Tuesday, May 20, 2008

My Remedial English Lit Summer Project

Wordwrangler got me thinking. "Moby Dick?" I thought, in response to her comment here. "Who hasn't read Moby Dick?"

Oh wait. I haven't read Moby Dick either.

Then I spent Tink's music class talking to a friend, who was mortified to admit she'd never read Jane Eyre.

Hmm. I may have read Jane Eyre, but I'm not sure.

This was getting embarrassing. The fact is, though, I am pretty well-read. So I looked at my book collection and my reading habits and I came to a revelation. It is this:

In my efforts to read beyond the "canon" of dead white guys, I failed to read, well, a lot of what are probably really important books by dead white guys. And the Brontë sisters.

So, inspired by my recent revelation about Pride and Prejudice and my desire to be re-admitted into the Cool Writers Club (dream on, Jacqui), I present my remedial English Lit summer project: 15 Classics in 15 Weeks. In which I am going to try to make up for 36 years of obsessing over Shakespeare, Rushdie, and Morrison, and skipping Steinbeck et al. In 15 weeks. Because a summer selling my house, finishing a triathlon, writing a novel, and raising two kids just isn't busy enough.

I need your help, though.

First: What are your top five "Everybody, Especially Someone Who Calls Herself Bookish, Should Have Read These" books? Novels, mainly, though long winded poems like Paradise Lost (which I actually have read, so there) are okay too. I'll collect suggestions all this week and then have the full list ready by Friday.

Second: join me! I'll post complete rules, incentives, and rewards tomorrow (yes! rewards!) Meanwhile, think about it. You know you want to do it. C'mon, it'll make you feel good.

26 comments:

mary said...

Sense and Sensibility by Austen
The Great Gatsby by Fitzgerald
A Room with a View by Forster
A Confederacy of Dunces by Toole

Okay the last one may not be a classic yet, but it should. (He is part of the dead white male group!)

J. Thorp said...

It would take me 15 months, at least -- and that's if I gave up writing. And quit my job ...

But, in an effort to help (and not because you need to be "manly") -- a list on a site I discovered yesterday: 100 Must-Read Books: The Essential Man’s Library.

I've read nine of these in their entirety, plus three "halves" or so, and numerous excerpts. Depressing.

Jacqui said...

Mary, good list. I agree about Confederacy of Dunces. I suppose you won't count Pride and Prejudice towards Sense and Sensibility? Do the Cliffs notes count? :)

Jacqui said...

Jim, yeah. Seriously considering extending my time frame.

I am no very manly either (29 of them, plus half of Foucault's Pendulum, which doesn't seem very manly unless you mean you need serious muscles just to lift it)

But a lot of those are on my radar for this challenge: think how manly you'll be by September if you come along...

J. Thorp said...

I would love to join you. Do you want me to read, or write, my dear?

:)

I'll consider it ...

Jacqui said...

Forget it, Thorp. You're busy finishing my dragon story. No reading for you. :)

Leo said...

ok. the fact that you have time to blog is ridiculous.

in terms of 5 Books You're Supposed To Have Read, i'll just do authors. cuz then i don't have to think as much.

1) Joyce
2) EM Forster
3) Dickens
4) Tolstoy
5) Dostoyevsky

that may be too many russians, so you can put Camus in for Dosty. and yes, neal, i realize that nabokov is not on the list. Of course, that's all European men, but wasn't that the point? If you want an American author, i'd have to go with Twain, Fitzgerald, or Hawthorne. Or Miller, if you want to be all crazy and reactionary. and read plays.

For women, you really don't have many choices outside of the Brontes and Austen, unless you want to count Louisa May Alcott. turns out that harold blooms dead white guy club is hard to get into for those of the xx persuasion.

Anonymous said...

here's a few...

Pale Fire - Nabokov
The Wall - John Hersey
Young Men and Fire - Norman Maclean
Oryx and Crake - Margaret Atwood

and just to prove I'm not stuffy...

The Stand - Stephen King (before you snicker, try it, and see if you can put it down).

much love to all in Ann Arbor

Neal

Jim D. said...

It seems like this could really be three questions.
1. what are the 5 books that I think are the true "classics" of literature (or, related but not the same, what are the "best" books)
2. what are my 5 favorite books (which I'm guessing The Stand may more likely be located. I read the Stand and enjoyed it very much, but perhaps a tiny stretch to put it with the canons of literature)
3. what are the 5 books I feel like I really should have read, and am a bit embarrashed as a literati to admit that I haven't read.

