Classics and the Western Canon discussion

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Tea room > Recommendations, please

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message 1: by Laura (new)

Laura (sweettartlaura) | 17 comments I'm trying to tailor my reading better moving forward, to include at least one classic per month starting in September. So, I'm open to any & all suggestions, from any & all eras & traditions (at this point). I'm looking for a challenge, & ultimately for something that will illuminate something about the human condition. So... Recommend away, please!


message 2: by Lily (last edited Jul 30, 2014 02:27AM) (new)

Lily (joy1) | 5012 comments Laura wrote: "I'm trying to tailor my reading better moving forward, to include at least one classic per month starting in September. So, I'm open to any & all suggestions, from any & all eras & traditions (at ..."

I hope you are joining us for Bleak House, Laura, to start your redirection of your reading oeuvre, even though it will take longer than a month.

Two resources that could be invaluable over the months and years ahead, at least they are for me:

The New Lifetime Reading Plan: The Classical Guide to World Literature, Revised and Expanded by Clifton Fadiman

and

Classics for Pleasure by Michael Dirda (former Washington Post book critic).

Fadiman can suggest a backbone (I just gave a copy of this book to my adult kids), Dirda can suggest diversions and a bit of levity, if/when your endeavors feel weighty or have an edge of drudgery.

Then, stick around groups like this and a test a few others until you find ones that meet your inclinations. Soon, you will be making recommendations to them. Until then, soak up what they have to offer.

There are other good book resources and suggestions around -- perhaps your library system has ones you can sample. I have enjoyed Nancy Pearl, although her suggestions spill over beyond classics.

Laura, please treat this as "sotto voce" rather than the heavy-handed advice it may seem to be. Have fun on your journey ahead!


message 3: by Laura (new)

Laura (sweettartlaura) | 17 comments Thanks for the recommendations, Lily! I won't be reading Bleak House, because one decision I made about the Classics some time ago is that I do hate Dickens :) He is not the way to get me back into this ... genre, for lack of a better word. But I will stick around the group, peruse some conversations, and check out the guides you suggested to get me started up. Thanks again!


message 4: by Laura (last edited Aug 09, 2014 01:43PM) (new)

Laura (sweettartlaura) | 17 comments I think you nailed it, Patrice. I can take A Christmas Carol. Anything other that... Count me out... There are too many other books in this world to read.
Speaking of high school, I was thinking of revisiting some of those classics to begin with. I just re-read The Great Gatsby for my book club, & it was like reading it anew. I was just talking up Frankenstein to someone who missed out on it in high school & college, & realized how much I loved it. Perhaps that's where I should start: a high school or college freshman recommended reading list. Anyone know of such a resource?


message 5: by Laura (new)

Laura (sweettartlaura) | 17 comments Well I don't "have to" - that's the beauty of this - I can read more & read better and still reject a couple books without failing 9th grade :)

I think I'll take your advice & start with The Iliad. Somehow it eluded me through both high school & college, & I really ought to read it. So I'll pick that up soon, & look into a couple of the guides Lily mentioned, & avail myself of some of the lists mentioned here & in other threads. And I might just put together a plan for myself :)


message 6: by Lily (new)

Lily (joy1) | 5012 comments Laura wrote: "I think I'll take your advice & start with The Iliad..."

Laura -- Do take some care with the translation you choose to use. Lattimore, Fitzgerald, and Fagles are among modern translators with solid reputations behind their versions. Depending on your library and interests, you might enjoy comparing a couple.

Personally, I couldn't have started with The Iliad without a group to support me, but there are many wonderful resources available. Avoid getting yourself hung up on the battles, but don't miss the lovely scene with Hector, his wife, and their little son. That vignette alone justifies the read -- to find such in this earliest of Western epics.


message 7: by Lily (last edited Jul 30, 2014 11:24AM) (new)

Lily (joy1) | 5012 comments Laura -- If you would like to find high school or college syllabi, you might try Google advanced search in the .edu domain.

