what was the last 'classic book' you got and were knocked out by?

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(based on the ilm classic album equivalent. basically old books you've just discovered)

koogs, Friday, 31 July 2020 13:00 (eight months ago) link

My Antonia!

I read O Pioneers for college many years ago and remember enjoying it very much, but then read a few others of hers in the meantime that I thought were just OK. Somehow overlooked My Antonia until this year, and absolutely loved it.

Since then, I also read Lucy Gayheart, which revisits the same recurring themes from her earlier works, particularly the artist from the small prairie town drawn to the big city and the internal and external conflicts that result, but something really clicked this time, although I don't think Lucy Gayheart is widely regarded as a "classic book" but oh well, it should be! Anyway, I've got four more Willa Cather novels on my shelf from a pre-pandemic book sale, so I'm very much looking forward to them.

cwkiii, Friday, 31 July 2020 13:37 (eight months ago) link

I read a lot of old classics and I'm a tough audience for getting 'knocked out' by a book, but Towers of Trebizond, Rose Macaulay, made me very enthusiastic. It doesn't try to directly tackle any big themes but rather is droll and wise and never strikes a single wrong note from beginning to end, and in doing so it speaks with a rare purity about life.

btw, Cather is a great choice, too!

the unappreciated charisma of cows (Aimless), Friday, 31 July 2020 16:06 (eight months ago) link

I really like Cather, despite finding her politics more than a little questionable. I love teaching "Paul's Case" in my short fiction classes.

While only a classic in some circles, I was recently introduced to Nicole Brossard's early work via French Kiss; or a Pang's Promise. It is an incredible experimental novel, one that cements Brossard as among the great experimental writers of our times in my mind. Going to attempt to read in the original French soon.

blue light or electric light (the table is the table), Friday, 31 July 2020 16:45 (eight months ago) link

Gulliver's Travels

xyzzzz__, Saturday, 1 August 2020 15:52 (eight months ago) link

I've been a Cather stan forever; more would-be's should mimic her sentence rhythms instead of Hemingway's.

TikTok to the (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Saturday, 1 August 2020 16:46 (eight months ago) link

Since undergrad I've read relatively little fiction, classic or otherwise, but reading James's The Portrait of a Lady recently took me back to when I thought literature was the best and purest way of making sense of and redeeming human experience (i.e., when I was about nineteen).

eatandoph (Neue Jesse Schule), Saturday, 1 August 2020 17:52 (eight months ago) link

Oh shit, what if I still think that?

blue light or electric light (the table is the table), Saturday, 1 August 2020 21:35 (eight months ago) link

I think each experience of reading good literature lays down a layer of extra perception regarding some aspect of the world that may not have been otherwise available to the reader. Depending on the book and the reader, that new layer will vary considerably in its additional depth, but it is an accretive process and always worthwhile. Personal experience is, of course, more direct and alive, but is limited to our immediate surroundings in a way that literature is less dependent upon. I get more out literature than I do from other arts, but that is me.

the unappreciated charisma of cows (Aimless), Saturday, 1 August 2020 21:58 (eight months ago) link

This thread has caused me to realize that I seem to have practically given up trying new "classic" writers. The only book I can think of that fits this description is A Month in the Country by J.L. Carr, which I read some time before the start of the pandemic.

Lily Dale, Sunday, 2 August 2020 01:47 (eight months ago) link

I find my thoughts similar to yours, Aimless. For me, poetry is how I make sense of the world, how I view everything in it. While I would avoid using superlatives such as 'purest,' I do think that literature is able to take me out of the world while acting as its mirror, permitting a certain understanding of human experience in the world that is perhaps more rich than in other types of media. Music has its effect, yes, but I find that music for me is often more about transcendence...lovely as that is, for me, literature is always immanent, always living and permeating everything we do.

blue light or electric light (the table is the table), Sunday, 2 August 2020 11:38 (eight months ago) link

Loads honestly - Don Quixote the other year was a big one, the prime of miss jean brodie and the lover more recently

Rishi don’t lose my voucher (wins), Sunday, 2 August 2020 19:26 (eight months ago) link

so far in 2020, the ones that hit hardest were Eugene Onegin and especially Death's Jest-Book, which freaked me out so much the first time through I had to read it again immediately

Brad C., Sunday, 2 August 2020 20:11 (eight months ago) link

That last me reminds me that I read Tiptree's "Slow Music" recently, as the sky slowly went dark---I've read a fair amount of Tiptree over the years, but fuuuuuuucccck

dow, Sunday, 2 August 2020 22:30 (eight months ago) link

Frederick Douglass slave narrative which has been sitting unread in my copy of I Was Born A Slave vol 1 for way too long.
Book did have a pile of others on top of it since a shelf collapsed but I should've taken it out long since.

