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 (two 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 (two 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 (two 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 (two months ago) link

Gulliver's Travels

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

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

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

More typos in there, sorry.

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

O Hell Yes.

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

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

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


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