I have been successful with looking for college syllabi. However, I have not found a list, say for AP English literature. Please do come back and share if you come across such on the Net!?!

Example for Columbia University:
http://www.college.columbia.edu/core/...

Great Books: My Adventures with Homer, Rousseau, Woolf, and Other Indestructible Writers of the Western World by David Denby. Denby returned to the Columbia program some years after he graduated, then wrote this book.

A couple of very different sources you might enjoy perusing (a few of these may not yet be considered classics):

http://www.womensprizeforfiction.co.u...

http://www.modernlibrary.com/top-100/... (Note there is a link here to non-fiction as well.)

An illustrious set of recommendations:
http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles...


message 8: by Laura (new)

Laura (sweettartlaura) | 17 comments Very good advice on the translator - thanks for the reminder, Lily :) I was going to look for a version with copious annotations ;) But this us an aspect I wouldn't have considered as a novice. Thanks.

I did see suggestions to check out Harvard & St. John's lists; Columbia is a very nice addition to that - thanks again :). And I'm sure I'll find some other ideas on the other links you shared.

To give you some backstory...
This weekend I went through my stacks of books. I decided two things:
1. I need to read the books I already own
2. I need to diversify

So, starting in September, the plan is this:
1. Read one Classic
2. Read one Nonfiction
3. Read my Book Club book (which sometimes will do double-duty with one of the other categories)
4. Read as much of my already-purchased fiction I can squeeze in.

And this plan should take me until (at least) next September to move items from my TBR shelves to the Read shelves :)

And along the way, hopefully I will learn a lot more. I love modern fiction, & I don't shy away from the challenges there. McEwan, Auster, & Tartt are just a couple of the books I've read this year. I love a good British mystery. And some horror/fantasy is always a fun ride. But there is so much I missed out on already, & I'm determined to correct that.

So thanks to all for your help in my endeavor!


message 9: by Lily (last edited Jul 30, 2014 12:04PM) (new)

Lily (joy1) | 5012 comments Patrice wrote: "I've read David Denby's book so many times it's falling apart. It's great to read along or after the works."

Hmm! Thx for the heads up, Patrice. I'll have to pull mine more often. Don't think of Denby as a reading aid, but he certainly can be!


message 10: by Lily (last edited Jul 30, 2014 12:08PM) (new)

Lily (joy1) | 5012 comments Laura wrote: "...McEwan, Auster, & Tartt are just a couple of the books I've read this year...."

Did you read Tartt's The Goldfinch? Or perhaps her The Secret History?

I haven't read the latter, but finally finished The Goldfinch this Monday -- all 771 pages of it. My f2f book group will be discussing it. I did find it a very, very good read with some impressive writing!

(Among Nabokov's notes on The Bleak House I found the following: "Miss Flite's birds, we should notice, finally, are larks, linnets, and goldfinches, which correspond to lark-youth, linnet-hope, goldfinch-beauty." Incidentally, I'm no Dickens fan either, but occasionally I must stare dislike in the face as an appropriate stance or strategy.)

If you have an ebook, as you undoubtedly know, many, many classics can be obtained at little or no cost. However, sometimes the investment for a modern translation can be worth it for a book published in another language. Much has been learned about languages, grammar, syntax, et al, in the past 20-50 years.

No self-flagellation those months your goal may slip! [g] Have fun!

P.S. The recent Frankenstein discussion on this board was quite broad-ranging.


message 11: by Laura (new)

Laura (sweettartlaura) | 17 comments I've read all 3 of Tartt's novels, most recently The Goldfinch. I agree - some amazing writing there - I was astounded at how alive each & every character was. It was worth every word of every page.

I don't have an ereader - yet. That's been my carrot to finish my books that are lying around: do that & then I can reward myself. But I think you're right: getting to choose the right translations, with the right intro/noted, can be key in reading the classics. So I'll work through it for now.

And I do look forward to exploring some older threads to see the discussions :)


message 12: by Lily (last edited Jul 31, 2014 01:49PM) (new)

Lily (joy1) | 5012 comments @6 Patrice wrote: "The idea is to explore how people of different times and cultures thought of virtue so we can discover our own way of understanding it...."

