1. Tall for a hobbit

    Tall for a hobbit Member

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    How many of the classics, both modern and of literature, have you actually read?

    Discussion in 'Discussion of Published Works' started by Tall for a hobbit, Oct 18, 2018.

    So I guess I'm thinking from Homer, through the medieval epics, to Chaucer, Milton, Shakespeare, and up to the modernists. And then modern classics like 1984, Catcher in the Rye and To Kill a Mockingbird. Feel free to correct me on my categorisation here.

    I have to admit that I have not read nearly enough. My excuse is that since senior school, when I spent far more time playing guitar, video games and getting drunk than reading, I have usually juggled day jobs with performing of an evening, plus volunteering, and only over the last couple of years have I really become a more avid reader, due to a calmer schedule. I certainly have never studied literature. Or anything other than playing guitar and piano.

    For those who are much better read than myself, what effect have the works of literature you have read had on your life and your writing/ desire to write? Are certain authors - Dickens, Shakespeare - compulsory reading for all writers? If so, why?

    I ask as someone discovering an interest in Shakespeare, and poetry in general, as well as mythology, and with a desire to acquaint myself with more important works.

    I'm currently wading through Dostoevsky's Brothers Karamazov, and it's not entirely unpleasant. It definitely feels like profound stuff, like a work of genius, but then what do I know? I feel it's worth reading, enjoyable at times, but sometimes I wonder what other readers think about this.

    Maybe you, like me, have often in the past struggled to get on with the classic authors. What were your experiences?

    And what is a modern classic anyway?

    Be good to here from you.
     
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  2. Night Herald

    Night Herald Seeker after nothing Supporter Contributor

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    Classics, hmm... Tricky definition, that. And where does one draw the line for "modern"? However we slice it, I must've read a handful:

    Frankenstein, Anna Karenina, Lord of the Flies, 1984, Animal Farm, Brave New World, Fahrenheit 451, Clockwork Orange, The Picture of Dorian Gray, Gormenghast, The Hobbit, and I'm surely forgetting something - some classics are more equal than others, I'm sure.

    I'll admit that I own more of the old greats than I've actually read. Homer and Alighieri is gathering dust in cardboard boxes, next to a bunch of half-devoured Arthurian legends and Norse sagas. I just can't seem to find the time or energy for such heavy reading, these days. I've never even skimmed the likes of Dickens, Hemingway, Faulkner, Shakespeare, and many, many other literary titans.

    I doubt I meet the criterion "much better read", but... I've certainly been inspired by most of the works I mentioned above, if only by the world-class prose and style of such as Oscar Wilde and Mervyn Peake. Some of them have changed my outlook on life and human nature - 1984 especially made me even more distrustful of political machineries, Dorian Gray forced me to take a good hard look at my hedonistic ways, and so on.


    I wouldn't know about those two in particular, and I'd be very careful about labeling any literature as "compulsory", but I doubt reading them will do a writer any great harm. Probably it would be highly beneficial, but I think it's very possible to make do without. Moreover, I think there are many books beside these looming household names that are just as worthy. Alexander Solzhenitsyn is a great example. His works have been just as enlightening to me as, say, 1984, this both as a writer and as a person. I guess they could be considered classics as well, but I didn't know the man existed before I happened across a book of his in a used book shop, sometime in my mid-twenties. It is possible I have been living under a rock.

    I have not read that one, but I had the same basic reaction to his Notes From the Underground. It comes across as quite brilliant, and surely it deserves a second reading - I took it in as an audiobook while working, and it's the kind of book that requires attention. Still, I greatly enjoyed it. He had a lovely way with dark humor, didn't he just?

    I had to make three attempts at Lord of the Flies before I finally got past the first 15 pages, and I'm really glad I did. Usually I struggle no more with classics than with modern genre fiction, but I suppose for slightly different reasons.
     
