On Reading Tough Books

Over the last year or so, I decided to read some of the great ‘masterworks’ of literature in their entirety, instead of just the snippets from the Norton anthologies. Sumer also joined along, reading books alongside. As a result, we’ve now read Moby-Dick, the complete Sherlock Holmes, War and Peace, Anna Karenina, The Brothers Karamazov, A Passage to India, A Tale of Two Cities, Bleak House, The Three Musketeers, Portrait of a Lady, Leaves of Grass, Treasure Island, Don Quixote, The Corrections, and a couple of others.

I initially took this on as a kind of personal Mount Everest, to read them because they’re there and they’re big, honking books that nobody really ever reads, and yet are classed amongst the most wonderful books ever written. Let’s face it, there’s a great deal of unrighteous pride involved here, to be able to flaunt your current reading — telling people you’re reading Don Quixote is a heckova lot more satisfying than responding with Men are From Mars or The Da Vinci Code. But I’ve gathered a couple of impressions from reading these big, tough books, and thought I’d get your ideas as well:

First, they’re not so tough. The big books take some patience, but they’re not so challenging or unengaging so as make them unreadable. War and Peace, for example, is challenging for the most part because of its variety of locales and characters; keep track of those, and the book isn’t half as daunting. Getting your mind around some of the ideas, such as in The Brothers Karamazov, is a different matter; I’m still trying to work them out in my mind. But then again, so is everyone else!

Second, they’re pretty good. Anna Karenina is now Sumer’s favorite book (though its recent Oprah nod shook its reign). Don Quixote is now mine. They are considered the greatest books ever for good reason, but their size and reputations put them out of reach for most of us. I never would have appreciated them without reading them whole — the fact of having read the entire book makes each aspect of the book seem more satisfying. Now the commandment in D&C 88:118 to seek wisdom in the best books makes a little more sense.

Do you get this same pleasure of working your way through a tough book?
What books are you reading now?


  1. “Do you get this same pleasure of working your way through a tough book?”

    Not at all. It is very rare in fact that I ever work my way through any fiction. It would have to be written very well to capture my attention, which is so easily lost on other things.

    If the prophets didn’t ask us to read the scriptures, I probably wouldn’t be reading them either.

  2. “Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child” is infinitely better than “Babywise”.

    Catch-22 is one of the great American novels.

    What’s not to like about Moby Dick? The whaling chapters are great, I think.

    Speaking of companion pieces to great/classic novels, try:

    In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex by Nat Philbrick. An account of the most famous (and only? can’t remember) stoving of a ship by a whale, which Melville took as the kernel for Moby Dick Cannibalism, adventure on the high seas, and raw, gritty survival all in one book.

    Wide Sargasso Sea, by Jean Rhys. If you haven’t read Jane Eyre, read Jane Eyre first.

    C.S. Lewis’ Space Trilogy (Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, That Hideous Strength) and J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. If only because That Hideous Strength has one of the most bizarre references to another work of fiction I’ve ever seen.

  3. “Men are from Dostoevsky, Women are from Tolstoy.”

    Steve, Fabulous! I would love to blog on that. I think it has something to do with emotions vs. ideas. Tolstoy provides comforting morality tales (until his own art-disrupting conversion), while Dostoevsky is often emotionally disturbing, but provides sublime insights into ideas of redemption etc. They are both religious, but approach it from such different points of view.

    Incidentally, I think the emotions/ideas dichotomy probably has something to do with the derth of female bloggers in the ‘nacle. It’s not that women can’t understand and enjoy Dostoevsky and vice versa for men and Tolstoy, but we may feel more innately comfortable in that world of emotions. Ditto blogging, we can be comfortable and find insight here, but may be more comfortable in face to face settings, discussing emotions and ideas. I’m not trying to offend anyone with gender stereotypes, and am not saying they are universal. But at least in our religious culture (and perhaps beyond it) I’ve noticed this is the tendency.

  4. Wayne Wells says:

    A couple of years ago, I began re-reading the books that I was required to read in High School and college. I now find the books to be a source of great insight and satisfaction.

    I found that Willa Cather is now my favorite writer. I particularly liked the Wagner Matinee.

