Classics and the Western Canon discussion

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General > 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 Feliks (last edited Jul 30, 2014 08:33AM) (new)

Feliks (dzerzhinsky) I see from your other post that you veer away from the dense prose of Charles Dickens.

But English literature has sundry other choices to offer; many of them accessible to modern tastes.

How about some W. Somerset Maugham? Some Evelyn Waugh? Evelyn Waugh is laugh-out-loud funny.

From Europe, perhaps some Stefan Zweig or Thomas Mann.

From America, try some Katherine Mansfield or Dorothy Parker.


message 3: by Laura (new)

Laura (sweettartlaura) | 17 comments Great ideas, Feliks - I'll put them on my list. As I start to delve into this and ask around, I'm slightly embarrassed at how much I haven't read :/ But... I'm going to fix that, one book at a time.

Thanks again!


message 4: by Lily (last edited Jul 30, 2014 11:36AM) (new)

Lily (joy1) | 5057 comments Laura wrote: "... I'm slightly embarrassed at how much I haven't read ..."

If we are honest, most of us are, if we have any interest in reading, for all of our lives. But that need have little to do with the enjoyment available.


message 5: by Nemo (new)

Nemo (nemoslibrary) | 2456 comments Truth be told, I'm probably the least well-read among the active members of this group, but totally unembarrassed. :)


message 6: by Lily (last edited Jul 30, 2014 12:13PM) (new)

Lily (joy1) | 5057 comments Nemo wrote: "Truth be told, I'm probably the least well-read among the active members of this group, but totally unembarrassed. :)"

It's like what some therapists say about "guilt": the useless emotion or feeling? [g]


message 7: by Laura (new)

Laura (sweettartlaura) | 17 comments Thanks for the camaraderie & support ;)


message 8: by Charles (new)

Charles Might I suggest Anthony Trollope?


message 9: by Laura (new)

Laura (sweettartlaura) | 17 comments Sure, thanks, Charlie! Any one you'd recommend to start with?


message 10: by Charles (new)

Charles Not particularly. Barchester Towers is rather funny. The Eustace Diamonds, the Palliser series are good.


message 11: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 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 t..."

Rather than suggesting specific titles, I can suggest several resources you might find interesting.

You might start just by skimming the bookshelf of this group, since it contains books which group members have suggested as appropriate books for this group to read.

Then there are three books I can recommend which look at many of the major classics with comments on each. While they are all chronologically oriented, starting generally with the Greeks, they don't at all need to be read that way, but you can just dip into them at random and see what they say about various books until you find ones that sound interesting.

My favorite, which I've mentioned in this group before, is Clifton Fadiman's "Lifetime Reading Plan." The Lifetime Reading Plan (I prefer the original, still in print, to the New Lifetime Reading Plan with John Major.)

Another very good resource is Van Doren's The Joy of Reading. Joy of Reading

A bit more academic and erudite, but still quite interesting, is Harold Bloom's The Western Canon. The Western Canon: The Books and School of the Ages

All of them, if not in your library, can be found quite cheaply on used book sites such as alibris.com and abebooks.com.

Try these resources and see whether you don't find some very good suggestions for books that will fit your interests.

Of course, feel free to continue to invite suggestions here, but keep in mind that we all have our biases! (I, for example, would encourage you to start with the Iliad and Odyssey, which are foundational works for much of the literature which follows them.)


message 12: by Laura (new)

Laura (sweettartlaura) | 17 comments Thanks, Charles!


message 13: by Laura (new)

Laura (sweettartlaura) | 17 comments Thanks, Everyman! I have decided to start with the Iliad and the Odyssey, as a matter of fact. I'll look into some of these guides to get a fuller outlook on this endeavor. I really appreciate all the suggestions I've gotten :)


message 14: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Laura wrote: "Thanks, Everyman! I have decided to start with the Iliad and the Odyssey, as a matter of fact. "

There are some good posts about translations in the discussion threads on those books. You may have to go back aways in the Discussions folders to find them, but they're there. Or if you prefer, I'm sure people would give you their thoughts here if you ask.


