest, and died a penitent.” Moll is one of the fascinating women of literature. It’s a picaresque novel, and if you don’t know what means, look it up. :)

Robinson Crusoe, loosely based on a true incident, is often regarded as a children’s book, but in fact it is a much more than that, being not only a whopping good tale, but also almost a treatise on the development of the human from savage to modern mercantile man. It was written during the heyday of mercantile expansion to celebrate the new economic man.

Our Mutual Friend In my opinion, one of the best of Dickens’s novels. Dickens – what more need one say? Well, I can say this; that one of the best pieces of wisdom I’ve read about reading Dickens is that he is best appreciated by readers of mature years, that too many young people are turned off of him by having to read him in school and never get turned back on to him. If you tried Dickens before you turned 30 and didn’t like him, well, that was then, and this is now.

Crime and Punishment One of the richest psychological novels. But in my experience much more talked about than read. Many people know the basic outline of the story, but far fewer have read the story and appreciate the power Dostoevsky brings to the analysis of his characters.



message 48: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Installment 3

Middlemarch In my opinion, one of the greatest, perhaps the greatest, novel written in the English language (Bleak House being right up there with it). When asked what she thought of Middlemarch, Emily Dickinson replied “what do I think of glory?” Virginia Woolf called it “one of the few English books written for grown-up people.” Its legitimacy as a “classic” classic is attested to by its inclusion on the St. John’s College seminar list as well as its inclusion in the Britannica Great Books of the Western World series. I admit that it’s not everybody’s cup of tea, but for those for whom it is, it is as satisfying a cup of tea as one can find anywhere. And I’m an avid tea drinker (I write this with a cup of freshly made Yunnan Golden Tip whole leaf tea by my side.).

The Turn of the Screw Another book on my TBR shelf. Some readers find James challenging, but my other readings of his works persuade me that he’s worth the effort. Having not read Turn yet, I can’t say more. Others can fill in from their reading of it.

The Birth of Tragedy This is Nietzsche’s seminal work on the art and meaning of tragedy, which bookends Aristotle’s Poetics in the analysis of the concept and uses of tragedy. Anyone who wants to read Greek tragedy in particular with fuller understanding needs to know this lengthy essay.

Confessions of an English Opium Eater DeQuincey’s largely autobiographical novel about the influence and effects of opium use. For many decades it was the most authoritative account of addiction, and was influential in causing various writers to experiment with the drug. When he was criticized for making addiction seem too inviting, he produced a new edition in which he added sections on the horrors of withdrawal and the medical knowledge of opium use. I have read selections, but not yet the whole work.

Gargantua and Pantagruel Fully justifies the creation of the term Rabelaisian, defined by one source as “marked by gross robust humor, extravagance of caricature, or bold naturalism.” This is not a book for the tender-minded, but it is much more than just a gross scatological comedy. It is a rich satire of much of 16th century French life which inspired such later satirists as Moliere, Voltaire, Swift, and others. Its importance in the canon is confirmed by its inclusion in the curriculum of St. John’s College as well as by its meriting a volume in Britannica’s Great Books of the Western World series.

Anna Karenina The story of Anna will never leave the mind of anybody who reads this book. It is an extraordinary study in human emotion, longing, despair, the full range of human emotions. Whether now or some other time, you must read this book.



message 49: by Grace Tjan (new)

Grace Tjan | 381 comments Thanks for the handy summary, Everyman.

A friend recommended Chesterton's book to me. I'm intrigued by it as I've never read anything by him except for the Father Brown mysteries. But a combo of Northanger Abbey (which I've read so long ago that it will almost be a new book for me) and the Mysteries of Udolpho is very tempting too. Ah well, I can always change my vote later, right?

I've read AK and Middlemarch with other groups recently so I'm not going to vote for any of them.


message 50: by Adelle (new)

Adelle My daughter was quite taken with The Man Who Was Thursday and convinced me to read it. It was quite a different book. I had to tell her that while it had more curlicues than I was used to, it was a most intriguing read.


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