  5. Rosalynde Welch says:

    Actually, I have read “Bonfire,” and I really liked it (though don’t ask me anything about it–I have a horrible memory for books). I found it on a table of used books on London’s south bank, and stayed up nights after going to British theater reading this American novel. As I recall, I was trying to get through some Trollope behemoth at the same time, and was struck with the narrative similarities. I’ve heard that Wolfe’s recent “A MAn in Full” is formidable, too, but I haven’t picked it up.

  6. Ah Pheo, must I really give away all my secrets??

    Shannon, you’re missing one thing in your test — whenever you start a tag like italics, you must also close the tag. Your post above had no close tag, which is why the whole post after the beginning of the italics is italicized.

  7. All right Wayne! Willa Cather is the cat’s pajamas. I love her stuff. Can you ever beat the sentimentality of My Antonia? I’ve never read someone how describes the West better, except maybe Louis L’amour.

  8. CLOSE your HTML tags. The first one is just < whatever tag >

    the close tag is

    < /whatever tag >

  9. Shannon Keeley says:

    Crap. What did I do? Now the whole thing is in italics. Me need help.

  10. Don’t read my Anna Karenina review if you’ve not read it and want to; major spoiler.

    I liked Anna Karenina until the last 50 or so pages. By then I was like “Just jump in front of the train already!”

    I just finished reading the Courtesan of Lucknow and started Passage to India, both for my Post-Colonial Literature class.

    I’ve read Passage to India before, EM Forster’s one of my favorite authors.

  11. Dubliners! Now that’s something ambitious. Joyce has always eluded me — I began Ulysses but didn’t finish. I find him really challenging, but not engaging enough for my ADD brain.

  12. Err, make that San Manuel the good. I had Don Quijote on the mind as I was typing, apparently.

    I think that Unamuno is probably available on the web. Ditto for Los de Aboajo (the underdogs). A quick google found San Manuel Bueno, Martir, in Spanish, at http://www.ciudadseva.com/textos/novela/sanmanu.htm . There’s probably an English version online somewhere.

  13. Evanovich is another laugh-out-loud author. Great fun.

  14. Figured it out. (Right click -> view page source) Nice trick.

  15. For some reason, I’ve recently been reading subversive or quasi-subversive literature. Recent reads include Brave New World and A Clockwork Orange (which is even more disturbing than the movie, if that’s imaginable). I should get back to Henry James before I become a radical or something.

  16. Forgot about 100 Years, That’s a good one too.

  17. Greg, how’s the Smoot book? I’ve heard good buzz on it (I think Dave mentioned it).

  18. Hey Mark, don’t give me grief about the whaling chapters. You know they get a little dry the first time you read it…

  19. Hey Shannon!! All right!! Welcome, and great tips. I’m a big fan of Atwood; Blind Assassin was fantastic.

    Allison, Baudolino was a mess; but I’ll forgive Eco since Foucault’s Pendulum and Name of the Rose were so TOTALLY AMAZING….. though you’ve got to admit, Eco takes a little effort.

  20. Shannon Keeley says:

    I did it. I can’t believe it. Thanks for teaching me. Little did you know your blog would turn in to a html tutorial for me.
    Anyway, Blindness by Jose Saramago is truly one of the most disturbing and moving books I have ever read.

    On a totally unrelated note, both of the Bridgette Jones Diary books are pure fun.

  21. I agree with all the positive reviews on Anna Karenina — it’s my favorite novel of all time too.

    My current bedside entertainment:

    A World Lit Only by Fire (non-fiction view of Medieval times / Christianity)
    Benjamen Fraklin: An American Life (non-fiction)
    Madam Secretary – A Memoir, Madelenine Albright (non-fiction)
    House of Sand and Fog (haven’t started yet)
    Toyota – The First 50 Years (no longer in print, only available to lucky folks working at Japanese ad agencies working on the Toyota account — I can tell you everything you want to know about manufacturing processes and pre- post-war import/export policies of Japan and U.S.)

    My favorite trash novels — Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series!!! Try them, you’ll like them.


  22. I believe the great Russian writers were driven by the horrifying boredom that would set in during the extended Russian winters.

    Having made that obnoxious comment, I’ll just add that I am a fan of Brothers Karamazov. That doesn’t mean I’m delusion enough to think I understand it perfectly or anything … but it’s really an unusually great book … the kind I feel obligated to pull down every five years and give it another go.

  23. I could never get into Updike, but I’ve been meaning to — good idea. Have you given Tom Wolfe a try? “Bonfire of the Vanities” is a great book.

