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Thread: Accessible classics

  1. #1
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    Accessible classics

    Hi everyone,

    About 6 months ago I decided to devote some time to reading classics, especially from non-English speaking countries (though I will be reading all works in English). It seemed like a great idea until family strife hit (mother… illness). Now I find myself ready to cry before I even pick up a book, and I simply can’t cope with some of the ‘heavier’ and ‘grim’ classics (just had to give up on Crime and Punishment). I was wondering if anyone could recommend classics that are more accessible and perhaps a little chirpier. I’m really up for anything but thought I would start my adventures with Russian and/ or French literature. Any comments welcome.

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    Joseph Roth - The Radetzky March. Maybe not classed as a classic, but it is one of the best books I've ever read and is only on 384 pages. Quote from a review by Sunday Telegraph - ‘It can fairly claim to be one of the great novels of the last century'. I found it fast-paced, interesting, and very well translated from german to english (not the biggest translation challenge, but still) by Michael Hoffmann. It was very hard to put down. If I for instance told myself that I would read only one chapter one evening, I often ended up with reading three or four. You really want to read more about the characters and the different events in the book. I really loved the chapter about the duel (those who have read it will know what I mean).

    The book starts out with Joseph Trotta, and a huge event that is important in the rest of the book, (I won't go in much detail as you might want to read it yourself) and you follow the Trotta Dynasty for three generations set against the panoramic background of the declining Austro-Hungarian Empire.

    You can read a little more about the book here - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radetzky_March_(novel)

    Background for the title of the book -
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radetzky_March

    Easy accessible on Amazon - I recommend the edition published by Everyman's Library.

    I hope that other people sees this post and reads the book, it is truly great. After doing a quick search here on this forum I noticed that the novel has never been discussed with the exception of it being mentioned three times by me in this and in other threads.
    Last edited by Nico87; 11-19-2007 at 10:47 AM.

  3. #3
    Registered User Etienne's Avatar
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    In russian literature you could look for:

    Gogol, Petersburg Tales (or Arabesques), a collection of short stories, is my favorite work by him, and it's hilarious. In fact all of his work are highly recommended, reading Dead Souls is also a must.

    Short stories by Chekhov are beautiful, you can't go wrong with these.

    Oblomov by Gontcharov is also warmly recommended a great masterpiece.

    In more recent stuff, Master and Margarita by Bulgakov is still to be considered a classic.

    In french literature:

    Gargantua and Pantagruel by Rabelais this is a classic among classics and very funny and grotesque.

    Than you can read tales by Voltaire especially Candide or optimism, Zadig and destiny, Micromégas and L'ingénu. You can probably find a collection of these tales with some others.

    Molières is another french classic and always funny and sharp.

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    Etienne, I have considered buying Gargantua and Pantagruel, but I'm unsure as to which translation I should be reading. I'm a huge fan of Everyman's Library, and like a reviewer on amazon wrote, the Everyman's edition uses a late seventeenth-century English translation by Sir Thomas Urquhart and Pierre Le Motteux. 'Old' english is not a problem for me, but the Everyman's edition does not have notes on translations from the greek/latin words and phrases in the book. As I have no clue what latin words means, I'm afraid that it may cause some troubles. Are there many latin/greek phrases in this book?

    I loved the Petersburg Tales found in The Collected Tales of Nikolai Gogol translated by Pevear and Volokhonsky. Sadly, there is no hardcover edition of that book in particular. I hate paperbacks!
    Last edited by Nico87; 11-19-2007 at 11:13 AM.

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    Registered User Etienne's Avatar
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    Well I personally read it in french, so I can't really help about which translation. There is a bit of latin in the book, so notes translating them would be useful, however you can read it even without understanding the latin and it's not too bad as there is not much of it. You can always translate with online dictionaries though.

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    I'm sorry to hear you've had a rough time lately.

    There's a wonderful Russian novel titled The Twelve Chairs, by Ilf & Petrov. It is pure comic genious about some people searching for a set of chairs... but I won't go further. I can't imagine this bringing tears (other than of laughter) to anyone's eyes.

    I will second the Gogol suggestion. Even Goncharov is somewhat dark, at least dark-themed, though simultaneously funny. I love Chekhov but many of his stories are quite tragic, so perhaps not what you're looking for right now.

