Rediscovering classic novels

(Zone 8a)

We've been discussing classic in the 'What are you reading now' thread, so I thought I'd start a new thread devoted to those classic novels we've loved.. or have yet to discover..

Plano, TX

you start! what is one of your favorites? or yet to discover? or maybe even one you never did like-
i had to read the old man and the sea in school and i remember hating it--wonder if i would appreciate it more now--it's fun to see what the schools choose for their classics reading lists for high school --catcher in the rye is still on a lot of lists

Columbus, OH(Zone 6a)

I've always been fond of Charles Dicken's books. Great Expectations, Dombey and Son, Our Mutual Friend and David Copperfield are my faves. I bet books on tapes of his works would be fun to listen to.

Never cared much for The Pickwick Papers, which was mostly comic. I like a little salt with my sweet, so strictly comic books aren't my favorite. Also never could get into The Old Curiosity Shop. Little Nell was just TOO good. :)

As for American Lit, Steinbeck's great, and I love the animal stories of Jack London or Ernest Thompson Seton, although the latter author isn't taught in schools, so maybe he's not considered a "classic". :)

(Zone 8a)

My English teacher in high school gave us a list of books from which we were to read a couple over the summer break. That list started me on a lifelong love of literature and I ended up reading about 90% of the books Mr Oliver listed. I still have a copy of it somewhere..

In my late teenage years I devoured novels by Thomas Hardy, Jane Austen, the Brontes, Henry James, Graham Greene, Joseph Conrad, John Steinbeck. I read Shakespeare, Homer, Tolstoy, Dickens, George Eliot and E M Forster.

It's difficult to recommend books to read in high school. In the sixth form we read D H Lawrence's The Rainbow which has always remained a favourite, but I think at 16 I was too immature to really appreciate it.

North East England, United Kingdom(Zone 8a)

I've just started reading Wuthering Heights - the only Bronte novel I've never read. I didn't enjoy the recent TV adaptation so wanted to assure myself that the book really is a classic.. Like Kniphofia I had the same inspirational English teacher so have read many classic English novels. I didn't come to Lord of the Rings until quite recently and found it difficult but glad I have read it. I'd like to read more Henry James, again difficult but worthwhile. I think I prefer classics to modern novels.

Plano, TX

i love steinbeck also
i also love tennese williams--
and i also liked wuthering heights--

Newark, OH(Zone 5b)

On the other thread, I mentioned "Gone With The Wind" and someone said they thought it might not be a Classic.

What do you all consider a "Classic"....

I guess I was defining it as a novel that has been loved for a long time. Remember, I am the one who didn't get the best education in school, so I am really curious.

In my "mini courses" I did take one in Shakespeare. I think I was the only one of the kids in the class who actually enjoyed it! LOL

Anne Arundel,, MD(Zone 7b)

I didn't like Wuthering Heights when read in highschool, but did like it recently. I think I had to grow up to 'get it'
I LOVED hobbit and LOTR in highschool but haven't tried to reread.
Read Catcher in the Rye a few years ago and thought it just immature and appealing to petulant whiny teenagers.
I enjoyed one of the Dickens some yrs ago, maybe Dombey and Son, I like his sarcasm and observations on people.
DH Lawrence, Lady C Lover--had to check it out, gee whiz no big deal!! just a sign of the standards of the times I guess.
Been meaning to get Daniel Dafoe , um...well one of his was done on PBS and I loved the show. About a woman whose position in society declines throughout her life.
I Know why the Caged Bird Sings is being taught by many; I liked it , more than I expected. The (most) controversial part is handled pretty well considering.
Some of the classics, I think we need help to understand why 'they' think its important to read them.
I don't remember much of what we read in AP english! Some short stories that I needed the teacher to explain the symbolism, those Southern American writers. Hated James Fenimore Cooper but hear that the movie was really good (the indian?...)

Southern NJ, United States(Zone 7a)

I remember loving The Magic Mountain when I read it in college; I also loved Herman Hesse's Magister Ludi. I don't know that I would have the patience to read those now, though; some books simply appeal to a certain age or mindset, I think.

