Monday, June 12, 2017

Reading good novels and not being "intolerably stupid"

First, I came across the following quote when I was browsing Goodreads last night:

“The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.” ― Jane AustenNorthanger Abbey

Then, looking a bit further during my browsing last night, I was revisiting Harold Bloom's The Western Canon. It then occurred to me that I would like to avoid being "intolerably stupid," so I ought to seek a return to the pleasures I once upon a time experienced as a reader of good novels. But the problem next arose: What novels should I read? I decided that there are two categories of novels that I should include in my "bucket list" of novels-to-be-read:

(1) ones that I have read before and want to revisit before I kick the bucket;

(2) ones that I have over the years overlooked, ignored, or avoided but should read before I kick the bucket.

Okay, friends, here are my preliminary lists. These lists, thrown together in no particular order, might surprise you. Well, the lists certainly surprise me.

Bleak House by Charles Dickens
A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen
Persuasion by Jane Austen
The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by R. L. Stevenson
Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Moby Dick by Herman Melville
Billy Budd by Herman Melville
The Awakening by Kate Chopin
Pudd'nhead Wilson by Mark Twain
Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner
Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather
The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
Wise Blood by Flannery O'Connor
Possession by A. S. Byatt

New Reading:
Don Quixote by Cervantes 
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Emma by Jane Austen
Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
David Copperfield by Charles Dickens
The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
Middlemarch by George Eliot
A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court by Mark Twain 
The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James
Ulysses by James Joyce
Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann
Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien 

I'm sure that I have omitted dozens of other novels that I could have added to my lists (and even now as I write these words I have thought of several more titles but will avoid adding them), and I bet my lists surprise you, but I will stop now with my obsessive-compulsive list-making because as is so often accurately said, "Life is short." That, my friends, is so very true!

Now, while I rededicate myself to reading good novels and not being "intolerably stupid," and while I know that I will never be able to complete my lists, I leave you with this challenge:

Tell me about the novels you would include on your own separate lists: (1) ones you want to reread before you kick the bucket; (2) ones you have overlooked, ignored, or avoided. 

I hope you will visit and comment. I think this can become an interesting discussion.

Now, though, I think I will begin reading the novel I have most conspicuously overlooked, ignored, and avoided for far too long: Don Quixote.

NOTE: I may or may not be saying anything more here about my novel reading progress because I have no way of knowing my state of mind beyond the present moment (i.e., the deterioration of my Swiss-cheese memory and worsening problems with my bipolar mind interfere with even the most simple tasks in everyday life).


  1. I still have things that I must read in order to write something that I want to write. So my reading for sheer pleasure is haphazard. I also seem busier than ever.

    1. Frank, note that Brideshead Revisited remains as one of goals; I started it several times, but life's detours distracted me. I'm glad that you find time to visit and comment here even though you are busier than ever. Your visits mean a lot to me.

  2. I really like the variety in your lists, Tim. I think a varied reading list gives one a wider perspective on the human condition.

    1. Margot, I'm embarrassed about the great books I've not read, and I'm worried that I'll never get around to them. Such is life.

  3. I'm two years into the five-year classics club challenge, which has given me motivation to take on a few works that were daunting before. There are still a few intimidating ones left -- all of the Russians, for instance. My list is also prompting me to re-read Grapes of Wrath and Fahrenheit 951.

    1. Stephen, I really ought to have done the classics challenge, but now I think I need to stick with my self imposed challenge. F451 nearly made my reread list; GofW remains a movie memory rather than reading choice for me.

  4. i'd like to reread some of the early sci fi i so much enjoyed as a youth, but... i just remembered rereading Asimov's Foundation trilogy a few years ago and it was very disappointing: it blew me away as a lad, but now, it seemed rather pedestrian... because of that and other similar experiences, i don't reread much...
    it would be nice to read some more russians before the end, and medieval history, but mostly i guess i just read serendipitously... right now i'm just finishing a story of the Californian gold fields by the son of Frederick Marryat, which is pretty interesting... i found it in an obscure bookshop in Lincoln City, Or...

    1. Mudpuddle, I have concerns that some of my rereading will result in something like your Asimov experience.

    2. @Mudpuddle: I often re-read the very first Foundation book, and sometimes the two prequels, but I can't ever recall re-reading Second Foundation, Foundation and Earth, etc.

