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Old 08-18-2013, 01:52 AM   #1
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I'd like to start reading the classics. How should I begin?

Hi all,

I'd like to broaden my mind and my vocabulary - upon seeing the absolutely excellent public domain library offered right here, I've decided that this is the best place to ask for help. I normally read fantasy, horror, thriller and young adult novels - a few of my cherished authors, specifically, are Stephen King, China Miéville, Cassandra Clare, Sarah Diemer, Dean Koontz, Neil Gaiman, Neal Stephenson and J.K. Rowling. I hope this gives you an idea of the kinds of novels that I gravitate towards, as well as the calibre of writing I tend towards.

Now, as far as the "classics" go, I'm looking for older classics rather than newer one - Slaughterhouse-Five is a classic which I've read, for example, but it's newer than what I'm aiming for. Let's say that if I can access it in the library here, I'd like to read it. I've previously read The Picture Of Dorian Grey by Oscar Wilde and Sense And Sensibility by Jane Austen. I adored them both - the former because of the haunting, gothic themes of vanity, greed, and their consequences; the latter because of the view it presented of societal behaviour (and, I'll admit, I love non-erotic romance!).

Even though I've read these two, and enjoyed them both immensely, I'm not sure where to go from here. I feel entirely uneducated in the classics, and I'm sure that there's a treasure trove of excellent literature within them - why else, after all, would they be considered classic? Should I begin with Don Quixote? War And Peace? Les Misérables? Ulysses? The Divine Comedy? Bleak House? Frankenstein? Middlemarch? It's such a vast field to choose from - I feel, frankly, lost. If I haven't talked your ear off (or, as it were, typed your eyes out!), can you please provide me with a suggestion or two for what to read, and maybe even broadly suggest how I should go about tackling the classics? I won't stop until I've read 100! (Though not all at once!)

I'm sorry if I really have typed your eyes out; I can be a tad ... verbose. What can I say? I'll blame it on my tutors - I'm studying writing, after all!
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Old 08-18-2013, 03:17 AM   #2
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I'd suggest trying the Harvard Classics. We have the full set here at MR in several different formats.Harvard Classics Wiki

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Old 08-18-2013, 03:57 AM   #3
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I've recently decided to read some classics myself, and decided to jump in with both feet and start with Don Quixote. I'm about halfway through and am loving it. There's a well-regarded modern english translation currently available for $2.99:

Kobo
Amazon
Barnes & Noble

I'm reading a different translation, but might be reading that one if it'd been $2.99 at the time.

Good luck with the classics! I'm thinking Anna Karenina next for myself.
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Old 08-18-2013, 04:06 AM   #4
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Very good suggestion, crich!

Another way could be to search the internet sites of universities/colleges. Literature classes often have their reading lists online.

One example with rich stuff for this and your next life is the Open Courseware Project of MIT.
- They have a lot of literature courses online:
http://ocw.mit.edu/courses/literature/
- As an example, this link shows you the reading list of the course "Foundations of Western Culture II":
http://ocw.mit.edu/courses/literatur...2003/readings/
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Old 08-18-2013, 04:23 AM   #5
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I'd suggest trying the Harvard Classics. We have the full set here at MR in several different formats.Harvard Classics Wiki
Hi Crich70. This is an excellent resource, thank you for sending me the link - it's unlikely I ever would have stumbled across this by myself! I see that The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri (one of the two classic works that I own in paper format) is listed among these, so I think that I'll start with that one... in all its daunting 800-page glory. That gives me a bit more time to figure out this side-loading business and set up a bit of a system to easily list the books in the order I'd like to read them! (I'm an infinite tweaker...) I'll go and download all of these. Thanks!

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Originally Posted by OddCosine View Post
I've recently decided to read some classics myself, and decided to jump in with both feet and start with Don Quixote. I'm about halfway through and am loving it. There's a well-regarded modern english translation currently available for $2.99:

Kobo
Amazon
Barnes & Noble

I'm reading a different translation, but might be reading that one if it'd been $2.99 at the time.

Good luck with the classics! I'm thinking Anna Karenina next for myself.
Hi OddCosine. Don Quixote seems like one of those books which everybody says they've read, but which nobody ever actually reads, so it's great to have somebody tell me that they're legitimately enjoying it! I can certainly spare $2.99 for a classic (after all, the amount I spend on new release hardbacks is ridiculous...), so I've snapped that one right up. (Edit: Or not. I'd opened your link and then typed this response, fully intending on purchasing Don Quixote from Kobo; alas, the title isn't available electronically in my country. Ah well. I'll borrow it from a library at a later stage!)

I'd like to tackle Anna Karenina fairly early on, myself! I've heard nothing but good feedback regarding the classics of Russian literature, specifically Anna Karenina, The Brothers Karamazov and War & Peace. Who knows? Maybe we'll end up reading Anna Karenina at the same time!

