Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Inform My Reading List! Episode I

I'm always trying to live up to my overeducation. Recently, totally of my own volition and with no midterms hanging over me or anything, I actually read some books about history and philosophy and stuff. Some of them didn't even have pictures. It's been great. Not only does this kind of thing make me feel all erudite and shit [gratuitous profanity included for blog-rating purposes, also for humorous bathetic effect], but it helps me keep up with Mrs. 5000 and her fancy-schmancy Ivy League book-larnin'.

So, you ask, what comes next in my program of self-insmartification?

Here's the plan. You, the L&TM5K readers, will help me pick my reading list for the next year or so. This reading list will consist of 10-12 Classic (Pre-1950) Novels, 10-15 Modern (1950-present) Novels, 4 or 5 Seriously Old Books, 8 or 9 books of Serious Non-Fiction, and just to round things out, 3 or 4 Fantasy/Sci Fi epics.

This Week: Classic (Pre-1950) Novels

(OK, sure, "Pre-1950" is a sketchy category. Get over it.) My methodology for this section was to look at a bunch of books with titles like Great Books You Should Have Already Read, Stupid, and to list out old novels that kept reappearing. (I haven't listed books that I've already read.)

Your Mission

Hit that comments link and Vote! Let me know which of the following books are (or aren't) worth reading. And, if you've got a few minutes on your hand, tell me why you think so. (And yeah, you can definitely suggest titles that aren't on the list if you want.) Oh, then tell your most bookish friends to come do the same.

(Don't read the old stuff? No problem! Come on back next week for the modern novels!)

The Titles
  • Balzac, Pere Goriot
  • Borges, Labyrinths
  • Camus, the Stranger
  • Cervantes, Don Quixote
  • Chandler, the Big Sleep
  • Clark, the Ox-Box Incident
  • Crane, Red Badge of Courage
  • Dickens, Great Expectations
  • Dos Passos, U.S.A. Trilogy
  • Dostoevsky, Brothers Karamazov
  • Dostoevsky, Crime and Punishment
  • Faulkner, Absalom! Absalom!
  • Faulkner, As I Lay Dying (sez Blythe)
  • Faulkner, Sound and the Fury
  • Fielding, Tom Jones
  • Flaubert, Madame Bovary
  • Goethe, Faust
  • Gogol, Dead Souls
  • Hammett, the Maltese Falcon
  • Hardy, Mayor of Castorbridge
  • Hardy, Tess of the D’Urbervilles
  • Hawthorne, the Scarlet Letter
  • James, Portrait of a Lady
  • James, er, rather: Joyce, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
  • James, the Ambassadors
  • Joyce, Ulysses
  • Kafka, the Trial
  • Lawrence, Women in Love
  • Mann, Buddenbrooks
  • Mann, Death in Venice
  • Mann, the Magic Mountain
  • Maugham, the Razor’s Edge
  • Paton, Cry the Beloved Country (sez Mrs. 5000)
  • Proust, whatever they are calling “Remembrance of Things Past” this year
  • Schulz, Street of Crocodiles (sez Mrs. 5000)
  • Stendhal, the Red and the Black
  • Tolstoy, Anna Karenina
  • Tolstoy, War and Peace
  • Twain, Huck Finn
  • Twain, Tom Sawyer
  • Voltaire, Candide
  • Woolf, To the Lighthouse


Beth Handley said...

I've only read 7/40ths of this list, of 1/5 if you count my two miserable attempts at Ullyses.

Of the ones I have read, my favorites are To the Lighthouse and Anna Karenina. I've read To the Lighthouse twice and it was a completely different book each time. LOVE that book. (But my book group hated it.)

Least impressed with Mark Twain. I get that he is the beginning and soul of American literature, and all that, but the books there put me to sleep.


Anonymous said...

I read The Stranger mainly because The Cure wrote a song about it. It's a short, entertaining read but ultimately kind of pointless. I think maybe the pointlessness is the point of the book but it still makes you wonder what's the point?

