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Droewyn
02-11-2013, 01:39 PM
I read almost constantly, but my library is pretty much entirely made up of genre fiction. I'm having the urge to broaden my horizons by reading some classics (one book a month is my goal!), but given the sheer amount of works out there, I'm kind of at a loss where to begin.

So, Talking Time, give me a place to start. Give me the titles of some worthwhile literature, and tell me why you like it!

Mightyblue
02-11-2013, 02:14 PM
Well A) "Literature" as a genre varies incredibly widely, mostly because it gets redefined every twenty or thirty years to fit the preconceptions of that generation's most popularly read literary critics. Hence the current backlash against genre fiction as terrible and unworthy of the title of literature. This is in gross ignorance of history, which holds most of the greatest novels and literary works as products of serialization in magazines and anthologies. For some reason you can't write "seriously" nowadays unless you follow the Jane Austen school of writing to the letter, but some of that may just be residual bitterness on my part.

B) Would be what you're interested in reading? Because everyone has different favorites in classic lit, but the range is well, vast.

Karzac
02-11-2013, 02:21 PM
Some of my favourite "literature" books: The Catcher in the Rye, Catch-22, Fifth Business, 1984, Of Mice and Men, East of Eden.

Alex Scott
02-11-2013, 02:31 PM
I'd define "classics" as public domain works with a good reputation. In which case, my favorites are probably The Brothers Karamazov, The Man Who Was Thursday, and Jane Eyre.

Droewyn
02-11-2013, 04:04 PM
Well A) "Literature" as a genre varies incredibly widely, mostly because it gets redefined every twenty or thirty years to fit the preconceptions of that generation's most popularly read literary critics. Hence the current backlash against genre fiction as terrible and unworthy of the title of literature. This is in gross ignorance of history, which holds most of the greatest novels and literary works as products of serialization in magazines and anthologies. For some reason you can't write "seriously" nowadays unless you follow the Jane Austen school of writing to the letter, but some of that may just be residual bitterness on my part.

B) Would be what you're interested in reading? Because everyone has different favorites in classic lit, but the range is well, vast.

That's the thing... I've pretty much spent my life up until now firmly in the cyborg ninja unicorn realm, with occasional toe dipping into Regency romance because there's just something wonderful about a setting where the obvious logical response to "I am wanted for murder" is "We must attend a party. FETCH MY PRETTY PRETTY PRINCESS DRESS!"

I have no idea what I like outside of speculative fiction. So I'm mostly just looking for some suggestions, and then I'll figure out what I like after I've tried some stuff.

Epithet
02-11-2013, 04:57 PM
One approach that might be fun would be to zero in on writing from one area & general time period and try to figure out what you can about the ideas, literary standards, and culture of that time. It's like worldbuilding, but real. Like Turgenev/Chekhov/Dostoyevsky for ~18th century Russia, or something.

Vonnegut's books are as approachable as any story about unicorn wizards you could name, and mad depressing and thoughtful as well. You should read Cat's Cradle or Mother Night sometime.

I'd definitely second Catch-22 and The Brothers Karamazov. I want to add more but I keep thinking of things about misery and death and I want to throw in some more variety. Ah'm not Well Read enough.

The True Deceiver isn't very good for namedropping on people but it's austere and intriguing and by Tove Jansson, so.

Loki
02-11-2013, 05:38 PM
What do you read for Droewyn? Plot? Do you like exciting stories where a lot happens? Character? Interesting people where the main conflict is internal and the focus is how they change? Setting and world building? Language or the style in which a book is written?

Knowing what you prefer regardless of genre will help us recommend to fit your tastes.

Violentvixen
02-11-2013, 08:23 PM
I think what you'd enjoy to start with is the early sci-fi stuff. HG Wells, Jules Verne, etc.

Frankenstein is interesting but difficult.

