Apr 29, 2013

Book Review: The Classics

My neighbor Lisa and I started a "Classics" Book Club.  (She wanted a book club, I wanted "classics" so as to avoid the typical trashy modern book club selections.  I could write a whole post about modern books I've hated and am still mad I read, but I'll spare you.)

Anyway, I want to list a few of the books we've read so far, plus a few I've read on my own.  Here goes:  (Book club ones get *)

"Bleak House" by Charles Dickens:  While still living in Japan, my sister J-Bird sent me The BBC mini-series version of "Bleak House" on DVD.  Doug and I both got really into it and it made me want to read the book.  Which I loved.  I was glad, however, that I watched the mini-series first because it made it much easier to keep track of all the characters.

"The Woman in White" by Wilkie Collins
I love mysteries, I love nineteenth century British literature.  Loved it.

*"East of Eden" by John Steinbeck
Steinbeck became one of my favorite authors in High School.  (Loved "Winter of Our Discontent".)  But I hadn't read anything of his for a long time.  Super glad Lisa picked "East of Eden".  I loved everything about it.  I don't know why, but Steinbeck is about the only author who can wax poetic and philosophical  about landscapes and cityscapes and not bore me.  Although under critical observation the book isn't perfect, I still loved it!
(P.S.  I've never read "Grapes of Wrath" and I did NOT like "Of Mice and Men".)

*"The Importance of Being Earnest" and "An Ideal Husband" by Oscar Wilde
These are both plays, both short, and both hilarious.  Plus they have great BBC movies to go with them.  Highly recommend.
(Read "The Picture of Dorian Gray" a few years back.  It's also pretty good if you're into exploring the moral implications of Hedonism. )

*"Les Miserables" by Victor Hugo
Here's the deal.  Doug and I saw the play years ago while still living in SLC and liked it.  When the movie came out, we saw it and loved it.    After seeing the movie, I read the book and...mostly liked it.  But I didn't LOVE it!
Here's why:  Holy crap Hugo, can we just stick to the plot and forget the super-boring historical asides that go on for pages and pages and pages and don't advance the storyline at all?!?!?!?!?

Honestly, the details about the Paris sewer systems and how sewage should be pumped back into the city to fertilize the crops---were just way too much for me.  Same with the description of the Battle of Waterloo.  And many other long-winded descriptions of Parisian social ills.  TOO MUCH DIGRESSION!  (And coming from me, that's saying something.)

My un-researched theory is that the point of the book was to advance those theories and philosophies to the Parisians--with the story of Jean Valjean being secondary to make the boring stuff go down easier.  Any thoughts from those who've read it?  Am I way off?  Why else would he muck up a perfectly good story line with sewage details?!?

Here was my one other disappointment.  Marius has got to be the most lame, over-rated, self-indulgent wuss in the whole history of literature.  Seriously dude!  Get a job!  Grow up!  Talk to your Grandpa!  Sorry.  I know that's not a popular opinion, but he really bugged me.  If you've ever seen the movie, just stick with that version of him--he's a little more manly.  Oh, and if you haven't read the book and are planning to?  Find a good abridged version!!!

"Vanity Fair" by William Makepeace Thackeray.  I really liked this one.  It isn't the best book ever written but the plot definitely kept me turning pages and I read it pretty fast.  It had sort of an annoying character, but she (finally!) pulled it together in the end.   Looking forward to watching the mini-series.

"A Room with a View" by E.M. Forster.  I watched the 80's film version of this (with Helena Bonham Carter) in high school and loved it but just got around to reading the book.  Turns out, they're very similar.  The dialog in the movie is taken from the book almost word for word. (And it's a short book so they fit most of it in!)  So actually, reading the book didn't add too much like it usually does when you read the book second.
But I still really liked it and I just forced Doug to watch the movie with me so I could see it again.  He did NOT approve of the nudie skinny-dipping pond scene though I tried my hardest to make him see it in a humorous light.   He also thought the movie was very boring and started checking sport scores on the Internet about 20 minutes in.  I thought the movie did have some rather awkward 80's moments, but still feel it holds up for the most part after all these years.  (The movie is unrated so I can't be blamed for watching the (BRIEF) r-rated content.  Or at least, I couldn't be blamed the FIRST time I watched it.  Book is G-rated, btw.)

(P.S.  I read "A Passage to India" by Forster a few years ago and found it pretty darn boring.  Like Les Mis, I think it was meant to be a commentary on a current social problem.  In this case; Anglo-Indian relations.  Not that there is anything wrong with that, but the story line just didn't do it for me.)

So, any thoughts for me?  Agree?  Disagree?  Have you read any classics lately that you highly recommend?!?


Beeswax said...