Jenny! said...

Hawthorne, the Scarlet Letter - is the only one I have read...and I loved it!

Jennifer said...


Well, hopefully what you’re looking for (or will accept) are the honest and well-meant words of the kind of a friend who’s not afraid to challenge your central premises. Publicly.

First question: why are you limiting this to capital-l Literature? There’s a lot of fascinating stuff out there from the past that the average person has no idea about like Aphra Behn’s Oroonoko, Charlotte Lennox’s The Female Quixote (which you don’t have to have read Don Quixote to get), Maria Edgeworth’s Belinda (did you read my long, long note on that one?), or Charlotte Bronte’s Villette. Some of the best-selling books back when don’t receive much scrutiny these days. How about Uncle Tom’s Cabin, the #1 most popular novel in America during the 19th century? (Maybe you’ve already read that? By the way, I was checking out the #3 book, St. Elmo, the other day, and it was. . . well, let me just say that it was not written in a style to which we are accustomed today.) I think you should ask yourself whether you really want to limit yourself to books that lots of people just read Cliff’s Notes for. And, not to be a castrating feminist bitch or anything, but following this list, you’ve got one possibility written by a woman. That’s what you get for following the canon.

Then you’ve got your generic question. What’s with this novel-centered list? How about some drama? I know you’re pretty well up on Shakespeare, and I assume you read some Fletcher at some point to appease me (quick! what have you read by Fletcher? The Maid’s Tragedy? The Knight of the Burning Pestle? Philaster? A King and No King? Have you read his sequel to The Taming of the Shrew, The Tamer Tamed?), but have you read The Shoemaker’s Holiday, The Spanish Tragedy, or The White Devil? (I hate asking you these questions because for anybody else, I’d know the answer would be “no,” but I can’t rely on that with you! Hey, by the way, didn’t we read both Marlowe’s Dr. Faustus and Goethe’s Faust in Francie Cogan’s class? Or if it was just one, which one did we read?)

How about poetry? Are you going to count that under non-fiction (a categorization I never understood)? Nothing says “I can be as self-insmartified as you” like a poem, and there’s plenty out there to choose from.

Graphic novels or manga? You ought to try Neil Gaiman’s Sandman works at some point if you haven’t (yeah, I know, I’m not really up on graphic novels), and you might like Read or Die. (It’s certainly appropriate to this new challenge.)

Okay. Rant over. From this list, I vote for Don Quixote, The Big Sleep, Huck Finn, and Candide. These are my recommendations for people I like; if you want to get points for elitism, though, I would recommend Proust (did you check out the Amazon review that said, “Don’t be intimidated by the 4000 pages”?), The Sound and the Fury, Ulysses, The Ambassadors, (Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is accidentally listed as being by James, not Joyce, by the way—irrelevant, but I’ve been away from grading student papers for a long time and need to correct somebody), and all the Russians. Oh. And I vote you add The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas to your list if you haven’t already read it.



P.S. You’re still going to be my friend now that I’ve answered, right?

Anonymous said...

I've only read one of those books. Huck Finn. I liked it a lot.

Don't read Ulysses. What's the point?

Rebel said...

Please tell me some of these are re-reads! If you have not already done so, you MUST read Tom Sawyer & Huck Finn.

I actually thought the Scarlet Letter was pretty good the first time I read it through, I should re-read it now that I'm an official grown-up and all.

Anonymous said...

the brothers karamazov is to literature what opening the window is to indoor life. a constant reminder of the incompleteness of the preconceived world, and a source for its renewal. recommended by einstein, freud, kafka, henry miller, david blaine, etc, etc. it should be read by all saints, outlaws, and magicians. prof. hubert dreyfus of uc berkely remarks that dostoyevsky intended to present in brothers karamazov a transcendent vision of christianity which could withstand and gain strength in the context of modern physics, chemistry, biology, and psychology. it could be useful to you in your investigations. especially the character of elder zosima and the speculations of ivan. (the dreyfus lectures are available in podcast for free on itunes u, including ten lectures on the brothers karamazov.)

candide is one of my old favorites. voltaire is a great source of constantly turning sly wisdom.

thanks for getting us talking and for your literate ambitions. may the pages turn as freely as the diet pepsi flows.

