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Topic: You're Not Well-Read Until You've Read....

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Subject: You're Not Well-Read Until You've Read....
Date Posted: 4/9/2009 7:18 PM ET
Member Since: 3/27/2009
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You're not well-read until you've read, understood, and maybe even enjoyed) ____________(fill in blank).

What do you think? Shakespeare? Dickens?  Greek mythology? Some unpronouncable Russian author along with Tolstoy? Feel free to list as many authors as you like. Feel free to be as book snobby as you please.

I swear I am going to try Shakespeare this summer.

Date Posted: 4/9/2009 8:39 PM ET
Member Since: 3/15/2009
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Alexander Dumas' Three Musketeers.  That may be just a cultural thing though - I was born in Russia where, if you haven't read Three Musketeers by the age of 12, you're considered an uncultured oaf.  I think the reason this book is so revered in Russia is because the Russian translation is considered one of the best in the world. 

In any case, cultural bias or not, I love love love love love love love this book and all of its sequels!  I have long lost count of how many times I have reread all of them!

Kat (polbio) -
Date Posted: 4/9/2009 11:12 PM ET
Member Since: 10/10/2008
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WOw, well there are so many books that I consider as classic literature that is a must for anyone who wants to be well read. Shakespeare and Charles Dickens are definates. But also  Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austin, A Separate Peace by John Knowles, Of Mice and MEn by John Steinbach, Lord of the Rings by JRR Tokien and Fahrenheit 451 by Ray BRadbury.  I agree with the Dumas books as well.

What is funny, is that the two literature courses i took in college to me had horrible stories that i would not consider literature. Short stories about sex, drugs and true crime or novels so dry it was hard to get past the openings.. I read most of the classic books in High School with the exception of Hemingway and Jane Austen. 



Last Edited on: 4/9/09 11:13 PM ET - Total times edited: 1
Date Posted: 4/9/2009 11:17 PM ET
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Dickens was the first writer I thought of...anything by Dickens. But I also would have to say that Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn is crucial, esp. for Americans.

I am a reader, but I'm most assuredly not well-read. I'm working on reading more classics, though.

Rick B. (bup) - ,
Date Posted: 4/10/2009 10:31 AM ET
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When I consider myself well-read, I'll let you know.

Date Posted: 4/10/2009 3:44 PM ET
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War and Peace.    Anyone who can get through a book that size has my admiration.  I have the book on my shelf and have yet to try and tackle it.  I'm far from being well read, but I have been slowly stocking up on the classics, so hopefully I will get through them all and someday can say that I am "well read".

Date Posted: 4/12/2009 4:55 PM ET
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I sometimes start to consider myself well read, and then I talk to someone else and I realize I'm not.  There are so many books out there that it's really hard, if not impossible, to read all the "required" reading. Here is a list of some that I really enjoyed that I think are good as referrence points for things/books today:

Jane Eyre: Charlotte Bronte

Frankenstein: Mary Shelley

Pride and Prejudice: Jane Austen

Howards End: EM Forster

Crime and Punishment: Dostoevsky

Tess of the D'Urbervilles: Thomas Hardy

Henry James - anything really, I like The American and some of his short works a lot

The Three Muskateers, The Black Tulip, etc: Dumas - I would start with The Black Tulip only because it's a great book and shorter and gives you a good taste of Dumas' style

Wuthering Heights: Emily Bronte

Mrs. Dalloway: Virginia Woolf - not for the faint of heart.  This was hard for me to get into but I'm glad I've read it.

Sherlock Holmes: Doyle

The Picture of Dorian Grey

The Metamorphosis: Kafka

Beowulf

omg so the list can go on and on. I think its important that you read what you like but still try different things.  Read something and when something is referrenced try and pick it up and see if you like that.  You don't have to get everything.  After all, reading is for YOU,  not for how others view what you've read. 

Date Posted: 4/12/2009 4:57 PM ET
Member Since: 4/16/2008
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oh I also wanted to add that I've tried reading Dickens and Twain and coudln't get into either.  Same can be said for Upton Sinclair (the Jungle) and Steinbeck (I HATED the Grapes of Wrath).  I also had a hard time with Catcher in the Rye which everyone loves...you're not going to like everything you pick up. but don't feel bad.  you don't have to like or enjoy everything.  And I say it's okay to quite a book you hate. at least you try!