Thought of your comment above today when I encountered this book that one of our members here read earlier this year:

All Things Shining Reading the Western Classics to Find Meaning in a Secular Age by Hubert L. Dreyfus All Things Shining: Reading the Western Classics to Find Meaning in a Secular Age by Hubert L. Dreyfus Hubert L. Dreyfus

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/1...

Mark's profile:
https://www.goodreads.com/user/show/3...


message 13: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Laura wrote: " I won't be reading Bleak House, because one decision I made about the Classics some time ago is that I do hate Dickens :) He is not the way to get me back into this ... genre, for lack of a better word."

Oh, dear. How long ago did you decide you hated Dickens? If it was a while back, do at least read the first ten chapters of Bleak House and see whether they don't suck you in! Many younger readers are force fed Dickens too early and cut themselves off from author which, in their more mature years, would delight and enthrall them.


message 14: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Lily wrote: "Two resources that could be invaluable over the months and years ahead, at least they are for me:"

Both excellent resources (along with two others I mentioned in your other post), though as I noted there I prefer the original Fadiman work to the New plan with John Major, which I think dilutes the focus of the original.


message 15: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Patrice wrote: "but then you'd have to read Silas Marner, wouldn't you? ;-("

Yep. A book I hated in college. Refused to even consider it (or any other Eliot) for years. Finally decided I should give it another crack and LOVED it. Wonderful book. I realized that books read very differently at different times of life. It's never good, IMO, to turn away from an author because he or she didn't speak to us early in our lives.

OTOH, some books I loved as a college student, when I went back to them I wondered why on earth I ever liked this drivel. (You ask what? For one, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. For another, Lord of the Flies.)


message 16: by Laura (new)

Laura (sweettartlaura) | 17 comments Hmmm... another round of Dickens? I had exposure in junior high, high school, and college. And while it's been a few years since, I just don't know if I can get back to him. But ... I won't say never :) Just not now - I have plenty of other options to start with :)


message 17: by Lily (last edited Jul 31, 2014 09:11PM) (new)

Lily (joy1) | 5012 comments Everyman wrote: "...I prefer the original Fadiman work to the New plan with John Major, which I think dilutes the focus of the original...."

{g] And I like the appearance of a few more global choices, constrained as they might be, even at the cost of some perhaps dilution of focus. But we have long known that's a point at which our preferences diverge! Vive la.... (I keep both editions.)


message 18: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Lily wrote: " (I keep both editions.) "

So do I.


message 19: by Lily (new)

Lily (joy1) | 5012 comments Some thoughts on reading selection in today's world of fractured time:

http://www.theparisreview.org/blog/ta...

“Every moment of serious reading has to be fought for, planned for … A prediction: the novel of elegant, highly distinct prose, of conceptual delicacy and syntactical complexity, will tend to divide itself up into shorter and shorter sections, offering more frequent pauses where we can take time out. The larger popular novel … will be ever more laden with repetitive formulas, and coercive, declamatory rhetoric to make it easier and easier, after breaks, to pick up.”

http://www.nybooks.com/blogs/nyrblog/...


message 20: by Laura (new)

Laura (sweettartlaura) | 17 comments Just checking in... I see more recommendations to add to my list - thanks again, everyone!

I started with The Iliad yesterday, and I have to say... I like it. I was into Book 1; Book 2 read like passages from the Bible, with all the lists of who was going to fight, where they were from, how many ships, etc. That part wasn't as engaging as Book 1. But, I think I'll be able to get through this now.