Michael5000 said...

@Everybody: Thanks for the response!

@Beth: Well, I've read 1/40 if you count MY two miserable attempts at Ulysses.

@Dug: With the classics, short is always good. More erudition cred per hour.

@Jenny!: You sassy heroines gotta stick together.

@Jennifer: I'll deal with you later.

@MDIC: One thing about Ulysses -- it isn't short. The more I learn about it, the more preposterous it seems, and yet... lots of them smart folks seem to like it. Plus, Mrs. 5000 choked 1/3 of the way through it a while back, so if I could finish the thing I could really lord it over her.

@rebel: None of these are re-reads. I'm really that poorly read. I have to admit that I'm leary of Twain, but we'll see how this goes....

@austin: OK, that recommendation counts double. You should know, Diet Pepsi intake has been halved in recent months. But still, good metaphor.

So, here's the score so far:
Scarlet Letter and Brothers Karmazov tied at two, followed by To the Lighthouse, Anna Karennena, the Stranger, Huckleberry Finn, and Candide at one point apiece. Ulysses is a point in the hole; the pack is still at zero.

blythe said...

this is easy: brothers K, to the lighthouse, ulysses, and, instead of your faulkner choices (which are excellent), i'd go with as i lay dying, only because it's my personal favorite.

yay books!

Michael5000 said...

@Jennifer: OK, you. Let's shred.

The reason I'm limiting this to capital-l Literature is that it is a list of classic novels. I'm following the canon for two reasons: 1) it's canonical. Once I read canonical books, I can then understand references to them, and 2) usually when I read books from the canon, they rock. There are of course other fine ways to drum up a reading list, but this one is hardly indefensible.

The two reasons why there are so few women on the list are that 1) social conditions in the 18th, 19th, and early 20th Century tended to privilege male authors, resulting in them writing the bulk of the canon, and that 2) because I took classes in women's literature in college and liked what I found there, I have pretty much burned through the female chunk of the classics. (Including, by the way, the brilliant Villette, one of my favorite books and one I would hardly call obscure.)

It's a novel-centered list because, well, I like novels. The original plan called for a sixth category of poetry and drama and a seventh of graphic novels, but frankly I don't know how long these nice people will be willing to put up with my little project. (Incidentally, I've never read anything by Fletcher... although I have seen The Spanish PRISONER, which is an awesome play by David Mamet. You should check it out!)

Let's hang on to The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas for the Non-Fiction category.

I realize that I am a very bad person for goading you into public comment and then answering you glibly. I am sure I owe you one. Or in any event that you will find a way to take revenge.

the Updated Scores!

3 points: Brothers Karamazov

2 points: The Scarlet Letter, Anna Kerenina, Huckleberry Finn, Candide.

1 point: To the Lighthouse, the Stranger, Dead Souls, Crime and Punishment, War and Peace, the Ambassadors, Don Quixote, the Big Sleep, Proust, and The Sound and the Fury.

0 points: Everything else.

gl. said...

i vote for camus' "the stranger" and voltaire's "candide."

Karin said...

Oh, I definitely give a shout out to The Stranger. Especially in the summer. Since it's largely about nothing, it's largely about the sun glinting off the water, the impossibly blue Mediterranean water off the hot coast of Algeria, which the protagonist finds displeasing but which I desperately long for.

Of course it's also about intercultural tensions, frustrations with your boss and mother loss. All my favorite things to become morose about in the bright, bright sun of summer.

Karin said...

I've also read Crime and Punishment. It was a long time ago, when I was too young to fully appreciate it. I just remember that it was dark and I thought it would never end. I might like it better now. Might shed some light on my students' lives. Or their grandparents' lives.

