Classic Books That Must Be Read!!!
Posted 3 September 2008 in Books by Catriona
When we were in high school, a friend and I put together a list of “Classic Books That Must Be Read!!!”—sadly, complete with the three exclamation marks.
I found it this evening, in—and I’m embarrassed to admit this—a pseudo-hatbox with cherubs printed on it. (In my defense, I bought it when I was much younger and didn’t have any taste.)
There are seventy-five books on the list, so perhaps it’s not the best idea to transcribe the entire list here.
I notice I haven’t read all seventy-five, though. Frankly, there are some on the list that I have no intention of reading and some that I have read but wish I hadn’t.
I haven’t read Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, which comes in at the bottom of the list because we’d clearly forgotten Edward Albee’s name. (Most of the books are alphabetical by the author’s last name). On the other hand, I have read Pollyanna—and have no idea how that made it on to the list. Certainly, it’s a classic children’s book, but it’s also thoroughly irritating. Nevertheless, I’ve read it, and there were two advantages: I was able to spend eighteen months making fun of it when I taught an Academic Research course, and it also gave me a good giggle in volume one of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.
I have never read Heidi, which turns up just above Pollyanna—I don’t think there’s much likelihood of my reading Heidi at my age. (On the other hand, I do own a copy of Swiss Family Robinson, which is also on the list, and I fully intend to read that at some point.) But, to balance that, I have read King Solomon’s Mines, which was less racist than I had anticipated (while still being rather racist) but no less sexist.
I’ve never read Siegfried Sassoon’s Memoirs of a Fox-Hunting Man, and I do regret that. I don’t regret it much, mind, because I still have time to read it. And, on the other hand, I’ve never read Black Beauty—at least, I’m fairly sure I haven’t—and I consider that a plus.
(What is it about children’s books and general cruelty to animals? Watership Down was devastating and as for Colin Thiele, I think he must have killed a dog off in every single book he ever wrote. Was he badly bitten as a child? That’s the only explanation I can think of.)
Oddly enough, I seem to have ticked Brideshead Revisited off the list, and I have no memory whatsoever of ever reading that book. I remember reading The Loved One for school: I adored it, but I was the only one who did. And I have a copy of Scoop that I’m saving for when I have a free afternoon. But I have no memory of Brideshead Revisited—except that I remember Sebastian’s bear is called Aloyisus. Is that sufficient cause for claiming I’ve read it?
I notice we’ve put Charles Dickens and Fyodor Dostoyevsky down without specifying particular works. Perhaps we intended to read all of them? Well, Dickens only has fourteen novels, if you don’t count the Christmas novellas and the incomplete Edwin Drood. I’ve certainly read some of them, and really should read the rest. I might save The Old Curiosity Shop for when I need a good laugh. But I don’t know if I’m ever going to get to Notes from Underground, Crime and Punishment, or The Brothers Karamazov.
(Confession: I have read none of the great Russian works. Not even Anna Karenina. I know I should, and I will. But as of now: not one. I have read a number of Boris Akunin crime novels, though, so I’m not without some Russian novels under my belt.)
I’ll freely admit that I’ve never read Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea, though my mother keeps recommending it. Nor have I read Frank Herbert’s Dune, which would probably be a good candidate for a future round of Humiliation. I did try to read Dune, but I just couldn’t manage it.
I also note that we’ve added “Lawrence of Arabia,” apparently under the illusion that that was the book title rather than the author. Either way, I don’t think I’ll regret it much if I never read The Seven Pillars of Wisdom.
On the plus side, I have finally read The Great Gatsby—but only because I had to. And I have read Heart of Darkness, Paradise Lost, and The Three Musketeers.
I suspect that this is now less of a reading list and more of a time capsule. I have no intention of working my way through many of these items, though I think that, now, more are read than unread.
I wonder, too, whether we consulted other people when we put this list together—I don’t recall whether someone else recommended Dostoyevsky or whether that was our pretentious teenage selves talking.
It’s nice to have this list, and to see what we thought were the Classic Books That Must Be Read!!!
But I don’t think it’ll be keeping it near me, to cross items off as I go.
I’ve read many books over the years, generally at the expense of doing all the other things that you’re supposed to do to “get a life.”
I see no reason why I shouldn’t read many more in the years to come.
But I doubt any of them will be Heidi.