  24. I don’t believe you about liking Faulkner. But we’ll see.

    For italics, bold, underlines, you need to insert basic HTML tags: See here.

    Just put the tags on either side of the words you want to affect. I’ll try and show you:

    <b>Today is fine!</b>
    <i>Today is fine!</i>

    gives you:

    Today is fine!
    Today is fine!

  25. D. Fletcher says:

    I don’t think that the Sherlock Holmes books are in a league with the others you’ve mentioned. I read them all in the 7th grade, one week when I had the flu.

  26. I find pleasure in tackling a great book as well. Loved The Corrections. I’m also a fan of Ayn Rand, especially Atlas Shrugged (except for the political speil at the end) and I really like Herman Hesse.

    Now for a confession, I couldn’t finish Moby Dick. Each time I put it down, I had no desire to pick it back up. I usually make it a point to finish any book I start, but Moby Dick did me in.

  27. I forgot to add:

    I too really love _Don Quixote_, but I can’t re-read it until I finish my current project — composing a few pages of the Quixote. Not, of course, a mechanical transcription of it, a copy, but rather to compose the text itself exactly as Cervantes wrote it.

    I’m still at the trying-to-learn-Spanish-page. The converting to Catholicism thing is going to raise some difficult issues, but that’s still a long way off. :-)

  28. I hate Moby Dick, too. I finished it, but only because I had to for school.

    I feel duty-bound to add some German books (besides Hesse, whom I can’t stand–sorry Amy!) to the list: Magic Mountain or Joseph & His Brothers by Thomas Mann, Tin Drum by Gunther Grass, Effi Briest by Theodor Fontane (on no one’s list of greats except mine), Marquise of O by Heinrich von Kleist. Musil’s Man without Qualities will definitely give you a sense of accomplishment if you finish it, and I think it’s worth it, although I haven’t read it in translation and it might lose a lot. The one German book most people read is Goethe’s Faust, which really isn’t worth reading in English. If you have to read Goethe in English, then read Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship, which has the virtue of an actual plot to hold up the language.

    I love Willa Cather, too–maybe it’s a Mormon thing? I somehow managed not to read her until college. I read _My Antonia_ at work one summer and on my way home, total strangers stopped me on the street to ask if I was OK, because I couldn’t stop weeping.

    One last recommendation–a really great contemporary American writer who riffs on Brothers Karamazov: David James Duncan’s _The Brothers K_. I’d recommend his short stories and _The River Why_ as well.

    Oh yeah, I also violently loathe _Healthy Sleep Habits_ and every other book on babys’ sleep ever written. I gave up on them all the day I was driving my 13-month-old around in the car to get him to take a nap, and looked in the rearview mirror to see him *holding his eyes open by the eyelashes*!! Don’t tell me it’s just a matter of parents helping to establish good habits. Grrrrr!

  29. I read The Brothers Karamazov in a single day in preparation for a class final. 60 pages/hr for 10 hours. Needless to say, I don’t remember a thing.

  30. I think Death Comes to(for?) the Archbishop is perhaps the closest that literature can come to visual art. Yeah Willa Cather! (oh, and loved My Antonia…the wolf/sleigh story still scares me)

    Anna Karenina is my all time favorite book. There is something about Tolstoy and family values that just rings true with my Mormon heritage. (Hint to newbies in Russian literature, if you want to read War and Peace but are intimidated, read Anna Karenina instead…it’s just like all the interesting Peace chapters without the boring War chapters….Mat, feel free to flame me now!)

  31. Wayne Wells says:

    I think that it is time for me to re-read Ibsen’s Ghosts. I totally loathed it in High School. My revenge was that my paper on it was “Sexual Perversions in IbsenÂ’s Ghosts”. My teacher kept cracking up as she tried to tell me how inappropriate the paper was.

    My family does Card’s “A Dixie Christmas Carol” every year. Some of the fun is our cheesy southern accents.

  32. Greg Call says:

    I’m halfway through Joyce’s Ulysses, but keep getting distracted by other books (Flake’s book on Smoot, for now). But I really just wanted to comment on the book Rosalynde mentioned, Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child. This book has had more of an affect on my day to day life than any other. The theories behind it are terrific and have proven true in my house. I only wish the actual book was edited better, less repetitive, and organized in a more user friendly fashion.

