On Reading the Classics

“A classic is a book which people praise and don’t read.” 

This quote attributed to Mark Twain made me think of classics I didn’t enjoy, but also those I did. I have a lifelong habit of choosing classics for my leisure reading.

When I was in the seventh grade, I enjoyed Gone with the Wind so much I read it a second time. Unfortunately, this intense involvement in the full story caused me to be very disappointed in the movie when I saw it for the first time in college because time constraints meant they had to leave out too much of the 1200-page plot.

After I decided to not to read Gone With the Wind a third time (partly because Daddy told me it was time to move on), I tried to read Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray, but for whatever reason, I couldn’t force myself to finish even the first chapter. Maybe now is a good time for me to give that book another try!

Enjoy the cartoon! Then let us know your thoughts below.

Your turn:

Other than the Bible, what is your favorite classic book?

What classics do you aspire to read?

Do you have a list of classics you would like to read again?

Do you think movie versions of classics do the books justice?


43 Responses to On Reading the Classics

  1. JennyM April 26, 2012 at 4:58 am #

    Hmmm, favourite classic book? Anything by Jane Austin. And Tolkien. And CS Lewis. And Jane Austin.

    But really, WHO doesn’t want to curl up with the Iliad and blow off a Saturday afternoon? Or The Complete Works of Ulysses?


    I found the BBC version of P&P (Colin Firth/Jennifer Ehle) superior to Miss Knightly’s version only because it was longer and covered most of the book. But Keira Knightly’s version was still very good.
    The BBC did a splendid job of Jane Eyre a few years ago.

    And frankly, I was scared witless of Wes Studi for years after The Last of the Mohicans came out in ’92. I’d have fainted if I met him, his ‘Magua’ was that good, actually , he stole that movie.

    That was a very good adaptation of James Fenimore Cooper’s book.

    I would love to read the complete works of Shakespeare, for real, but I haven’t the time. Unless I break my leg.

    • Adam Blumer April 26, 2012 at 5:18 am #

      Tamela, I read “Vanity Fair.” Don’t do it. Run! It really was one of the most difficult books I ever persevered to get through.

      While the Keira Knightly version of P&P is pretty good, in no way can you encapsulate the breadth of that story in two hours. No way. My wife and I thought the latest Emma from BBC, however, did an excellent job. The longer versions are always better, IMO.

  2. Pegg Thomas April 26, 2012 at 5:37 am #

    I’ve read and reread the “Iliad” and the “Odyssey.” I love “The Scarlett Letter” and just reread it recently. “The Hobbit” is always be a favorite. Pretty much anything Mark Twain wrote, although some might quibble about him being a classic author. :)

    I’ve always wanted to read “The Three Musketeers” because I love the story, but I can’t get past the first few chapters. Mr. Dumas never met a word it didn’t like…and didn’t use…frequently. After three chapters all I see on the page is blah-blah-blah…

    I hated – not too strong a word here either – “The Lord of the Flies.” Synopsis of that one? If you don’t have God in your life you’ll create god in your life. And the rest is filled in with improbable childish antics and a pig carcass. “Silas Marner” gets my 2nd worst nod.

  3. Laurie Alice Eakes April 26, 2012 at 5:39 am #

    I have read The Great Gatsby four times. Love that book. Refuse to see the movie version. Any of the movie versions. Expect it willg et redone soon.

    I have read A Tale of Two Cities four times. Never saw a movie of it, but heard a radio play that did a rather good job.

    Those are my two favorite classics.

    Didn’t like Gone with the Wind, I’m afraid. I like closure and the ending annoyed me.

    Loved War and Peace and would like tor ead again, but… It’s like reading Gone with the Wind three times. The movie was dreadful.

    OK, I was a classics/lit major in college, so ahd to read a lot of them.

    And dare this Regency author admit she doesn’t like Austen much. OK, Persuasion and Emma are pretty good, but Mansfield Park I found…irritating.

    OK, I like to say that to get people going. I actually think Austen is brilliant, but wouldn’t read any of her books a second time. The voies vary in quality.

    • Sharyn Kopf April 26, 2012 at 4:15 pm #

      I believe I read recently that they are remaking The Great Gatsby with Leonardo DiCaprio. Just FYI.