message 15: by Theresa (last edited Aug 14, 2014 12:28AM) (new)

Theresa | 856 comments Another approach worth considering, if you are a woman, to start by reading A Vindication of the Rights of Women by Mary wollstencraft 1792. Virginia Woolf's A Room of One's Own and Three Guineas written in the early part of the 20th century are also good for getting some perspective about women and writing. I particularly enjoyed her fictional character "Judith Shakespeare", the sister of William who has exactly the same gifts but would have been driven insane by the ridicule if she had attempted realize her potential in Shakespeare's time. Woolf also shares her thoughts about Jane Austen and other eminent female authors.
If you like philosophy, and want to get into some heavy reading, there is Simone de Beauvoir's The Second Sex. I've never gotten fully through that, it is a bit deep for me.

I make the above suggestions because I think it would help people who are not white males to read some of the classics more critically. It is good to know which of the classics speak directly to your own experience as a women and which ones mainly serve to celebrate patriarchy (which is not necessarily a bad thing, but it is also not necessarily a relevant thing for a womans personal self growth). The Odyssey, for example, is easier for me to accept if I remind myself that it is mainly a story about a Man, about how to be a Man, and manliness in general. If I start thinking that it has some lesson for me that I can use as a woman - that I can embark on the 'hero's journey' and be fullfilled...I'll probably end up being laughed at and a complete mess. I suppose I could adopt the role model of Penelope, who is loyal and 'stands by her man' eternally weaving and unweaving and never complaining...eh well, maybe not :) Its still a great story though, but it is mostly the story of what it is to be a Great Man and a Great King. Odysseus and Penelope also have a great relationship so maybe there is also something there about great marriages and what men need to do to win back their wives.

Sometimes we make excuses for why some of the classics are sexist or demeaning to women "well, that is how it was in those days" yes well, how did we get to these days except with writers like Wollstencraft and Woolf who questioned and challenged assumptions about how it was? I tend to think that a classic is something that has stood the test of time and continues to be relevant to our world view today. If it isn't, and if I have to continually make excuses for the author, on account of the time he or she lived in, then maybe it is not so classic? No longer so relevant to the human experience which has become something more than just the experience of white males?

Though I haven't read them (except in parts) The Autobiography of Malcolm X and The Wretched of the Earth by Frantz Fanon are often considered as classics. Men and Women who have experienced the oppression of western civilization would probably relate.

Anyway, just putting that out there as an alternative starting point. I find it makes it easier for me to understand why some apparently "great" book has not blown me away or touched me at a deeper level.


message 16: by Lily (last edited Aug 14, 2014 11:34AM) (new)

Lily (joy1) | 5057 comments Patrice wrote: "Neither comes close to the level of a great book, IMO. ..."

And, you define "great book" as ....., Patrice?

As you know, one of my favorite quotes is the one attributed to Mark Twain -- "Don't read good books. There isn't time for that. Read only the best."

But I usually follow that with how subjective is "best." For example, last month my f2f club read a book that I, and many reviews, considered definitely sub-par in terms of the writing. But, it led to a good discussion on foster parenting in our society.

We struggle continually with the question of "good enough to ask each other to spend our time upon." I understand that is a different question than what is a "great book," yet part of me knows the questions are inter-related.

What "great books" best depict the core of the struggles for human dignity of diverse peoples on this globe? What great book best addresses the challenges so questionably and rather sloppily presented in The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History ?


message 17: by Nemo (new)

Nemo (nemoslibrary) | 2456 comments Part of me knew that was coming. :)


message 18: by Lily (last edited Aug 14, 2014 10:54AM) (new)

Lily (joy1) | 5057 comments Theresa wrote: "Another approach worth considering, if you are a woman, to start by reading A Vindication of the Rights of Women by Mary wollstencraft 1792. Virginia Woolf's A Room of One's Own and Three Guineas ..."