  33. I’m three stories into Dubliners–it is displayed in my Now Reading list so I’m not just making this up on the spot just to keep up with all these lit types. And I’m on CD no. 3 of 8 of The Scarlet Letter. Did Hawthorne really work in a custom’s house for three years? I think it would be more entertaining as a DVD, but Hawthorne’s depiction of the the voyeuristic Puritans eying up poor Hester and her finely embroidered letter gets the job done quite handily even without illustrations.

  34. I’ve been reading (in the past few months):

    Jasper Fforde’s books (the Eyre Affair, Lost in a Good Book, etc) – (recommended for literature geeks like myself);

    The Number One Ladies Detective Agency series by Alexander McCall Smith (light, interesting and brief — thumbs up!);

    Baudolino by Umberto Eco (Ugh. I was angry by the time I finished this masterpiece of crap. Probably my expectations were too high after Name of the Rose and Foucault’s Pendulum, but it felt like a total waste of my time);

    Many useless books on getting your stubborn child to go to sleep happily (Babywise is the most pernicious of these; The No-Cry Sleep Solution may be the most useless);

    What’s Going On In There: How the Brain and Mind Develop in the First Five Years of Life (informative, but not all that well-written);

    How to Be Good by Nick Hornby (darker and in my opinion not quite as good as About a Boy and Fever Pitch);

    Enemy Women by Paulette Jiles(really liked it)

    The Coffee Trader by David Liss (I liked his Conspiracy of Paper and Spectacle of Corruption, but I’m having a hard time getting into this one);

    As for “classics,” well — I go through these periods when I will read a few I never read in school, or re-read old favorites; for some reason I do this mostly when I’m sick. For severe morning sickness, nothing is more soothing than re-reading all of Jane Austen’s novels, or some Chaucer, or some Dickens. I have to say I’ve never really wanted to re-read Russian novels. But maybe this is a function of my being sick in the first place and not feeling too keen to read about fictional misery.

  35. I’ve been so impressed reading through all the titles of books that everyone has read trying to figure out if I’d read any one of them. The subject of trying to get a baby to sleep has been hilarious so I’ll give you another to try “Dr. Spock” – now there’s a name you don’t hear too often these days! When I was at my witt’s end 40 years ago I asked our doctor what to do and his reply as he walked out of the room was “read Dr. Spock”. I did, I tried his advice and it worked.

  36. D. Fletcher says:

    I’ve read all those books on your list. But I currently only read non-fiction — fiction is too much work for me. Better to get the DVD. There are excellent movie versions of:

    Moby Dick (the John Huston movie with Gregory Peck is underrated — it’s really good!)
    War and Peace (the Russian one)
    Anna Karenina (either Garbo or Vivien Leigh)
    Brothers Karamazov (the Yul Brynner movie also with William Shatner isn’t good, but oh well)
    A Passage To India (directed by David Lean)
    A Tale of Two Cities (lots of different versions)
    The Three Musketeers (Richard Lester directed one)
    Portrait of a Lady (with Nicole Kidman)
    Treasure Island (the best one, Disney’s with Robert Newton)

  37. Karen and Sumer:

    Anna Karenina is one of my favorite novels ever as well. I hope that despite the Oprah nod, that all of you read the translation (Pevear and Voloshonksy [splg?]) that she selected, however. It’s the best.

    For those who don’t want to tackle The Brothers Karamazov, may suggest Doestevsky’s The Idiot?

    Dave: The Dubliners is great. “The Dead” is one of the best works of short fiction ever. And speaking of film versions — John Huston’s version of “The Dead” is a masterpiece — imo, the best film adaptation of a work of literary fiction ever.

    Finally: May I suggest _The Master and Margarita_ by Bulgakov for those who haven’t read it? (again — pick up the P&V translation).

    I’ve used this line so many times before that I can’t remember if I’ve used it in the Bloggernacle, but as a friend of a guy I know once said: “any book that begins with a humorous decapitation has to be worth reading”.

  38. Karen, I hereby transfer the blog post to you. But I get to snarkily comment on it, and take all the credit!

    The ideas vs. emotions and the dearth/darth/dirth (?) of personal connection was talked about at the NYC Blorgy. I think you’re definitely on to something with it. But in defense of blogs, I think that we can develop safe havens and good communities, given enough time. BCC, for example, has proven to be pretty good for all of us to get to know each other.