Evil Dead Junkie
02-11-2013, 09:01 PM
I adore Evelyn Waugh, Brideshead Revisited, Scoop, The Loved One. Twain is good and good for you. Flannery O'Connor is a must. Dickens, though like Shakespeare, I feel he's best appreciated when read aloud (IE Audiobooks)

MCBanjoMike
02-12-2013, 11:08 AM
Read Michael Chabon's Kavalier and Klay. Not only is it pretty much my favorite book, it's also literature and it references comic books! The perfect crossover novel.

Karzac
02-12-2013, 01:05 PM
Yeah, I was thinking of that one, but it's not an easy read, especially at the beginning. I know prolific readers who have given up on it multiple times.

I'll also suggest either The Spy Who Came in From the Cold or Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John Le Carre. Le Carre writes genre fiction, but his stuff is a bit stylistically and thematically deeper than typical fare.

reibeatall
02-12-2013, 01:55 PM
Wuthering Heights is all you need

Falselogic
02-12-2013, 02:53 PM
I read almost constantly, but my library is pretty much entirely made up of genre fiction. I'm having the urge to broaden my horizons by reading some classics (one book a month is my goal!), but given the sheer amount of works out there, I'm kind of at a loss where to begin.

So, Talking Time, give me a place to start. Give me the titles of some worthwhile literature, and tell me why you like it!

Isn't this where we tweet you pictures of our junk?

Wolf
02-12-2013, 09:05 PM
Portnoy's Complaint.

Isrieri
02-12-2013, 09:27 PM
Wuthering Heights is all you need

And Great Expectations.

Mazian
02-12-2013, 09:30 PM
There's also a fair amount of Serious Literature for Serious People® that could easily be shelved as genre fiction. At the contemporary end Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go is fantastic, and over on the dead-white-guys shelf, start with Mikhail Bulgakov's short novel Heart of a Dog, and if you like it (I hope you will!) then immediately purchase a copy of The Master and Margarita.

Over towards the other end, I'm sure you've already heard Pride and Prejudice suggested, but I'll do it again because Jane Austen in top form is glorious.

Rufferto
02-12-2013, 09:39 PM
If you're looking for some "transitional" novels, try reading some Margaret Atwood, because she has some pretty interesting science fiction books that I guess can also be considered "literature".

If you're looking for straight up literature though, I'd recommend One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest. Some "literature" can be dull at times. This book's pretty short and a pleasant read. I prefer it over the movie, despite Jack Nicholson's solid performance as Randle. The movie is more about Randle, which is fine, but the book focuses much more on the chief, considering he's the narrator of the story. I guess I just prefer the chief's perspective on things.

Pajaro Pete
02-12-2013, 11:04 PM
what high school lit have you read

keele864
02-13-2013, 04:32 PM
I adore Evelyn Waugh, Brideshead Revisited, Scoop, The Loved One. Twain is good and good for you. Flannery O'Connor is a must. Dickens, though like Shakespeare, I feel he's best appreciated when read aloud (IE Audiobooks)

I second all these and would add Waugh's A Handful of Dust to the list as well, one of the few books I know that manages to be hilarious and tragic at the same time. Though I will say the ending might make you think very differently of another writer on EDJ's list.

Droewyn
02-13-2013, 05:47 PM
What do you read for Droewyn? Plot? Do you like exciting stories where a lot happens? Character? Interesting people where the main conflict is internal and the focus is how they change? Setting and world building? Language or the style in which a book is written?

Knowing what you prefer regardless of genre will help us recommend to fit your tastes.

Ooh, good question. I love strong world building. New settings, something I don't experience in real life. One of the reason I don't tend to read Oprah's Book Club selections is that I already know what a woman's struggle to find meaning in today's world is like. I want exotic locations, different points of view. Speaking of which, I do prefer my heroes on the sympathetic side. Game of Thrones aside, horrible people being horrible to each other is a pretty major turn off. Witty characters who engage in banter is a bonus.

At the contemporary end Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go is fantastic

I read this! It was really good!

what high school lit have you read

Let's see...

All Quiet on the Western Front. Hated.

Animal Farm. Liked it on the first read-through, several weeks' of analysis dampened my enthusiasm.