Tess of the D'Urbervilles seemed too melodramatic and oppressive for me. For ME. You make your reading choice from there.

balaywho said...

OK, this list is a bit difficult for me to swallow, containing many of the books someone would have to pay me a lot of money to read. I have read 10 of them though. I liked Anna Karenina, though it's definitely not an enjoyable read. Anything by Dickens has my enthusiastic vote, so one for Great Expectations. This was one my dad read to me as a kid, as well as Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn, so I have a fond spot for all of those there. War and Peace, on the other hand, I disliked profoundly. Maybe because I chose to read it during my first Alaska winter. Anyhow, Michael, I wish you luck on this latest venture. I look forward to voting on contemporary stuff, I'm hoping the list will look less like work, and more like fun....

Anonymous said...

I had a tutoring job once where they paid me six bucks an hour to read The Mayor of Casterbridge, and I thought that was great. It was the first of Thomas Hardy's novels I liked. They take a bit of patience while the sticky web of fate is being woven, and getting paid definitely helped.

Anyone checking my college transcripts would notice I didn’t actually take a lot of lit courses (too busy LEARNING A TRADE in those ivy-beleagured halls). For the record, I’ve read 18 books on this list: six in high school, two in college, and ten on my own. Take that, Dr. Autodidact. And I didn’t CHOKE on Ulysses, I just took a break for a few months! It’s summer! Besides, it’s a reread. And you should definitely read A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man first. If you’d had all the advantages of my big New Jersey public high school you’d already have it under your belt by now.

Recommendations on the list: Kafka’s a must, but I’d consider reading the stories, especially if you haven’t read or can barely remember The Metamorphosis. I would choose War and Peace over Anna Karenina, though maybe that’s just because I had a crush on Pierre. Dostoevsky is a must, though I can’t say which. If you take Austin’s advice, you can read the copy of the Brothers K I picked up in Glenwood Springs and be smugly done with it before I’m ever through Ulysses. Yes to Don Quixote, though isn’t that, like, Seriously Old? Yes to Huck Finn and The Scarlet Letter. A fond yes to Borges. You could get your wife to compile a list of Mindblowing Stories by Borges and skip the pedantry. Not all the good stories are in Labyrinths, though I suppose most of the best are. Oh, and I can imagine you laughing out loud at Candide.

Off the list: I remember Cry, the Beloved Country (Alan Paton) as both lovely and moving. Ditto with All Quiet on the Western Front (Erich Maria Remarque), which I think you’ve read. There’s The Street of Crocodiles (Bruno Schulz), which is a little like Kafka in day-glo colors, painted by a child. And the quiet little My Friends by Emmanuel Bove for slim comical-pathetical narrative. Also, well, it’s a book from my childhood, but I think Kipling’s The Jungle Books are weird and wild and still worth reading.

Michael5000 said...

@Blythe: Yay books indeed. Although Faulkner scares me to death. Until you checked in, I thought I was off the hook.

@Karin: Hmmm.... We'll call that two votes for the Stranger, 1/2 vote for Crime and Punishment, and 1/2 vote against Tess. Troublemaker.

@Balaywho: Hard for you to swallow! Think how I feel! I'm the one who has to swallow it!!

@Mrs. 5000: Excellent list, dear.

You know, I've actually never checked your college transcripts. Maybe I should make sure everything is on the up-and-up.

p.s. Who's "Pierre"? I'll kill 'im. KILL im'!!!

Michael5000 said...

And the state of play is

The Brothers Karamazov: 5
Huck Finn: 4
Candide: 4
The Scarlet Letter: 3
The Stranger: 3
Anna Karenena: 2 1/2
Crime & Punishment: 2 1/2
To the Lighthouse: 2
Don Quixote: 2

16 books: 1
17 books: 0

Tess of the D'Urbervilles: -1/2

Anonymous said...