After I get a couple more Books under my belt, I'll check out the thread on The Iliad in this group. I'm curious to see where I am and what I think in a week's time.


message 21: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Laura wrote: "Book 2 read like passages from the Bible, with all the lists of who was going to fight, where they were from, how many ships, etc. That part wasn't as engaging as Book 1. "

But very important to the people listening to a bard sing it. With no history books, no newspapers, no Internet, no other way to tell who went and fought there, this was their history lesson. And of course as the bards traveled from city to city each city was eager to her how many ships and warriors their city sent, and how many other cities they know and traded with sent.


message 22: by Laura (new)

Laura (sweettartlaura) | 17 comments Sure, that makes sense. But a couple thousand years later... not so much :) I made it through. But after Book 1, which I was excited to find interesting and readable, this was a bit of a drag.


message 23: by Lily (last edited Sep 01, 2014 08:43PM) (new)

Lily (joy1) | 5012 comments Laura wrote: "Sure, that makes sense. But a couple thousand years later... not so much :) I made it through. But after Book 1, which I was excited to find interesting and readable, this was a bit of a drag."

Laura -- you might find a good guide of value. (I know this group doesn't particularly encourage such -- my words are to do what works for you.) I found the Iliad to move back and forth between memorable passages and long lists or fight after fight which were not of particular interest among my 21st century concerns. Your analogy with the Bible seems apt to me. I enjoyed the interactions of the gods and goddesses with the mortals and among each other.


message 24: by Laura (new)

Laura (sweettartlaura) | 17 comments Not a bad idea, Lily, but so far I think I'll manage. As Everyman pointed out, there is good reason for these lists. Knowing I can skim through that makes it seem less daunting as well. I'll keep an eye out for the interactions, though. Like you, I'm enjoying the interactions with the gods and goddesses most so far.


message 25: by Theresa (new)

Theresa | 856 comments Here is an idea: look at the members list for this group, sorted by 'last online' and see what they are currently reading. Most members of this group have joined and not participated much, but they have shown an interest in good books simply by having joined. Many seem to have good, but eclectic tastes that don't quite fit under the category of 'classics'. The list is long but seems to be a good source of good books that are out of the ordinary. Sorting the list by comments also has some good suggestions but I find the reading a little heavier and with fewer suprises than the list sorted by last online.

I quite dislike Goodreads automatic recommendations, but I don't mind at all looking into a book that someone I know (or who knows my reading tastes) recommends to me personally. The shadow group of classics readers who have joined this group and are active on the site is an interesting source of unusual books.


message 26: by [deleted user] (new)

With respect for those intrepid members who are making it to the end of Ulysses, I offer this as a new "challenge." The article is about a Cambridge (MA) book group that has met for eighteen years to read Finnegan's Wake.

http://www.bostonglobe.com/lifestyle/...


message 27: by Zippy (new)

Zippy | 155 comments Zeke, that's an amazing group. I'm glad they've found each other. I'm really glad I don't have to go.


message 28: by Thomas (new)

Thomas | 4409 comments Zippy wrote: "Zeke, that's an amazing group. I'm glad they've found each other. I'm really glad I don't have to go."

Ha! I'd love to go, but it's a bit far for me.

But here's an idea for those who want a taste of FW without making the full 18 year commitment:

Riverrun to Livvy: Lots of Fun Reading the First Page of James Joyce's Finnegans Wake.


message 29: by Kyle (new)

Kyle | 192 comments I feel like William Gaddis' Recognitions would be a great follow for Ulysses (obviously the group has other plans, but if anyone is looking to challenge themselves...). It much more conventional stylistically, but it's otherwise at least as erudite, complex, infuriating, rewarding, etc...


message 30: by Lily (new)

Lily (joy1) | 5012 comments Kyle wrote: "I feel like William Gaddis' Recognitions would be a great follow for Ulysses (obviously the group has other plans, but if anyone is looking to challenge themselves...). It much more conventional s..."

Brain Pain recently started Infinite Jest , second group read.


message 31: by Linda (new)

Linda | 322 comments Lily wrote: "Brain Pain recently started Infinite Jest , second group read."

I just read Infinite Jest during the last part of 2014 and finished January 2015. It was easily the best book I read last year and I am still participating in the discussions with the readers who were a bit behind and still learning things I missed upon the first read (there are many!). It's a book I will definitely reread it one day.


message 32: by Linda (new)

Linda | 322 comments Kyle wrote: "I feel like William Gaddis' Recognitions would be a great follow for Ulysses (obviously the group has other plans, but if anyone is looking to challenge themselves...)."