    Last edited: Oct 21, 2018
  3. Tall for a hobbit

    Tall for a hobbit Member

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    This idea is partly why I wanted to pose the above questions. Who says a particular work of literature does or does not have great worth? I know what my opinions are but that's all they are - opinions. Both Tolkien and Terry Pratchett got me excited about reading as a teenager, when I was a bit younger I loved Brian Jaques's Redwall stories, and I also enjoyed the series' Goosebumps and Animorphs (I think that's what it was called). Does it matter that it wasn't the Wind in the Willows, The Jungle Book or The Catcher in the Rye which kept me reading before I was old or learned enough to distinguish good writing from bad? I don't think my early favourite authors, with maybe the exception of Roald Dahl and C.S. Lewis, could be considered literary greats. And I'm sure at least one those two would be contested by some.

    This is a good point. I had to abandon The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo because I just struggled with the prose (although I may try it again in case I just wasn't in the right frame of mind at the time). I think if popular fiction isn't entertaining, there isn't any other reason to read it - G.R.R. Martin and Terry Pratchett are fun to read for me, therefore they're instantly validated as being worth the time I take to read them. But again, it's just opinion.

    Interestingly though, great literature doesn't seem to be opinion based. Shakespeare is pretty much objectively considered great. I know people in the literary world have and probably still do challenge that, but I think it's held in much the same regard as, say, the music of Beethoven: only an uninformed person would contest its genius.
     
  4. Night Herald

    Night Herald Seeker after nothing Supporter Contributor

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    Absolutely not. Whatever gets you reading. Goosebumps and Animorphs, thought I would not consider them "classics" or "proper literature", have been gateway drugs for many—me included. I think it's perfectly all right to get started with something light, even something trashy.

    In my opinion, Tolkien's body of work could definitely be considered (modern?) classics, with real literary merit. Terry Pratchett's Discworld is certainly both delightful and intelligent, and I would pick it over any number of timeless classics. It may not be actual “literature”, as flimsy a term as that is, but that needn't make it less.

    Indeed. If not modern classics, then surely future classics.

    Not to speak ill of The Bard and his ilk, but I think some people hold The Greats in such high regard simply because it's the done thing. That's not to say they don't deserve the praise, of course. Oh, and yes, Beethoven is objectively amazing.
     
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  5. Iain Aschendale

    Iain Aschendale Guardian-eating, tofu-reading dormivitus Supporter Contributor

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    Hmm, "classic" classics I've read:

    The Idiot by Dostoyevsky
    Crime and Punishment by whatsisname... Same guy?
    Fathers and Sons by Turgenev
    Bunch of Steinbeck (the only one I really liked was Travels with Charley)
    Bunch of Shakespeare (the plays are, IMO, a waste of time to read. They're plays, for fuckssakes. You don't go check out the screenplay to the latest Oscar winner unless you're a film student, do you?)
    Moby Dick by Melville, one of the only "great books" I've read that I consider a great book. And y'know what, I read it strictly as an adventure, man vs nature and man vs man story. Tie all your allegory to the back of the whale and sink it to the depths, it stands by itself without some pompous untalented professor telling me what I'm supposed to think of it.
    Middlemarch. So. Fucking. Boring.

    Modern classics
    Tolkien, The Hobbit and LOTR, along with some short stories (Farmer Giles of Ham and his blunderbuss stand out in my memory)
    Most if not all of Heinlein's work (a lot of it doesn't hold up well, but some of those medieval attitudes he held were pretty groundbreaking at the time, especially before his brain calcified. Leslyn, anyone?)
    Most if not all of Clarke's fiction.
    A lot of Asimov's work.
    All of Hunter Thompson's book-length stuff and most of his collections.
    Kesey
    A couple Pynchon books, including Gravity's Rainbow (twice. It made less sense the second time)
    Burroughs (William S, not Edgar Rice)
    Kerouc, On the Road and Tristessa, possibly some others.
    Is Tom Wolfe on the list of modern classics yet? He's the template for every fictionaly nose-in-the-air elitist snob of a writer who thinks he understands the lower classes, at least from the way he writes.

    Yeah, that's what I can think of now. Probably others...

    Oh, who's that other one who thinks he's so brilliant....The Water Method Man, Setting Free the Bears, Simon Birch (which is really called something else but he helped adapt it)...annoyed the piss outta me.
     