  4. Connie Almony April 26, 2012 at 5:55 am #

    Wow! Jenny M’s got good taste. I do love Jane Austin and yes, the Collin Firth version of P&P is far superior. He captured all of who Mr. Darcy was. Loved it.
    But if you love Tolkien, C.S. Lewis and even Twain, you should all try the author who inspired them. Lewis gives him large credit for his conversion to Christianity. He is George MacDonald. He wrote both fantasy and Victorian Romance. Though I am a big fan of Lewis’ and Tolkien’s fantasies, I actually prefer MacDonald’s romances. My favorite is Sir Gibbie, which is also published under the title The Baronet’s Song. It’s about a mute boy. I know, you’re thinking, how can it be good when the main character has no dialogue. Well, it just is! Another great one is Alec Forbes of Howglen, also published as The Maiden’s Bequest. Wonderful love story that begins in childhood.

    • JennyM April 26, 2012 at 6:17 am #

      Why thank you Connie! And how could I forget the GREAT George MacDonald!! This is yet another lesson in the perils of primary postings. This is what you get with only 1/2 a cup of tea.

  5. Sybil Bates McCormack April 26, 2012 at 6:11 am #

    Like several others, I am a huge Austen fan. I’ve read all six of her novels multiple times, but I think my favorite book of all time is “Anna Karenina.” Once I got past the fact that the Russians referred to each other by first and middle name EVERY SINGLE TIME THEY ADDRESSED ONE OTHER, I was hooked. :-) That said, it took me about fifty pages to appreciate the intensity of Tolstoy’s genius. If we’re talking about authors generally, I’d have to include Dickens, James, the Brontes, Dostoevsky, Kafka, Eliot, Woolf, Steinbeck and, of course, Shakespeare. There are many others, of course. Sometimes I honestly believe I was born out of time.

  6. TC Avey April 26, 2012 at 6:53 am #

    Gone with the Wind is my ALL time favorite classic- I think I was about your age when I first read it. Have you read the follow up to it…Scarlett (Can’t remember who it is by), I enjoyed it but not as much as the original.

    I like Jane Austin, Edgar Allan Poe, Miguel De Cervantes, Mark Twain, Arthur Canon Doyle, and the list goes on.

    I have some like Moby Dick, A Tell of Two Cities and War and Peace that have been on my reading list forever but I haven’t gotten around to reading them- which is sad because I’m sure they are really good books.

    • Sybil Bates McCormack April 26, 2012 at 6:57 am #

      How could I have overlooked Arthur Conan Doyle? I read the entire Sherlock Holmes works in a couple of months about three or four years ago. I can certainly understand why the “Baker Street Regulars” are such a devoted group. Conan Doyle was masterful.

  7. Rick Barry April 26, 2012 at 7:12 am #

    I’ve enjoyed many classics over the years. However, I’ve often reflected back on Herman Melville’s Moby Dick with amusement. He often interrupts the story to include entire chapters that go into lengthy details about how the difference between right whales, blue whales, sperm whales and the proper way to hoist ‘em, slice ‘em, and boil down the blubber into oil.

    Nowadays, I’m convinced editors would say, “Dude, don’t marry your research. Cut out the fluff and get back to the action!”

  8. Ruth Douthitt April 26, 2012 at 7:21 am #

    I have read Count of Monte Cristo and really enjoyed it. I think I will try the Three Musketeers.

    I have read P&P, but flowery romances are really for me. I am reading Paradise Lost and find it difficult to read, but am enjoying it.

    I own Moby Dick, Sherlock Holmes, Tale of Two Cities, and other Jane Austen books, but have yet to read them because I also have many history and biographies to read!

    Too many books….too little time! :(

    • Rick Barry April 26, 2012 at 7:27 am #

      Ruth, try checking them out of the library and listen to them while driving to work or wherever. Good way to maximize drive time.

      • Lori Benton April 26, 2012 at 7:36 am #

        As mentioned below, I’m reading Jane Eyre. I should have said I’m listening to it. I prefer audio versions of any 19th century book I attempt. Much easier to wade through that dense prose that way.

    • Jeanne April 26, 2012 at 12:11 pm #

      I’m sooo with you on this–so many books, not enough time! :)

  9. Lori Benton April 26, 2012 at 7:35 am #

    I don’t read a lot of classics, but after seeing Jane Eyre (the Toby Stevens, Ruth Wilson version) for the fifth or sixth time, I decided to see if they had done the book justice.

    Oh, how I’m enjoying this novel. Much more than I’d expected. More than (who’d have thought it?) Jane Austen.

