Thursday, November 3, 2011

A Nod To The Classics

I sure didn't want to be on Stephen King's shit list, so I put off reading War and Peace until the fall. It makes sense, anyway — the chill in the air these days signifies more than just a shift in the weather. People's reading habits shift from the fluffy summer reads to the more "stuffy" classics.

I can personally back up that claim. In addition to my continued assault on War and Peace (I'm on page 727 of about 1,400...whew), I've been re-reading George Orwell's 1984 for the third or fourth time. Man, is it good — one of my favorite "stuffy" classics.

But that's not all — chatter on the bookish interwebs about the classics has picked up recently, almost from the moment the calendar switched from October to November. Exhibit A is this fantastic Book Riot post by Wallace Yovetich about how to read a classic.

Additionaly, Twitter's been a flutter about next year's Back To The Classics Challenge. Every year, I sort of do a personal Classics Challenge (without having to limit myself to certain categories). This past year, my goals were Gone With The Wind, Anna Karenina and War and Peace. (Last year, it was Gravity's Rainbow, which damn near ended me.) Next year, I have five classics goals. Here they are:

5. Underworld, by Don DeLillo
4. Winter's Tale, by Mark Helprin
3. The USA Trilogy, by John Dos Passos
2. East of Eden, by John Steinbeck
1. Sophie's Choice, by William Styron

There was no real method to the madness for picking those five books — they're just five books I've always wanted to read, and fear never well unless I set them aside with targets on their covers.

Have you read any of those five? What did you think? What's on your classics schedule for this winter?


  1. i am doing the classics challenge and modifying it by focusing on eastern european literature. i figured that way i would limit my choices and make picking titles a bit easier. i'm from that part of the world and feel that literature is our greatest contribution to the world. that, and good yogurt, of course.

  2. I read only Dos Passos in there. I think you're going to love it.

  3. Your list of upcoming reads is a good one, I've read them all, and while none of them are what I'd call favorites, they are all well worth reading. I'll be interested in your thoughts on W&P when you are done. That is a novel that I try and reread every couple of years or so--it is a monumental work of fiction. You didn't say, but I'm curious as to which translation you're reading? I have read the Garnett translation many times, and the Pevear/Volokhonsky translation twice, and I now much prefer it to Constance Garnett's. Good luck and happy reading this fall! Cheers! Chris

  4. I've read three of the books on your list,Greg and I think you'll really like them. Winter's Tale is a nifty blend of magical realism and old world New York,East of Eden is a little slow but very meaningful and Sophie's Choice is sadly poetic.

    I've heard great things about the USA trilogy but haven't tried it so it'll be interesting to see your take on those books and DeLilo is just not my cup of tea yet I wish you reading joy on that one. The most classic title in my current reading is A Long Fatal Love Chase by Louisa May Alcott-it's one of her "blood and thunder" stories and so far,so good.

  5. I haven't read any of the five you listed, though I do have East of Eden sitting at home just waiting to be picked up. I'm thinking its time will be this winter :)

  6. I've only read East of Eden from your list, but it is one of my all time favorites. This year I'm rereading the classics Romeo and Juliet, A Christmas Carol, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and 1984.

  7. I haven't read them, but I do really want to read The USA Trilogy and East of Eden. I've read parts of Dos Passos and loved them but for whatever reason (fear and laziness) I never tried the rest of it.

  8. I still have to read War & Peace, too. Sigh.

    1984 is one of my favorites--I've probably read it four or five times as well. I loved East of Eden (I'm a fan of Steinbeck overall). I tried Gravity's Rainbow a couple of months ago, but I had to put it down. I just think it was too soon after reading Infinite Jest. I'll give it another go in the future.

  9. I've not ready any of the five on your list for this year but good luck with them. I would definitely liek to re-read 1984 because I think I am about the only person who didn't love it the first time they read it, so it probably deserves a re-read. I am heading into summer at the moment, but I have to admit that I don't think that the seasons effect my reading very much.

  10. Some years ago now, I received 50 classics of all types from my brother's then girlfriend. She had gone out and collected them from the newsagents and they came with a magazine - but there's two missing unfortunately. But I'm not fussed. I have been very slowly working my way through this collection bit by bit. The books I have read from this long list are:

    'War of the Worlds' by H.G. Wells.
    'Little Women' by Louisa May Alcott
    'The Picture of Dorian Gray' by Oscar Wilde

    Others I've read are:

    'The Day of the Triffards' by John Wyndham
    'Fahrenheit 451' by Ray Bradbury
    'The Wave' by Todd Strassor
    'Old Man and the Sea' by Ernest Hemmingway

    I find I have to be in the mood to read classics as they are usually pretty tough to get through for me... just like non-fiction are. My mind has to be working in a certain way to accept the words. But I do like them very much.

