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 Classics and modern classics.

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March Hare
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PostSubject: Classics and modern classics.   Thu May 24, 2012 8:31 pm

I believe it was Mark Twain who said, "A classic is something nobody want to read and something everybody wants to have read." Amusing, maybe, but not necessarily true.
Growing up, the word 'classic' meant something different to me. It was something very old, well known, and very beautiful. It could have been Hamlet, Oliver Twist, Mona Lisa, Moonlight Sonata, or even 12 Angry Men.
So, (sorry for the digression), I am curious about any classics or modern classics you have ever read which you would recommend to others. Not simply a good piece of literature, but an excellent, even an exceptional one.
I am very interested in why you consider it such a great work of art. I believe our preferences show a lot about who we are, and I am certainly interested in getting to know you. Also, we can all rant about what novels/plays/poems we love most, and that can only be good. Smile
Everyone knows the value of well-known authors, but then again, it's nice to know what you have gotten from the experience. It may be cliche to rant about a well-known author, but due to our different experiences in life, novels will affect us in different ways. I am interested in how the novel affected you.
I will be posting about different novels that I love soon (hopefully). I look forward to hearing about your true loves. Until then, I will read your rants about authors/books that you have found particularly inspiring.
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PostSubject: Re: Classics and modern classics.   Thu May 24, 2012 9:58 pm

Ah this is a very interesting thread. I'll need some time to think this one over. I started a thread a few months back titled: my life in books. There I mentioned a handful of books that shaped the way I approach my writing.

Towards the end of last year I set myself the task of reading as many classics as I could. In the end I read two -- Dracula and The Count of Monte Cristo. I began Moby-Dick but Christmas came and the novel completely left my head. (There is something about having books on Kindle that make it easy to forget what you are reading.)

I have read a few classics and thought "what the hell was the big deal” - The Picture of Dorian Grey for instance and others where I thought "I may as well give up as a writer, I will never be this good, not by a long shot -- One hundred years of Solitude.

Yes very interesting. I am far from a classics connoisseur but I will give this some thought.
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PostSubject: Re: Classics and modern classics.   Mon May 28, 2012 9:48 am

I have to say that while I believe classics are important and probably will be important long after we are gone, most of my reading is recreational. If the classic falls under that, that's awesome, (and it often does) but if it doesn't, I have to make an extra effort to tackle it.
A classical author I consider acclaimed but highly misunderstood is Jane Austen. Many consider her to be a pioneer of romance novels, but her novels were a combination of social commentary, character studies, and satire. It bothers me when people hold the characters up as hallmarks of romance. Sure, there IS romance, but it's so much more than that. The romance is actually a byproduct, as in Austen's time, women's temperaments and character were able to be shown when navigating the dating game, as they otherwise could not do much. (Well, except fight zombies lol! )

Allow Kate Beaton to explain this for me:
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PostSubject: Re: Classics and modern classics.   Thu May 31, 2012 11:29 pm

Okay, since I started this thread, I guess I should post a response. I may mention authors that you dislike. Please do not disregard my recommendations because of it Wink.
Instead of focusing on the very well known authors (Shakespeare, Orwell, Dickens, Doyle, etc), I have decided to mention less well read authors, although you will notice that they are household names. That way it servers the dual purpose of advertising their works (sorry, Paul) and allowing me to rant about them. I hope you will all do the same, which will allow us to read your recommendations.

First off, I would like to talk of John le Carre. The author has been often compared to Dickens, as his characters are very, very well constructed. It is quite plausible to imagine him taking his place next to great English authors of the past few hundred years. Carre did for the spy genre what Doyle and Christie did for the mystery novels, and what Tolkein did for fantasy. He set a standard by which other novels have been judged and found wanting.
Ever since I have picked up my first Carre novel in 2010, I have been a dedicated fan. The complex twists and turns he takes, the fleshed out and fully developed characters, and the well-woven plot has caused me to love his novels. Although I have only read two of his novels so far (A Perfect Spy and Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy), my friends and family have read or are reading 6. Out of those six, each of them have been highly recommended to me by their reader. Therefore I know that my fandom isn't some odd and unhealthy fixation, or at least that it doesn't afflict me alone.
I cannot honestly recommend A Perfect Spy to everybody. I can best describe it as a fictional biography (which isn't as horrific as it may sound). The author introduces us to a pathological liar, who reinvents himself and lies about his past to an extreme degree. A large part of the novel is the protagonist finally telling us the true story of his life, which is slowly revealed to the reader. We feel love, sympathy, and even disdain of the character as time goes by. Finally, one cannot help but feel extreme pity. It impacted me greatly, as it showed the price of a soul from a secular viewpoint. As the novel goes on, you realise that 'A Perfect Spy' means not that he was a particularly skilled spy, merely a man who attempted to be perfect. He sold his humanity, his soul in an attempt to satisfy the perceived expectations of others. In the end the story is rather tragic, although undoubtedly rewarding to the reader. I can't recommend it to everyone as the novel is slow. Although Carre is no Ian Fleming (Thank God for that), it is slow by his own standard. Although it is anything but predictable, towards the half-way point one can almost narrow down the possibility of how things will play out to a few options. It is also devoid of any great, 'OMG!!!' surprises that are typical of spy novels. Lastly, the novel is devoid of any likeable characters. They are well created, but the most you can feel for them are a sense of pity. These issues may cause many people to lose attraction. If they don't cause you to feel alienated, then I can safely recommend it.

