Your Favourite Classics

And on that topic of sharing, of all the classics, which would you recommend as the most accessible and enjoyable?

I know, I know… it depends. But if you could just pick one or two. For 50 marks, give reasons for your choice :mrgreen:

“Favourite classics” might need splitting into a separate thread… I do have to pipe up and say that I recently read Madame Bovary after avoiding it for years and it is now possibly my favourite book. (I am in love with Emma Bovary; I read somewhere that Tolstoy was pretty much in love with Anna Karenina when he wrote her, but I could never quite see how - she seemed weak and feeble to me. Kitty was much more loveable. Flaubert’s Emma, though - how can anyone not love her, no matter how selfish and hideous she is to those who love her most? I’m not saying you’d want to meet her, of course…)
All the best,

Tale of Two Cities. Classic tale that, when considered retrospectively, demonstrates the continued arrogance of those in power. While the tools of the powerful have changed reflection shows that they still hold the lives of the week in their hands. Oh, and it is readable with little “archaic” language.

Count of Monte Cristo. The 12 year old liked it. Wants to make write a book like it. I think that speaks for itself.

I feel a bit aberrational because I read only classics, or at least as many as I can cram down after spending the day weeding modern writers’ untidy gardens and sifting the slushpile for something written a little more about the world and a little less about a young writer’s irritated reaction to it.

It’s almost quicker to list the ones I don’t like than the ones I do, but that’s so negative.

Anna Karenina and Madame Bovary are both essentials, of course, and War and Peace and The Idiot and all that, and the entire human comedy from Balzac. But I have trouble keeping Russian names straight and am only marginally more handy with French, so it’s typically the English and American classics that I read, and re-read, much as you might re-listen to The New World Symphony, or Purcell’s Funeral Music for Queen Mary, or the Dead Kennedys’ Too Drunk to F***.

For sheer enjoyment–that feeling of hanging out in an intact world, with its own reality and charm, I can’t think of anything more instantly engaging than Anthony Trollope’s Barsetshire Chronicles. The first volume, The Warden, is short and easily read, and the hopelessly innocent character of the Reverend Septimus Harding, nervously playing an invisible violoncello behind his back as the new Bishop dresses him down for being too kind to his pensioners–draws you in for the rest: Barchester Towers, Framley Parsonage, Doctor Thorne, The Small House at Allington, The Last Chronicle of Barset. The characters are all quite real, less caricatures than you might find in Dickens (not that there’s anything wrong with Dickens’ caricatures, but they don’t make for a steady diet, at least not for me). And they all know each other and live quite different lives, though only a few miles apart. Like most people.

And speaking of intact worlds, there’s Thomas Hardy’s Wessex, of course–though his gloominess is sometimes a bit wearying, not that this stops me from reading him. Some of us find the misfortunes of others quite uplifting. Under the Greenwood Tree. The Trumpet Major. The Woodlanders–all easily read, and good prep-work for some of his more difficult and more famous works, like Tess, or Far from the Madding Crowd, or Return of the Native, or the Mayor of Castorbridge, or Jude the Obscure. And then there’s the obscure Hardys as well: The Hand of Ethelberta, A Pair of Blue Eyes, A Laodicean, Desperate Remedies. Fun to have read, though not necessarily to re-read.

And then, of course, all of Conrad, and all of Jane Austen, whose brilliant wit must be savored slowly to be appreciated. And the one Bronte sister who could write, and died before she could write another. And George Eliot, with Middlemarch and Mill on the Floss, and even Elizabeth Gaskell in small doses, or at least Cranford, anyway.

I find I prefer visiting with one author at a time, reading their books in the order in which they were written. Some writers wrote only one good book–R.D. Blackmore comes to mind, with Lorna Doone. A bit melodramatic, but hard to put down once you get past the idea that it’s written in 17th-century fashion by a 19th-century writer. And little Lorna herself? Such a babe. And then there’s Jerome K. Jerome, whose Three Men in a Boat, to Say Nothing of the Dog, was just a scream, while his other attempts were major snoozers at best. Other writers, like Dickens and Balzac and Trollope, simple firehosed the books out the door, which makes an editor think they might all have been a bit better if written slower, and with more care.

Lawrence Sterne’s The Life and Times of Tristram Shandy was absolutely hilarious, the first truly modern novel and a hundred years before its time. And Saki, the all-time master at recreational vituperation. And, of course, there’s Moby-Dick, still the great American novel. But Melville’s other works weren’t too shabby, either, from Typee and Omoo to Billy Budd and Bartleby the Scrivener.

Well, there are more, but there’s so little time, and so many books.