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  6. Iain Aschendale

    Iain Aschendale Guardian-eating, tofu-reading dormivitus Supporter Contributor

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    IMO, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo became popular because of one lefty (and I consider myself a lefty) speech at the very end. Other than that, I found it a pretty much bog-standard thriller, not bad, but basically an airport book.
     
  7. minstrel

    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Supporter Contributor

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    I went through a period from my late teens through late twenties or so in which I read a whole pack of "classics." That was when I more-or-less abandoned my own shelf of science-fiction-and-nothing-but and discovered my dad's bookshelves. Steinbeck was my dad's favorite writer, so I read a lot of his stuff (I mostly remember East of Eden, Cannery Row, Of Mice and Men). I also read a lot of Hemingway, Joseph Conrad, and others. I remember being a bit surprised to find my dad reading Kipling, because he read the Just So Stories and some of the Jungle Books to me when I was very young. I wasn't aware that Kipling wrote for general audiences, not just for little kids. I still love The Jungle Books. (I had a similar experience with Mark Twain.)

    Somewhere during that time I discovered stuff my dad hadn't read. Anthony Burgess, for instance. Edgar Allan Poe. John Fowles. Peter Matthiessen. I'm aware that not all of these are considered "classics," yet, but I think of them as literature.

    I got into mythology along the way. I read Norse myths in a version by Kevin Crossley-Holland. I've read Stith Thompson's Tales of the North American Indians.

    I also discovered poetry - my dad never read poetry. Robinson Jeffers was my idol (still is, in some ways). I also love Walt Whitman and William Butler Yeats.

    Of course, I read the stuff we had to read for school, including Catcher in the Rye and Lord of the Flies.
     
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  8. Bobby Burrows

    Bobby Burrows Banned Contributor

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    I started reading in 2016.

    I took to reading the greats

    I started with Jules Verne
    I read:
    Around The World In Eighty Days
    Journey To The Center Of The Earth
    Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea
    From The Earth To The Moon
    Around The Moon

    then my next read was:
    Dracula by Bram Stoker

    then I read a 1962 edition of 1984 by George Orwell that has the same cover of a poster for sale today of it, and it's got
    Nineteen Eighty-Four on the cover.

    Then I started to read Edgar Allan Poe.
    I've read a couple of his stories and The Raven.
     
    Last edited: Oct 25, 2018
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  9. Bobby Burrows

    Bobby Burrows Banned Contributor

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    I'm tempted to read The Time Machine by H. G. Wells or Arabian Nights, in particular the stories of Sinbad the Sailor and the ones about the Forty Thieves, probably actually leaning towards Arabian Nights to be honest.

    Or... A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens with Christmas around the corner and everything is also always a temptation too.
     
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  10. EBohio

    EBohio Banned

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    I only read the classics when I was "made to" in highschool and college. I started to read them for fun only when I got to be 30. I am so glad that I wasn't "made" to read The Catcher In The Rye or I might have hated it. It is one of my favorites.

    In highschool I did like The Mayor Of Casterbridge even though it was required reading and to this day I don't know why.

    I did college papers on The Fountain Head by Ayn Rand and Atlas Shrugged, but did enjoy them.
     
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  11. Iain Aschendale

    Iain Aschendale Guardian-eating, tofu-reading dormivitus Supporter Contributor

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    I actually like The Fountainhead. I think that some of the problems she describes in the book (some, not all) are real and present in society.
     
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  12. Tall for a hobbit

    Tall for a hobbit Member

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    I think you have a good outlook. When I was a kid I used to think: if I like a book or a film, or any piece of art, it doesn't matter why, there's no reason why, I just do. Later, I discovered there are reasons why I like or dislike a certain work, and tried to uncover the intellectual design behind everything.

    But in my 30's I'm changing again. I'm starting to dislike any art which has a specific, intellectual agenda, whether that be in explicit or allegorical form. Take 1984, for example - I'm glad I've read it, but after letting the content stew for a year or so in my mind, as much as I sympathise with Orwell's agenda, the result is a book which doesn't feel even a bit like art or entertainment: it feels like a message, plain and simple. An important, complex message yes, but the best artistic ideas can't be put into so literal a framework in my opinion. Just like music or an abstract painting.