I'm not sure what a classic should be. Usually the term seems to refer to a book that has withstood the test of time and varying tastes. It also implies a fairly high literary standard, and I'm not sure that Gone with the Wind would qualify on that basis. I would call Moby Dick a classic, and of course all of Dickens and Austen and George Eliot - and the Greek plays and Shakespeare and that sort of thing. I don't know which American authors would be included; maybe F. Scott Fitzgerald and Thomas Wolfe. No one contemporary because they're too new to have been tested.

Classic children's tales would be books by Frances Hodgson Burnett, and Wind in the Willows, and Winnie the Pooh, and Kidnapped and Treasure Island. Those are good things to read because familiarity with them is often assumed. At least it was - maybe not so much anymore.

Columbus, OH(Zone 6a)

I'm not sure who decides if a book is a "classic". I figure if it has stood the test of time and is loved through the generations, it is a classic. I know when I first discovered Lord of the Rings in the 70s no one would have thought to teach it in the classroom, but now it is part of the curriculum in our school district.

Do Robert Grave's novels count? I adore "I' Claudius" and "Claudius the God", along with his other historical novels.

Sebastopol, CA(Zone 9a)

I'm not sure that being loved through the generations is enough. If that were the case, then "Uncle Tom's Cabin" and "Gone with the Wind" would be classics. The professor who taught the first course I ever took in comp lit upset many of us right away by telling us that "Gone with the Wind" was an appalling piece of trash. As much as we may enjoy reading certain books, classics have to be Literature with a capital "L."

It's comparable to the difference between good authors and good storytellers. I love the way Stephen King tells a story, but I'd never call him a great author.

Incidentally, when I later taught comp lit in the late 1960s and 1970s, I did include "Lord of the Rings" on the reading list for a class in Epic and Legend.

This message was edited Sep 13, 2009 9:13 PM

Anne Arundel,, MD(Zone 7b)

The Secret Garden (F H Burnet) was included in my daughters class several years ago (fifth grade advanced) but Wind in the Willows, Pooh, Robert Louis Stevenson..don't hear those in my area schools. Don't hear much of anything sadly! Going more towards reading excerpts from works, distributed in paperback workbook. For kids I might look for the Newbery or other medals or honors. Hatchet is used in middle school here.
Scarlet Letter is still used--gawd its so hard to read!!! I STILL don't really get it, tried again with my son last year. UGH

Los Alamos, NM(Zone 5a)

I am so glad this thread was started. Thanks daylily_ohio and kniphophia! It is hard to get our arms around what a classic is, yet there are certain lists around which tell us what the classics are. Here is a standard one:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Books

You will notice that The Great Books which is what I interpret "The Classics" to mean include a lot more than novels. They include a great deal of philosophy and theater and even scientific treatises. To me "The Classics" means texts from the Greeks and Romans which have so influenced our lives --such as The Illiad and the Odyssey and philosophical treatises such as Lucretius's " On the Nature of Things" and Darwin's "The Origin of the Species".

What a great adventure, to launch one's self into a study of "the classics". I would begin with "The Illiad" and "The Odyssey" and the Bible. These are the great writings which are constantly referred to in all writing since the days they were written until now. They are part of the underpinnings of our society.

daylily_ohio,
Do not feel badly about what you missed out on in school. I am a former English teacher and I can tell you American high school students miss out on a lot because our culture does not totally support a study of "the classics". In our culture, learning a trade is more important than learning to think which is what reading "the classics" or "the great books" teaches us to do.
Reading "the classics" is a truly wonderful, but difficult adventure -- one I would encourage everyone to try. Lots of this stuff is written in languages we have a hard time with now, but when penetrated unleashes wonderful ideas now.
I am sure what you are referring to mostly is reading the novels most educated people you know have also read. That is a good place to begin. I encourage you to start the study of "The Classics", but also to understand that it is the duty of our nation at this time to write new "Classics" for the future.
I could go on -on this subject forever, but just for a quick glimpse of a great American writer, try, Huckleberry Finn. I would nominate Huck Finn as possibly the greatest novel of American culture. It is an amazing book to read, if you have never read it. Do try it

Anne Arundel,, MD(Zone 7b)

pajaritomt- I would have to ...argue? that Reading some books without some kind of instruction along the way is not necessarily going to achieve anything. Most people I now have heard of a lot of these books but have no detailed knowledge of them. Sometimes I think I should really read some analysis first so I know what to look for.
I think my son did say he liked and read all of Huck Finn, he is not much of a reader otherwise. Good listener tho- I read Call of the Wild to him, and first four Harry Potter, but I don't consider those (HP) to be classic potential. Do you?