Kat (polbio) -
Date Posted: 4/12/2009 8:30 PM ET
Member Since: 10/10/2008
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Wow, i forgot about Beowulf. THat tale is a must written in the 900's AD, i guess would make it a real classic. Hannah I have read most of what you listed. I didnt like Virgina Wolf (although the only one i read was To The lighthouse, which I had to read for school) or Wuthering Heights. Wuthering Heights was wrtiten well, but it haunted me for months.

Date Posted: 4/14/2009 10:00 AM ET
Member Since: 6/19/2007
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I don't know, however long the list of Books I've Read gets, the list of ones I haven't read will always be longer.  Its just easier to read more when you're enjoying what you read. 

I never enjoyed Thomas Hardy, but I love Dickens and would rather read one of Dickens lesser books than one of Hardy's masterpieces. I love most classical literature, like The Odyssey and The Metamorphoses, but thought the Aeneid was just boring.  I've always had a bizarre fondness for Melville, I really like Moby Dick & Bartleby the Scrivener, but so far have stayed away from Russian classics like Anna Karenina & War and Peace, which are just about as long as Moby Dick, but for some reason seem more daunting. 

I can't really come up with any definitive criteria for what makes a person well-read, except that as long as you keep reading something, you're moving in the right direction.

ETA: there's tons of other examples of me not being well read, or maybe just not having good taste in books.  I hated Grapes of Wrath too, although I loved East of Eden & Of Mice and Men.  I'm horribly under-read as far as female authors go, never read the Awakening, never read the Bell Jar or any Virginia Woolf, although I love Edith Wharton (except for Ethan Frome).  So yeah, I'm kind of all over the place, but aren't most people?



Last Edited on: 4/14/09 10:03 AM ET - Total times edited: 1
Kat (polbio) -
Date Posted: 4/14/2009 2:17 PM ET
Member Since: 10/10/2008
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Yes Vanessa, I think most of us are all over. But you listed some I had forgot about. i guess to me being well read is having an understanding of classics and the cultures they were written in.  My sister and i differ on what we consider must reads, but yet we both love to read classics. She loves play wrights and Russian authors. I prefer the middle ages and victorian eras and ancient greek like The illiad and the Odyssey. I didnt mind Aeneid but didn like Candide.

Would it be more accurate to say that a well read person is someone who has read books from every genre and has learned what appeals to them?



Last Edited on: 4/14/09 2:18 PM ET - Total times edited: 1
Date Posted: 4/14/2009 3:08 PM ET
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"as long as you keep reading something, you're moving in the right direction."

I agree.

"I'm kind of all over the place, but aren't most people?"

Yes, I am as well. I go through theme phases in which I collect books that have to do with a them. For example, I'll read a cluster of sea adventure books or novels that have to do with the Great Depression and then move on to something else

 I feel a Shakespeare and a witch phase coming on. I am excited. I can't wait to read MacBeth and The Third Witch

Date Posted: 4/18/2009 3:56 PM ET
Member Since: 1/22/2007
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Catch-22 by Joseph Heller.  Loved that book, plus it had humor something that sometimes seems to be missing in a lot of classics.

Date Posted: 4/19/2009 9:04 PM ET
Member Since: 4/6/2009
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My additions: To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee 1984 - George Orwell The Call of the Wild - Jack London
Date Posted: 4/20/2009 6:35 PM ET
Member Since: 4/16/2008
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Kat - I didn't so much like Mrs. Dalloway while reading it, though when I finished I was glad that I had read it.  That and it was for a class so discussion was actually pretty fun. the actual book was difficult for me though

Sherry - 1984 was great! I loved it!

There's just so much out there isn't there? I mean, is it actually possible to be "well read"?

Subject: might be controversial
Date Posted: 4/22/2009 1:07 AM ET
Member Since: 1/13/2009
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its more than 25 years old, so I feel that makes it a classic:

Welcome to Monkey House by Kurt Vonnegut.

Not well read til you've read him.

Date Posted: 5/5/2009 1:14 PM ET
Member Since: 4/17/2008
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Even though it's nice to have a list of classics in mind, I think it's impossible to say if you haven't read such and such work you're not well read. I've read The Aeneid, Paradise Lost, Great Expectations, Pride and Prejudice, Beloved, The Scarlet Letter, Lolita, Metamorphosis and The Trial, Animal Farm, Lord of the Flies, Atlas Shrugged, The Picture of Dorian Gray, most of F. Scott Fitzgerald's work etc.