I read Fielding's Joseph Andrews at high school and didn't really get it, but seem to recall that it had something to do with Don Quixote - perhaps you could swap Tom Jones for that and tick two boxes at once... oh, but then you're not trying to score points any more. Otherwise I really enjoyed Crime and Punishment (though the copy I read had the final page missing and Ive never got round to reading it - if you do perhaps you could let me know what happened in the end)and Death in Venice (don't remember much about that one except some fantastic atmosphere)and I've always had a soft spot for Mark Twain myself.

Heatherbee said...

Well that was easy. Cry the Beloved Country and To the Lighthouse. Both on the "favorite" bookshelf.

On my hate list from high school are The Stranger and Madame Bovary. Mind you, I was reading them in the original French. Let me know if you end up thinking either is just great and maybe I'll reconsider.


Rebel said...

In it's favor, Huck Finn is a really quick read. I've wanted to read Cry the Beloved Country for a while, so I might just pick that one up myself.

*rebel wanders off to find her well worn copy of Huck Finn... I haven't reread it since 2002. ;)

Anonymous said...

How many should I vote for?

I like Magic Mountain, Ulysses, Brothers Karamazov (in lieu of Demons, which is better), The Trial (in lieu of The Castle, which is better), Portrait of a Lady, Candide, Anna Karenina, War and Peace, Huck Finn, The Big Sleep, The Maltese Falcon, and Pere Goriot. I also agree with the person upthread who said to add Villette, that's a great book. Autobiography of Alice B Toklas isn't as great, but it's super fun and full of juicy gossip. I'd read Ficciones instead of Labyrinths (it's a little too much Borges, he should be served by the teaspoon), and the Plague instead of The Stranger. Great Expectations is good. Mrs Dalloway. I wouldn't bother with Lawrence personally, because I've never managed to finish any books by him. Maybe some of his poetry? Oh! Stendahl is good. So I guess most of the books you put on your list then. Mayor of Casterbridge over Tess.

I know there's a reason you didn't put any Jane Austen on, but it's still distressing not to see her. Disraeli is reported to have said when someone asked if he ever read any novels that yes, he read all six of them every year. (I assume he read in the bath.)

I've just noticed you said 10-12. In that case, my 10-12 list:
Magic Mountain
Brothers Karamazov
War and Peace
Pere Goriot
The Big Sleep
Portrait of a Lady
The Trial
Emma, I mean Huck Finn
Mayor of Casterbridge
(Tristram Shandy!)

Anonymous said...

Sub Mrs Dalloway for Mayor of Casterbridgge please.

Anonymous said...

My second cup of coffee tells me you actually put To the Lighthouse, not Mrs Dalloway. That works too. Boy oh boy.

I also read The Stranger because of the Cure song. The song is better. And it's not one of their best ones.

Mfc said...

Some of my favorite books ever:

The Ambassadors (achingly beautiful and sad book about why people should get out of the house and see the world a bit);

The Magic Mountain (I actually tried to read in it German, I liked it so much - sadly my Deutsch is ganz schlecht);

Pere Goriot (open your world to Balzac - you'll wonder how you lived without him for so long);

Great Expectations (Herbert Pocket is my hero);

War and Peace (it contains multitudes);

Street of Crocodiles (like Kafka, but without the fleas - and very, very short);

Candide (enlighten yerself);

The Big Sleep (made me realize what I was missing by being such a snob);

The Razor's Edge (but it really fits in better with the post-1950 crowd);

Virginia Woolf - but The Waves, not the other one - or plunk the Common Reader essays under non-fiction and call it a day.

Not on the list but books you should read, given world enough and time:

TRISTRAM SHANDY is my! favorite! book! ever! (I really enjoyed Tom Jones but this book is so! much! better!)

Jacques the Fatalist and His Master (Diderot is surprisingly funny, but then this book charges onto the field of literature under the banner of Shandy-ism, so of course I would like it)


any novel by Fanny Burney (or even her diaries) - so obviously such a good influence on Jane Austen;

Samuel Richardson, Pamela (it's a wheeze);

must second The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas (but it is fiction);

A Handful of Dust (of course Brideshead Revisted is 'better' but lesser works are sometimes more fun);

Hadrian the Seventh (a very strange book).