Stevolende, Monday, 3 August 2020 07:27 (eight months ago) link

The last was hmm, probably Shirley Jackson, finding a new appreciation for that genre through her voice.

I wasn't that young, maybe in my mid-20s, when I was thoroughly knocked out by reading the Brontës for the first time. That was an all-consuming obsession that had me reading their works on every break for about a year, and it's shaped my taste and reading habits ever since. A once-in-a-lifetime kind of thing I don't expect to experience again. But I experience plenty smaller knock-outs.

abcfsk, Monday, 3 August 2020 07:47 (eight months ago) link

Good posts on this thread, even when not seemingly answering the question. Aimless's description of literary perception I find convincing.

I can hardly recall the last classic to do this for me. I suppose I just don't read enough, and I don't read enough classics, and I reread quite a lot. But surely I can find an answer?

Perhaps, in fact, ORLANDO.

the pinefox, Monday, 3 August 2020 08:39 (eight months ago) link

I haven't finished it yet, but Little Women is the most fun I've had reading in ages. It's perfect for slow cottage days.

jmm, Monday, 3 August 2020 13:08 (eight months ago) link

I'm not a big classics reader, but The Left Hand of Darkness counts, right?

I'm hoping for this reaction when I finally get round to my copy of A Rebours (getting closer on my 'to-read' list) but that's the kind of expectation that only leads to disappointment.

emil.y, Monday, 3 August 2020 15:10 (eight months ago) link

I would def count The Left Hand of Darkness for quality of writing and impact on individual readers, maybe especially when it first came put: it seemed to have a searching quality behind, around and behind the close observation of imagination: "Am I the only one who feels this way? And what's really gping on?" The Dispossessed is pretty remarkable too, in a different perspective, more a collective experience: at a certain point, even or especially the most idealistic, thughtfully developed culture can start to stagnate, if---another kind of self-examination, soul-searching.Tiptree wrote some SF classics too.
I wasn't disappointed by A Rebours, though I read it in anonymous translation: helped that I was working at an indie bookstore, where the owner let me take stuff ohome every noght, to become a well-informed salesman--- for a while there, I was as much an insatiable culture vulture as Huysman's narrator. But whenever I mentioned it to non-staff, they were like "Oh yeah" too.

dow, Monday, 3 August 2020 17:51 (eight months ago) link

"behind, around and *beyond*" is what I meant.

dow, Monday, 3 August 2020 17:53 (eight months ago) link

More typos in there, sorry.

dow, Monday, 3 August 2020 17:54 (eight months ago) link

Re: Tiptree, I heard an audio drama version of 'the Screwfly Solution' maybe a year or so ago and loved it, and my BF just bought me a collection of her stories, hopefully will get round to them soon.

emil.y, Monday, 3 August 2020 17:57 (eight months ago) link

Love your posts table, and I'm in full agreement on the immanence of good literature. I studied psychology, so I partly think of it as a form of experiential cognitive play that fully integrates the emotions. That's that perspective: way before I enjoyed it from childhood so, apart from brief interludes when I forced myself to become more pragmatic for the sake of money/self-hood-in-the-world reasons, it is the experience that means most to me, and is a kind of revelation of "truth" that I can't do without.

I'm currently doing a masters in early modern lit/history so I hope you dont mind me saying I enjoy your published work...

glumdalclitch, Monday, 3 August 2020 18:02 (eight months ago) link

Re the op question: Petrarch's sonnets (Canzoniere) - I really don't know why there aren't considered as essential as say Shakespeare, and are usually reduced to historical importance only, they are absolute genius and far more complex and difficult than the reputation of "Petrarchan love", - and Comte de Lautréamont's Maldoror, which broke my brain. Can't ask more from a book than that.

glumdalclitch, Monday, 3 August 2020 18:05 (eight months ago) link

The Golden Notebook for me, I expected it to be incredibly worthy and to drag so much more than it did, in the end I devoured it in a week.

Matt DC, Monday, 3 August 2020 18:07 (eight months ago) link

Glumdalclitch, thank you for yr kind words! And yes, the revelatory nature of good literature is very much an echo of and party to the revelatory nature of the quotidian, imho...

I do wonder what of mine you've read! Feel free to private message...

blue light or electric light (the table is the table), Monday, 3 August 2020 22:20 (eight months ago) link

Oh. And as for the original question, two strike me as fitting, but one more than the other.