Well, I agree with you on A Room with a View. I medium liked the book, I really liked the 80s movie (the visuals of Italy, not so much the nudie frolicking vicar, although Jake liked him), and I liked the newer version, although they changed the ending from the book!

I don't like Steinbeck. I wish I did, because liking Steinbeck is cool. Haven't read East of Eden, though. Maybe someday.

Love Oscar Wilde. Love wit for its own sake.

Dickens. don't like the ones Ive read- Great Expectations and Oliver Twist. Although I watched all the Masterpieces when they were on a few years ago, and I liked David Copperfield and Little Dorrit. I might give them a shot!

Hemingway, blech.

Scarlet Letter, great!

Recently been reading Nancy Mitford. Is mid-century chick lit. Highly recommend. Start with The Pursuit of Love.

Naomi said...

If you don't like the history, read every other chapter of Grapes of Wrath. Seriously.

And read Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner. That man writes about the land beautifully and passionately, treating it like a character. This book is also one of my all-time favorites.

Sherm said...

Puddenhead Wilson
Life on the Mississippi
Innocents Abroad
Roughing It
All by Mark Twain. They with Huckleberry Finn are considered the best of his work. Innocents was the first travel book and is still the best selling one of all time. I quote from Puddenhead Wilson more than any other of Twain's books. The other two give a glimpse of America that you'll never get anywhere else.
The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin
I liked all the novels of Thomas Hardy. None are happy but all are strangely compelling.
A Christmas Carol by Dickens. I've read it every Christmas for a couple of decades.
That should carry you through for week or three.

acte gratuit said...

Yay! I've already typed all these recommendations into my Library List in my phone! THANKS!!!!

Our Family said...

There's a reason why there are several shorter versions of "Les Mis". I read the 300-something version and enjoyed it and didn't have to learn a lick about Waterloo.
Thanks for the book suggestions.

Kayli said...

So, I also don't like modern books, but a lot of the classics I've read (or started reading) are kind of just a drag to read because they are long and boring. And I just don't have time in my life to read something and not have it be enjoyable. So, my recommendations are Lorna Doone- which I think is the most under-rated classic out there. It is soo great!! It has adventure and romance and it's FUNNY! I wrote down a ton of quotes while I was reading it.
Also, I reallly realllly recommend a book called 'Precious Bane' by Mary Webb. I don't know if it can really be classified as a classic, but it reads like one, only better. Go look up the reviews on Goodreads- there's almost only 5-star ratings. It's amazing.

(I know you don't know me, but book recommendations bring the world together, right?)

Christina said...

I agree about Les Mis. I did some speed reading through the sewage explanation!

Do you enjoy YA lit at all? I loved a couple of books that came out this year that I read - Wonder by R.J. Palacio and Bomb by Steve Sheinkin. I think your older boys would like them too.

Thanks for the recommendations, I haven't read any classics for a while.

Anonymous said...


Tanya D said...

I'm jealous. I want a classics book club too! I loved East of Eden and Woman in White as well. I read Anna Karenina last year, loved it. Loved the recent movie too. The Brothers Karamazov was also very good, though I read the first 100 pages several times over a couple years before I buckled down and finished it. Sparknotes.com really helps keeping all those Russian names straight. You might be interested in "The Well-Educated Mind: A Guide to the Classical Education You Never Had". She tells you how to read hard books and gives a guide on what to read. I've started Don Quixote, the first book on her list. I'm slowly reading Moby Dick and I love/hate it and may never finish. Other random classics I really liked: The Age of Innocence, The Count of Monte Cristo, Gone with the Wind. So many books, so little time.

acte gratuit said...

Anonymous, do you mean Henry David Thoreau?
I have read Walden but that's it by him.

Everyone else, THANK YOU! So happy to have some new additions to my reading list! A lot of these I haven't heard of! And I don't discriminate against strangers Kayli! :)

Erin, I've always avoided abridged versions because I don't want to miss any good stuff. Have changed opinion after Les Mis! :)

Tanya, I started Anna Karenina a few years ago but didn't get far. I'll have to try again. Same with Moby Dick--but I'll let you suffer through it and tell me if it's worth it first. I like Susan Wise Bauer--I'll have to check out The Well Educated Mind. Read The Well Trained Mind last year when I home-schooled Max.

Anyway, thanks again everyone! Can't wait to get started!!!

eve call said...

where the red fern grows

deemom said...

OH OH A BOOK CLUB how lovely... and SUCH BOOKS... the woman in white i have read 3 times and have 3 copies to loan out to anyone that will listen and take one..... Bleak House BBC WOW.... it was such a fun mini series... oh a book club someday somewhere some how ..... oh me oh my....dee