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Originally Posted by Billi View Post
Very good suggestion, crich!

Another way could be to search the internet sites of universities/colleges. Literature classes often have their reading lists online.

One example with rich stuff for this and your next life is the Open Courseware Project of MIT.
- They have a lot of literature courses online:
http://ocw.mit.edu/courses/literature/
- As an example, this link shows you the reading list of the course "Foundations of Western Culture II":
http://ocw.mit.edu/courses/literatur...2003/readings/
Hi Billi! Thank you for seconding the suggestion that I tackle the Harvard Classics - it'll be a hard series coming from the generally mindless (though incredibly fun!) level of literature that the young adult genre spits out, but it seems like it's going to be a great ride.

I have to admit that I hadn't thought to search for the course listings of literature degrees, and probably never would have - my own university, Griffith University in Australia, has simply assigned set readings (which tend to be journals and articles, rather than books) thus far in my degree, despite one of my majors being creative writing!

Sigh, maybe I should become a literature student... I've bookmarked those MIT webpages that you've linked me, and I'm going to have a read through several of the listed courses (I can see Pride and Prejudice in the Foundations of Western Culture II: Renaissance to Modernity class that you linked me to - maybe I should read that fairly early on; I did enjoy Sense and Sensibility!). This looks great. Thank you!

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Old 08-18-2013, 04:24 AM   #6
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Should I begin with Don Quixote? War And Peace? Les Misérables? Ulysses? The Divine Comedy? Bleak House? Frankenstein? Middlemarch? It's such a vast field to choose from - I feel, frankly, lost.
All of those are excellent starting points, except perhaps Ulysses (which I, at least, found to be hard work. Your experience may of course differ). My own favourites and recommendations would be:

Don Quixote
Les Miserables
The Three Musketeers and most other books by Alexandre Dumas père
Most anything by Charles Dickens
The Brothers Karamasov, Crime and Punishment and The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Pretty much everything by Jules Verne
Pretty much everything by H. P. Lovecraft (since you express a liking for haunting gothic themes)
Pretty much everything by Edgar Allen Poe (ditto)

Wherever you start you have innumerable hours of great enjoyment ahead. There is, after all, a reason they're called the classics.... It's very nice, by the way, to see someone who's actually eager to tackle them, something which isn't exactly common fare these days.
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Old 08-18-2013, 04:32 AM   #7
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All of those are excellent starting points, except perhaps Ulysses (which I, at least, found to be hard work. Your experience may of course differ). My own favourites and recommendations would be:

Don Quixote
Les Miserables
The Three Musketeers and most other books by Alexandre Dumas père
Most anything by Charles Dickens
The Brothers Karamasov, Crime and Punishment and The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Pretty much everything by Jules Verne
Pretty much everything by H. P. Lovecraft (since you express a liking for haunting gothic themes)
Pretty much everything by Edgar Allen Poe (ditto)

Wherever you start you have innumerable hours of great enjoyment ahead. There is, after all, a reason they're called the classics.... It's very nice, by the way, to see someone who's actually eager to tackle them, something which isn't exactly common fare these days.
Hi Istan diVega - I'm a little embarrassed that it isn't common for people to want to dive into the classics. It makes me feel a little bit on the spot! I'm sure they're all great, though, if the two that I've read are any measure of what makes a classic.

At your comment regarding Ulysses, I've decided to push it somewhere towards the back of my more immediate list (which is by no means fully formed, obviously). As you've given another suggestion to read Don Quixote, I am again resolved to pick it up earlier than intended! There are numerous copies of the book on the library here, which it seems I can access regardless of the geographic restrictions imposed when I looked at the book on Kobo. Would you recommend any particular upload of the book?

I have, of course, added every else that you mentioned to my notepad - and I've underlined Lovecraft and Poe. I'd love to finally discover where the beloved horror genre originated! Will I notice any particular themes or linguistic quirks reading translated French or Russian literature, as opposed to English literature?

EDIT:

Alright, I've downloaded a few things based on your replies so far - sitting in my library are Matthew Gregory Lewis' The Monk, Edgar Allen Poe's complete works, H.P. Lovecraft's complete works, Jules Verne's complete works, Fyodor Dostoyevsky's The Brothers Karamazov and The Idiot, Alexandre Dumas' The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers, Leo Tolstoy's War And Peace and Anna Karenina, Victor Hugo's Les Misérables, Miguel de Cervantes' Don Quixote and Jane Austen's complete works (which I purchased a while ago from Amazon, but only read Sense and Sensibility, as mentioned earlier). My Kobo itself is perched atop my paperback copy of Dante Alighieri's Divine Comedy. By no means am I satisfied, though, so keep those suggestions coming, please!