A more popular novel (and according to the author, better) novel is Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. I feel I can safely recommend this novel to almost everyone. A little more than half the size of A Perfect Spy, and a good deal more quickly paced, it's popularity is understandable, although I urge you not to write it off as pop-fiction. The characters have personalities that are well-developed, attractive, and complex. The plot itself is very complex (if you cannot find the time to read it once or twice a week, I recommend taking notes Wink ), and definitely surprises the reader at several points. One character that caused quite a stir in me was Jim Prideaux. The is a certain pained, brooding, and angry air about him that caused me to feel concern for him. Without giving away too much, I very much appreciated how John le Carre allows us to see the pained part of his character and show how his healing may come about. Of course, the principal and supporting characters are also very intriguing. Another supporting character that I felt attracted to was Peter Guillam. Amusing, intelligent, and impulsive, he definitely is a well-executed character who's personality compliments Smiley's.
Although I wasn't quite serious about taking notes, the novel should be read consistently, at risk of losing track of why and how things are important. The sequel to this novel (The Honourable Schoolboy) was bought by a friend and was second hand. When I glanced at it briefly, I noticed how on the first page someone had scribbled notes of the main characters and who they are.

That ends my rant for now. If anybody responds with novels that they love, I may write another post. Otherwise, this topic will just be known as March Hare's narcissistic rants.


Last edited by March Hare on Fri Jun 08, 2012 9:57 am; edited 2 times in total
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PostSubject: Re: Classics and modern classics.   Fri Jun 01, 2012 9:00 pm

March Hare wrote:
Instead of focusing on the very well known authors (Shakespeare, Orwell, Dickens, Doyle, etc), I have decided to mention less well read authors, although you will notice that they are household names. That way it servers the dual purpose of advertising their works (sorry, Paul)

No problem, my friend. Recommending authors and telling us why is part of what the LC is all about. As long as you're not advertising "Get the complete works of John le Carre at my website for a great price!", we're good. Wink

When I have more time I'll rant about Cormac McCarthy. Cool

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PostSubject: Re: Classics and modern classics.   Sun Jun 03, 2012 11:02 pm

I hope you do write more, I am always open to suggestions. I have TTSS on my kindle, but am waiting for the perfect moment to read it. I watched the movie and loved every second of it. I am really intrigued by the (distant) antagonist Karla. I want to read the whole trilogy, hopefully one after the other, if I get the time.

Lilli, there have been a few people who have shocked me when they have said that Pride and Prejudice was there favourite novel, you are one of them. I guess it is small mindedness on my part. I always figured it was a romance novel that had a little intrigue. I admit I know very little of the novel, but watched the TV series starring Colin Firth, hence my rather narrow view of it. But, now you have me interested. I always said that if I was to read any of Austen’s novels it would be Northanger Abbey, but now I’m tempted to give P&P a turn Wink

I’m looking forward to your McCarthy rant, Paul Smile

Right, down to business. I have had something of a thunderbolt struck into my very soul upon reading the works of Carlos Ruiz Zafon; I debated whether or not to mention him here since I am VERY new to his work. I read The Shadow of the Wind back in March and promptly (well, for me) followed that up with its sequel/prequel The Angel’s Game and Zafon’s debut novel The Prince of Mist. The reason I was reluctant to mention him is that I feared he was a fleeting love, but his novels, I feel anyway, are truly magical. I have only wept twice when reading a novel. Once at the end of the epic 2666 (more from being emotionally deadened only to suddenly have my emotions reawakened in the final section) and The Angel’s Game. The tragedy of The Angel’s Game was foreseen by anyone who had read The Shadow of the Wind (I will not reveal any more than that) But even though it was foreseen, I was still taken by surprise at how the scenario was dealt with.

Zafon, I feel sometimes, carves his characters from stone, they are so incredibly solid, you really do feel like they are in the room with you. The city of Barcelona (which is the setting of SotW and AG) is so beautifully described you’d almost think it was a fictional city. The colours, sounds, tastes, smells and general feeling of mourning and shame in the wake of the Spanish Civil war, it almost feels as though the city has been permanently scarred. The greatest thing about Zafon is the way he fuses the surreal with the ordinary in an almost a matter of fact way – not unlike, Marquez, Borges or Rulfo – except here Zafon is not dealing with magical realism, he is dealing with evil, be it, man-made or supernatural.