Thanks for the positive comment on this book, Kyle. It appeared on my radar not too long ago and I was intrigued, but looking at snippets of the text I found myself intimidated by it (not unlike flipping through Ulysses before the group read!).


message 33: by Zippy (new)

Zippy | 155 comments I will be finishing Ulysses tonight if all goes well. I believe my next read will be Curious George or possibly National Geographic magazine.

Need...
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message 34: by Theresa (new)

Theresa | 856 comments Zippy wrote: "I will be finishing Ulysses tonight if all goes well. I believe my next read will be Curious George or possibly National Geographic magazine.

Need...
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:)


message 35: by Theresa (new)

Theresa | 856 comments Zeke wrote: "With respect for those intrepid members who are making it to the end of Ulysses, I offer this as a new "challenge." The article is about a Cambridge (MA) book group that has met for eighteen years ..."

Thanks for that link, looks like a fun group (really). They don't abuse themselves with more than a page or two and probably just use it as an excuse for a social gathering. Having a shared love of something is one of the best ways to build friendships.


message 36: by [deleted user] (last edited Mar 24, 2015 01:22PM) (new)

Theresa wrote: "Here is an idea: look at the members list for this group, sorted by 'last online' and see what they are currently reading. Most members of this group have joined and not participated much, but th..."

Theresa, that's so interesting. I'm one of those lurkers. I read Ulysses only within the last year, so I'm still assimilating it, and am reluctant to discuss it as my thoughts are so personal. I have to say, I love to watch the conversations in this group, but here's my issue. At 62, I've found myself in front of the new books section in my library and wandering the stacks, knowing that all the writers I love have been dead forever or have just recently died (recently meaning in the last 10-15 years!). I feel like everybody's widow. So I have been forcing myself to read outside my comfort zone. I have found I really admire Jonathan Lethem, William Boyd, a few others, David Shields, and I've been purposefully digging into contemporary Irish writers. I have forayed into David Foster Wallace, but it was a bad day for it. I am trying to read new writers, outside the canon. But still, I learn so much from these conversations. I have so many books I've acquired over the past couple of years, oh, classics, Henry James's essays on fiction, Pound's, what's it called, ABC's of Reading?, tons of poetry, European writers like Calvino who are just (again, 10-15 years) coming easily available, Chekov, O'Neill, old anthologies and lit texts filled with gems, preparing myself to maybe live somewhere where there's no library or no English language library close by. So anyway, don't mean to lurk, always learn, but I find I'm a very private reader, each book a solitary journey, a dream, if it's good enough, I can't describe on waking. Tra la, I'm running on... But I learn here, and it's so valuable.


message 37: by Linda (new)

Linda | 322 comments Zippy wrote: "
Need...
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No kidding. I'm not going to fool myself - I'm not even close to finishing Penelope tonight.


message 38: by Kyle (last edited Mar 24, 2015 01:49PM) (new)

Kyle | 192 comments Linda wrote: "Thanks for the positive comment on this book, Kyle. It appeared on my radar not too long ago and I was intrigued, but looking at snippets of the text I found myself intimidated by it..."

It took me about 6 months to finish... I put down it down a couple times before making the final push. Probably would have gotten more out of it by doing it all in one go, but I just didn't have the motivation. But at the end of the day it's an amazing piece of literature, and it's not insurmountable with a good guide : http://www.williamgaddis.org/recognit...


message 39: by Kyle (new)

Kyle | 192 comments Lily wrote: "Brain Pain recently started Infinite Jest , second group read...."

That one is definitely on my list. Sometimes I think about the books I have read and think I'm doing pretty well. Then I think about all the ones I haven't...

I'm actually about to start a Yasunari Kawabata novel. Its about as polar opposite from Joyce as one can get, at least stylistically. He makes Hemmingway seem wordy. But that won't take long, and who knows, maybe I'll be up for another big one then.


message 40: by Theresa (new)

Theresa | 856 comments Ellen wrote: "Theresa wrote: "Here is an idea: look at the members list for this group, sorted by 'last online' and see what they are currently reading. Most members of this group have joined and not participa..."

