Gaps in My Education: Help a girl out!

12 Nov

So the BBC list I posted a few days ago, along with numerous other lists out there of books that “they” think you should have read, has got me thinking. I went to a liberal arts school that prized reading and writing, and I think I got a well-rounded education in general. But I find that my knowledge of and experience with Great books is woefully lacking. I’ve read very little Dickens, almost no Hemingway, and zero Steinbeck. Those to me are fundamentals — and as much as I hate to use the term, canonized — and I should have at least a passing acquaintance with those guys. They’re part of the cannon for a reason. But part of the problem is that I get so overwhelmed with books that I think I should read that I end up not reading any of them. So I want something a bit more manageable, something that will weed out books that are on a list because they should be, but are completely unintelligable (I’m looking at you Ulysses. And at you, Proust).

But that’s where you come in! Help me create a list of books that you think I should read, books that you would consider classics and that you are utterly appalled that I haven’t read. Of couse, I have read a lot, but give me suggestions. I’ll compile them here. I might even read a few ;).

(Also, I do own and love the book 1001 Books to Read Before You Die. And no, I don’t think I’ll be attempting that challenge, thankyouverymuch. However, there’s a new 1001 out — 1001 Children’s Books to Read Before You Grow Up. Come to mama!)

UPDATE: My definition of “classic” literature is extremely broad. Cormac McCarthy certainly wouldn’t be considered classic by a lot of people, but I think a lot of his work screams “future classic.” If you have suggestions for books that are more recently published, but don’t know if they qualify, leave them in a comment anyway!


19 Responses to “Gaps in My Education: Help a girl out!”

  1. StephanieD November 12, 2009 at 4:32 pm #

    Hi, Rachel-

    I took a look at the BBC’s list. It seems to be made up mostly of Western writers. One book I’m reading now is Kafka on the Shore by Murakami – very different and out there. I was a bit intimidated in starting anything written by him because I had heard his name bandied about as a contender for Nobel prize for literature.

    • [F]oxymoron November 16, 2009 at 10:07 am #

      I’m gonna agree with Stephanie on this one… Murakami is great and truly inspiring. Last year, early this year I went through a Murakami phase where I devoured about five of his books in a row.

      His short stories are also worth checking out.

  2. sari November 12, 2009 at 9:55 pm #

    Have you read Salman Rushdie’s Midnights Children? It won the Booker of all Booker prizes. I loved it, though a little background knowledge in India’s history is helpful. If not that one I would try The Satanic Verses. Rushdie is a must read as he is a modern classic.
    I look forward to your list, as I may find some titles I must read too.

  3. christine November 13, 2009 at 9:30 am #

    I would have to say Hemingway’s Old Man and the Sea would be a wonderful way to get acquainted with the author. It is short (can be read in one sitting) but it is one of my all-time favorites. It is beautiful!
    Another would be Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby or Henry James’ Daisy Miller. All quick but great reads.

    • [F]oxymoron November 16, 2009 at 10:08 am #

      If you’re not a big Hemingway fan (like me), this is a good story to start reading… you know, test the waters and all.

  4. [F]oxymoron November 16, 2009 at 10:10 am #

    Other suggestions: Johnny Got His Gun, Brave New World, Notes From Underground, The Razor’s Edge

    Check out my shelfari shelf! 🙂

    • Rachel November 16, 2009 at 3:47 pm #

      Johnny Got His Gun is the only book that my mother has read more than once. True story. But I never have…on the list!

  5. Lusty Reader November 16, 2009 at 10:20 am #

    straight from my bookshelf i recommend these classics, let me know if you want to borrow any!

    Count of Monte Cristo, Frankenstein, Adventures of Huckelberry Finn, Gone with the Wind, The Joy Luck Club, Wuthering Heights, Adventures of Tom Sawyer, In Cold Blood, The Handmaid’s Tale, and Clan of the Cave Bear

  6. Sarah November 16, 2009 at 3:14 pm #

    Absolutely love The Great Gatsby and Daisy Miller (pretty much any Henry James, in fact), and am a huge fan of David Copperfield. I also highly recommend Sister Carrie and An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser; Sister Carrie is the quicker read of the two.
    This may be a little young to be considered a “classic,” but Nabokov’s ‘Lolita’ has to be one of the greatest books out there, and one I’ve reread multiple times. Nabokov’s ‘Despair’ is good, as well.