I heartily second all of Ahab’s suggestions, especially Trollope, Hardy, Conrad, Austen. Matt asked for titles that are accessible and enjoyable. My tip is to start with novellas, works longer than stories and shorter than novels. Most writers produce one or two, and they are often fine introductions to his/her work. Since Ahab covered Brits, I’ll stick to Americans.

Poe: The Adventures of A. Gordon Pym (the origin of cyber-fiction)

Hawthorne: Rapaccini’s Daughter (dad confines her to a poisonous garden)

Melville: Bartleby, the Scrivener (lawyer hires a copyist who prefers not to work)

Melville: Benito Cereno (captain can’t decide who’s running a slave ship)

Alcott: Transcendental Wild Oats (idealists try to run a farming commune)

Stowe: Old Town Folks (sketches of post-industrial New England)

Twain: Puddn’head Wilson (strange doings of twins, real and imagined)

James: The Turn of the Screw (ghost story, with sexy undertones)

Crane, Stephen: The Open Boat (aftermath of a shipwreck, off Florida)

Wharton: Summer (young woman’s sexual awakening)

Jewett: The Country of the Pointed Firs (reclaiming a place, through stories)

Cather: A Lost Lady or My Mortal Enemy (acid tales of failed love)

Hemingway: In Our Time (growing up before, during, and after WW I)

Toomer: Cane (sketches of black life, rural and urban)

Fitzgerald: The Great Gatsby (rise and fall of a glamorous fraud)

Faulkner: The Unvanquished (boys who endure and survive civil war).

Steinbeck: Of Mice and Men or The Red Pony (rural struggle and tragedy)

Malamud: A New Life (the joys of teaching comp at a state school)

Updike: The Centaur (father-son tensions in small-town Pennsylvania)

Oates: Black Water (somber rendition of the Chappaquiddick incident)

Morrison: Beloved (slavery, its survivors, and a haunting ghost)

Some of these are longish stories and shortish novels; but they are all accessible and teachable.

Even vic-k cant take us as far off topic as matt did.

I enthusiastically second, third, and fourth Sarah Orne Jewitt’s Country of the Pointed Firs–and not just because it was written about a town not far from where I live. It’s simply the best book I’ve ever read about a place, and the quiet gentle people who inhabit it.

Outside of Maine, where her influence hasn’t waned, Jewitt is practically unknown today, but back in 1925 Willa Cather wrote that, of the great American books “which have the possibility of a long life, I would say at once The Scarlet Letter, Huckleberry Finn, and The Country of the Pointed Firs.”

Of course in 1925 Moby-Dick was just re-emerging from the dustbins of obscurity and becoming recognized as The Great American Novel, thanks mostly to, if my foggy memory serves, some rather rah-rah pooping up by none other than D. H. Lawrence.

Who you also ought to be reading.

So many books. So little time.

Emile Zola – read Germinal and weep, for many more reasons than one

Victor Hugo – Les Misérables

Jerome K. Jerome – Three Men in a Boat

George & Weedon Grossmith – Diary of a Nobody

P.G. Wodehouse – anything, really, but especially the Jeeves books

Oscar Wilde – lots of plays, and The Happy Prince

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry – The Little Prince

Jane Austen – Northanger Abbey is my choice, although most would disagree

Wilkie Collins – any of them, but The Moonstone is an obvious starting point

Nikolai Gogol – Diary of a Madman

Fyodor Dostoevsky – Crime and Punishment

Ivan Turgenev – Fathers and Sons (so true it hurts)

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe – Faust (OK, it’s a play, not a novel, but it’s a great read)

Oh this is typical. Ask a bunch of writers to admit what they haven’t read, and there’s nothing but tumbleweed (apart from the brave souls that are Matt and Druid); ask them to recommend their favourite classics, and they jump at the chance like kittens at wool.

Oh, the hubris!* I am tempted to ban users from answering this thread until they have answered the other.

All the best,

*My own list shortly to follow, of course.

A lot of the good ones have already been taken, but I’ll add a few which come immediately to mind, perhaps because arguably-less-than-awful movies were made from them.

The Tin Drum, Doctor Zhivago, and Zorba the Greek.

And King Lear, for the same reason the Siren picked Faust.



Your favourite, people, your favourite.

Not: provide me with a mile-long list so I feel guilty for the rest of my days…

I know its hard, but here is a challenge for all you list-providers.

If you could pick one, only one, the one that speaks to you directly, the one you would choose to bare your soul to your child or your lover, if you could only do so once and couldn’t choose your own work… and then tell me WHY :open_mouth:


PS - Lists are fine too, and I will sort through them. But I have to start somewhere, and long lists become reading in themselves.