    But then I have to admit my opinions are forever evolving... I may feel differently again in the future. It's just that sometimes I feel that literature and art seems to be validated on things like the social change it may have influenced, or on it's general political intent - like Dickens's work bringing about a change in attitude towards the working classes and unemployed. I would worry that this means literature is about moralising, and that's a slippery slope because morals change. Maybe art should just be about truth instead.

    Then again, maybe I'm waffling.
     
  13. EBohio

    EBohio Banned

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    I'll tell you one I hated and I still don't know why that was required in highschool (in the U.S., maybe they like it in the U.K.)----The Canterbury Tales. Quick somebody get me an aspirin.
     
  14. EBohio

    EBohio Banned

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    Would you consider "In Cold Blood" to be a classic? If so I tried to read it but couldn't, but I like all the movie adaptations of it, especially the Phillip Hoffman Seymour one, "Capote".

    [link redacted]
     
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  15. Tall for a hobbit

    Tall for a hobbit Member

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    I haven't attempted it yet...

    I don't know that one.
     
  16. exweedfarmer

    exweedfarmer Banned Contributor

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    No one has mentioned Jack London or Edgar Rice Burroughs except to reference another Burroughs. Strange because, they had a profound influence on my life in general. Burroughs was the ruin of my life. His male characters are virtuous to a fault and his females were chaste, growing up I thought that was reality. YEE Gods! He also convinced several generations of American children that African lions live in the jungle. Oh Edgar....
     
  17. EBohio

    EBohio Banned

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    Could be your age. You do know who Truman Capote is though?
     
  18. EBohio

    EBohio Banned

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    The only Jack London I read was as a kid, "The Call Of The Wild". But I lost all respect for him once I read somewhere that in real life he was a cold stoned racist.
     
  19. exweedfarmer

    exweedfarmer Banned Contributor

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    Well, ah, yeah... but so was almost everyone at the time. I was talking about his writing, social viewpoints are subject to change.
     
  20. Bobby Burrows

    Bobby Burrows Banned Contributor

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    I've just read Without You in Del James' collection of short stories called The Language of Fear.
    I know now how that bride died in November Rain by Guns N' Roses because I read that story.
     
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  21. Tall for a hobbit

    Tall for a hobbit Member

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    It's possible I've seen his work in a bookshop but I don't know that name. In cold blood is a familiar phrase to me although I don't know if it's because I've heard of the book. But thanks to google I now know he was the author of Breakfast at Tiffany's, and I know that film. Haven't seen it though.

    Probably less of an age thing and more to do with the fact that I didn't study, my parents didn't really read and very few of my friends read more than popular stuff or factual books. This is one of the reasons why I wanted to talk about literature with people who do know more about the canon such as yourself, and other members of a message board like this. I've only started reading more books over the last couple of years as I mentioned above, before that I read mainly fantasy and some SF, and much of the time I used to re-read the same books anyway. I'm trying to get an understanding of something which didn't really interest me much until lately.
     
  22. Tall for a hobbit

    Tall for a hobbit Member

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    Michael Moorcock always had a lot of good things to say about Edgar Rice-Burroughs, but I never got round to reading any of his stuff. I have to admit I love a bit of pulp, so I should check it out at some point.

    William Burroughs on the other hand I've made two failed attempts at reading. It was The Naked Lunch, and I want to get into it but I really struggled.
     
  23. EBohio

    EBohio Banned

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    Then what about Ray Bradbury for you, The Martian Chronicles?

    ASIDE

    When it comes to Truman Capote there are a lot of people who actually think he wrote "To Kill A Mockingbird" instead of Harper Lee. They were childhood friends. The character Dill in To Kill A Mockingbird was supposedly based on him. I actually can see it, especially since Harper Lee is only known for the one book.
     
  24. Tall for a hobbit

    Tall for a hobbit Member

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    Fahrenheit 451 is on my "to read" list, but that list is getting pretty long. If I come across The Martian Chronicles in the library or in a charity shop - my main source of books - I'll check it out.
     
  25. Tall for a hobbit

    Tall for a hobbit Member

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    To Kill a Mockingbird is one I have read. It was a good one, exceptional, I'm glad I did. It's the kind of novel I need more of in my life.
     

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