Classics Club: August Meme

Every month, the Classics Club blog posts a question for us to answer, and I just about never get around to it.  Memes in general, I am not good at them.  But today I think I will do it!
What classic piece of literature most intimidates you, and why? (Or, are you intimidated by the classics, and why? And has your view changed at all since you joined our club?)

I have gotten a lot less intimidated, that is for sure.  The CC has helped me focus my reading and discover that I can tackle scary books!  But there are still a couple of areas that really make me nervous:

French literature.  Nothing is scarier.  Zola?  Balzac?  Hugo?  Proust?  Eeeek, save me! I feel quite proud of the fact that I have now read The Count of Monte Cristo (1000 pages of adventure and melodrama) and Madame Bovary (fabulous novel which required a readalong to give me courage).   Now that I'm getting to the end of my CC list, though, I'm thinking I'll need to put Hugo on the next one.  I still don't know about those other guys. The thought of reading Zola makes me shrink and quiver.  But perhaps, someday, French literature will be my pale green pants with nobody inside them.

Anything heavily philosophical.  I tried to read Aristotle's Ethics.  Bleh.  I took one look at William James' Varieties of Religious Experience and felt faint.  I can deal with Plato and Socrates just fine, but anything else....well, I dunno.

Moby Dick.  I have no plans ever to read Moby Dick.  I cannot see why I should!


  1. If this doesn't show how arbitrary art intimidation is. You read all of that Scandinavian literature, all of those sagas, much more difficult books than anything Zola ever wrote! You read that Almqvist novel!

    Thérèse Raquin is a trashy noir. Notre-Dame de Paris is an action movie with one digression about architectural preservation. "The Passion in the Desert" is about a soldier who falls in love with a panther, and it's 9 pages long.

    If the problem is that there is a lot of philosophical content in these writers - no, not really. Rarely. Even Proust is mostly gossip.

  2. We're doing a readalong of Zola's Germinal in September. :)

  3. And it IS interesting what Amateur Reader says about art intimidation. I don't have a literature background whatsoever and didn't even know to consider any French lit as difficult. Maybe because I loved Les Miserables in High School? And I only picked that because it was long and I liked the songs on Broadway. I am afraid of Russian Lit but mostly because I think it will be way too long and tedious.

  4. I don't quite know what it is about French literature that makes me nervous. I don't really expect long philosophical digressions, but I probably do expect...well, for it to be like Henry James but less fun or comprehensible.

    I love that Almqvist novel, I was thinking I might read it again soon...

    I like Russian literature! It can be long, but that's because there are a zillion characters all doing different things...

  5. See, Les Miserables, the musical, got really popular in my high school...while I was gone. So I got back and everybody had seen it but me, and I never did get around to seeing it until some friends of ours were in a local production a couple of years ago. That's the entire extent of my knowledge. (My daughter did remind me the other day that when we saw it, I was puzzled by the innkeeper's wife, who seemed inexplicably deranged, like she was channeling Bellatrix LeStrange or something. Daughter cracked up and showed me the recent film clip, with Helena Bonham Carter being a deranged innkeeper's wife!)

  6. As I said in one of my recent posts, the Count of Monte Cristo really intimidates me. But I keep hearing it's amazing and that it doesn't feel like 1000+ pages, so I'm excited to try it out one day. Hugo also scares me to death hahah
    As for Moby Dick... I sort of don't want to ever read it, but at the same time I want to give it a try to see for myself how it is. I'm not sure what I'll do about it.
    What's the hardest classic you've ever read?

  7. Should I link to my old "Russian Books Are Short" post? Russian books are mostly short, and almost never long. One particular Russian novel is the proverbial long book, I know.

    Hugo wrote bestsellers beloved by illiterate people. One of them features a long scene with one-on-one combat between a man and a killer octopus. He wrote lovely little poems about his grandchildren. He could hardly be less like Henry James.

    Balzac and Zola are exactly as much like James as Flaubert is like James.

  8. Yes, there is plenty of short stuff in Russian! I tend to read the long books, though; those are the ones that stick in our memories I guess. I loved the proverbial long Russian novel.

    OK, you win, I will put Hugo on the list. Killer octopus, huh? You are cracking me up today!

    Hm, Esther, the hardest? I don't even know, I'll have to think about that one. Is the hardest the dullest, or the most impenetrable??

  9. You will be totally fine if you don't ever get to Moby Dick. I ended up quitting it about halfway through. There is very little plot but massive amounts of amateur whale classification and tediously detailed descriptions of whaling practices.

  10. OK, after looking things over, my picks for hardest books are:
    The Romance of the Rose (French! Coincidence? I think not.)
    The Decameron (not hard to read, I know lots of people think it's fun, but I don't *like* hilarious adultery stories)
    And I also vote for Thucydides, who I had to read in college. I want to re-read and maybe I'll understand more this time. My problem is that I usually find war dull.

  11. Haha, I completely agree with you about Moby Dick!

  12. Weirdly, I really want to read Moby-Dick. The ocean, the wind-blown travelers, the whale! I've read far enough to get past the whale anatomy bits. So far I really like it. No idea why I never finished it. Just its length, I guess. I get distracted...

  13. I don't know about Hugo, but Zola is a cinch. You can read Zola. Today I am starting The Belly of Paris (trans. Brian Nelson - though I've not read his translation, yet), and I've read four other Zola's. Germinal was excellent. You can do it.

  14. I just finished a novel in which the townsfolk had a Moby Dick event in which they had a nonstop reading of the book at the local library. People signed up and took turns reading the book out loud until they'd read it start to finish. I don't know that I will ever try Moby Dick. It really doesn't interest me. Sounds like you feel the same. :-)

    Many years ago I started reading Les Miserables and was loving it. Then I got bogged down by my university studies and had to set it aside, never to get back to it. I would really like to give it another try.

  15. Ha! Moby-Dick gets a mention on my own post! I'm betting it's one of the books that appears most often on lists of books we think we should read but don't really want to! I haven't read much French literature either, but I did enjoy Madame Bovary. If I ever finish my current CC list, maybe I'll out some French literarture in the next one.


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