"Great" Books

I spent Sunday morning in the bookstore  as I do  and I perused the big table of Summer Reading selections. Those are the books that teachers have assigned for upcoming English or literature classes.
Looking through the stacks, I found a few old friends (Pride and Prejudice, Tale of Two Cities) and some enemies (Finnegan's Wake, Beowulf). I've re-read my favorites over and over, but I pity the poor kid who has to start on something as tough as Pilgrim's Progress.
Traditional classics can be hard to read in a 21st-century world. The language is often old fashioned, the prose can be breathless (you can almost hear the bodices heaving), and the storylines can seem staid. But great plots that stand the test of time are there to be discovered if you push your way past the old-school verbiage in books like in Vanity Fair or in anything by Dickens.
The online magazine Slate recently asked authors to name their least-favorites in classic literature. In the article (click here), the consensus seems to be that Catcher in the Rye is overwrought and that Ulysses isn't worth the time. I agree that Thomas Hardy needed Prozac, but I would debate Mark Twain over his hatred for Jane Austen. As one sarcastic wit to another, you would think he'd be a big fan. Or was he jealous?
Let's add to the debate. What are you favorites in classic literature, and the books you hope to never read again? I'll publish the results in a future post.


  1. One of my favorite great classics was definitely "Cyrano de Bergerac" by Edmond Rostand. I think Cyrano is definitely one of the greatest characters ever created. Also, I just finished reading "A Tale of Two Cities" for the first time, and I thought it was great. Dickens is a master of using subtle humor and social commentary even when writing what could be considered a tragedy. Another writer who was good for that was Shakespeare, though his humor may only seem subtle to today's readers; I'm sure it was often considered bawdy in his time. One of my favorites of his is "King Lear," which was so wonderfully remastered by Christopher Moore in his book "Fool."

    There haven't been many books I've been forced to read that I hope I never have to read again. Most of the ones I have hated were not classics, but modern, like "Ishmael." I have to say, though, I was never a fan of Socrates. That's probably why I loved Aristophanes' "The Clouds" so much.

  2. I confess to Hardy. 'Far from the Madding Crowd' is a personal favorite. What's not to love? Melodrama at it's best.

    And of course 'Catcher in the Rye' is overwrought. Holden is a teenager. Isn't that the point?

    Most painful High School read -- Billy Budd.

  3. Oh, how could I forget Billy Budd?!?
    What a horrible book.

  4. I love Jane Austen, EM Forester, Louisa May Alcott, Thomas Hardy. I wasn't a fan of Dickens when I was younger, but I've grown to appreciate him. I still dislike "Oliver Twist," though.

    Negatives - Canterbury Tales (read multiple times for different English classes) and most Russian classics (I'm mostly thinking of Anna Karenina - couldn't finish it).

  5. I think Twain and many others were jealous of Jane Austen! One of my favorites: Silas Marner (so tender) Hated all the doomed women to teach women what would happen if they misbehaved: Tess, Madame Bovary, Vanity Fair...

    Probably should not admit this but Ulysses required the book, the book on tape and the Cliff Notes to try to really understand - conclusion? No one really spent the time or didn't get it all so decided they could speak highly of it because their peers were all posers if they pretended to love it! Definitely not worth the time - read the outhouse section and call it a day.