    Of course, this comes at the cost of a cliquish feeling, but I think it’s worth it.

  39. Kristine, I used to be too tired to safely drive the rotten kid around so I strapped him in his carseat, sat it atop the dryer, put something lumpy in it (tennis shoes with towels to muffle the banging) and turned it on. Worked great. Can’t read while driving anyway (though, come to think of it, I have seen many folks doing that).

  40. Les Miserables should be on that list. Same with 100 Years of Solitude.

  41. Man, I’m disagreeable tonight–one more: I had to read Catch-22 in high school, and it made me wish I had a really rabidly righteous parent who would demand that I be given a less profane book to read. Not so much because it was shocking, but because I just didn’t like it *at all*. Probably I should read it again. Ugh.

  42. Marta, no young kids at home, just me & the missus and a dog. My lonely, empty, childless life permits a great deal of reading, blogging, watching mindless TV and good movies (tonight’s feature: North by Northwest). You’re the first person to mention Faulkner, who has the dubious distinction of being the intimidating author I don’t like. I hated The Sound and The Fury. Ugh. But now I get jokes about Faulknerian man-children.

    Ann B., don’t feel bad about Moby-Dick — sometimes, learning all there is about blubber and harpooning is not of greatest interest. Think of those as the Isaiah chapters of Moby-Dick.

  43. Mat was telling me today about how W&P was the bee’s knees. It’s good, I admit. But apparently I haven’t really read it until I try it in the original Russian….

  44. My reading time seems to only comes when I’m studiously avoiding my thesis writing and I’ve exhausted the bloggernacle. ;-)

    I, too, went back and re-read a bunch of the books I zoomed through in high school; favorites include Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird” (which seems all the more poignant given the SSM amendments passed last week) and “The Call of the Wild.” I got a real kick out of reading “Beowulf” again followed immediately by John Gardner’s re-telling of the story from the monster’s point of view in “Grendel.”

    I’m sorely behind on my Russian Reading. “Crime and Punishment” is what came to mind first but it’s been so long I don’t think I even remember what it’s about other than the obvious crime and punishment.

    I do remember being fascinated in 1985 by the short read “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich” by Solzhenitsyn (and yes, I had to Google to spell Solzhenitsyn correctly). I’ve got that one on the shelf, maybe I’ll pull it down again over winter break.

  45. No one is reading this thread anymore, but I love reading/watching Shakespeare plays and the older I get, the more I appreciate it. I’m not the sharpest knife in the drawer, I’ll admit, and I like to read a 21st-century English plot summary before tackling a Shakespeare play, but I really love the drama and wordplay that I discern from my readings of the Bard.

    Currently, I am reading the last chapters of Susanna Clarke’s stunning debut novel ‘Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell.’ I’m going to be sad when I’m done with it.

  46. Nothing wrong with Brave New World, K-man. 1984 and Fahrenheit 451 should also make that list, I think.

    But what about outside of literature? Anybody reading other ambitious texts?

  47. a random John says:

    Oddly, college seemed to have killed reading for me.

    If I remember correctly the movie version of Catch-22 also featured Art Garfunkle, and his aspirations to be a film star are part of what did in Simon & Garfunkle. Very odd that Art Garfunkle thought he would have a better career in movies than he did in music standing alongside Paul Simon.

  48. Rosalynde says:

    Oh dear, I was worried the “Sleep Habits” was a mistake–it’s always sure to stir up controversy. Perhaps I must add that while I think the author is very helpful on understanding sleep cues and general sleep patterns in infants, I don’t endorse nor do I practice his methods for sleep training.

  49. Shannon Keeley says:

    Okay, Steve. . here I am posting on your BCC blog!
    The initial post really caught my eye because Steve mentions that he and his wife Sumer were reading these classic books together. When I was studying for my comprehensive M.A. exam in English, I was overwhelmed by a long list of classics I had to “master” for the oral and written exam. My husband Brian was already done with his graduate program and had more time on his hands, so he decided that he would read many of these books with me so we could discuss them and, hopefully, I could actually recall something significant when exam time came. Several of the works you mentioned in your original post, Steve, were ones that we read together as well, including Bleak House, which I agree, isn’t necessarily so tough. . .but does require a good deal of patience (as does all Dickens, I suppose.) At any rate, what I remember most fondly about many of these works is that we tackled them together, which really made the whole process more enjoyable for me.
    I have been trying to read Catch 22 for seriously about five years, and IÂ’ve failed to make it past the first few pages. Sadly, BrotherÂ’s Karamozov is in the same boat for me. I canÂ’t seem to make any progress on those two. . .I will need to try again.