Here are my 3 lists:
1. 5 "classics"
Homer- The Odyssey
Dante- Inferno
Cervantes- Don Quixote
Joyce- Ulysses
Robbins- The New Girl... and Me

2. My 5 favorites (always a moving target)
Rushdie- Shalimar the Clown
Pullman- His Dark Materials
Joyce- Ulysses
Ondaatje- The English Patient
McCarthy- The Road

3. I can't believe I haven't read these...
1. Faulkner (any)
2. Dickens (any)
3. Dosty- either Brothers K or Crime and Punishment. I've read half of each, so does that count? I mean, the dude who kills that old lady, he just moves to a different town and becomes a shock jock or a mayor, right?
4. Proust
5. Tolstoy- War and Peace


3

lizard said...

I like Jim D's splitting into three lists. (Which of course I embrace as a not-so-veiled way of getting to recommend more than five books.) The recovering English major in me has done my work to get over my list #3. ("My name is Liza, and I've never read Paradise Lost." "Hi, Liza.")

I've read a lot of those books for which Jacqui read the back flap to give her book report (ahem!), including the Austen/Bronte/Eliot collection. And -- really and truly -- they just don't do it for me the way my list #2 does. All of that said, and apologies for not helping with your "classics," here are my recs:
1. Possession (A.S. Byatt)
2. God of Small Things (A. Roy)
3. Bel Canto (A. Patchett)
4. Fall on Your Knees (A-M MacDonald -- had to throw a Canadian in there!)
5. The Testament of Gideon Mack (J. Robertson -- and a Scot!)

Looking forward to seeing the list!

Todd said...

I would say any Austen novel would be good - except for Mansfield Park - she dropped the ball on that one. The same goes for Dickens. If you've never read 'A Christmas Carol' it's way better than any movie or the hundreds of TV versions.

Otherwise here is a list of my favorites:

Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte
Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad
Anthem - Ayn Rand
Silas Marner - George Elliot
The House of the Seven Gables - Nathaniel Hawthorne

If anyone tries to convince you to read 'The Old Man and the Sea' run screaming. The same goes for 'The Sound and the Fury' because reading shouldn't be that painful.

Diane T. said...

Urgh. I typed this out once already, and it didn't post. I'll try to recreate my thoughts.

I decided to pick five works that have left the most impression on me since I studied literature in college 20 years (ulp) ago.

1. "Wuthering Heights" by Emily Bronte. Not because it's a great tragic romance, but because the deluded narrator cracks me up.
2. Any collection by Jorge Luis Borges, such as "The Aleph and Other Stories." The grandaddy of the Latin American Boom, and the reason I double-majored in Spanish. And he is a dead white guy, albeit Latino and 20th century.
3. "Middlemarch" by George Eliot. The dead white chicks club is not limited to Austen and the Brontes, and this novel about marriage and "settling" is one of her best. Even my engineer husband liked it when he took a one-credit course on it.
4. "The Good Soldier" by Ford Madox Ford. It's really another novel about relationships, set around WWI. I loved the delusional narrator so much I wrote my senior thesis on it.
5. "The Canterbury Tales" by Chaucer. I still remember my professor's comments about medieval romances: "Face it, people, they're all about f---ing!" Chaucer has some great satire, comedy, and poetry (especially if you manage to read it in the original).

Good luck and keep us posted on your project!

Anonymous said...

Hi Jacqui;
I like the site, and I love your name!
I never got into the so called classics either.
Might I suggest The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde?
Hubba

Jacqui said...

Wow. These are some great ideas, even though Neal made some of his up.

Leo: You have it wrong. I have plenty of time to blog; I just don't have time to work, clean, feed my kids...

Neal: Do I have to read Pale Fire if I read Lolita?

JimD: Your list of classics is, of course, the best, in particular the fifth. But do you really want me lugging War and Peace around all summer?

Jacqui said...

Lizard: As I said elsewhere, everyone keeps mentioning Middlemarch. I have an image of you at 16, dragging Middlemarch around for months moaning about it. Still true?

Todd: I knew you'd have Dickens. And I have read The Old Man and the Sea; I rooted for the fish.

