Unread Classics

One of my tactics, in order to appear well read, has always been to concentrate on a writer’s more obscure works and neglect their famous ones. Thus in any literary discussion, when the Other is going on about, say, Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, you can always respond by saying, “Yes, that’s all very well – but have you ever read The Insulted and Humiliated?” – and then give an account of it. This will not only impress upon your interlocutor your erudition, but will lead him quite falsely to believe that you have read Crime and Punishment, despite the fact that you’ve never even mentioned it.

Well, ok – maybe this isn’t entirely the true reason I’ve often not read the most famous books of the most famous authors. I think, rather, it’s because I’m afraid of them – that once I’ve read them, they won’t still be there yet to read. But it does lead to glaring omissions: – I have, for instance, read 8/14ths of Hardy, but I’ve never read Jude the Obscure; and I’ve read 11/18ths of Conrad, but I’ve never read Nostromo. (Also, I don’t think I’ve read anything of either Hardy or Conrad in the last 10 years).

So I thought, seeing as we’re coming towards year end and with any luck (and a good deal of reading – rather than studying, which is what I should be doing) I’ll have finished about 90 books by the end of October (and thus be well on towards my target of 100 for the year), I should read some renowned classics. Here are a few ideas I’ve found on my shelves (all never read):

  • Jude the Obscure, Thomas Hardy
  • Nostromo, Joseph Conrad
  • Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain
  • To The Lighthouse, Virginia Woolf
  • One Hundred Years of Solitude, Gabriel Garcia Marquez (I think I’ve now read ALL of GGM apart from this, except Living to Tell the Tale)
  • The Moonstone, Wilkie Collins (I did start it once, when I was young)
  • Moby Dick, Hermann Melville
  • Remembrance of Things Past, Marcel Proust (just vol 1 of the Penguin Classics ed. – the other volumes are stored away elsewhere)
  • (I actually wanted to read Bleak House as well, but despite the fact that I was sure I had a copy of it, I don’t)

Oh, there are many more, I’m sure.

Then, my plan for the beginning of next year (which like all my plans, will no doubt never come to fruition) is to concentrate on:

  • pre- (or at least very early) c19th novels (and other novel-like things)
  • c19th classics from slightly more obscure literary traditions (e.g. Green Henry by Gottfried Keller, The Manuscript from Saragossa by Jan Potocki, The Doll by Boleslaw Prus, Seven Brothers by Aleksis Kivi, The Black Diamonds by Mor Jokai, Prague Tales by Jan Neruda – that sort of thing)
  • and epic poetry (particularly, the obscurer ones from antiquity – I’ve started on Valerius Flaccus’ Argonautica already) and Arthurian romance

Though no doubt, in reality, I’ll just continue reading randomly as I always do – and it wasn’t worth saying any of this.

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5 thoughts on “Unread Classics

  1. A man haunted by a fixed idea is insane. He is dangerous even if that idea is an idea of justice; for may he not bring the heaven down pitilessly upon a loved head?

    Nostromo (must read)

  2. Hark ye yet again, — the little lower layer.

    –Ahab, Moby-Dick (possibly more trouble than it’s worth, though not to me)

  3. I highly approve of Arthurian romance, having read, at one time or another, almost everything Arthurian, but you really, really should read To The Lighthouse.

  4. Ditto The Moonstone, which is excellent.

    I came across ‘C’ in the library while picking up my wife’s crime ration. Thirty pages in and skipping already.

  5. Yes, yes, I have no doubt they are all wonderful – that’s why I’ve had them on my shelf for 15 years. – And I know people say parts of Moby Dick are tedious, but I have a sneaking suspicion I won’t find it so (I still think of Pierre as one of my favourite novels).

    MM: glad you’re enjoying C so much. I too found it a real page-turner!!! – Have you got to that interminable scene where they put on the play yet? (I’m relying on you to tell me if it gets any better later on. The aeroplane scenes – so I’ve heard – are fantastic!)

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