The first is Silas Marner. Found a copy of it in a free box, started reading it, and found it to be a much more enjoyable experience than I'd ever imagined it to be.

The second is a book by Christa Wolf, 'Accident: A Day's News,' which is a psychological portrait of a woman living in the German countryside in the immediate aftermath of Chernobyl, while in the meantime, her brother undergoes surgery for a brain tumor hundreds of kilometers away. It is considered a classic by many writers, at least, and I have to say: it is a deeply affecting book. Highly recommended.

I read old poetry all the time, most recently did a close read of 'Fra Lippo Lippi' and a load of John Clare, ever my favorite.

blue light or electric light (the table is the table), Monday, 3 August 2020 22:26 (eight months ago) link

I dodged required reading of Silas Marner in high school, and deprived myself of Eliot for many years, until finally got to The Mill on The Floss and omg Middlemarch. Should give Silas his due, I be thinkin'.
A Rebours seemed a little silly in the translation I read, and the illustrations didn't help, but testimonial urgency came through, and point more or less taken, although I still have school myself with episodes of Hoarders.
Cather talk on this thread has gotten me back to her, more on that later.

dow, Monday, 3 August 2020 22:55 (eight months ago) link

O Hell Yes.

dow, Tuesday, 4 August 2020 02:51 (eight months ago) link

Recently re-read Bulgakov’s ‘Heart of a Dog.’ Very prescient for our times, especially when the dog started spouting incoherent, popular political jargon.

treeship., Tuesday, 4 August 2020 02:55 (eight months ago) link

Alfred - If only reading was that kind of virus.

I haven't thought about that kind of attitude in depth but maybe people feel the same way about reading in public as they do with mobile phones, as if it's rude and antisocial? Was it when other people were coming to you and wanted your attention or was it even just the idea of you reading in private?

I wonder how many people glued to mobile phones are reading books on them?

Robert Adam Gilmour, Tuesday, 4 August 2020 19:02 (eight months ago) link

i was reading an article about shirley jackson a few nights ago and realized that i hadn't actually revisited "the lottery" since first encountering it in seventh grade, when it disturbed me so much i'm pretty sure i had nightmares about it. so i reread it. really a remarkably effective story, even if you know what to expect. the last couple of paragraphs still make my stomach lurch. also loved reading about all the hate mail the new yorker got after running it.

(The Other) J.D. (J.D.), Wednesday, 5 August 2020 01:46 (eight months ago) link

Just re-read The Lottery myself. Going to teach it along with The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas in the first week of my short fiction class this fall.

blue light or electric light (the table is the table), Wednesday, 5 August 2020 02:03 (eight months ago) link

"The Lottery" was b-a-a-ck in The New Yorker recently (maybe latest issue?), a few weeks after her son was in there, talking to Elizabeth Moss about Mom (Moss was in that recent movie based on a novel about Shirley Jackson, got very mixed reviews).

dow, Wednesday, 5 August 2020 03:21 (eight months ago) link

Mine would probably be Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont, which has stayed with me and continues to worry away at various things at the back of my mind. That and O Pioneers! I must read more Cather.

I tend to organise myself and my thoughts (if those things are different) through reading as well: it helps me think, essentially - might even be 'how I think'. Seamus Heaney put it well: "We go to poetry, we go to literature in general, to be forwarded within ourselves... What is at work in the most original and illuminating poetry is the mind's capacity to conceive a new place of regard for itself, a new scope for its own activity".

Vanishing Point (Chinaski), Saturday, 8 August 2020 11:27 (eight months ago) link

Ugh I should've started asking for book recommends in this thread and not the thread where we're talking about authors we avoid

I've mostly been reading books written by friends these days, they've all been great but impossible for me to be objective about. I'm gonna re-read Borges collected fiction starting this evening

flamboyant goon tie included, Saturday, 8 August 2020 11:34 (eight months ago) link

Never a bad time to read Borges! Or Cheever for that matter. If you're after short fiction: Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson if you've not read it. It is a thing of wonder.

Vanishing Point (Chinaski), Saturday, 8 August 2020 11:40 (eight months ago) link

Oooooh this looks good. Thanks for the recommendation!!!!

flamboyant goon tie included, Saturday, 8 August 2020 11:49 (eight months ago) link

Last week I described my taste in books as English 201 haha

flamboyant goon tie included, Saturday, 8 August 2020 11:49 (eight months ago) link

Fgti, have you read Gass? Heart of the Heart of the Country is essential, imho

blue light or electric light (the table is the table), Saturday, 8 August 2020 11:56 (eight months ago) link

the stories of kleist; among which earthquake in chile, michael kolhaas, the foundling and marquise of o are some of the best things i've ever read.

devvvine, Saturday, 8 August 2020 11:59 (eight months ago) link

Seconded, Kleist's short stories are marvellous. Nothing else I've read by him gets on the same level.

