Page 1 of 7 123456 ... LastLast
Results 1 to 15 of 93

Thread: The most important English literature to you and why

  1. #1
    Registered User
    Join Date
    May 2014
    Posts
    17

    The most important English literature to you and why

    I'm developing a reading list for myself. I have only 6hrs/week to read, and so can cover (deeply) only several average-sized texts per year. Hence, my desire to spend some time carefully selecting them.

    The last book I read was Atlas Shrugged. Hope this explains my motivation to curate my list a little

    List items can be anything: long/short/poetry/essays/fiction/non-fiction/anything else.

    At the moment, I'm thinking of sticking with the most highly-recommended classics. But experience tells me essays, such as Orwell's Politics and the English Language can also offer brilliant knowledge/insight for the short time it takes to read them.

    Please help!

  2. #2
    I read this essay and I found it brilliant. Thanks
    Here's a list that might help. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harvard_Classics
    I'll post anything more I think should be included in your list as I find them.
    The primary purpose of a liberal education is to make one's mind a pleasant place in which to spend one's leisure.
    -Sydney J. Harris

  3. #3
    Registered User
    Join Date
    May 2014
    Posts
    17
    You totally made my day

    I'm going to research this list thoroughly, see what I can get in audio book, work out whether Eliot intended for the list to be read in order, and see if I can get the introductory notes (or a least a brief summary of each volume) so that I can study that before delving into the individual texts.

    I happen to know that some of the texts are best "studied", rather than "read", (example: Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations - this was extremely important - perhaps the first economics text, and it had ideas that were ground-breaking, but many of those ideas have been fully fleshed out and do not form part of contemporary wisdom in the field of economics).

    It may take me days (perhaps weeks!), but I'll post back here when I have a plan as to how to take on this massive task!

  4. #4
    Registered User
    Join Date
    Aug 2009
    Posts
    3,093
    Quote Originally Posted by chevalierdelame View Post
    Volume 1 - certainly doesn't contain the "most highly recommended classics", more a choice based on bias & patriotism. Volume 2 - this is more like it! But it's not *English* literature.
    Volume 3 - OK this is English literature, but some rather strange choices! Milton's prose? he's most famous for his poetry. Bacon's essays are interesting, but quite difficult reading, and don't usually appear on any critics top ten list.
    Volume 4 - Ah here's Milton's poetry. He seems a bit obsessed with Milton. Milton is difficult, maybe he's trying to look like a true Harvard scholar by choosing the most difficult works...

    I don't think this a is a great list for someone attempting to get into English literature. Most critics agree that Shakespeare is the greatest author, and he doesn't get recommended until volume 46! He's also easier to read than most of the authors in the preceding 45 volumes. So why not start with him? Try "Hamlet" for starters...

    After Shakespeare, why not try Dickens? "David Copperfield" would be a good starting point.

  5. #5
    Registered User
    Join Date
    May 2014
    Posts
    17
    Quote Originally Posted by mal4mac View Post
    Most critics agree that Shakespeare is the greatest author, and he doesn't get recommended until volume 46!
    Great point! Can't work out the rationale for the order - introduction/reader's guide in volume 50? Odd.

  6. #6
    Registered User
    Join Date
    May 2014
    Posts
    17
    Here's quite an inspirational thought (about the Harvard list):

    "Two editors from Collier, Norman Hapgood and William Patten, had read a speech Eliot delivered to an audience of working men, in which he declared that a five-foot shelf of books could provide "a good substitute for a liberal education in youth to anyone who would read them with devotion, even if he could spare but fifteen minutes a day for reading."

    I can't help but get exciting thinking that if I can knock off one foot per year, I could be wise five years from now! - that's worth getting excited about, right?!

  7. #7
    Registered User
    Join Date
    Dec 2013
    Posts
    35
    The Harvard books are a pretty thorough list of reading for any one who wants to get "smarter". They are worth reading and owning, although you can find the entire transcript of every volume online now. As a book addict I have the real deal.
    But the above poster was right who said they're not so much "literature" as important historical documents etc.

  8. #8
    Registered User Poetaster's Avatar
    Join Date
    Nov 2013
    Location
    Northeast England
    Posts
    466
    Quote Originally Posted by mal4mac View Post
    Volume 3 - OK this is English literature, but some rather strange choices! Milton's prose? he's most famous for his poetry. Bacon's essays are interesting, but quite difficult reading, and don't usually appear on any critics top ten list.
    I certainly agree Milton's poetry should come before his prose, but Milton's prose is also extremely important and valued enough to merit inclusion, surely? While he's not the beginning, he is the best early voice of the Republican feeling which was a big influence on early liberalism.
    'So - this is where we stand. Win all, lose all,
    we have come to this: the crisis of our lives'

  9. #9
    Registered User
    Join Date
    Aug 2009
    Posts
    3,093
    Quote Originally Posted by Poetaster View Post
    I certainly agree Milton's poetry should come before his prose, but Milton's prose is also extremely important and valued enough to merit inclusion, surely? While he's not the beginning, he is the best early voice of the Republican feeling which was a big influence on early liberalism.
    Fair enough. Looking closely at the strict purpose of this list, it was to provide the "elements of a liberal education". If we assume he was using a strict definition of "liberal" then I guess including Milton's foundational works make sense. But the OP wasn't interested in this - he wanted to read the most highly-recommended classics of English Literature.