  10. Heather Day Gilbert April 26, 2012 at 8:12 am #

    This is truly like my fave thing to talk about! I LOVE classics. I think they have depths in the characters that few modern books can touch. I’d say to pick up Vanity Fair again–it’s one of my favorite books. The very subtitle “Or, a Novel without a Hero,” highlights the total futility of these characters’ lives (and total selfishness). But I do tend to go for sad stuff.

    Fave books. Far from the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy (and most Thomas Hardy, though his worldview is fairly hopeless in lots of books). The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot (or anything by her). Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier. I could go on and on. I think that if you take the time to “plow through,” most classics are worth reading.

    That said, I’m not fond of Dickens and Austen. I’m weird that way!

  11. Melissa Finnegan April 26, 2012 at 8:36 am #

    Tamela, I am with you on Gone With the Wind. That is my all time favorite book. I could read it several times if I didn’t have so many other books I wanted to read.

  12. Melissa Jagears April 26, 2012 at 8:49 am #

    Funny, I’ve read Vanity Fair and next on my list is GWTW.

    I loved reading the ending for Sedley and Dobbins in Vanity Fair better than in the movie, but where I think movie adaptations shine is in the “editing” – I mean, Thackeray wrote an entire chapter on the backstory of some secondary character telling so much detail I think we even learned what grandmother chose the chinaware pattern for the family, and I’m not really exaggerating.

    As a commenter above said, Dumas uses a lot of words he didn’t need, hence the movie The Count of Monte Cristo in my opinion was better because it cut all that out for me.

    But in the classics that don’t meander down the path of telling us about whale blubber, I love books better in general–of course.

    And having been an English major I have lists of favorites, but the ones I have read the most? P&P, S&S, Emma, and Jane Eyre. Obviously I’m a romance fan. :)

  13. JennyM April 26, 2012 at 8:59 am #

    has anyone seen the Count of Monte Cristo with Jim Caviezal? VERY good. Excellent sword fighting choreography at the end.

    And on a different tack, Muppet Treasure Island was awesome!

    Yes, I do have a van full of kids, how did you guess?

    • Heather Day Gilbert April 26, 2012 at 9:01 am #

      Our favorite Monte Cristo movie was the longer French version with Gerard Depardieu. Still changed the ending (I think all the movie versions do!), but made it happier than the book, so it worked! And the acting was phenomenal!

      • JennyM April 26, 2012 at 9:20 am #

        I’ll have to find that. Thanks for the tip.

      • Pegg Thomas April 26, 2012 at 10:01 am #

        My favorite is the Richard Chamberlain version. :)

    • Jeanne April 26, 2012 at 12:14 pm #

      Loved that movie, and James Caveziel did a wonderful job in it!

  14. Lindsay Harrel April 26, 2012 at 9:06 am #

    I love, love, love the classics. Pride & Prejudice, Persuasion, Gone with the Wind, Jane Eyre, Oliver Twist…love! (I read GWTW in fifth grade and loved every moment of it.) I haven’t read as many classics lately because I’ve been trying to keep up with the romance and women’s fiction markets (since that’s what I write). However, I do have it as a goal in life to read the top 100 British 18th- and 19th-century novels.

  15. Julie Surface Johnson April 26, 2012 at 10:06 am #

    A few of the great ones: Hugo’s Les Miserables, Stendahl’s The Red and the Black, Dante’s Divine Comedy, Dickens’ Great Expectations and Tale of Two Cities, Bronte’s Jane Eyre.

  16. Rachel Wilder April 26, 2012 at 10:22 am #

    I’m one of those rare people who can’t stand Jane Austen and think the BBC Pride and Prejudice is five and a half hours too long. Everyone always tells me “Oh if you just watch it you’ll love it.” Nope. Sitting through it once was TORTURE and I will never do it again. The only Austen movie I like is Lost in Austen, because it turns the whole thing on its head and then inside out.

    My favorite classic is An Old-Fashioned Girl by Louisa May Alcott. It’s her true masterpiece and it always saddens me when Little Women fans have never heard of it.

    I also love Jane Eyre and anything by Poe.

  17. Robin Bayne April 26, 2012 at 10:45 am #

    I read GWTW 4 times in high school, and you’re right, it spoils the movie for you. In college I read the Tolkien trilogy, which I considered classics. I enjoyed them.

  18. Sally Bradley April 26, 2012 at 10:57 am #

    I’m with Laurie! I loooove The Great Gatsby. It’s the unsaved world going after everything that should make them happy and then, once they get it, acknowledging that it doesn’t. I love the honesty in that. it’s also why I write Christian fiction. to redeem poor characters like Daisy and Tom and Nick.