    Mikhail Bulgakov is another satirical read: The Master and Margarita and The Heart of a Dog are excellent.

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    Ataraxia bazarov's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by puffin View Post
    Hi everyone,
    I’m really up for anything but thought I would start my adventures with Russian and/ or French literature. Any comments welcome.
    Hi!
    I would suggest you Victor Hugo, I really enjoyed his novels. If you gave up on Dostoevsky, I won't suggest you Karamazov's Maybe you could try with Tolstoy, he is much easier then Dostoevsky, or Bulgakov or Nabokov.
    At thunder and tempest, At the world's coldheartedness,
    During times of heavy loss And when you're sad
    The greatest art on earth Is to seem uncomplicatedly gay.

    To get things clear, they have to firstly be very unclear. But if you get them too quickly, you probably got them wrong.
    If you need me urgent, send me a PM

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    Jealous Optimist Dori's Avatar
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    I second the recommendations for Voltaire's Candide and Chekhov's short stories. Why don't you try some of the more comic writings out there? In my english class (perhaps I should call it my "American literature" class), we are starting a 'comic imagination' unit. I suggest Jeff Peters as a Personal Magnet by O. Henry and Pigs is Pigs by Ellis Parker Butler (both of which are American literature).
    com-pas-sion (n.) [ME. & OFr. <LL. (Ec.) compassio, sympathy < compassus, pp. of compati, to feel pity < L. com-, together + pali, to suffer] sorrow for the sufferings or trouble of another or others, accompanied by an urge to help; deep sympathy; pity

    Dostoevsky Forum!

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    Anything from Wodehouse. His books are hilarious!

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    Jane Austen's an easy read.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Sir Bartholomew View Post
    Jane Austen's an easy read.
    Like puffin (but slower to the punch), I find myself in search of some of the more accessible classics. I have many reasons, most of which I won't go into right now. Suffice it to say that I find it easier to choose to devote my severely limited free time to writing rather than to reading; even using my (also limited) self-taught speed-reading skills, I probably read more slowly than many of you, the voracious readers, who are likely to congregate at a website such as this.

    So, I suppose, the advice I am looking for is two-fold:
    (1) Does anyone have any clever suggestions on how to create the right time and space to fit a satisfying amount of reading into my busy days?
    (2) Does anyone have any reading suggestions that are similar to Sir Bartholomew's? It seems almost a contradiction to claim that I like a story with complexity while asking for recommendations that fit the description, "easy read," but I expect Jane Austen qualifies. That is why I chose to duplicate this particular comment, a la Sir "Bart", whom I wish to thank.

    Since, last year, finally achieving success at my attempts to learn how to read faster (without giving up comprehension or the ability to savor the details), I have been seeking a wise choice of books to collect under my belt. However, my searching methods are admittedly naive. I know so little about most of the classics that I have instead settled for what I do know and what my friends have recommended. Naturally, this method of finding increasingly sophisticated--but still accessible--books has fallen woefully short. I have recently taken to reading and/or listening to the audiobook versions of Jodi Picoult's My Sister's Keeper and Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. I usually listen to one of two audiobook CDs while driving my pickup, depending on whether or not my oldest son is riding with me, and I have at least one printed book I try to read when I have a few, well, more stationary moments. Unfortunately, my place in each of the stories I'm listening to advances much more quickly than my place in the printed text I am currently reading.

    Much of my criteria for choosing a "book" is based on my appreciation/enjoyment of the books I've already read. I will often try to find books I haven't yet read written by authors I've previously enjoyed. I've found a few websites that offer recommendations based not only on one's favorite authors but the topics and style found in their writing, as well. And still I find even this method falls a bit short. I may happen to enjoy the issues and emotional style present in many of the stories written for a young adult audience but, at that age level, the way some of those issues--like dating and sex--are perceived and dealt with is not all that relevant to a busy parent of my age. (I am forty-one years and eleven months, in case you might be wondering.)