  11. @Petya - Interesting - what books are you reading? I have to admit, I'm far from an expert on Eastern European literature...

    @Ben - I've read a ton about it, and I think I will too. As a Canadian, did you like it?

    @Christopher - Oh, I have a TON of thoughts on War & Peace. I was thinking of starting a blog just for writing W&P-related posts while reading. ;) I'm reading the Anthony Briggs translation - which, by most accounts, isn't the best one. I don't mind it, but I don't have a basis of comparison. Cheers!

    @lady t - Winter's Tale's been on my radar for awhile - ever since it was several people's answer to the question about favorite book of all time. I think DeLillo turns off as many people as he appeals to. I've read his White Noise and Falling Man, and love 'em both!

    @Brenna - Let me know if you want to do an East of Eden read-along thing. Strength in numbers!

  12. @SmallWorld - That's a great list - enjoy 1984 again. I'm enjoying the hell out of it this time through. Such a great novel!

    @Red - I didn't realize until last night that each of the three Dos Passos novels is about 500 pages. Whew - now I'm also a little afraid of it. ;)

    @Heather - Yes, 1984 is awesome. Re, Gravity's Rainbow - or, maybe, it's just that, in stark opposition to Infinite Jest, Gravity's Rainbow is practically impenetrable in certain parts.

    @Becky - 1984 is a bit philosophical at times, so I can see how folks may not enjoy those parts. But I actually love 'em - Orwell's so convincing about how things could've come to be that way! Enjoy summer - we here in the Northern Hemisphere are jealous! ;)

    @Mozette - I'd agree, you definitely have to gear yourself up for classics a little bit more than for a more breezy read. Maybe that's why they work better for winter reading - fewer distractions? Just a theory...

  13. Great post, Greg. W&P is definitely worth the time spent with it. I've only read it once (I think it was the Constance Garrett translation; if I had to do it again, it would definitely be the Pevear/Volokhonsky version--they never disappoint). Of the other books you mentioned, I've only read "Underworld," but I thought it was superb. The much-touted opening section is one of the best pieces of fiction in the latter half of the 20th century. On my own Classics Wish List, one of these days I'm gonna crack open "Lolita" and/or "Ulysses." Of course, I've been saying that for two decades now...

  14. East of Eden is one of my all time favorite books. I've been very much out of the interweb loop--school days, school days. I remember reading and liking Dos Passos in college. It wouldn't be a bad idea to reread 1984 (was Orwell prescient?).

  15. I'm reading Vanity Fair, which is a lot less daunting than I thought it would be.

    Sophie's Choice is my favorite book.

    And because I'm feeling magnanimous, I'm not even going to suggest that you switch out Don Delillo (bleck) for a female author- say Toni Morrison or Edith Wharton. Because that would be such a bitchy feministy thing to do. :)

  16. Hang in there with War And Peace. I just finished after several months of reading it in small sections and I have to say I liked it better the farther along I got. You can do it and the satisfaction of finishing it is priceless! In 2012 I hope to get through either Middlemarch or Tom Jones. They've both been sitting on my shelf taunting me for being too chicken to start them. Their time is coming. Great post!

  17. @David - I'm just now getting to the "good part" of War & Peace, and so I'm actually enjoying it a lot more than a lot of the first 800 pages. Thanks for the comments on Underworld - I'm really excited about finally taking on that novel. Good luck with Ulysses - that is a novel that may be permanently off my list.

    @bibliophiliac - Orwell was very prescient! And good to know about East of Eden - most people seem to really love that novel, but there's always a few haters.

    @Holly - As soon as I finished typing my list, I figured there'd be at least one comment about the lack of women authors. Nicely done! ;) I like Don DeLillo, but was bored silly by Beloved. DeLillo stays!

    @Ordinary Reader - Seems to be the case with me too - liking it more the more I read. I have 500 pages to go, and it's really sped up in just the last hundred pages or so. Good luck with Middlemarch - I've heard that's titanic test of wills.

  18. I self-challenged myself to "read more classics" this year, and I should have been more specific. Of the 50+ books I've read, 5 have been classics. Despite the fact that I have enjoyed them all, I just never pick them up!

    On my 26 by 26 list, though, I put "Read all of Hemingway" and "Read War & Peace." A little daunting, but I'm hopeful.

    Can't wait to hear your thoughts on Winter's Tale, which is one of my favorite, favorite books of all time.