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Old 08-18-2013, 06:17 AM   #8
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Also try M.R. James if you like ghost stories and if you like Gothic novels you could try Anne Radcliffe.
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Old 08-18-2013, 06:20 AM   #9
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Also try M.R. James if you like ghost stories and if you like Gothic novels you could try Anne Radcliffe.
Hi Rumpelteazer - thank you! I'll certainly look into both.
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Old 08-18-2013, 09:05 AM   #10
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This is one aspect of electronic literature that I've really profited from - the availability of public domain classics.

If you like societal comment and non-erotic romance, it seems appropriate to recommend authors such as E M Forster and Jane Austen. You've already written that you enjoyed Sense and Sensibility so there's no reason you wouldn't start working through more Austen novels.

If you do like Sci Fi, you could do worse than dabbling in some H G Wells. I've read two before and I'm just starting my third and I certainly haven't been disappointed.

I can't talk about classics without recommending Dostoyevsky. It's my goal to finish reading all of his novels before I die. I've only read three so far and enjoyed all of them.

Then there's the adventure type classics and there are an abundance of these: Jules Verne, Robert Louis Stevenson, Alexander Dumas, John Buchan and Jack London.

I see there have been a couple of haunting/gothic suggestions come through (Lovecraft, Poe, M R James). You could possibly add another work or two:
- The House of the Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne
- The Turn of the Screw by Henry James
- Dracula by Bram Stoker (of course)

Our book club also read Carmilla by Joseph Sheridan LeFanu and some of us really enjoyed that.

Another book with a fairly heavy atmosphere that I really enjoyed reading was Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad.

I haven't read everything I've mentioned and (to be honest) I didn't actually like The Turn of the Screw. However its renown as a classic ghost story is indisputable.

I have to mention also, that when the book club read Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton, I was blown away.

Lastly, if you like dystopian classics, let me throw my hat in the ring for 1984 by George Orwell and We by Yevgeny Zamyatin (this one not public domain in English).

In any case, there's so many wonderful books to choose from. I could drop all other books and just read public domain classics for the rest of my life and still got get my fill.
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Old 08-18-2013, 09:17 AM   #11
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Now, as far as the "classics" go, I'm looking for older classics rather than newer one [...] I've previously read The Picture Of Dorian Grey by Oscar Wilde and Sense And Sensibility by Jane Austen. I adored them both
Clearly you should read the other books by Jane Austen: Emma, Persuasion, Northanger Abbey and Pride and Prejudice.

No-one's recommended Kipling yet. I strongly recommend Kim - the version I uploaded here has a very clean text.

If you want to see the lighter side of Oscar Wilde, read The Canterville Ghost.

The Sherlock Holmes stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle are obviously worth reading.
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Old 08-18-2013, 09:20 AM   #12
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This is one aspect of electronic literature that I've really profited from - the availability of public domain classics.

If you like societal comment and non-erotic romance, it seems appropriate to recommend authors such as E M Forster and Jane Austen. You've already written that you enjoyed Sense and Sensibility so there's no reason you wouldn't start working through more Austen novels.

If you do like Sci Fi, you could do worse than dabbling in some H G Wells. I've read two before and I'm just starting my third and I certainly haven't been disappointed.

I can't talk about classics without recommending Dostoyevsky. It's my goal to finish reading all of his novels before I die. I've only read three so far and enjoyed all of them.

Then there's the adventure type classics and there are an abundance of these: Jules Verne, Robert Louis Stevenson, Alexander Dumas, John Buchan and Jack London.

I see there have been a couple of haunting/gothic suggestions come through (Lovecraft, Poe, M R James). You could possibly add another work or two:
- The House of the Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne
- The Turn of the Screw by Henry James
- Dracula by Bram Stoker (of course)

Our book club also read Carmilla by Joseph Sheridan LeFanu and some of us really enjoyed that.

Another book with a fairly heavy atmosphere that I really enjoyed reading was Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad.

I haven't read everything I've mentioned and (to be honest) I didn't actually like The Turn of the Screw. However its renown as a classic ghost story is indisputable.

I have to mention also, that when the book club read Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton, I was blown away.

Lastly, if you like dystopian classics, let me throw my hat in the ring for 1984 by George Orwell and We by Yevgeny Zamyatin (this one not public domain in English).

In any case, there's so many wonderful books to choose from. I could drop all other books and just read public domain classics for the rest of my life and still got get my fill.
Hi Caleb. Thank you for replying! Depending on how I respond to the rest of Jane Austen's novels, I'll be sure to add a few of E.M. Forster's works to my list. I'm a big fan of sci-fi, but I've always been a bit uncertain with regards to HG Wells - wasn't that terrible Tom Cruise movie based on a book of his? (That being said, I've seen a lot of really terrible movies based on excellent books, so I shouldn't use movies as a gauge of merit!)