    Now I want to read it again.

    I haven’t read Willa Cather since college, but I’m thinking about it. I enjoyed the one I read, O Pioneers, I think? And I read a few Edna Ferber in high school and really liked her, although I don’t know that I would now. Does she count as a classic yet? I think it’s so sad how she’s been almost forgotten.

  19. Diana Lesire Brandmeyer April 26, 2012 at 11:59 am #

    Gone with the Wind read it at least 5 times. Loved it!
    2nd choice Little Women.
    The movies were ‘ok’ but not like the books.

  20. Deborah Raney April 26, 2012 at 12:17 pm #

    LOVED: Great Expectations, Animal Farm, 1984, Brothers Karamazov, Midsummer Night’s Dream, Wuthering Heights, To Kill a Mockingbird (because I had great teachers who made those books come alive). LOVED: Little Women, Heidi, The Hobbit and so many others (because my mom read them to me on long Kansas winter nights). HATED: Grapes of Wrath, For Whom the Bell Tolls, The Bell Jar and others (only read them because any self-respecting writer should have read those books.) WANT TO READ AGAIN: To Kill a Mockingbird. WANT TO READ FOR THE FIRST TIME: A Prayer for Owen Meany, The Great Gatsby.

  21. Jeanne April 26, 2012 at 12:25 pm #

    How fun to pop on here and see titles of classics I’ve read. Some I loved, some not. :) I enjoyed Pride and Prejudice. I like the essence of Jane Austen’s stories, but I’ve had trouble getting through some of them. :) I read the Great Gatsby in high school, and then later because I wanted to re-read it. I don’t know if Malcolm Muggeridge’s The Razor’s Edge is a classic, but that one left an imprint in my memory.

    My favorite classics are the ones by Louisa May Alcott, the Anne of Green Gables series (do those count? :)), everything I’ve read by C.S. Lewis. The Hobbit By JRR Tolkein.And yes, Pride and Prejudice.

    Ones I aspire to read include Jane Eyre, Tale of Two Cities, The Lord of the Rings series, and more.

  22. Jeanne April 26, 2012 at 12:36 pm #

    I’m hoping this doesn’t show up twice later on. :) I posted a few minutes ago, came back to add, and nothing I wrote is showing up. :)

    Anyway, I love Louisa May Alcott books. To Kill a Mockingbird (read this at least twice), The Scarlet Letter, The Great Gatsby, and yes, Pride and Prejudice. Oh,the Anne of Green Gables series (does that count?), The Hobbit and everything I’ve ever read by CS Lewis.

    Classics I want to read include Jane Eyre, Les Miserables (love the movie version with Liam Neeson!), The Count of Monte Cristo, Tale of Two Cities and the Lord of the Rings series.

    What a fun post! It’s fun reading titles I read in high school and college, and remembering tidbits of the stories. :)

  23. Timothy Fish April 26, 2012 at 1:24 pm #

    There are so many, it is hard to name a favorite. I suppose, if I must pick one, The Pilgrim’s Progress is as good of one to pick as any.

  24. Peter DeHaan April 26, 2012 at 2:22 pm #

    I tend to avoid reading the classics (even though I watch classic movies). Canterbury Tales was the “classic” that once and for all confirmed my avoidance of classics.

    I fully suspect that some so-called classics earned that title merely because there was relatively little competition when they were published.

  25. Sharyn Kopf April 26, 2012 at 4:37 pm #

    Thanks for starting this! I, too, love talking about literature.

    Like many others, I enjoy Jane Austen. I’ve read all her books except Mansfield Park … & P&P several times. I highly recommend Northanger Abbey. It’s delightful.

    When I was in college, I read about two-thirds of War & Peace, but it was a library book & I moved before I could finish it. This might sound strange but I loved the feel of the actual book I’d started & never got back into it. But I remember that summer of eating Doritoes, reading War & Peace, & trying to learn German.

    Over the past few years, I’ve decided to devote more time to reading classics &, so far, I’ve crossed the aforementioned Austen books, The Sun Also Rises & To Kill a Mockingbird off the list.

    If you like comedy, I highly recommend P.G. Wodehouse. Last summer I read a little book of his called The Small Bachelor. It’s hilarious!

    Thanks for all the recommendations, btw. I plan to add GWTW & Gatsby to my list. . . .