It is also possible to look for the depiction of the feminine in any work. For example, I enjoy thinking about each of the women in the Iliad, including the goddesses Athena, Hera, Aphrodite, Artemis; sea-nymph Thetis; the Trojan women Hecuba, Andromache, and Cassandra (?), the "captives" Chryseis, Briseis, Helen, Iphigenia. Especially among the goddesses, but not only, are some powerful archetypes to ponder.


Of course, there is my favorite scene of Andromache, her husband Hector, and their son Astyanax, which says so much about the scourge of war upon humankind.


message 19: by Nemo (new)

Nemo (nemoslibrary) | 2456 comments Well put, Lily.

As a side note, Samuel Butler surmised that Odyssey was actually written by a woman. He might have a point, but I don't know if the gender of a author manifests itself in their work, or, if it does, whether it is a good thing at all.


message 20: by Lily (last edited Aug 14, 2014 11:48AM) (new)

Lily (joy1) | 5057 comments Nemo wrote: "Well put, Lily.

As a side note, Samuel Butler surmised that Odyssey was actually written by a woman. He might have a point, but I don't know if the gender of a author manifests itself in their wor..."


Thank you, Nemo.

Does it matter whether it is written:

Of course, there is my favorite scene of Andromache, her husband Hector, and their son Astyanax,...

or

Of course, there is my favorite scene of Hector, his wife Andromache, and their son Astyanax,....

I don't know that it does, but I do think gender may provide perspectives the world can find value in hearing and respecting -- and questioning. (I actually wrote the second version above first, then decided to revise for @19....)


message 21: by Nemo (new)

Nemo (nemoslibrary) | 2456 comments I tend to think that every author provides a unique perspective as an individual, which should be valued and respected. But I wonder whether it is possible to detect or define anything in our perspectives that is gender-specific.


message 22: by Laurel (new)

Laurel Hicks (goodreadscomlaurele) | 2438 comments I am a woman, but I like to read about people.


message 23: by Lily (new)

Lily (joy1) | 5057 comments Laurele wrote: "I am a woman, but I like to read about people."

Laurel -- I hope you don't take what I wrote @19 to imply that even if one sometimes reads from a feminine perspective, one can't still read and seek to understand about people, of all types! [g]


message 24: by Laurel (new)

Laurel Hicks (goodreadscomlaurele) | 2438 comments :)


message 25: by Todd (last edited Aug 15, 2014 08:03PM) (new)

Todd Glaeser | 21 comments Laura wrote: "Thanks, Everyman! I have decided to start with the Iliad and the Odyssey, as a matter of fact. I'll look into some of these guides to get a fuller outlook on this endeavor. I really appreciate a..."

These are my favorite versions Odyssey and Iliad translated by Stanley Lombardo.


message 26: by Todd (new)

Todd Glaeser | 21 comments On a different angle...

I would recommend The Once and Future King by T.H. White

My favorite novel for at least 35 years.


message 27: by Nemo (last edited Aug 16, 2014 06:59AM) (new)

Nemo (nemoslibrary) | 2456 comments Todd wrote: "..These are my favorite versions Odyssey and Iliad translated by Stanley Lombardo. ."

Lombardo made the Greeks sound like the gangs of America.


message 28: by Todd (new)

Todd Glaeser | 21 comments Nemo wrote: "Todd wrote: "..These are my favorite versions Odyssey and Iliad translated by Stanley Lombardo. ."

Lombardo made the Greeks sound like the gangs of America."


And that's why I said favorite, not best. Lombardo prepares his versions by performing them for an audience, and adjusting where the audience gets lost or doesn't understand. Bringing it back to the oral tradition and making it very "readable."


message 29: by Nemo (new)

Nemo (nemoslibrary) | 2456 comments Does he have multiple versions prepared for different target audience?


message 30: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Nemo wrote: "Todd wrote: "..These are my favorite versions Odyssey and Iliad translated by Stanley Lombardo. ."

Lombardo made the Greeks sound like the gangs of America."


Well put. Lombardo's approach to translation is to modernize, use modern vocabulary and slang, on the theory that for the original Greek listeners the poems were sung in what was to them modern language and idiom.