On the other hand, I've read never read anything by Hardy, Tolstoy, Joyce, Hugo, Waugh, Updike, Cheever, Wharton, or Dostoevsky, couldn't make it through Madame Bovary, and despise Saul Bellow.

Then on top of that there are amazing contemporary books to keep up with. So it's always going to be a middle ground, isn't it? The best you can do is keep trying.

Date Posted: 5/5/2009 6:08 PM ET
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I read only in English, and  I aspire to becoming more "well-read" as I go.  My own take is that this makes it necessary to read translations into English of works of "world literature".    I mean, to be "well-read", a modern reader should have read the works of many of the Nobel Prize-winning writers, such as Knut Hamsun, Naguib Mahfouz, Milan Kundera, Herman Hesse, Jean-Paul Sartre, Yasunari Kawabata, Kobo Abe, and others.  (At least we Anglophones can read some of the "great" writers in their own (English) words---the Canadians such as Robertson Davies, Margaret Atwood, for instance, and Australians such as Thomas Keneally and Patrick White, for instance, and even New Zealanders such as Keri Hulme.

And to be  "well-read" in the English language,  I suppose one has to have read a generous sampling of British authors.  Most of the "big" names in Brit Lit have been mentioned already.

Finally, one has to be well-acquainted with the "cream" of the American writers.   (I have NOT liked all of the American writers I have read.  In such cases, I just don't read a SECOND book by such an author.)

Between "world lit" and "British lit" and "American lit", that's an enormous body of work, so the fact one does NOT have to read ALL of any single author's works, or ALL of the highly-touted authors,  but can exercise one's own tastes and preferences, is the only reasonable way to guide one's personal reading program.

Date Posted: 5/9/2009 5:00 AM ET
Member Since: 3/22/2009
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I have a special spot in my heart for Twain (especially works like Innocents Abroad), Hawthorne (especially the short stories), and P.G. Wodehouse (especially the Bertie & Jeeves books).

Date Posted: 5/13/2009 7:45 PM ET
Member Since: 10/17/2006
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Three "classics" made my YUCK list:  Sanctuary, (Faulkner);  Catcher in the Rye: and Lady Chatterley's Lover.  Phooey . . . . .

Date Posted: 5/13/2009 8:34 PM ET
Member Since: 3/27/2009
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Bonnie,

I tried Faulker's As I Lay Dying" and just couldn't appreciate the author's "superb craftsmanship." I don't like his use of phrase repetition, and the stream of consciousness (did I spell that right?) writing. "My mother is a fish."  Mmm kay, I had to go look up what on earth that meant. Phooey.

I'll always love A rose For Emily, though.

 

 



Last Edited on: 5/13/09 8:35 PM ET - Total times edited: 1
Date Posted: 5/14/2009 9:20 AM ET
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Chalk up another classic that I've read (so my well-read-o-meter goes up a tad) but hated (so my appreciation-of-good-literature-o-meter goes down): Aldous Huxley's Brave New World.  Normally I love the real classic sci-fi books, Bradbury, H.G. Wells, Arthur C. Clarke, but Brave New World was boring and weird.  Not even good weird, just weird.

Subject: Brave New World
Date Posted: 5/14/2009 10:16 PM ET
Member Since: 3/27/2009
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Lol, Vanessa.

I could have written the same comments regarding my love for sci-fi with the exception of Brave New World. I didn't get very far into that book.



Last Edited on: 5/15/09 12:38 PM ET - Total times edited: 1
Date Posted: 5/15/2009 10:06 PM ET
Member Since: 4/9/2009
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Anything after 1900 is NOT a classic, no matter what people may say.

What defines a classic is its enduring capability. The ability to take a basic human condition/feeling, etc, no matter the culture, and convey that to the reader and have them respond/react because they can connect.

It takes time for classics to be shaken out. Which is why I don't call anything after 1900 a classic, yet. Doesn't mean that they won't be ;-) but a book needs to be over 120 years old, in general, because that is 2 FULL generations.

Date Posted: 5/16/2009 12:53 PM ET
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Anything after 1900 is NOT a classic

That's interesting, but is this your opinion or can you provide a reputable link to confirm this?

(I am not being snarky, I am really interested).

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