I always knew there was a shadow group here :) Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I may well look into some of those suggestions.


message 41: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Zippy wrote: "Zeke, that's an amazing group. I'm glad they've found each other. I'm really glad I don't have to go."

Ditto, ditto, and ditto.


message 42: by [deleted user] (new)

@48 I don't know Everyman. Sounds like a pretty good moderating gig. You wouldn't have to run any polls. ;)


message 43: by Tommi (new)

Tommi | 36 comments Has anyone of you read Finnegans Wake? Thomas? Call me crazy but I do intend to give it a go when I’m less busy. Ever since I finished Ulysses a couple of years ago I’ve been wanting to read / listen / experience FW, but never got around to it because pretty much everybody says it’s unreadable. But I don’t want to believe so. I appreciate Joyce’s poetic, flowing language and don’t mind if I don’t understand everything (and I definitely wouldn’t of FW).

I’m probably going for a copy without annotations, but if there are some recommended guides for the “novel”, feel free to suggest! Already found a nice audio version of it.


message 44: by Acontecimal (new)

Acontecimal | 111 comments unfortunately, I´m probably never going to read the Wake. Like you said, several native speakers of the English language say it is impenetrable.What is left for someone who speaks English as a second language?
I read once that there is some crazy guy that has been translating it for Portuguese for like 30 years. But even if he publishes it, from what I read about the book, it would completely miss the point.


message 45: by Acontecimal (new)

Acontecimal | 111 comments I forgot to mention, I am from Brazil.


message 46: by Thomas (new)

Thomas | 4409 comments Tommi wrote: "Has anyone of you read Finnegans Wake? Thomas? Call me crazy but I do intend to give it a go when I’m less busy. Ever since I finished Ulysses a couple of years ago I’ve been wanting to read / list..."

Wow, Tommi! FW is not for the faint of heart (or ear or brain) so I applaud your ambition. I did make it through the book once -- I can't say I understood much of it, but my eyes passed over all the words.

I found these books extremely helpful:

Annotations to Finnegans Wake
Joyce's Book of the Dark: Finnegans Wake

I haven't read this, but I've heard good things about it: A Guide through Finnegans Wake

And an alternative edition if you want a taste before you attempt to slay the dragon: A Shorter Finnegans Wake

Listening to FW is a great idea -- sometimes it's the only way to understand the language -- but you'll have to read, and re-read, and re-re-read, along with the audio as well. It's not so much a book as an immense punzle. (No, that's not a typo. ;)

Good luck! I'm so glad you're interested.


message 47: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Thomas wrote: "Wow, Tommi! FW is not for the faint of heart (or ear or brain) so I applaud your ambition. I did make it through the book once -- I can't say I understood much of it, but my eyes passed over all the words. "

So when we've fully recovered from Ulysses -- say in two or three years -- you're volunteering to moderate a reading of FW, right?

[g]


message 48: by Tommi (new)

Tommi | 36 comments How about right after Eliot. ;)

Thank you very much Thomas for your suggestions! I bookmarked them all and will see what I can get my hands on when the time comes. In a way, I don’t want to burden myself with many guides and studies (because that way I never finish novels) but a couple might be needed here in order to not lose my mind.


message 49: by Tommi (new)

Tommi | 36 comments Probably no chance of that in Finland. Ulysses is or has been a “big” thing here because of two controversial translations, but Wake has garnered nearly zero attention. A few years ago a study of FW was published in Finnish, quite a surprise. I think it’s the only one so far.


message 50: by Tommi (new)

Tommi | 36 comments Do I? I take that as a compliment! I don’t know really, I think I just grew up with the internet and music and movies and since most of that was in English, the language came with it. English was my strongest subject in “high school” (not exactly comparable to the system here but anyway) so that’s how I ended up studying English philology at the university here.


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