    Oh, & I like pretty much any movie based on a classic, especially if it’s Austen. HATED Lost in Austen with a passion. Everyone who’s read & loved P&P knows Darcy & Elizabeth are meant to be together. To destroy that is to make a mockery of the author’s vision. And it’s very popular to do that with her books nowadays. I’m just glad Jane isn’t here to see how people have sliced & diced her work for their own financial gain.

    Sorry. Guess I feel strongly about this.

  26. Chris Lovie-Tyler April 26, 2012 at 5:44 pm #

    I have to be honest, I haven’t read that many classics, (although I’m very slowly working my way through a list), but by far my favourite is The Pilgrim’s Progress.

    I have the old English version, which takes a bit of getting used to, but I love it.

    What a mind-blowing, and still throroughly relevant, story.

    I’m amazed by the way John Bunyan weaved biblical imagery right the way through it (with the footnoted references at the bottom of each page).

    If I had to choose one book to read for the rest of my life, other than the Bible, that would be it. Honestly.

  27. Emily April 27, 2012 at 7:21 am #

    I’d have to say my favorite classic at the moment in Dickens’s Great Expectations. I thought it painted a vivid picture of what happens when people get too focused on themselves. Also, I appreciated the way Dickens portrayed that even if a person knows that a choice is foolish, that person may still make the choice.

    Other than that, I enjoy some Austen. Pride and Predjudice is probably my favorite (the Colin Firth movie was the best, in my opinion)–Austen has a way of putting some of the things we all live and think onto paper. And her sense of humor (would it be fair to say it was sarcastic sometimes?) amused me. Also, I really enjoyed her book Northanger Abbey.

  28. Virelle Kidder April 27, 2012 at 4:22 pm #

    As a kid, I loved A Tale of Two Cities, Les Miserables, the Hobbit, How Green Was my Valley, and more, but never considered myself an avid reader until I was a new mom, stuck in an apartment in the country with no car and living in four rooms. That’s when I discovered reading again. Began again, reading everything in my reach, often several at a time. Now, I read mostly mysteries after years of non-fiction. Can’t stand Jane Austin, though. Too wordy.

  29. Donald Burks April 28, 2012 at 8:39 pm #

    What a fun question! It is a delight to see what others think about classic literature, and a puzzle to see so much agreement. I am pleased to see someone else has read George McDonald; I thought I was the only one who remembered him. I much prefer adventure to romance. I have read The Black Arrow by Robert Louis Stevenson at least eight times, and my grandchildren have gone to sleep many times as I read to them his A Child’s Garden of Verses. Sir Walter Scott is out of fashion, I suppose, but Ivanhoe has never been out of print. William Faulkner’s The Fable is altogether different from his Misissippi tales, and it is probably the very best Christian and inspirational story of the early 20th Century. There is nothing else like it. But the absolute best by far is Longfellow, America’s first great poet. The Song of Hiawatha is epic poetry at its best because it is packed with accurate details and genuine tragedy. There is a classic I would love to read, but my German is not good enough to read Friedrich Schiller, and I have not yet found an English translation of his work. I possibly suffer from a too vivid imagination since no movie has ever been really satisfactory. The scenes I imagine while reading are immensely more satisying than mere moving pictures. The only movie I have seen that comes close to the book is Ben Hur. I enjoyed all the comments, and look forward to more.

  30. Suzanne April 30, 2012 at 9:18 am #

    My favorite classic is Anna Karenina by Tolstoy. As a former educator, I LOVE the classics. There are so many lessons to be learned in them. I’ve actually been tossing around the idea of blogging through a Barnes and Noble list of books entitled “50 Books to Read Before You Die,” which consists of all classics (half of which I’ve read). Since my blog always falls by the wayside, it would probably take me about two years to do so.

    Which ones do I read over and over? Anna Karenina, Les Miserables, The Count of Monte Cristo, and Ben Hur are at the top of the list. Oh, and in my opinion, the movie is NEVER as good as the book! :)

  31. Nikole Hahn April 30, 2012 at 2:48 pm #

    As soon as I got my kindle I downloaded some classics. Some I read as a teen like “The Scarlet Letter,” and others like Edgar Allen Poe, then read “The Christmas Carol” for the first time last year and loved it. No, I won’t scream “Classic!” LOL. I still keep the hard bound copy of Heidi for inspirational reading. The language is beautiful. The Count of Monte Cristo I read a few years ago and thought it was better than the movie; Les Miserables, too.

  32. Tamela Hancock Murray April 30, 2012 at 7:15 pm #

    Wow, I go on business travel for a few days and miss all the fun! I love these comments! I am making my “to read” list now.

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