Southern NJ, United States(Zone 7a)

If you can't find people to discuss books with you, often googling them or looking them up on Amazon will give you some ideas about how others view them. Pajaritomt, if you're talking about American classics, I'd recommend The Grapes of Wrath too; it really speaks to a crucial time in our country's history and to some crucial social and cutural events.

Reading the Iliad and the Odyssey, and the Greek plays, might be difficult without some signposts. I had a course in the Greek plays in college and bought the standard set of Aeschylus to Euripides, but they are so foreign to the way I think that I really needed some guidance from the professor to know what to make of them. The fact that the earlier writers were so formal and stylized but Euripides began to show human emotions in the way we're more familiar with would have escaped me completely without a bit of direction. I don't know if Kitto's The Greeks would be of much assistance there, but it would be making rather heavy weather of what should be pleasure and discovery.

Books like Mill on the Floss and The Scarlet Letter and Lord Jim are hard for me because the morality of the times, which is very different from our own, drives their plots and I can't relate to the angst that it causes!

Anyway, more contemporary works are so much more accessible, at least to start off with!

Waterman, IL(Zone 5a)

Oscar Wilde's "The Picture of Dorian Gray" was a book my English class had to read in high school. It was very helpful to be able to discuss chapter by chapter in class. My English teacher was great. I think I'll read it again, 45 years later, and see if I still like it.

Newark, OH(Zone 5b)

Sounds like my favorite librarian was on track recommending Grapes of Wrath to me.

I have re-read the first few pages several times. I enjoy the descriptions of the Oklahoma fields so much.

This would not be a classic as you all are descibing, but Michner's (sp?) Centennial has a wonderful passage describing a valley before humans arrived in America. When I was doing calligraphy, I did a lovely calligraphic piece of that passage that I should have framed so I can enjoy it every day.

(Zone 8a)

I see there's a new film out of Dorian Gray - hopefully it will stir some interest in the novel which I have on my 'must re-read' list.

Yes GG it is hard to sometimes understand the morality of the time in some of these books, for instance regarding the way women were so repressed back then. It's very interesting though!

Calgary, AB(Zone 3a)

Hi all. Great thread idea. Here are some of the classic authors that I have on my list to re-read. daylily I think all of these authors are on audio books too. Good point about what makes a classic? Durned if I know.

Herman Hesse
Oscar Wilde
Charles Dickens
CS Lewis
Ray Bradbury (including the short stories)
Arthur C Clarke
Ernest Hemingway
F. Scott Fitzgerald
Agatha Christie
Tennesse Williams plays
John Steinbeck
Margaret Atwood
All the Penguin Canadian Classic series
Philip Jose Farmer
and many more, some that you have mentioned...

whew! I could keep going like an ever-ready bunny.

Los Alamos, NM(Zone 5a)

I have to agree that "The Grapes of Wrath" is an excellent novel and an American classic. I also think the Illiad and the Odyssey are much easier to read than the greek plays. I think plays, in general, are hard to read, but they are an important part of western literature.
One thing to try daylily_ohio, is to see if there is a Great Books group around in your area. These groups go on for years and the people get together to decipher the classics together. I think there is no substitute for reading the book, but I don't object to a little analysis as well. It is true that older books are mostly harder to read than modern ones because they do represent customs and language that are difficult for us. On the other hand, some of them are pretty gripping and easy to read, anyhow -- like most of Dickens. I reread A Tale of Two Cities as an adult and found it impossible to put it down. I would love to reread much of Dickens. It is still timely.
Huckleberry Finn is also hard to put down. It is an odyssey of its own. It deals with all the social problems of the time -- slavery in particular and has wonderful comments on the truths of life, like Tom Sawyer's hard learned lesson, that in the end it is always better and easier to tell the truth than a lie and Tom and Jim's lesson that peace is to be found in nature, not society.
And I know it isn't necessarily easy but people have educated themselves with nothing but books over the centuries. Yes, it is nice to take a course and to have a teacher, but in the end those who are self educated are almost always the best educated. Consider Abraham Lincoln and many others.
One book, that I believe is little known these days but is pretty much considered a classic is The Once and Future King by White. It is the story of King Arthur and is also the story of government, good and bad. I highly recommend it.
I wouldn't be surprised to see the Harry Potter books survive to be classics and also the Tolkein books. They are all wonderful but we are too close to them right now to say for sure.
I haven't read the Harry Potter books but have found the movies delightful. One of their virtues, I understand, is that they were written to be read aloud. I know two different married couples who read them to each other. Maybe my DH and I will do that some day. The Iliad and the Odyssey come out of the oral tradition and weren't written down for hundreds of years. I think that is why they are so easy to read -- if you get a good translation with footnotes. I used to teach both to 9th graders and lived to tell the tale. They really got into the monsters like the Cyclops and the Sirens.
You are to be congratulated on your independent quest for knowledge daylily_ohio. You are in the process of giving you the best education one can get.