I've added all of the individual books that you've listed to my ever-growing document of to-be-read classics. I've actually wanted to read both Heart Of Darkness and Dracula for a while, but wasn't sure - I've heard some dreary feedback about both of them. I'm willing to give anything a go when it's presented as part of such a thorough post, though!

Dystopias are a source of great (albeit ... masochistic?) entertainment for me, and I've already read 1984. (I've read Animal Farm, too.) It was an interesting, short read, though I preferred Aldous Huxley's Brave New World by leaps and bounds - it always makes my top-ten-books list.

EDIT:

Quote:
Originally Posted by pdurrant View Post
Clearly you should read the other books by Jane Austen: Emma, Persuasion, Northanger Abbey and Pride and Prejudice.

No-one's recommended Kipling yet. I strongly recommend Kim - the version I uploaded here has a very clean text.

If you want to see the lighter side of Oscar Wilde, read The Canterville Ghost.

The Sherlock Holmes stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle are obviously worth reading.
Hi pdurrant. I apologise for seemingly skipping over your response - it didn't appear until I came back to check pwalker8's response. I'm not sure why. Jane Austen's other works are sitting on my Kobo awaiting my attention, as I read Sense and Sensibility from a Jane Austen collection that I purchased on Amazon. I'm really looking forward to them.

Thank you for your other recommendations - I've downloaded Kim, but not The Canterville Ghost - I'm not much for comedy in books. I prefer to listen to or watch humour. A friend owns a gorgeous edition of the Sherlock Holmes works, so I'll see if I can borrow it from her at some stage. (Or I'll simply download it - whichever suits my fancy when I get to it!)


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Old 08-18-2013, 09:22 AM   #13
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At one time, the classics were taught in high school. Way back in the distant reaches of time, when I had to dodge dinosaurs to get to school (as I like to tell the kids), we had Moby Dick in the 8th grade. (I'm kind of odd, I actually like Moby Dick and liked it in the 8th grade). Now it seems to be more the pop book de jour that talks about whatever the teacher thinks is significant social issues. It's too bad that kids are missing out on the basis of our shared culture.

There are a lot of classics lists out there. I agree with the earlier poster that the Penguin Classics list is a good place to start. I read a good many of those in high school (I can't possibly imagine why "I, Claudius" and "Lolita" and "Lady Chattery's Lover" weren't on my summer reading lists . )

I would also toss in some Shakespeare, though I would suggest reading in combination with watching a good performance of the play in question. Hamlet is the most famous. The Olivier film version is the most well regarded, though quite a bit was removed. Branagh's version is unabridged and runs 4+ hours.
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Old 08-18-2013, 10:03 AM   #14
Neverwhere
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Originally Posted by pwalker8 View Post
At one time, the classics were taught in high school. Way back in the distant reaches of time, when I had to dodge dinosaurs to get to school (as I like to tell the kids), we had Moby Dick in the 8th grade. (I'm kind of odd, I actually like Moby Dick and liked it in the 8th grade). Now it seems to be more the pop book de jour that talks about whatever the teacher thinks is significant social issues. It's too bad that kids are missing out on the basis of our shared culture.

There are a lot of classics lists out there. I agree with the earlier poster that the Penguin Classics list is a good place to start. I read a good many of those in high school (I can't possibly imagine why "I, Claudius" and "Lolita" and "Lady Chattery's Lover" weren't on my summer reading lists . )

I would also toss in some Shakespeare, though I would suggest reading in combination with watching a good performance of the play in question. Hamlet is the most famous. The Olivier film version is the most well regarded, though quite a bit was removed. Branagh's version is unabridged and runs 4+ hours.
I frequently wish that our high school teachers had been more selective in their choices for class texts; when studying 'conflict' we read a novel with third-grade English at best. It was boring! I remember that I'd tear through these children's books (that was what they were, and it infuriated my seventeen year old self) the night of receiving the book, and then bring my own books to my English classes each lesson after. Most teachers didn't mind; I think that they were just glad that a handful of us did enjoy reading.

I'd love to read some Shakespeare, but I'm intimidated by the English that he uses. If I take my time, reading paragraphs twice or thrice and keeping my laptop on hand to look up unfamiliar words, then even with the footnotes and study guides, it's a real task to comprehend the King James Bible - and the last time I tried to read that, it wasn't for pure leisure, the way that Shakespeare would be. Are there companion guides to aide me in developing a grasp of Shakespearean English?
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Old 08-18-2013, 10:35 AM   #15
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Alice's Adventures in Wonderland is a wonderful, whimsical fantasy story, even if it was written for kids You might also like the 14-volume Wizard of Oz series, books by Robert Louis Stevenson and short stories by Poe.
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