Monday, September 1, 2014

Ten Classics I Haven't Read Yet

Never mind David Foster Wallace or David Mitchell, or Murukami, Bolaño or Javier Marías. What about all those classics I haven't read that have been around all my life?

Just for kicks, here are ten of them. Maybe this will prompt me to read at least one of them before too long:

1. Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man--James Joyce

This is probably what started me on this thread. Despite the fact that I am in a longstanding group devoted to reading Finnegans Wake, and despite having read The Dubliners and Ulysses, I have yet to get to this book, proving that it is not always the most formidable work of an author that we have the most resistance to.

2. Treasure Island--Robert Louis Stevenson

This may be one it turns out I have read. I did read one Stevenson classic when I was a kid, I just don't remember which one. Having read Kidnapped a couple of years ago, I am still not entirely sure if I'd read it in the distant past or not. In any case, there are a couple of Treasure Island spinoffs that I'd like to read, but not till I've read the original, so this is becoming an ever deepening spiral of neglect. (The two spinoff novels are Silver--Return to Treasure Island by Andrew Motion and Treasure Island!!! by Sara Levine.)

3. Madame Bovary--Gustave Flaubert

This is one of those books that I've made a start on multiple times. I've even read a very intriguing piece of literary criticism called Crack Wars by Avital Ronell, which studies Madame Bovary as "the first addict". My most recent attempt was after reading Lydia Davis' piece in The Paris Review about translating the book. I bought a copy of her translation. So far, no luck in pursuing it any further.

4. The Scarlet Letter--Nathaniel Hawthorne

How I managed to get through high school and have no contact with this one, I'll never know. I have actually read a fair amount of Hawthorne--stories, The House of Seven Gables, even the intriguing The Blithedale Romance, which explores utopia, 19th century style, but his most iconic work, no. I believe this was even read by a book group I was in, but I still managed to evade it. Demi Moore as Hester Prynne didn't lure me in either. And no, I didn't see the movie.

5.  Lolita--Vladimir Nabokov

As may now be apparent as a pattern here, I have read some Nabokov, Speak, Memory being my initial inroad, and though I wasn't crazy about it (or him) it did lead me to some of the early works (Mary, The Defense), and I liked them. I then attempted Ada for some reason, and was put off. I have a couple of copies of Lolita somewhere, due to various resolutions. So far nothing. I have seen the first movie of this, which I liked, so it's not that kind of resistance. I have heard that Jeremy Irons reading of it is excellent, so maybe this is the way to go.

6. The Forsyte Saga--John Galsworthy

If I was a very strict list maker, this one might not really fit, as it is more than one book, and isn't typically one on everybody's list of must reads anymore. Luckily I'm not a stickler for uniformity so this one gets in as one I've probably been thinking I was going  to read since I was a teen. I think this because I know at some point we were given the first six books as a Christmas present. Pocket books, red and green. What I remember is that for some reason we were given six and not nine, which I think was the set at the time, and told, let's see how it goes. I am not sure that six was the lucky number. I have wanted to read these for various reasons over time, not least because I was in conversation with my aunt about whether PBS had cast the Masterpiece Theatre version correctly. Conversation might be the wrong word, as I didn't watch the show, wanting to read the books first. Yeah, that was going to happen. I have read the initial set up about the house and family at least twice if not more, but I seemed destined not to know how all the dilemmas about the house or property or whatever it is get resolved.

7. The Plague--Albert Camus

I don't know if this quite fits here either, as I have never had all that much interest in reading this book. I suppose I like the idea of saying I've read it more than the actual prospect. I did finally read The Stranger not that long ago, and I thought it very good, although I seem to disagree with most people on what is really happening in it. The book that should probably really stand in place of this one is The First Man, his incomplete autobiographical novel. My aunt recommended this to me, and I had every intention of reading it while we could still talk about it, but alas, that didn't happen.

8. The Death of Ivan Ilyich--Leo Tolstoy

It's short, and I've read Anna Karenina and War and Peace, even the battle scenes, so why is this one beyond me?

9. The Odyssey--Homer

Okay, not a novel. I've read The Iliad, I even learned to say the opening lines in iambic pentameter in Ancient Greek, but The Odyssey continues to be out of reach. Not that I haven't seen practically every version dramatically rendered of it over time. And I must have read some extremely abbreviated children's version or something, because I feel as though I have always known all that happens to our hero. The Cyclops, Circe, the Sirens, Penelope--all of it. So maybe it just isn't novel enough. But as someone who has read Ulysses, and plans to read it again, there really is no excuse.

10. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy--John le Carré

I hope you weren't expecting some dramatic, perhaps shocking finish. I could have said Moby Dick, but come on, no one's actually read that, have they? No, this is just one that I've meant to read and meant to read and even the lovely new edition and the movie hasn't resulted in that happening. Again, I've read early work, and The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, and I've opened this and liked the writing very much but it just haven't happened yet. Maybe I still don't quite forgive him for his diatribe against Salman Rushdie when the chips were down.

This one I did read.


  1. Fun list. I've read most but not all of these. I better get on it, eh?

  2. No, Kathleen--I better get on it, especially since I have at least 4 of these lying around the house.