Zafon is very much a Dickensian type of novelist. His plots are multi-layered, his protagonists are downbeat, trodden yet motivated, not by a mere McGuffin or journey for self-improvement, but driven by (at times) ethical duty, curiosity, and in some cases, self-destruction. David Martin, the MC from Angel’s Game is probably Zafon’s greatest creation. He is cynical yet not tiring (as cynics tend to be by the end of novels) his humour is quirky and at times we are unsure if he is in fact joking or being serious. Nothing demonstrates Zafon’s strength as a novelist more than the relationship between David Martin and his assistant Isabella. They have a chemistry that is unmatched by todays couplings. The beauty of their relationship is that it is friendship, and only friendship. I was elated beyond words when the novel ended and they hadn’t slept together. The relationship was not of best friends, not of father and daughter or even brother and sister, it is one of those magnificent relationships that have no label. So incredible.

As for his plots! I smile at their very concept. In the case of the Angel’s Game it sounds so intriguing that a man would be paid by the Devil to author a new religion. How could someone not want to read more?

I think I will be championing Zafon for many years to come. At least this is an author I love that everyone else has heard of. I have yet to meet anyone who has read (or is willing to read) 2666. I want so desperately to discuss that novel.


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PostSubject: Re: Classics and modern classics.   Thu Jun 21, 2012 3:25 am

Pride and Prejudice isn't really my favorite novel, Ben. It ranks up there, but I wouldn't say it's my favorite.
As for Northanger Abbey, really not a fan of it. I found the protagonist insipid and silly. What? I can like and dislike books! Razz By the same author!
Like I said, though, not really trying to convert people to Austen. I just have to say, I started Pride and Prejudice expecting to hate it. I had read some articles about how Darcy was, as per the above comic, "The PERFECT guy" and "a hunky dreamboat" etc, and was unspoiled to the rest of it. As a result, I pretty much went down the same 'perception path' as Lizzy Bennett did.
I think, though, that if you don't mind narratives and characters studies, (both of which I enjoy) you'll find the book to contain an interesting, introspective look at 19th century England, with more than a little dose of satirical wit and humor. The plot is secondary - the dynamic between characters is the prime enjoyment, for me.
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PostSubject: Re: Classics and modern classics.   Thu Jun 21, 2012 10:33 pm

Lillian wrote:
The plot is secondary - the dynamic between characters is the prime enjoyment, for me.

Ah, a fellow reader after my own heart! Very Happy Nothing beats well-written characters and their interactions with each other.

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PostSubject: Re: Classics and modern classics.   Mon Jul 15, 2013 7:46 pm

Wanderer wrote:


Towards the end of last year I set myself the task of reading as many classics as I could. In the end I read two -- Dracula and The Count of Monte Cristo. I began Moby-Dick but Christmas came and the novel completely left my head. (There is something about having books on Kindle that make it easy to forget what you are reading.)

I have read a few classics and thought "what the hell was the big deal” - The Picture of Dorian Grey for instance and others where I thought "I may as well give up as a writer, I will never be this good, not by a long shot -- One hundred years of Solitude.

I hope you don't mind the fact that I'm editing this quote. It makes things easier for others to read.

I read The Count of Monte Cristo and Dracula. Both novels are excellent in my opinion. The Count of Monte Cristo has a slight edge over Dracula. However, I read Dracula quite some time ago, and it has nostalgic value which means it will always have a special place in my heart. The prose comprising from the diaries of several different characters, newspaper clippings, letters, etc is something I particularly enjoyed.

I have to disagree with you on the Picture of Dorian Grey. I did find the pacing inconsistent, but Wilde's twist on the Faustian Bargain and the depths Dorian falls to is something that I found attractive. I also appreciated the flavor of gothic horror that existed in some of the chapters towards the end, especially the scene after Dorian interacts with his artist friend towards the end. That entire chapter was amazing. I have a liking for twists on the Faustian Bargain. Ironically, I found Dr. Faustus by Christopher Marlowe to be a bit overrated. It was enjoyable, but a little overrated. Perhaps I was expecting too much.

A book that I will never grow tired of is 1984. It's not just the themes of a totalitarian society that makes it the greatest novel of the 20th century (in my opinion). The interactions between Winston and O'Brien, and their political discussions, were pure pleasure.
Every now and then I find a novel in which the prose is just to die for. 1984 is one of those novels. Other people may not get it, but there's a certain style to that prose that I simply love. Some people find the novel depressing. I don't. I find it an interesting view into the breakdown of a person's personality as well as a very relevant political critique on our current society. Winston and Julia are tragic heroes, if they can even have that title assigned to them. O'Brien, on the other hand, is my favorite character. His (SPOILER ALERT!!) madness, and yes, it is madness, complete with his dry voice, and most of all, his devotion to an ideology that is completely evil, is what makes him not only a perfect villain, but a perfect character.
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