Diane: Good choices. You have a "deluded narrator" theme, I think. Hmm. I thought for sure you were going to comment on Neal's inclusion of The Stand, given your predilection for plagues...

Jacqui said...

Hubba! Welcome! I'm so glad you stopped by. Is there a spot for Jacqui's Room in Hubba's House?

I do agree about Dorian Gray, but have already read it. See everyone? I have read SOME of them.

Diane T said...

Hey Jacqui,

I would've commented on "The Stand," seeing as I just finished re-reading it last week, but since Stephen King is not a dead guy I didn't think the suggestion really counted. I mean, if an author is on the bestseller list, can reading them be considered "project"-worthy? (I know, it depends. It would take a project to force me to read anything by Danielle Steele.) I was getting more of a "books I should have read in English class" vibe from this assignment.

As for "The Old Man and the Sea," it's the only Hemingway I could ever stand to read, as it's his only novel where there aren't any female characters for him to abuse.

And I would agree with Todd that any Austen save "Mansfield Park" is worthy, but I have a particular love for "Northanger Abbey" because her satire of gothic novels cracks me up.

You can see I like to be cracked up.

J. Thorp said...

This is a fun crew -- like it or not, Robbins, I'm in. Perhaps great reading will inspire great writing -- and spawn some sort of time warp in which everything miraculously gets done on time? Or maybe I won't sleep this summer ...

(My wife, with typical wisdom born of winters on the Great Plains, said, "Why would you do this in summer, when the weather's beautiful and you can enjoy it ... with your FAMILY!")

Jacqui said...

Aah, Thorp, I knew we'd sucker you in. Please apologize to your very wise wife; she is absolutely right, of course.

Ronnie said...

You said English lit -- did you mean that? No. no, you couldn't have. My list has a more international scope.

First, I should say that when I was diagnosed with incurable lymphoma one of the first things I thought was that if I had to die soon at least I didn't have to read War and Peace, which is deadly boring (I tried, really). Okay, that was ten years ago! I still haven't read it and never will (ditto Moby Dick, which I think may be even worse, except for the description of clam chowder). The point is you don't have to read the books just because they are classics.

My list has just the ones I loved. Not just dead white guys. Women too. Some are not even considered the best literature, but for me they are must-reads.

Here they are:

Picture of Dorian Gray (I've read this several times)
Les Miserables
East of Eden
The Sound & the Fury
Sial Marner
Great Expectations
Jane Erye
Tree Grows in Brooklyn
The Metamorphosis
Age of Innocence
Uncle Tom's Cabin
Atlas Shrugged
Pride and Prejudice

Modern books that are not classics but which I think are musts are:

The Road (still haunts me after reading it last year)(McCarthy)

Winds of War/War and Remembrance
(I still think about the characters and haven't read these in years)

The English Patient (ondaatje)

Time and Again (Jack Finney)

Cold Mountain

Enjoy
Ronnie

Jacqui said...

Ladies and gentlemen, that last comment was from one of my favorite people, Ronnie Fein, who is a literary and culinary genius and at whose home I spent a significant portion of my formative years. If you are looking for great books about cooking, I highly recommend her Complete Idiot's Guide to Cooking Basics, or the new Hip Kosher.

RonnieVFein said...

I forgot to mention Passage to India!!

Jacqui said...

Yes! Passage to India is beautiful. I love Forster. In face, if you're going to only read one Forster, read Passage and then see the movie of A Room with a View. One of my favorite films ever.

Mary Witzl said...

I am thrilled to see that Lizard mentioned two of the books I would recommend: Possession (A.S. Byatt) and God of Small Things (A. Roy), and A Confederacy of Dunces gets a big vote from me. There are so many more I want to suggest, but I am awful at remembering authors' names and titles.

Still, I'll give this a shot:

Wilkie Collins' Woman in White and The Moonstone -- both of these are great, really fantastic thrillers, and I much prefer them to Dickens.

Kazuo Ishiguro's Remains of the Day -- this is probably my all-time favorite book, and anyone who hasn't read it, please go out and rectify this.

Charles Reade's The Cloister and the Hearth. So many people have never heard of this one, yet it is one of the most riveting adventure stories -- and romances -- that I have ever read.

Andromeda Romano-Lax said...

I this is an old post from a finished project (came over here from editorial ass) but I still loved reading all the lists and comments. Thanks!

Jacqui said...

Thanks, Andromeda. I am trying to work up the courage for your giant project.