Frankly I would stick the Borges under Sci/Fi.

Americans need a seperate heading. The USA Trilogy is good if you like that sort of thing. And if you like that sort of thing, you probably like Sinclair Lewis. And Theodore Dreiser.

What's really striking about the list you have drawn up, now that I give it a good moment's thought is that I see so few of these books as ends in themselves (Ulysses being an exception); they are keys onto whole worlds of literature. And the recommendations are not about finding the best book, but about finding the best start to a literary odyssey. If, for instance, you were to read Pere Goriot, you would probably also read Cousin Bette and on and on, until you got to Flaubert's Three Stories which would get you to Madame Bovary. But if you were to read Madame Bovary first, you would probably never arrive at Pere Goriot, because Flaubert produces such problems of digestion that all rich French novels would be off limits for a good long while.

Michael5000 said...

@Everyone -- Man, you people are awesome.

@Anonymous -- You read Crime and Punishment, except for the last page? Wow. That's... singular.

@Heather -- OK, I think I'm going to disallow your hates, what with the language factor. And because you're all but asking me to check 'em out in English.

@rebel -- Added Cry the Beloved Country to your vote, but did not fall for your sneaky ploy to double your vote for Huck Finn. For shame.

@Patrick -- For bookkeeping purposes, I'm only counting your list of 12. Listing them like that has a certain authority, like "aw, forget these other people, just read these twelve." But no. This is a democracy.

regarding Jane Austin: People! Jane Austin is not on the list because I've read all of Jane Austin.* Why would I not have read Jane Austin? I've had, like, 10 scolding Emails about this!

@Patrick and Meaghan -- Totally agree about Tristram Shandy. It's a fucking scream.

@Meaghan -- Thanks for playing. Your recommendations make me want to read and read and read.

*well, not the juvenilia.

Michael5000 said...

and the scores...

Huck Finn and cinderella story Candide running neck and neck with the Brothers Karamazov now at 6 votes apiece; dropping way back to To the Lighthouse at 4. Crime and Punishment is at 3 1/2, with Scarlet Letter, War and Peace, the Big Sleep, and Cry the Beloved Country all running strong at 3 points apiece.

After Anna K at 2 1/2 we've got 11 titles at two votes, including late starter The Magic Mountain and The Stranger, fading now in the stretch. Tess of the d'Urbevilles contintues to trail the field at a miserable - 1/2.

Anonymous said...

For the record, it was a certain Vida a few months ago that gave Austin The Brothers Karamazov and told him to read it. Needless to say, I’ll add my vote for that one, as I think it’s amazing.

The Big Sleep is great; I really enjoyed it. As far as novels on your list, it’s very good, and considerably less dense and abstract.

Great Expectations is one of my favorites, and I think one of Dickens’ best.

I can’t stand William Faulkner. Don’t waste your time.

Flaubert’s Madame Bovary is a favorite of many people I respect. I’ve read it twice, and while I admit that Flaubert should probably be considered a great writer, and while it is considered great literature, I’m really not a huge fan of Madame Bovary.

The Scarlet Letter is great, but not one of those “can’t put it down” books.

If I see a copy of Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, my hands start to twitch and I start imagining lighting fires.

I tried to read Thomas Mann, and could not get into his books.

Cry the Beloved Country is absolutely amazing.

Proust is amazing. Remembrance of Things Past (in fact all of his work) is one of the greatest novels ever written.

Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer are quick reads and are definitely worth reading.

How many can we vote for? My top three that you should definitely read are:
Brothers Karamazov; Cry the Beloved Country; Remembrance of Things Past.

Anonymous said...

I'd recommend these:

Chandler, the Big Sleep
Crane, Red Badge of Courage
• Hammett, the Maltese Falcon
• Twain, Huck Finn
• Twain, Tom Sawyer

At least put these entertaining domestic life preservers in a separate stack so you can grab one whenever those fancy foreign cannons have shot you into the drink.