Calgary, AB(Zone 3a)

Book clubs are coming back here with a bang. YA! The one downside for me is the time limit to finish the book but one day I won't be so busy and will join one. I see the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings on alot of 'classic books' lists so I guess they are already considered classics by some. Haven't seen Harry Potter yet though.

Los Alamos, NM(Zone 5a)

I suspect Harry Potter will be a classic as well. I haven't read it yet, but I suspect I will. I think John Steinbeck's play ( or did it start out as a novel?) Of Mice and Men is already a classic, too. And Tony Morrison's Beloved. And a wonderful novel about India which is incredibly long but truly outstanding, A Suitable Boy. Those I believe will be classics.

Calgary, AB(Zone 3a)

Of Mice and Men is definitely one of my favs of his. Novella I think paj. Definitely 'Beloved. I think anything that wins a pulitzer is considered a classic. BTW has anyone read all the pulizer award winners? I haven't but I'm going to now.

(Sheryl) Gainesboro, TN(Zone 6b)

I also nominate "Beloved" as a contemporary classic. How do I know it's a classic? It was almost impossible for me to get through until I heard it on tape, lol. But it has lived in my mind ever since.

I loved Oliver Twist and a Tale of Two Cities. Great Expectations puzzled me.

Did Mark Twain write anything else (book wise) worthwhile than Huck Finn?

Columbus, OH(Zone 6a)

Mark Twain wrote The Prince and the Pauper, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court are two other fictions. Innocent's Abroad and Roughing It are travel memoirs.

I didn't like Connecticut Yankee because I'm essentially a romantic, and Twain's pragmatic Yankee who thought that the dark ages could be saved by the machines of the Industrial Revolution kind of turned me off. But I read it long ago, and maybe I missed the point of the tale. I do like The Prince and the Pauper, though.

The complete bibliography is listed at the bottom of this web page: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mark_Twain

Southern NJ, United States(Zone 7a)

Another author who is wonderful is Rudyard Kipling. I re-read Kim every so often; Kipling's depiction of the life of India during the last century is so vibrant and evocative that it feels as though you're there, walking the dusty Great Trunk Road and seeing all the sights and sounds.

I haven't read Prince and the Pauper for many years but I loved it, as well as Connecticut Yankee. I don't know what I'd think of them now.

Los Alamos, NM(Zone 5a)

Twain was very cynical about human nature and he wrote several books of a sort of philosophical/ anti-religious nature. One is Letters to the Earth ( or was it Letters from the Earth) in which he satirizes the old testament. Another is The Mysterious Stranger which is about the evils of religion as I recall. Letters to the Earth was quite humorous.
Then there were his lectures. He traveled around lecturing quite a lot and he has some hilarious ones about the missionaries in Hawaii and their adventures with the native people there. Also some good ones on San Francisco. I guess Huckleberry Finn is his classic, but the others are very entertaining to this day.

(Zone 7a)

I think it's time I pulled out 2 books I've not read in a very long time.

Of Human Bondage by W. Somerset Maugham and Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand

Both of these novels held a special place when I was in high school and they still do. The images created are powerful and can speak to whole generations.

Kenmore, NY(Zone 6a)

I don't know why I never came in this forum... I LOVE reading the classics. The Secret Garden is probably my all-time favorite, if I had to pick one. And Dickens.

I got my son into them when he was about 13, hungry for a good book. I forgot which one he picked, but when he was done, he said "Mom, that was a really good book!" I said "That's why they call them classics, boy.." He is now 19 and loves all kinds of literature. Shakespeare is his personal favorite.