    I would extend this to "world literature" as you don't want to miss out on Tolstoy, Flaubert, Cervantes, etc.,...

    I like the list in "Top Ten" by Peter Zane, if you want to start with a list of about 500 books recommended by 125 of the leading writers of today. (Milton's prose isn't on it )

  10. #10
    Registered User
    Join Date
    May 2014
    Posts
    17
    Quote Originally Posted by Dono View Post
    As a book addict I have the real deal.
    Awesome - if you had to choose the ten volumes that influenced you most, which would they be?

  11. #11
    Registered User
    Join Date
    May 2014
    Posts
    17
    Quote Originally Posted by Dono View Post
    The Harvard books are a pretty thorough list of reading for any one who wants to get "smarter".
    I'd like to become learned and wise, so hopefully these texts will help!

    Quote Originally Posted by Dono View Post
    [The Harvard List is ] not so much "literature" as important historical documents etc.
    Given my aims, the reading list I'll make can exclude documents that may be of historical importance but aren't best at imparting contemporary wisdom (Wealth of Nations is a great example - it initiated economic thought, but it's a hefty read, and most of the ideas are have since been refined and can be found on wikipedia in a very small fraction of the time it would take to read the book in full).

  12. #12
    Registered User Poetaster's Avatar
    Join Date
    Nov 2013
    Location
    Northeast England
    Posts
    466
    Quote Originally Posted by mal4mac View Post
    Fair enough. Looking closely at the strict purpose of this list, it was to provide the "elements of a liberal education". If we assume he was using a strict definition of "liberal" then I guess including Milton's foundational works make sense. But the OP wasn't interested in this - he wanted to read the most highly-recommended classics of English Literature.

    I would extend this to "world literature" as you don't want to miss out on Tolstoy, Flaubert, Cervantes, etc.,...
    Oh yeah, I certainly agree. I don't know if anyone these days would read Areopagitica because they wanted to read a classic literary text. It's really more for academic study than for pleasure these days while Milton's Paradise Lost is most certainly is still read for pleasure. Though granted it's a very special kind of pleasure.
    'So - this is where we stand. Win all, lose all,
    we have come to this: the crisis of our lives'

  13. #13
    Registered User
    Join Date
    May 2014
    Posts
    17
    Quote Originally Posted by mal4mac View Post
    "elements of a liberal education"
    I took the Wikipedia definition and changed a few words: "The liberal arts are those subjects or skills that are considered essential for a free person (a citizen) to know in order to take an active part in civic life."

    This is part of what I'm after. But in addition to these really 'big-picture' reads (philosophy, politics, economics, science, society etc), I'd like reads that are of importance at a personal level - e.g. personal finance, lifestyle, relationships, health and fitness.

  14. #14
    Registered User
    Join Date
    May 2014
    Posts
    17
    Quote Originally Posted by mal4mac View Post
    I like the list in "Top Ten" by Peter Zane
    Looks like a great list. Given my aims (knowledge etc), are there any of the top ten you'd weed out for being, perhaps, brilliant (or just very popular!) in a literary sense, but not so great at imparting knowledge and understanding?

  15. #15
    Registered User
    Join Date
    Aug 2009
    Posts
    3,093
    Sven Birkerts in his preface to "Top Ten" says, "The collective preference is clearly for memorable character-driven dramas of love and death delineated in sensuous, nuanced prose." He makes a good case for suggesting that love and death are the central themes of most great literature, so if you are after an understanding of these aspects of human life then "Top Ten" provides a good list.

    But if you are after specific information on philosophy, politics, economics, science, and society then I would (mostly) look elsewhere. Wikipedia perhaps? Some literary works do provide information on these themes, for instance in reading Tolstoy's Anna Karenina you will learn a bit about the philosophies of Nietzsche, Hegel, and Schopenhauer, and the politics/economics of 19th century Russia, but these are linked very much to the personal impact they have on one of the main characters, and Tolstoy certainly doesn't provide a complete summary of all these subjects.

    For advice on personal finance, lifestyle, health and fitness then this is definitely the wrong forum! I suppose you might make some recommendation - Dickens' Bleak House on personal finance? But I'd read Jim Bogle, or similar writers, if you actually want to arrange your personal finances! And I'm sure Bogle would not be insulted if I were to say that no one would include him on a "Top Ten" list of favourite literature - Dickens is a lot more fun to read. A literary work should, above all else, be an enjoyable experience, one of life's great pleasures, and something you can fall in love with. That's the kind of works "Top Ten" is considering.

Page 1 of 7 123456 ... LastLast

Similar Threads

  1. Replies: 20
    Last Post: 10-16-2017, 09:23 PM
  2. Replies: 0
    Last Post: 11-25-2013, 04:14 AM
  3. Does writing a novel in English makes it an English literature?
    By caddy_caddy in forum General Literature
    Replies: 40
    Last Post: 01-08-2013, 04:08 PM
  4. The Most Important in Literature
    By mercy_mankind in forum General Literature
    Replies: 2
    Last Post: 02-23-2010, 10:45 AM
  5. Why is it important to study literature?
    By faith in forum General Literature
    Replies: 8
    Last Post: 03-22-2006, 06:21 PM

Posting Permissions

  • You may not post new threads
  • You may not post replies
  • You may not post attachments
  • You may not edit your posts
  •