  5. Tim,

    Interesting question about one of my perennial problems: rereading old favorites and getting to the unread works. I have finally managed to remove two long-time inhabitants of Mount TBR within the past year: The Dream of the Red Chamber and The Tale of Genji.

    Now my most recent project is rereading and (much to my surprise) reading all of Lawrence Durrell's works. The surprise is that there are a few works out there by him that I haven't read because I didn't know about them. So, I have the double pleasure of rereading old favorites and new ones by Durrell.

    I also just discovered a few minutes ago that Walter van Tilburg Clark has published two novels that I never heard of, so I will doing a search for them. There's actually another novel of his, _Tim Hazard_, but that's an abridged version of his _City of Trembling Leaves_, which I have already read and reread, so I won't bother to look around for that one. I also will look around for his one book of poetry. Abcbooks lists eight copies, ranging from $75 to $150, so it's InterLibraryLoan time.

    There are others, of course, (Love in the Time of Cholora_ being one), but I have found that limiting projects to one or two is the best recipe for success for me.

  6. Ooops. That should be

    1. Fred, I cannot think of any book for which I would plunk down that kind of money. I hope my lists do not overwhelm me. But at least I have a plan, one that will be compatible with my blogging ambitions and disciplines: secular v. spirit quest. I look forward to readings, postings, comments, and discussions. Now I'm off to tilt at some windmills while sitting again in a medical facility waiting room.

    2. Tim,

      Tilting at windmills can be a lot of fun.

      I find one plan is workable; it's when plans multiply that problems arise. So, I have a list of projects and move on to the next one when the ongoing one is finished or nearly finished.

      I started the Durrell reading and rereading project because the Rubaiyat project is almost finished.

    3. Fred, as I've told you previously, I have been quite impressed by your Rubaiyat project, especially as I envy your commitment and clarity. I hope I can force my Swiss cheese mind to follow my plan. Well, I'll just take one day at a time. In Don Quixote I am already struck by the good, bad, and ugly influences of popular fiction upon some minds. And I'm struck by my own kinship with Quixote. We both seek something more. I guess he and I are both fools, which might not be such a bad thing. Three cheers for fools.

    4. Tim,

      I think many of us bloggers, those who aren't being paid for it, are Quixotic (I like that better than fools).

    5. i am pretty foolish sometimes... well, a lot of the time; not so much Don Quixote-ish as Candide-ish; but it will all equalize in the end...

    6. Fools can be quite wise. Consider those in Shakespeare's plays.

  7. I read a good article that said one should try to stop reading everything on the bucket list (is that the one we need to kick when all is said and done?) and go back to our favorites.

    I believe I should do this but am not doing it because I have to justify all the books I have in my house. I am, however, realizing that many of the books are perhaps not worth reading and life is too short to read books that aren't worth while.

    1. Thanks, Sharon, for visiting and commenting. Isn't it quite the challenge to figure out before choosing books which books will be worthwhile? Who will be our guides? How will we choose from the many recommendations? And how do age and experience affect our choices? I find myself turning often to Harold Bloom and trusted bloggers for the best ideas for choices. I try to avoid prize and awards lists, and best seller status usually gets a thumbs down from me. Last year I purged my bookshelves of more than a thousand books. This erased my guilt brought on by being an addicted book buyer. Now I rely exclusively upon etexts from libraries, the internet, and free Kindle texts via Amazon.

    2. This erased my guilt brought on by being an addicted book buyer.

      Oh, there are a LOT worse addictions out there! I don't think there should be ANY guilt about buying books.... [grin]

    3. Sharon: hahaha; the book problem solved... but i couldn't do that without overwhelming guilt, because a lot of the ones i haven't read are classics which represent the collected learning of the human race and how do i pitch that out the window? still...

    4. Tim: A THOUSAND BOOKS!!! my word, he said, wonderingly... i don't think my total library is more than 500 although i've never counted them... no wonder you're so knowledgeable... (my secret theory that if you sleep in the library all those books will seep into your brain...)....

    5. Giving away books to libraries and charity thrift shops salved the pain.

  8. The list looks spectacular. I also love to browse through Bloom's Western Cannon. It leads me to want to read hundreds of books. Thus, I am unable to provide a list.

    I am currently reading Don Quixote for the first time myself. I am loving it. The book is very long. My Edith Grossman translation is 940 pages.

    1. Brian, I'm also reading the Grossman translation. Bloom continues to teach me a lot, but he has many detractors.