For some reason, when summer arrives, I feel as though I want to do a project of some kind. I don’t feel this way during any other season, but when summer’s here, it’s Project Time. One summer, D and I watched every episode of “Sex in the City”; another summer project was watching all the “Star Wars” movies, and then all the “Star Trek” movies. I think it’s something to do with all the Summer Reading Lists that get published and promoted, combined with the idea of long books with complex story lines or just with the reputation of being a “hard to read” classic.
It was also triggered by walking by a display of books at Barnes and Noble. It was a selection of “Required Reads” for local school districts, and as I viewed the titles, I realized that I had a big hole in my American Lit reading… And now, the project has expanded to worldwide.
Last summer’s project was quite successful; I ended up reading 22 classics in the end. (Obvious authors omitted):
- Wuthering Heights
- Robinson Crusoe
- Night – Elie Wiesal
- Tom Sawyer
- Huckleberry Finn
- Uncle Tom’s Cabin
- Count of Monte Cristo
- A Christmas Carol
- The Warden – Anthony Trollope
- East Lynne – Mrs. Henry Woods
- The Picture of Dorian Grey – Oscar Wilde
- Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte
- Alice’s Adventure in Wonderland
- Alice Through the Looking Glass
- Winnie the Pooh
- House at Pooh Corner
- Legend of Sleepy Hollow
- Mill on the Floss – Eliot
- Silas Marner – Eliot
- Lark Rise to Candleford – Flora Thompson
- O, Pioneers – Willa Cather
- Cry, the Beloved Country
I thoroughly enjoyed reading through these, and being able to mentally check them off my Classics reading list that is always milling around my brain at some point or another. With summer at this point already, I am not sure that I will have such a long list by the end of it, but I think it will still be fun.
Classic Books I have read this summer (so far):
- The Old Wives’ Tale – Arnold Bennett
- The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes – Arthur Conan Doyle
- Anne of Green Gables – L. M. Montgomery
Actually, that is a bit pitiful seeing as it’s almost the end of July, but what can I say? I have been on a non-fiction craze for the past few months… I have been reading about Victorian and Georgian history – does that count?!
So, are there classics that you just adore and think I should read toute suite? I can let you know that I believe I will get hives/allergic reaction if I force myself to read a Russian guy, but apart from that, the sky’s the limit. I do adore Victorian lit by female authors, but am open for almost anything. (I have read Beowolf, but not The Odyssey or Iliad. No Bible please.) And it would be great to hear of some non-Western canon titles as well if you know of any…
Oh fun! I love reading classics all of the time, but I must say in the summer I get a special urge to give them a go. 😀 (Um, after writing this comment I realised it was way, way, way too long. Sorry about that!)
I shall ignore your dig at the Russians (lol; if you ever change your mind, Anna Karenina would prob be best place to start since it feels most ‘Victorian’) and throw out some suggestions…staying in England, have you read any Gaskell? I loved Cranford and want to read Wives and Daughters soon; I had less luck with Ruth and North and South (the miniseries spoiled it for me) but they were still good. And perhaps you want to try some pre-Victorian lit? Belinda by Maria Edgeworth is marvelous, as is Tom Jones! And if you haven’t read any Medieval lit, it’s very fun! There’s Chretien de Troyes, the first Arthur stories or Sagas of the Icelanders (I loved the Penguin edition which as a variety of translators) or lots more (a slim nonfic book by Thomas Steinberg, Reading the Middle Ages, is a great source). Moving even farther back, I’ve discovered a taste for Greek drama: both Anne Carson and Robert Fagles are my go-to translators. I’m still v new to it, but my favourite playwright so far is definitely Aeschylus. Speaking of works in translation, there’s so many non-Russian continental authors! 😉 I was surprised by how much I enjoyed Sorrows of Young Werther, and Colette is one of my very favourites. If you want an Australian classic, My Brilliant Career by Miles Franklin was a fascinating read. And for another British colony, The Story of an African Farm was a challenging, intriguing novel by a British South African woman. As far as US stuff goes, I didn’t see any Wharton or Henry James on your list: they’re probably my two favourite classic American novelists! And you should *definitely* explore classic African American writers; since you’re on a nonfic kick, give Frederick Douglass’ autobiography a go. I found it v moving. (Speaking of former slave narrative, Olaudah Equiano’s is a must as well! And then you could read Aphra Behn’s early novel Oroonoko!) Zora Neale Hurston is marvelous: she’s one of the only writers I know whose dialect writing actually works for me! And for some shorter works, there’s Nella Larsen’s Passing, The Conjure Woman by Charles Waddell Chesnutt, and a whole bunch of other Harlem Renassiance writers worth exploring (the Classics Circuit did a tour with this theme that’s a great resource: http://classics.rebeccareid.com/previous-tours/). I’ve been wanting to read Pearl Buck, an American author who lived in China and whose books are primarily set there. She’s a bit later, 30s-ish I think.
Moving completely outide the Western canon, there’s Arabian Nights (I highly recommend the Hussein Haddawy translation), The Pillow Book (I read the Meredith McKinney translation and loved it), Kokoro (ditto re: McKinney as translator), The Travels of Ibn Battutah (kind of boring, though), and I’m sure more that aren’t coming to mind. But since I’ve already flooded you w suggestions, I’ll wrap things up. Anyway, I’m so glad you commented on my blog because now I’ve found yours and am popping you into my feed reader! 😀
Wow. So many suggestions here, that I *really* appreciate it. Thanks a bunch. I have read Pearl Buck and she is wonderful – I think you would like her as she is very respectful of China and its customs and one book is even from the perspective of a rural Chinese male peasant. As you suggest, I do need to read outside the Western canon a bit more, and if Anna Karenina is Victorian-ish, that might even get added to the list! (I am not anti-Russian, but did read quite a bit of it in grad school… However, that was ages ago and perhaps I am ready to venture into that fray once more.
Seriously, thanks so much for the suggestions. I adore your blog and every time I go there, I get a new title for the TBR pile. (Not sure if that is good or bad…Nah, it’s good.)
Aww: thanks! I’m enjoying discovering yours. 🙂 And that’s neat you did a lot of Russians in grad school; did you study the language? And I’m glad to hear good things about Pearl Buck! I think I’m going to start with The Pavilion of Women.
I forgot to add Sigrid Undset: she’s Norwegian, so still Western European I guess, and she even won the Nobel, but she doesn’t seem a big part of the canon these days. Jenny is set in the same time as she lived, turn of the century-ish, and was quite lovely. Kristin Lavransdatter is a huge epic set in the Middle Ages with a lot of focus on religion & sin & guilt (she wrote it after converting to Catholicism, unlike Jenny); I adored it, but quite a few bloggers wanted Kristin to stop feeling guilty already. lol The nice thing is, like LOTR, it’s published as three ‘seperate’ novels so even though it’s over 1,000 pages if you don’t like it, you can quit earlier! 😉 I read both of those in the Tiina Nunnally translations. Oh, and I can suggest a turn-of-the-century Brazilian: Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis. I’ve only read one of his, Esau and Jacob, and the best I can describe it is like Belle Epoque filtered through a playfully existential Latin American lens. hehe
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