Personally, I prefer a more classic translation, such as those of Fitzgerald and Lattimore.


message 31: by Charles (new)

Charles some lesser-known books among anglophone readers:

Leonardo Sciascia's novels on the Mafia in Sicily (dark).
Carlo Emilio Gadda's That Awful Mess on the Via Merulana (leisurely)
Heimito von Doderer (Austrian novelist) -- say The Waterfalls of Slunj or The Demons
Eugene Sue, The Mysteries of Paris (an out and out sensationalist romance of 1843)
The Tale of Genji or Wu Ching-Tzu's The Scholars (massive but hypnotic)


message 32: 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 33: by Allison (new)

Allison Goh | 2 comments What Katy DidI enjoyed this quite a lot. It's a very intimate and insular book setting but it definitely spreads a positive message


message 34: by Mike (new)

Mike (mcg1) | 73 comments It seems that you go for noir/mystery stuff, though I may be wrong. If that's the case:

Oscar Wilde - The Picture of Dorian Gray
Gaston Leroux - Mystery of the Yellow Room (very plodding, though)
Joseph Conrad - Heart of Darkness, The Secret Agent, Chance
Alexandre Dumas - The Count of Monte Cristo
Maurice Leblanc - Arsene Lupin
Marcel Allain and Pierre Souvestre - Fantomas
Henry James - The Turn of the Screw, Daisy Miller
Goethe - Faust
Sheridan Le Fanu - Carmilla
HP Lovecraft - Basically everything he's written

I'm purposely avoiding the obvious ones (Stevenson, Shelley, Poe, Stoker).

If you want to venture out into Japanese literature, I'd also suggest Ryunosuke Akutagawa and Yukio Mishima. They're both actually really tragic people whose lives are more interesting than their material, if that's possible. Haruki Murakami (a recent Nobel Prize nominee)is also recommended.


message 35: by [deleted user] (new)

Mike wrote: "It seems that you go for noir/mystery stuff, though I may be wrong. If that's the case:

Mike, I wonder, as long as you're listing the darker side of life, although he's not part of the canon, how about the weird twists and suspenseful turns of "The Killer and The Slain" by Sir Hugh Walpole? It just gave me goosebumps! I think it's been borrowed since without attribution, and Sir Hugh may have borrowed the concept himself, although I can't tell you where I remember reading or seeing the same underlying story/theme.



message 36: by Mike (new)

Mike (mcg1) | 73 comments I just looked him up and noticed that he interacted with Henry James and Maugham. I'd say that definitely qualifies him.

That also made me think of another few:

Stendhal - The Red and the Black
Matthew Gregory Lewis - The Monk
Mervyn Peake - Titus Groan

Very slow books, though. Stendhal's book isn't gothic, but it is pretty dire.

Another pick would be Andre Gide's The Immoralist, if you want to read about a generally terrible human being.


message 37: by Lori (new)

Lori | 20 comments ^I read Akutagawa for the first time last time and was blown away. This is the collection I read Rashōmon and Seventeen Other Stories, which has a nice mix of Gothic tales and more modern stories, all very dark.


message 38: by Mike (new)

Mike (mcg1) | 73 comments I have that book too! I took a trip to Punta Cana a couple summers ago and read it all the way through while on the beach.

T'was an awesome experience.


message 39: by Clarissa (new)

Clarissa (clariann) | 215 comments Feliks wrote: "From America, try some Katherine Mansfield or Dorothy Parker. "

forgive me for being a pendant or if someone else mentioned it and I've missed it, but Katherine Mansfield was born in New Zealand and moved to the UK. If your writing time is short, Laura, short stories are a wonderful place to start, and Mansfield is an exemplary short story writer.

This is a good list that gives you a wide sample to choose from:
http://www.onlineclasses.org/resource...

and this is a shorter list with links to the stories online, well worth checking out whenever you have time

http://flavorwire.com/272890/10-wonde...


message 40: by Zippy (new)

Zippy | 155 comments Those Lombardos sound like great fun! Though it has been about thirty years since I read more classical translations, I think I'll remember enough for the Lombardos to "work" for me. Thanks for the recommendation.


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