Los Alamos, NM(Zone 5a)

Ah, smileymom, good job on the son! Nothing like learning about the classics at home!

Kwanjin, I loved Of Human Bondage but Atlas Shrugged? Well it is a powerful book, but pretty disturbing in its message, in my view.

Kenmore, NY(Zone 6a)

The first Harry Potter book was actually the first book my son actually devoured. A friend of his lent him the 2nd one (while he was still reading the 1st one). When he was done with #1 I decided to read it, to see what was holding his attention. So then it turned out to be a tradition. We would pre-order & wait for the mailman, which always ended up being the day we were going on a mini-vacation. They are really good books. Movies don't do them justice, of course.

Up until that point, son was just reading magazines, etc. Wouldn't pick up a book. So I must thank J.K. Rowling for that one. I imagine he would have eventually, but it sure was a groundbreaker for him.

(Sheryl) Gainesboro, TN(Zone 6b)

I've heard that about Ayn Rand before... both that, and The Fountainhead, haven't read either.

Los Alamos, NM(Zone 5a)

I understand J.K. Rowling has started many kids reading and reading harder stuff than they usually do. I think we owe her thanks for her help in educating our children without their knowing it.

Los Alamos, NM(Zone 5a)

Ayn Rand is politically to the right of Attila the Hun and that is that philosophy is what she espouses in all of her books. The plots are interesting and gripping but hers is the philosophy of self interest above all. Not my cup of tea.

Kenmore, NY(Zone 6a)

I'm so glad I found this thread. I haven't read a classic in a long time. Will go back up & pick one!

Thank you everyone!

Southern NJ, United States(Zone 7a)

Pajarito, I agree with you totally about Ayn Rand. I was fascinated by her when I was in college and got to hear her speak - and later heard Nathaniel Brandon speak, too. One of the advantages of going to a city college like NYU, I guess. But the way she left Eddie whateverhisnamewas stranded on the train facing a burgeoning social wilderness really turned me off completely. She only has room for the strong and the exceptional in her society, no matter how principled or fair you are. I guess she figures she and her ilk would be taken care of, but it's a heartless attitude and one I couldn't stomach.

JK Rowling started lots of kids reading a much higher level and more challenging kind of book, and she's made a huge contribution to adolescent literacy. My own granddaughter hasn't read her books although she loves the movies; she got turned on by an adolescent novel about social relationships, somehow, and has become a real reader since then. She adores the Twilight books. I have tried to turn her on to a few books I liked, but the only one she enjoyed was The Wizard Children of Finn and its sequel. I can't get her to read Noel Streatfield's Shoe books or any of the other classics I loved as a kid. Oh well.

Los Alamos, NM(Zone 5a)

Sometimes kids just want to read what they want to read. As long as she is actually reading, I wouldn't worry about her. What happens is that by reading for pleasure they improve their skills for when they need to read for something less pleasurable.

(Zone 7a)

Isn't provoking a response of some kind the reason writers write? Getting a message across, whether you agree with it or not? I don't agree with everything in her books, either, but she certainly gets a response.

My idea of a classic is a book that you remember years later. Good or bad, powerful statements or images stay with you. George Orwell was one of the most depressing writers ever but you still remember the stories.

Deeply dark stories provoke the inner child to a reaction. I remember the first time I read Grimm's Fairy Tales. Awful, bloody tales. Yet, we still tell them to our children.

I like a good story, is all I'm trying to say. I don't expect everyone to agree with me, and you shouldn't. Where would be the fun in that? ^_^

Calgary, AB(Zone 3a)

I read alot of things that I disagree with and/or find objectionable because I'm interested in all sides. Rand is definitely 'leaning' in her writings to say the least paj but I think she is the best fictional writer for her school of thought. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Objectivism_(Ayn_Rand) It

Plano, TX

fun to read everyones idea of classics--some i didn't think of till mentioned--i really like somerset maugham-- i feel like his stories are so comtempory even tho written long ago--maybe that is what a classic is--a story that is timeless in it's message--
i cannot remember atlas shrugged even tho i do know i read it long ago--was it futuristic?

as for harry potter -- i read that she is the first writter to catch the younger male with a non fiction book! and i know that is so true--young boys read about things--sports, animals, etc

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