Rhetorical Twist said...

Hello, Michael!

I’m one of Dr. Forsyth’s students, and so I followed her into this blog about your reading list. She said that you wanted opinions…so here I am!

I highly recommend *Don Quixote*, although that might, as someone else said, fall into the “Seriously Old Books” category. I really liked *Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man*, and Virginia Woolf is always good. Have you read *Mrs. Dalloway* yet…? I would also put in my vote for *Candide*

Now, I don’t really know how your literary tastes go, so I am a bit hesitant about recommendations. How do you feel about Thoreau? *Walden* makes for some interesting reading, but maybe I am just partial to him because he’s from New England. Of course, you also have to like really, really detailed observations of nature, but I think that it makes you slow down a bit.

Happy, er, list making!


Jessica said...

Dr. Forsyth sent me here. I must say, it was entertaining to see the way you responded to her comments. :-)

I was thrilled to see John Dos Passos on your list, but then sad when no one voted for him! Maybe just *The 42 Parallel* instead of the whole trilogy? Can I put in, say, five votes to make up the difference? Well, I'd vote him over Hemmingway any day.

I'll submit a poet for future consideration: Louise Gluck.

kurt said...

So Emma is the British Huck Finn! With that knowledge, perhaps I should start at the beginning again.
Thanks for the tip!

I liked The Stranger (chose it because it was short - probably the same reason a famous/infamous leader chose it for summer reading... along with a coupla Shakespeares).

I also liked Chandler better than Hammet because Chandler's writing is more stylized - to me analogous to the difference between Steinbeck and Hemmingway.

This is a great project!
So much democracy!

Anonymous said...

If you’re going to do Faulkner, I’d definitely go for As I Lay Dying before the others. Or instead of, even (but I’m not a die-hard Faulknerian: one or two do it for me). Also voting for Women in Love (gloomy and apocalyptic, but powerfully written. As beautiful and visceral as Lady Chatterly’s Lover, but I find its insights truer and more profound. I personally prefer Mrs. Dalloway to To the Lighthouse, but they’re two sides of the same lovely coin. Mrs. Dalloway is more public and urban, faster, and To the Lighthouse is more rural, private, meditative. And why is Fletcher not on here? (I’m one of Dr. Forsyth’s: blame her). Also yes to The Stranger, The Trial, Candide, Pere Goriot, and I’ll see Allie’s Thoreau and raise her Emerson’s The Over-Soul.


Anonymous said...


I noticed that Ulysses was the only Joyce text listed. Por Quoi? With Joyce, the best thing to do is start small with either Dubliners or Portrait Of The Artist As A Young Man. Unless, of course, you've read those two already, I'm probably being incredibly presumptuous assuming that you haven't already read them, although if you haven't that's perfectly okay.

Brothers K has my vote as the best Dostoyevsky novel, but C&P is wonderful as well, as is The Idiot.

Kafka is a a must (did you know he died on his birthday?) but make sure you read more than just The Metamorphosis--try to obtain a copy of that text containing the short story The Judgement, a brutal condemnation from a father to a son.

Michael5000 said...

Welcome Kutztonians! Glad you could join the party! Go, uh, Golden Bears! And thanks for playing!

@Vida: Was it Vida the eccentric librarian who gave Austin the Brothers Karamazov? Oh, you mean YOU....

Way to vote aggressively. I gave points and a half for your big three, single points for the others, and knocked a point off of Mann and Faulkner. I didn't record a vote for Portrait of the Artist, because I couldn't decide whether your twitching arsonist dreams were a good thing or a bad thing.

@Brian: The most patriotic list to date. U.S.A.! U.S.A.!

@Allie Cav: I see Don Quixote cited a lot as the first real novel (I see other books cited for this too, of course), and put it on the list on that basis. Regarding Virginia Woolf: I think we need to consolidate the VW vote, and since "To the Lighthouse" has "mo," let's run with that one. I am highly leery of VW, but what I hear the people saying is that they'd like me to check her out. Let's make sure she gets a book in the top ten.