  7. Marie November 16, 2009 at 3:33 pm #

    Here are mine:
    -Great Gatsby
    -Count of Monte Cristo
    -Jane Eyre
    -Pride and Prejudice
    -Crime and Punishment
    -Short stories by Henry James (i.e. Turn of the Screw)
    -Three Cups of Tea

    Ok that last one isn’t exactly a classic but it’s a must read I think. I had to read Steinback back in high school as part of my required reading and truth be told, I didn’t like him at all so in my opinion you’re not missing out on much with Steinbeck (but again that’s just me). Hope all this helps!

  8. Molly November 16, 2009 at 3:41 pm #

    I have to admit I was pretty surprised to hear you had never read To Kill a Mockingbird or Catcher in the Rye. Both are pretty easy reads and staples of my high school literary history. I think you’d like them both. I’d also highly recommend Midnight’s Children and One Hundred Years of Solitude. Both require a certain amount of concentration (One Hundred Years of Solitude covers seven generations of descendants with many repeating names), but they’re both excellent reads that combine elements of fantasy, history and even bits of scandalous romance. Go forth and read!

    • Rachel November 16, 2009 at 3:46 pm #

      It’s a little ridic, right? I consider myself well-read, but the gaps here are absurd. I don’t know why I didn’t have those kind of books assigned when I was in high school, but I didn’t.

  9. Berto November 16, 2009 at 11:03 pm #

    I reread Great Gatsby this summer and fell in love with it as never before. It’s some of the most beautiful writing I’ve ever read. It’s poignant and sad and very real.

    East of Eden by Steinbeck is my hands-down favoritest book ever.

    Some others:

    CS Lewis’ “Till We Have Faces”
    Vonnegut’s “Timequake”

  10. DD November 17, 2009 at 12:40 pm #

    I absolutely echo the Murukami recs — Kafka on the Shore is a great intro but once you’ve read that first book you’ll just want to read everything he’s ever written. For Rushdie I actually liked Midnight’s Children better than Satanic Verses (also, maybe not a *classic* classic, but Enchantress of Florence is also just lovely and fun). My vote for best Hemmingway is For Whom the Bell Tolls, and East of Eden is not only my favorite Steinbeck but just one of the most wonderful books I’ve ever read (and reread and reread). I think To Kill a Mockingbird is worth reading at any age, but I have to admit I just personally would pass on Catcher in the Rye (and if any potential date ever tells you that Holden is a hero of his just RUN). For Dickens, I think A Tale of Two Cities is a great place to start, and I actually liked going into it already knowing the last line and watching as the plot unfolded to lead me to it. I would absolutely also add The Unbearable Lightness of Being, definitely One Hundred Years of Solitude, and Mann’s The Magic Mountain.

  11. Pricilla November 18, 2009 at 6:53 pm #

    The Count of Monte Cristo is my favorite book of all time. I read it at least once a year.

    That and Gone with the Wind.

  12. M. November 20, 2009 at 1:05 pm #

    Try The Man Booker Prize winners. Don’t forget the books on their short list!

  13. Weekend Reader November 24, 2009 at 4:50 am #

    Along with the wonderful books that have been recommended here, I’d recommend that you read Angle of Repose by Wallace Stevens.

  14. Ash November 25, 2009 at 9:43 am #

    Audio books is giving out free audio versions on their website, but it closes tomorrow. you can pick any book out of a great list and I picked The Great Gatsby because I never read it. I know, shame on me.

  15. Alison (Alison's Book Marks) December 3, 2009 at 5:56 pm #

    I love this topic. I was an English major who had never read Pride and Prejudice, To Kill a Mockingbird or The Great Gatsby. Meanwhile, I had heard about the books in lecture enough to throw citations of them into term papers. Crazy, right? SO. Upon reaching adulthood, I decided that it was high time to stop the madness and I sat down and read through many of the classics (I still have a ways to go). My first stop? Little Women.
    Pride and Prejudice
    To Kill A Mockingbird
    Catcher in the Rye
    Treasure Island
    The Great Gatsby
    Anna Karenina
    A Tale of Two Cities
    Alice in Wonderland
    Jane Eyre

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