Romeo and Juliet, Julius Caesar. I can't read poetry, and I can't read plays. My eyes just slide right over the lines, and I retain absolutely nothing. When a book puts a poem as a chapter header I literally have to read it out loud to get any kind of meaning from it.

The Odyssey. Yeah... that verse thing. I like the sequence of events, I just can't read it.

The Great Gatsby. I hated all of the characters and wanted them to die.

Les Misérables. Unabridged. I re-read it every few years or so. Well, except for the 60-page recap of the Battle of Waterloo that has absolutely nothing to do with anything. I skip that part with glee.

There's got to be more... but I can't think of any at the moment. I'm not going to count Huck Finn; the last time I read it was in sixth grade. I wasn't even a person back then.

Loki
02-13-2013, 06:55 PM
Hmm... world building is one of the tougher things to find in the classic canon. I recommend 1984 because the setting is really out there and the focus of the book is about how the world has changed into a place hostile to human freedom. It's not so much about character or plot. Likewise, Brave New World. 1001 Arabian Nights is fantastic and totally readable but it has more of a fairy tale or mythic feel to it. Both Call of the Wild and White Fang are great and focus on the harsh and far-off Alaskan wilderness. Maybe read one of London's short stories to get a feel for his prose? To Build a Fire (http://www.jacklondons.net/buildafire.html) is his most famous but I recommend The Red One (http://www.jacklondons.net/writings/RedOne/redone.html). It's a sci-fi-horror-ish story about an explorer stranded on an island where an otherworldly something has influenced the natives and turned them strange and alien. Harrowing and intense.

Since you're a fan of Le Mis I'd also recommend The Tale of Two Cities for a similar setting, although the language might be a little tough, and Hunchback of Notre-Dame, because... well it's written by the same guy, but also because it's readable, exciting, and pretty different from the story you think you know.

Falselogic
02-13-2013, 09:01 PM
Everyone should read Catch-22 at least twice.

Bradbury's Martian Chronicles are magical. Everything Bradbury wrote was magical.

Brothers Karamazov is my favorite Dostoyevsky book. Bleak House is the only Dickens book I've really enjoyed.

If you can find any of Stephen Jay Gould's essay books (first is the Panda's Thumb) you'll find them both educational and edifying, the man was a beautiful writer.

Karzac
02-13-2013, 09:09 PM
If you really like world building, give John Irving a shot. I've often thought of him as a fantasy writer who just happens to write stories that take place in the real world.

Patrick
02-14-2013, 07:25 AM
I'm going to second the short stories of Flannery O'Connor. Also 1984 and Fahrenheit 451. Twain is great, as is O Henry. I liked Never Let Me Go, but I preferred The Remains of the Day.

Witty characters who engage in banter is a bonus.


Check out The Picture of Dorian Gray. It's the wittiest thing you'll ever read.

I'm a huge fan of Gabriel Garcia Marquez. 100 Years of Solitude is a great book, but it's a lot to jump right into. you might want to start by reading A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings (http://salvoblue.homestead.com/wings.html).

If you want to see if you like Hemmingway's style, The Old Man and the Sea is a great and quick read.

Paul le Fou
02-14-2013, 07:42 AM
Read Michael Chabon's Kavalier and Klay. Not only is it pretty much my favorite book, it's also literature and it references comic books! The perfect crossover novel.

If you're looking for something more recent, YES!

Also: VONNEGUT. Do it! Start with Slaughterhouse-five or Cat's Cradle. He's really easy and super fun to read, while still being great literature.

I'll throw in some Magical Realism because it might make a good bridge from Fantasy and I lurve it: David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas, Gabriel Garcia Marquez's 100 Years of Solitude, Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children (or Satanic Verses), Haruki Murakami's Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World (Kinda Science Fictiony)

If you really like world building, give John Irving a shot. I've often thought of him as a fantasy writer who just happens to write stories that take place in the real world.