Daniel_Rf, Saturday, 8 August 2020 12:00 (eight months ago) link

Heartburn, for the pleasure and Wodehouse-level density of jokes

Two Serious Ladies, for the voice

Chuck_Tatum, Sunday, 9 August 2020 09:52 (eight months ago) link

Rereading Seamus Deane on Joyce. Insight and intellect but also, as always, sometimes gnomic to the point of meaning very little.

the pinefox, Sunday, 9 August 2020 16:49 (eight months ago) link

Apologies: that was for the What Are You Reading thread?

Joyce knocked me out, but not Deane.

the pinefox, Sunday, 9 August 2020 16:49 (eight months ago) link

six months pass...

i asked this and never answered it and it's nearly the time of year where i pick something foreign and enormous to read so it's on my mind

Les Mis was great, all the things i like about Dickens but with a French twist. lots of memorable set pieces. didn't like the digressions - here are 3 chapters about the different kinds of nuns, here are 9 about the Napoleonic war...

similarly the Count Of Monte Cristo, the injustice, the prison, the reversal of fortune and using that to extract a slow revenge. bit too slow in parts 2 and 3 tbh, but 4 and 5 picked it up again.

shorter, and English, but probably the one, is Hardy's Tess. again the injustice burns all the way through this, the second half, the winter turnip picking, is bleak, the revenge self-destructive.

torn as to what to pick this year though. Anna K last year was a slight let down which has kind of put me off attempting War and Peace. i have Life and Fate but that might be too modern. Musketeers? Hunchback? given that the French have impressed me (also loved Toilers)?

koogs, Friday, 19 February 2021 08:33 (one month ago) link

The ONce and Future King though it does have some hangovers from a less enlightened age plus I did have it hanging around for an age.
Meant to read it for ages too.
BUt enjoying so far, though possibly not so much the Robin Wood bit.
ah well

Stevolende, Friday, 19 February 2021 08:41 (one month ago) link

I've heard about the Count of Monte Cristo being a great novel but not the most coherent or consistent.
I think it was written in parts spread out over a monthly or whatever magazine. Which may have been a bit of a norm at the time.
Does UMberto Eco have an article on the nature of the text in one of his collections, I know I've come across somebody like that writing about it.

Stevolende, Friday, 19 February 2021 08:58 (one month ago) link

Koogs: Balzac?

the pinefox, Friday, 19 February 2021 09:39 (one month ago) link

i never know where to start with the 300 things that balzac has written. i have a list somewhere where people had tried to sort it into chronological order and have the first 6 parts on the ereader and did start but got bogged down in The Chouans.

https://balzacbooks.wordpress.com/suggested-reading-order-of-the-human-comedy/

koogs, Friday, 19 February 2021 10:09 (one month ago) link

Koogs: I have heard that THE UNKNOWN MASTERPIECE is a good one to read. Maybe you could report back on that.

the pinefox, Friday, 19 February 2021 10:53 (one month ago) link

Also big titles: PERE GORIOT, EUGENIE GRANDET, LOST ILLUSIONS. I admit I write in ignorance: have always meant to read these and still not done it. A good reading ambition for one day.

the pinefox, Friday, 19 February 2021 10:56 (one month ago) link

Les Mis was great, all the things i like about Dickens but with a French twist. Les Mis was great, all the things i like about Dickens but with a French twist.

Ahem, Dickens is Victor Hugo with a British twist, surely.

Daniel_Rf, Friday, 19 February 2021 11:21 (one month ago) link

i read dickens first (and more), so that's my perspective.

koogs, Friday, 19 February 2021 11:38 (one month ago) link

totally fair, just figured someone needed to #standuptoanglocentrism

Daniel_Rf, Friday, 19 February 2021 16:32 (one month ago) link

read war and peace this summer. p good, it turns out!

horseshoe, Friday, 19 February 2021 16:34 (one month ago) link

my answer to this would be 'austerlitz,' last fall. a high water mark of beauty.

lord of the ting tings (map), Friday, 19 February 2021 16:39 (one month ago) link

short story edition: "the singers" by turgenev. so much beauty in twenty pages or so.

lord of the ting tings (map), Friday, 19 February 2021 16:41 (one month ago) link

Turgenev never gets the readership he deserves. On the Eve is a magical thing.