    I read Irving’s A Prayer for Own Meany this summer and enjoyed it thoroughly. Steve, if you haven’t already read this book, you should, along with absolutely everything written by Margaret Atwood (my favorite being The Handmaid’s Tale.) But then again, you’re Canadian, so I don’t have to go on about Atwood to you. I just finished Peace Like a River, but that probably would not be considered “literary” by most standards…which raises another question, why do we all consider less literary books like Da Vinci Code guilty pleasures? Unless I’m plodding my way through something that’s considered canonical, I always feel that somehow it doesn’t really count.
    I must really get on the ball with Healthy Sleep Habits. I have read Babywise and The Baby Whisperer and just about killed myself trying to implement that damn EASY schedule. There is nothing EASY about it!

    IÂ’m so glad you mentioned some worthy YA novels! Yes to CreechÂ’s Walk Two Moons! I read E.L. KoningsbergÂ’s The View from Saturday recently and loved it.
    Once at an ALA conference I heard a fascinating paper presented on Harriet The Spy. . .it was so refreshing!

    I have read everything written by David Sedaris and aside from Huck Finn, his books make me laugh like nothing else. I selected Naked when I was hosting my book club, and I noticed that David Sedaris was actually speaking at UCLA the same week as my book club. So, I tracked down his address and wrote him a letter, asking him to attend my book club meeting for the discussion of his book. (After all, I live within walking distance from UCLA, and I even drew him a map of how to get to my apartment!) I really did believe he was going to show up. . .after all, I fi

  50. One of the most rewarding books I have ever read was Catch-22. It was difficult to keep the story straight as it was non-linear and included several murky flashbacks. But the payoff in the end was incredible for me.

    I have recommended this book to several people, and almost none of them have finished it because it was not an easy read. Consequently, none of them really appreciated it.

    The non-fiction book that I am proudest of finishing: Annals of the Former World by John McPhee. A thick book of geology written by an English professor. Won the Pulitzer a few years ago.

  51. Peggy, you’ve got me sold on that Toyota book…

    I’m now thinking of a new post: Men are from Dostoevsky, Women are from Tolstoy.

  52. Pheo, Catch-22 is a great one. The film is also surprisingly enjoyable (Adam Arkin stars, if I’m not mistaken). Another good reason to read big books — you can watch movie adaptations and sneer authoritatively when they don’t get things right.

  53. por favor, amigo.

  54. Rosalynde, don’t worry. That one is better than Ferber and some others, and infinitely better than Babywise (which is pure evil). There’s not really a good way to type “violently loathe” in the sort of hyper-melodramatic-mostly-just-kidding way I meant it :)

    Bryce, I loved the space trilogy, too, but I should read it again.

  55. Shannon – Just finished the second Bricget Jones with tears of joy. A bit too much gaelic perhaps. (Gaelic is my sister’s code word for the f-bomb, due to its ubiquitous presence in Irish cinema. Our sheltered childhood included lots of good, biblical h*ll and d*mn – my younger brother at 3 introduced himself to an antique great-great aunt as Jess Dammit – which little prepared me for the real world, including my husbands Utah Mormon [or just familial?] sh*t, as jarring as gaelic to me. Interestingly, my husband feels the same about the h*ll and d*mn.) Please say hello to Lori Stromberg from Marta Holder from Cambridge Ward days, though I doubt she will remember me.

    Steve – Perhaps Faulkner is unpleasant for you because he is so dark and you are such a naturally positive and up-beat person and never the least bit cynical.

    Allison – I had read a couple of the Ladies Detective series but hadn’t found the first. Finally found the first 3 in a box set and my daughter wrapped them for Christmas. Long wait for 3 books which I will probably finish in a day, but a definite thumbs up.

  56. Shannon,

    Sorry, that information is on the sealed portion of the plates and must remain one of the mysteries of the kingdom.:)

    You do italics and bold text with HTML commands. Consider the following example:

    blah, blah, blah

    If you replace the X with a lowercase i, you will get blah, blah, blah.

    I you replace X with a lowercase b, you will get blah, blah, blah.