ELABORATE

Karzac
02-14-2013, 07:47 AM
His books have a huge focus on worldbuilding. I've only read The World According to Garp, The Cider House Rules, and A Prayer for Owen Meany but in all three (and especially the first two) he essentially creates New England for the reader. He describes the places, the people and the activities in his books with such detail, and such an expository tone, that it feels very much like he's describing a fictional world entirely of his own creation, even though it's based in reality.

MikeDinosaur
02-14-2013, 02:52 PM
If you really like world-building and you can read a book as big as Les Mis, two doorstoppers you should keep on the horizon are War and Peace and Bleak House. My brother only ever reads fantasy novel but he did rather enjoy War and Peace. Tolstoy stops the story frequently to talk about life in Russia during the Napoleonic wars, and the lengths he goes to to make you feel present there are astounding. You smell it and feel it, and you learn a lot about its history too. It's also very funny, very sad, an epic in the truest sense.

If you want something shorter to get a sense of whether or not you'd like Tolstoy you might read the novella (novellette?) Hadji Murad. I don't think anyone who's read it doesn't like it.

Bleak House, while not carrying as much documentary baggage, takes place in a London that exists in a very heightened reality. It's always slushy, it's always smoky, there are always spindly schemers plotting against someone. There's even an eccentric but brilliant detective. It's hilarious, and it's also the only book that's ever made me cry. And I mean like, sobbing. It was glorious.

You might even enjoy Moby Dick. Also very funny if you have an over-developed sense of irony. The America they live in is a very alien one, far stranger-seeming than the cosmopolitan London of the nineteenth century. I sympathize with those who can't get anything out of it, but read the first chapter sometime, see if it grabs you. And if you don't like the cetology parts you can always just skip them.

Huck Finn's great but you could possibly have trouble with the dialect. It's almost impossible to skim, for better or worse.

Pride and Prejudice--short and sweet. Banterrific.

Grignr
02-14-2013, 03:42 PM
II'll throw in some Magical Realism because it might make a good bridge from Fantasy and I lurve it: David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas, Gabriel Garcia Marquez's 100 Years of Solitude, Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children (or Satanic Verses), Haruki Murakami's Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World (Kinda Science Fictiony)

I was just about to recommend all of these! And also Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón and Life of Pi by Yann Martel because these are the non-genre things I've read in the last few years. And also the Chabon, either Kavalier and Clay or Yiddish Policemen's Union.

These are all literature but not lacking the fantastic or science-fictional.

If you're a Neal Stephenson fan, I'd second the recommendations for Moby Dick or War and Peace, neither of which I found to be tough reads and MD is a lot funnier than I expected.

Epithet
02-14-2013, 04:40 PM
You might even enjoy Moby Dick. Also very funny if you have an over-developed sense of irony. The America they live in is a very alien one, far stranger-seeming than the cosmopolitan London of the nineteenth century. I sympathize with those who can't get anything out of it, but read the first chapter sometime, see if it grabs you. And if you don't like the cetology parts you can always just skip them.

"Whales=Still Fish. Come on, man."

Moby Dick is fun.

shivam
02-14-2013, 05:18 PM
Magical Realism is awful, awful stuff and has nothing to do with what makes Fantasy fun or readable.

Droewyn, I was you a few years back, and i made the decision to start expanding my reading repertoire past my beloved genre fiction, and my recommendation to you is to drop the idea of trying to find classics which mirror what you love about fantasy, because you'll be sorely disappointed. Most novels don't world build, because the world is this one, and it's already built. Similarly, most of these books in the classic genre are basically bad people doing bad things to each other. The human condition and all that.

A better idea might be to find what genres your favorite fantasy novels slot into, and expanding from there. My jumping off point was Chabon's Yiddish Policeman's Union, because i loved detective stories in fantasy books.

Or, as someone once said, find out who your favorite author's favorite authors are and read them.

But as far as actual books go, I really recommend Cloud Atlas, which eventually becomes amazing after a super slow start, and the super fantastic Tristan Shandy, which is a lively and fun story from the 1700s england that is really just a travelog about nothing really.

Behemoth
02-14-2013, 08:50 PM
Magical Realism is awful, awful stuff and has nothing to do with what makes Fantasy fun or readable.