I think Walden -- which I haven't read -- is better fodder for the Serious Non-Fiction category. Come on back, week after next!

@Jessica: Yeah, I told "Dr. Forsyth" a thing or two, didn't I! Is she a real doctor? I've never seen her transcripts.

Two votes for the U.S.A. trilogy, since you put all your eggs in one basket.

I'll see if there's any Louise Gluck in Mrs. 5000's Great Wall of Poetry.

@Kurt: If Emma is the British Huck Finn, I am cheered up about the runaway success of Huck Finn in the voting.

You are the first to mention Hemmingway. There's an example of how this dealie isn't democratic; I took no risks that I'd have to end up reading a bunch of Hemingway.

@Missy: "Fletcher"? Who's that?

@Cait: Portrait of the Artist is on there, just out of order (look a few lines up; I had some cognitive dissonance with Portrait of a Lady). Your vote is recorded.

(Incredibly presumptuous seems pretty reasonable, by the way, considering how well we know each other.)

I scored the Kafka recommendation for The Trial. I've always suspected I'd like him, so maybe it will send me scrambling for more.

Anonymous said...

28/40-and I'm a knucklehead. My order:

Don Quixote (sublime-funny and incredibly readable).

Huckleberry Finn (Twains best fiction-by far).

Absalom, Absalom! (Really anything by Faulkner-try Light in August).

The Scarlet Letter (As American as apple pie).

Great Expectations (Really anything by Dickens).

The Brothers Karamazov

War and Peace (This requires time-lots of time)

To The Lighthouse (I suggest Orlando as an alternate).

Ulysses (Most impressive at cocktail parties. Unfortunately you don't really get to enjoy it until the third time through. All the way through.)

While I'm not sure how you winkled out your list there are lots of very readable "classics" you might consider. I love Moby Dick, anything by Joseph Conrad, (hell Heart of Darkness only takes a short evening to knock out) and Coopers the Leatherstocking Tales are like eating candy.

Good luck with your reading.

chuckdaddy2000 said...

Wow- impressive comment total!

I'd go with Ulysses (just so you can say you read it) and The Stranger after Ulysses (relatively fast read, simple but sticks with you for a while).

I'm also going to advocate The Big Sleep since it is one of my favorite books, even if it is not deep in the traditional Classics way.

Michael5000 said...

@CriticalBill: Thanks for your votes! I welcome the participation of the knucklehead community!

@Chuck: What, some of these books are "deep"? Uh-oh....

Beth Handley said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

A bit late, but I cast my emphatic vote for Don Quixote, though I agree that it should likely be categorized under Seriously Old, rather than Classic Novels.
Classical, maybe, rather than Classic? More like Bach than Bachman Turner Overdrive?

Anyway, read it, there are plenty of fine translations, someday I'll read them all side by side. If you find one is boring, try a different one.

It should probably go without saying, but make sure you avoid any abridged versions. In my humble opinion the meta-narrative is the ultimate best part. But the adventure-story-narrative is not bad either, and the social commentary is outrageous, and it was So Ahead of It's Time, and while you're at it don't forget to read Borges' story "Pierre Menard, Author of Quixote" either before, after, or during.

Anonymous said...

I know this probably comes too late, but, anyway: 'Faust'. Read it, please. As an aside: It should not be in a list with novels, it should not be in any list, really. It makes for a list of its own kind. Which makes me wonder, on the other hand, if you will ever have a go at 'dramas/plays' to vote for. Words, words, words. Just read 'Faust'. Should you insist on novels, then I would suggest 'Elective affinities' by the same, good, old, Goethe. Be careful with translations in either case, and - be patient (I know what I am talking about as at first, I was not, and once I had been, I realised what I had missed the first time round). You'll definitely need a commentary to go with 'Faust II' (at least), but it is worth the effort. Last but not least: Enjoy!!!