Be fair: the subject title says Classics, as in plural.
And I didn’t even complain about the idiotic spelling of FAVORITE.

Seriously, I can’t choose for you, not knowing your tastes. That’s why I provided summaries.
And my bill for 50 marks will arrive soon.


Now Droo, I’m going to be fair to our antipodean friend. Matt wrote the title “Your favourite classics” — apart from the fact he applied word capitalisation! Now this title is addressed to a forum consisting of a fair number of people, and other species, apparently … i.e. “Your” does not apply simply to “Mark” or “Druid” or a shadowy “DMJ” or the mysterious “Kevin” who keeps being addressed by newcomers, but to all of us … in other words the “You” being referred to is a plurality, and if each one of us has a favourite classic, the presumption is that the result is a plurality of classics!

Now as a scrivening of writers, the members of this forum may like to argue that, as a self-styled writer, Matt has failed at that particular linguistic hurdle in his attempt to make what he wishes to hear from us completely clear, but I think the many people and a three-legged dog, a cat, a rat and god knows what else providing one example each is a reasonable interpretation of his title.

So, in that spirit, for Matt and his variant of the “Desert island discs” question, I have a problem as the “classics” as normally thought of have never really been my thing. If you will allow “The Lord of the Rings” as a classic, then you have my nomination … otherwise, out of my extremely limited range to choose from, I guess I’d have to say “Pride and Prejudice”.

The best thing of all is that this was originally part of Keith’s “what are you ashamed of not reading” thread, but Keith decided to separate them out.

All of which means that any fault with the title is Keith’s, and not even mine!

Mère Impitoyable de Lucifer,
Look no further my young Cane Toad, than the works of, Donatien Alphonse François de Sade, Marquis de Sade. Reputed to be the favourite author of George Elliot, Willkie Collins, the Bronte girls et al. Indeed tis no surprise, as you will see If you begin with ‘Justine’
Bonne Chance Mon Brave.
Le D :smiling_imp:

Oh this is typical. Ask a bunch of writers to admit what they haven’t read, and there’s nothing but tumbleweed (apart from the brave souls that are Matt and Druid); ask them to recommend their favourite classics, and they jump at the chance like kittens at wool.

Oh, the hubris!* I am tempted to ban users from answering this thread until they have answered the other.

All the best,

OK, I’ll answer the original: There are no books I feel I ought to have read, that I haven’t read. But then I feel no particular compulsion to read anything, just because someone else says it’s interesting. And I’m also 60, which has given me enough time to read even the most marginal classics. And even a couple of modern novels, when I found the topic and treatment sufficiently interesting.

And if forced by some stern Obergruppenfuhrer of Literature to choose only one classic to tout, then I guess it has to be, by default, Moby-Dick. As for why? Well, it’s a ripping great yarn, for one thing, and it’s got whole crowds of boats and ships and sailing and that doomed feeling you get toward the end of an era, and it’s an entertaining metaphysical playground, for another, and Hosea Hussey, the chowder king at the Try Pots, pretty much has to be a relative if he’s a Hussey from Nantucket–though I don’t remember any Hoseas planted in the boneyards. But Melville must have his literary license.

You are asking the impossible! Do you seriously think that the people who hang out around here are the sort of people who are capable of choosing a single book out of all the millions that line our collective book shelves and clutter our bedroom floors in dusty stacks?

But your challenge is interesting, nonetheless. I have been racking my brains, but I can’t think of a single book that I have ever read that I would describe as baring my own soul. When I read a great book, I look more for a vivid creation of the author’s imaginary world than for a reflection of myself.

With that in mind, if you really are forcing me to choose a single book (which is a mean and nasty thing to do), I think that I will have to choose one of the French or Russian realists. Eeny-meeny-miny-mo… Germinal, by Emile Zola. Because it is vivid, and gritty, and grim, and human, and you can really see/hear/smell/touch/feel the life portrayed. None of that life is anything like my own, but when I read Germinal, I am transported to that long-ago mining community in Northern France. It is a book that can swallow you up.

And now you are making me feel guilty about choosing one of my favourites over the others! :slight_smile:

Vic-k has read and re-read all the Mr Men Books, and still is reading them. Each time he returns to one of them, he`ll claims to have discovered new meaning or some philosophical tentacle weaving its wriggly influence throughout the tale. A short bout of introspection usually follows.
Take care

See what I mean? Even Vic-k can’t choose just one Mr Men book – he has to have the whole set. But Matt wants one single recommendation. So what’s it to be then, Vic-k? Mr Happy? Mr Messy? Mr Bump (my personal choice)? :slight_smile:

Keep in mind the accessible issue.

I stand by my two original suggestions. Both easily obtained and read.