    And, if you are really nice to Steve, he will fix your HTML for you, as he did for a certain idiot last week.

  57. Steve and Sumer, and many of the rest of you: don’t you have young children? How can you do this? I had to give up the Russians years ago when living with littles exacerbated my industrial strength ADD (sieve for brains) beyond functioning. Now that the youngest is ten, I am beginning to wade back in. All along I have read at least a book a week, frequently a book a day, and usually 2 or 3 at a time because I can’t pay attention to anything for long; but I have enjoyed escapist garbage along with the good stuff, and especially enjoy a laugh-out-loud author like Hiaasen, or Elizabeth Peters for academic pretensions. If you enjoyed 100 Years, you may also like Marquez’s memoirs. Fun to recognize scenes from his fiction. Anything history:McPhee is great, and Tuchman. Also essays: David Sedaris and Laurie Notaro right along with early Dave Berry (are those essays?) A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Da Jesus Book (Hawiian Pidgin New Testament), Jim Crow’s Children (2003 ABA Silver Gavel Award), almost everything my children bring home (finally read LOTR).

    Everything you’ve all mentioned is good (I may not have read one or two, and lately get half way through many a book only to realize that I have read it before.) Love Cather. Love Forster. Love Pearl S. Buck, Eudora Welty, William Faulkner, Flannery O’Connor. Deborah, loved your list and especially excited to hear about Flowers for Algernon as a short story. I have read lots of stuff and thought, this would make a great short story. Haven’t read The Tale of Despereaux yet. Thanks for the tip. And Steve, I love the Norton Anthologies. Great for the sieve brain. Also love the – not a book, but a classic – Washington Post Style Invitational, my favorite entry in which was (under the category Books which will never sell) A Comprehensive Study of Attention Deficit Disor… Hey! Let’s Go Ride Our Bikes!

  58. Steve,

    I think you have to consider T & S as being in the same league as most of that material.

    As for BCC, well, someone has to write pulp fiction, right? :P

  59. Shannon Keeley says:

    Try FaulknerÂ’s Light in August, and I promise you will start liking him!

    Just realized that the end of my David Sedaris story didnÂ’t make it into the post, not that anyone is on the edge of their seat. . but for the sake of completion. . .
    No, he didnÂ’t show up to my book club, but he did write me a very nice letter a few months later saying that he really did want to come but his schedule didnÂ’t permit. I choose to believe that it really was written by him and not some personal assistant.

    By the way, this may reveal me as a total blog posting novice, but how do you do italics or bold on this thing??? ItÂ’s driving me crazy.

  60. Rosalynde Welch says:

    Steve, Don Quixote is one of my favorites, too; it’s unrelentingly comical and stinging.

    I’ve been trying to work on some contemporary classics recently, like Updike and Roth, with varying degrees of success. I recently devoured Jonathan Franzen’s “The Corrections,” which I loved.

    Mostly, though, I fall back on that great classic of modern literature: “Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child.”

  61. Steve, you’re doing very well for an “ADD-brain.” My ADD-brain makes me a much more likely contributor to your “Fall TV Season Preview.” That said, I would probably list “How Green Was My Valley” by Richard Llewellyn as my favorite book.

  62. Shannon Keeley says:



  63. The best part about teaching middle school English? A built-in book group with talkative kids who don’t yet know literature is “hard and boring.” After a tearful journey through “Flowers for Algernon” (the short stort story, which predates and trumps the book) we’ve just ventured into “Of Mice and Men.” Then we’re on to the incomparible drama that is built for early adolescents: Romeo&Juliet.

    But for sake of diversity in the “Great Books” catagory, let me recommend a few of more recent children’s/young adult works that _really_ are worth your time.

    Walk Two Moons, by Sharon Creech (have read aloud to three classes; wept through the ending each time)

    The Music of Dolphins, by Karen Hesse (just read aloud, leading to great discussions on what it means to “be human”)

    Out of the Dust, by Karen Hesse (prose-poems about the dust bowl)

    The Tale of Despereaux, Kate DiCamillo (last year’s Newbery winner, for good reason)

  64. The best way to knock out a colicky kid is for the breastfeeding mother to get a root canal and have to take codeine for a few days. Works like a charm.

    And once he learned to go to sleep (with the help of a few poppy derivatives, filtered through a breast or two), he was on full-night sleep from there on out.