So who you gonna call? The martini police (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Friday, 19 February 2021 16:45 (one month ago) link

I know it's English and thus not what you are looking for, but I will always recommend The Last Chronicle of Barset, Trollope's epic about a clergyman struggling w/poverty and clinical depression who finds himself accused of theft. It's the only Victorian novel I can think of that centers on a character with a serious mental illness, and Trollope absolutely does justice to it; Mr. Crawley is at times irrational, intensely focused on his own problems, very hard on himself and his family, and yet he's also a very compelling and sympathetic character, and everything about him rings true.

Lily Dale, Friday, 19 February 2021 18:39 (one month ago) link

Trollope always deserves notice.

So who you gonna call? The martini police (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Friday, 19 February 2021 18:45 (one month ago) link

I can't read Dickens but can read three or four Trollopes, if we're in the biz of comparing them.

So who you gonna call? The martini police (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Friday, 19 February 2021 18:46 (one month ago) link

I like some aspects of Dickens, but he's not good at writing women, and he's also unfair to his female characters in a way that really rankles with me. Our Mutual Friend would be such a great book imo if not for the ending; the idea of everyone in Bella's life putting on an elaborate act in order to trick her into falling in love with someone is horrifying.

Trollope, otoh, is amazing at writing women, and he's also able to veer away from the traditional marriage-plot when he thinks it would make more sense for the character to stay single.

Lily Dale, Friday, 19 February 2021 18:53 (one month ago) link

yes, i love Dickens, but it is very true that his hatred for women shines through in his novels.

Trollope clearly appreciated women. i do think they suit very different reading moods, and i love them both.

horseshoe, Friday, 19 February 2021 18:55 (one month ago) link

The women in Trollope have the money and know how to administer it.

So who you gonna call? The martini police (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Friday, 19 February 2021 18:57 (one month ago) link

> read war and peace this summer. p good, it turns out

ade edmondson, of all people, was raving about it recently. he had to read it for work, wasn't expecting to enjoy it.

> I will always recommend The Last Chronicle of Barset

it's been on the list, and my kobo, along with the other one, since your last recommendation. but it's a long list (and yes, maybe too english (and maybe too short, but i could read both))

koogs, Friday, 19 February 2021 19:01 (one month ago) link

Oh, cool! Sorry for repeating myself - I get very evangelical when it comes to Trollope, clearly.

Lily Dale, Friday, 19 February 2021 19:07 (one month ago) link

Last year at some point I read Slaughterhouse Five.. never was a Vonnegut fan but I read this at the right time, really really sucked me in.

brimstead, Friday, 19 February 2021 19:32 (one month ago) link

one month passes...

20 pages into Tristram Shandy and this is a knock out.

xyzzzz__, Saturday, 3 April 2021 17:06 (two weeks ago) link

Just wait until he tells you all about his life and times!

Halfway there but for you, Saturday, 3 April 2021 17:17 (two weeks ago) link

Charlotte Perkins Gilman's The Yellow Wallpaper. Wish I'd read this years ago, its so fantastic.

glumdalclitch, Saturday, 3 April 2021 17:31 (two weeks ago) link

> read war and peace this summer. p good, it turns out

ade edmondson, of all people, was raving about it recently. he had to read it for work, wasn't expecting to enjoy it.

― koogs, Friday, February 19, 2021 7:01 PM (one month ago) bookmarkflaglink

He plays a father figure in a BBC version from about 4 or 5 years ago which was pretty good

Stevolende, Saturday, 3 April 2021 17:46 (two weeks ago) link

There is an event hosted by the English department at the university I used to teach at called Dead Writers, where you dress up and read a three-minute passage from a dead writer's work. My cousin and I did a performance a few years ago where we cut The Yellow Wallpaper down to three minutes. I wore a nightgown and read out loud, while in the background my cousin played the woman in the wallpaper: first she held up an opaque length of ugly yellow cloth and just kind of moved around behind it, then she dropped it to reveal herself wrapped in a lot of yellow tulle, then at the end she dropped the tulle and was wearing a yellow bikini and yellow go-go boots (made by us with lots of yellow duck tape) and then we both crawled offstage. It was a big hit.

Lily Dale, Saturday, 3 April 2021 17:59 (two weeks ago) link

Lol, brilliant

glumdalclitch, Saturday, 3 April 2021 19:24 (two weeks ago) link

Last fall, after reading Casey Cep's energetic, in-depth profile of Marilynne Robinson and a startling, instantly engaging excerpt of Jack, both in The New Yorker, I proceeded to Gilead and the rest of that cycle to date.

dow, Sunday, 4 April 2021 18:07 (two weeks ago) link


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