    I've tried to rely on the maxim, "You can't go wrong with the classics," and yet neither has this strategy thus far proven successful. Twice now, I've made an attempt to read--and to listen to--Catch 22, by Joseph Heller. Both times it has felt a bit like a lengthy school assignment that I just want to complete so I can move on to more interesting things. Well, that's not entirely true. I remember coming across one particular part that made me truly and heartily laugh out loud. Still, it took me so long to trudge through even the audiobook CDs that I was unable to finish the set before another library patron had reserved my copy, thus, I had to return it. Maybe it's just me. I promised a friend I'd give it another chance, and I'm determined to learn what he found so enjoyable about the book, so I'll probably check it out again and again, if necessary, until I finish it. I haven't yet tried Wodehouse. It would be interesting to see how his style of humor compares with Heller's.

    Then there was The Catcher in the Rye. I still don't understand why this book is considered a classic. I managed to read the printed version--it was short enough--but I don't remember enjoying a single thing about it. I kept wondering when the author was going to get to the point (a little like the way I felt while taking in Catch 22)! As an aside, I do remember enjoying quite a few short stories that were assigned to me and the other students in some creative writing courses I've taken--short stories by John Cheever, for example (who I see, according to the poorly-read man's online encyclopedia--Wikipedia--has been called, "the Chekhov of the suburbs"). I'm almost certain I could avidly devour an anthology of short stories created by a selection of individuals considered classic(s) authors.

    Finally, since I listen so much more often than I literally read, much of my criteria for enjoying a book happens to be based on a component absent from the printed text: the reader. Whenever I stumble upon a reader who is pleasant to listen to, I imagine I could find just about any book palatable if it were read by the right person. Perhaps I should have added a third question above...or started an entirely new thread: Another part of my quest is to discover a method or tool that will allow me to search for audiobooks based on the narrative style and vocal qualities of my favorite readers. I must confess that I have not yet found a reader of any of the books generally considered to be classics whom I enjoy. This, too, would be an immense help.

    I wish to thank you, in advance, for any and all your suggestions.

    Kindest regards,
    Carlos
    Last edited by Carpageo; 05-14-2011 at 09:01 AM.

  12. #12
    Original Poster Buh4Bee's Avatar
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    I'd fall into your camp as a reader. I am a professional with a family and free time is limited, compared to if I had no responsibilities. It sounds like you are doing everything you can to maxim your reading time. I say, what's the hurry though? Why rush, and read at your regular pace. I find if a book is good, I can read it in a very short period of time. I also listen to audio on my commute and it makes the drive so enjoyable. I do have one suggestion to finding book is to make a list of books you hear about or read reviews. Keeping a list has been helpful to keep me focused. I fall into that trap that only classics are good and that is simply not true. Going to the library and browsing the shelf for the newest releases can be a great way to try new books. I have found many entertaining books that way.

    Good luck!

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    If you're looking for something similar to Austen, I'd recommend Frances Burney's Evelina and Samuel Richardson's Pamela. Richardson and Burney are Austen's major influences. Those are epistolary novels (novels written as letters), so they lend themselves well to periodic reading.
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    Quote Originally Posted by jersea View Post
    ...I say, what's the hurry though?
    First off, my thanks to both jersea and OrphanPip. I was quite pleasantly surprised to find two people had already responded to my comment.

    Next, I thought the above question from your quote, jersea, was an appropriate way to interject the amendment to my earlier comment I had planned to attempt just now. (However, as I expected, the temporal window of opportunity to edit my former comment has passed. No matter.) You might say I am trying to gain ground on my lifelong reading list. I've long possessed a love of books but lacked the ability to read all the titles and descriptions that interested me. I occasionally fantasize about being the character played by Burgess Meredith in Rod Serling's Twilight Zone episode, "Time Enough at Last"--while retaining my current, 20/20 eyesight so as to avoid the misfortune of suffering a life having the companionship of neither of people nor books. I figure the next best thing to stopping time or eliminating all distractions, human or otherwise, is to read quickly, thereby consuming a greater portion of the books I've waited and wished to read.

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    If you want lighter classics, for French literature you could try some of the old French comedies, Moliere and the like. For Russian literature, Gogol's The Nose, is surreal and comic. The Master and Margarita is sort of darkly comic. You could try some of Nabokov's novels as well.

    If you want 'chirpy' and 'accessible', you might want to avoid Victor Hugo for the time being. Les Miserables and The Hunchback of Notre Dame aren't exactly a barrel of laughs. The latter is especially disturbing.

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