  65. The most recent novel I read was bakc in the spring. It was Twopence to Cross the Mersey.

  66. The NY Times did a piece on Wolfe, which was hilarious. I went to a lunch with him once, at Tavern on the Green, and he is a completely bizarre entity. His website is worth a look, too, for a glimpse into his bizarro world.

  67. The real question, Steve, is how did you show the italics and bold tags without the words showing up in italics or bold?!

  68. The sunflowers comment is in My Antonia.

    Did you know… that the movie of My Antonia stars Doogie Howser??

  69. Too little, too late . . .


    First, a buffalo chip to Steve for suggesting that the whaling chapters be considered the Isaiah chapters of Moby Dick. I’m afraid that we’ll just have to go to Nephi’s commentary on people like Steve: if you don’t get it, you don’t have the spirit of prophecy.

    I can’t understand all those folks who can’t make it through Catch 22. Sure, it’s profane and raunchy, but we sure had fun reading it in high school–no, not as assigned reading in Provo, Utah, but as samizdat (almost). I mean, what teenager wouldn’t like a book with a character named Lieutenant Scheisskopf?

    Ditto to all the positive comments about Anna Karenina, War and Peace, The Brothers Karamazov and Crime and Punishment. For all the prepubescent types on here, they’re a lot better after 30.

    For a great way to spend half a year, try Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey/Maturin series (beginning with Master and Commander and ending with Blue at the Mizzen. That’s only 20 volumes, but you’ll learn a ton about sailing in the days of iron men and wooden ships, to say nothing about early modern medicine. And they’re great stories.

    And, time for you all to get back to Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury. Sure, the first time through it’s a tough read, but it gets better every time. I finally read it 10 years after I was supposed to in Mrs. DeHart’s English class, and I loved it!

  70. Uh, CB, do you want me to fix your HTML again?

  71. Um — I should probably make it clear that none of the books on my list are all that “tough.” But most of them are pretty good, and work well for when you don’t have a lot of time on your hands. Or for when you just want to relax and neglect other tasks for an afternoon.

  72. violently loathed, totally loathed….

    Lots of loathing on this thread. Now, all we need is some fear, and Las Vegas, and we’ve got it made!

  73. What do you mean, no one’s reading this thread? Come on, Tom, the eyes of Steve are everywhere!

    I’m really glad that you brought up Shakespeare, because he really is the gold standard. It’s not that easy to sift his words sometimes, and there’s no harm in referring to side texts (i.e. Cliff Notes) while you do it, because ultimately Shakespeare is truly rewarding.

  74. Which book by Willa Cather contains the story about the mormon pioneers and sunflowers along the road?

  75. Yeah, Eco requires some effort, and since I don’t know any ancient languages I’m sure I missed all kinds of good stuff. But at least his other two were so good that it would have taken more strength of will to *stop* reading than to finish.

    And speaking of Foucault’s Pendulum, it totally ruined The DaVinci Code for me, which was pretty cheap anyway, but after reading a really good conspiracy thriller, Dan Brown’s writing just made me roll my eyes. And snort. And laugh at all the wrong times. Although it was fun to then make my husband read it so we could make fun of it together.

  76. Yes on 100 years of solitude. For that matter, add a few other good Spanish pieces like Abel Sanchez; Don Manuel the Good; and The Underdogs. And some Borges.

  77. Yes, I’ve always found that classics are classic for a reason. I rarely find them difficult, though I haven’t read anything meaty since having my second child. With one I could still read, with two, forget it. Three is even worse, at least as babies. I can’t wait until they can all read and we can snuggle in front of the fire with our respective books.

    Another problem I have with big important books right now is that I’m so emotional. I think it’s the lactating, post-partum stuff. But I can’t handle sad things very well. Which is why I think I’m drawn to escape fiction right now. When I do nab five minutes when they’re all sleeping, I want to read something fluffy and happy and with themes like “happily ever after”. Sigh.

  78. Yikes! What is this …. T&S? 70 comments overnight? This is too much. Now I suppose I’ll have to read all this stuff …(grumble)…

    Aaron B

  79. You all sound like a bunch of so-called intellectuals.

    I agree with everything that has been said about Anna Karenina and My Antonia, except more superlatives should be used in describing them.

    I also liked O Pioneers!, and I thought the PBS movie adaptation was very good.

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