I'm trying to think of a nice way to say "you're 100% wrong," but the best I can come up with is "you're 100% wrong."

On an unrelated note, The Brothers Karamazov is the greatest book ever written. This (unlike Shivam's misguided quote above) is objective fact. Some of my other favorites are Crime and Punishment, 100 Years of Solitude, Midnight's Children, The Moor's Last Sigh and Crossing to Safety.

taosterman
02-14-2013, 10:25 PM
John Fowles' The Magus and The French Lieutenant's Woman are among my favorites, and fairly mindfucky for "literary" fiction.

Paul le Fou
02-21-2013, 02:25 AM
I'm trying to think of a nice way to say "you're 100% wrong," but the best I can come up with is "you're 100% wrong."

Yeah this

Also, Behemoth: what caught you about The Moor's Last Sigh? I'm nearly at the end and can only think of it as "Midnight's Children Again, Because It Worked Out Pretty Well the First Time"

I was just about to recommend all of these! And also Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón and Life of Pi by Yann Martel because these are the non-genre things I've read in the last few years. And also the Chabon, either Kavalier and Clay or Yiddish Policemen's Union.

These are all literature but not lacking the fantastic or science-fictional.

Seeing as I also love every other book you listed except for Shadow of the Wind which I haven't read, that's now a strong slot on my to-read list!

Behemoth
02-21-2013, 08:27 AM
Also, Behemoth: what caught you about The Moor's Last Sigh? I'm nearly at the end and can only think of it as "Midnight's Children Again, Because It Worked Out Pretty Well the First Time"


I read The Moor's Last Sign first (and it was the first Rushdie I read), so it was a revelation. I then went back and read Midnight's Children, and though I think that is clearly the superior book, I loved the way the two books tied together. In my mind it's almost like those two are a package deal.

Behemoth
02-21-2013, 08:28 AM
Seeing as I also love every other book you listed except for Shadow of the Wind which I haven't read, that's now a strong slot on my to-read list!

Prepare to be whelmed.

Double post!

Droewyn
02-21-2013, 04:26 PM
Thanks for all the recommendations, everyone!

So I started with Dracula, because... well... it came with my G1 Nook and has been sitting there mocking me ever since. As has Pride and Prejudice. I did read Little Women, which I liked well enough until the bit at the end where Jo was convinced by someone she looked up to that real writers wouldn't ever write popular fiction and resolved to only write literary novels with proper morals in them. Gag.

Anyway. Dracula.

So Jonathan Harker is an idiot.

"The villagers have begged me not to continue on to the castle, but I have assured them that the weather is likely to remain temperate and I have heard no reports of bandits along this road."

"Unable to persuade me to stay, the villagers have taken to crossing themselves and gesturing in a fashion which, I have learned, is meant to ward off the evil eye. The customs of foreign people are ever so interesting!"

"Then the three women fell upon the squalling baby and ate it whole. I found it most distasteful, but then I suppose that they should find some of our English fare to be equally disagreeable."

Abraham Van Helsing, on the other hand, has not been treated well in any of the film adaptations I've seen of him. He's not the cross between Wolverine and Simon Belmont that I was expecting. He wasn't obsessively seeing vampirism lurking in every ailment up to and including lupus. He studied the symptoms, did a whole lot of research, consulted with colleagues, and eventually concluded that the answer was vampires.

Actually, what I'm really loving is the way our heroes are combating an ancient evil with bleeding edge technology. Blood transfusions, typewriters, stenographs... these people have all the cool futuristic toys. It was definitely a bit odd the way all four of the men were able to give Lucy blood, but given that blood types wouldn't be discovered until three years after the book was published and so even the best doctors were still picking donors based on "Well, YOU don't look like you have tuberculosis," that's more than forgivable.

Mina is pretty badass for her time and unfortunate habit of ladybit-having, but I can't read this book from any perspective other than that of a 21st century feminist. As a result, all the men rushing around to protect her and giving her high praise like "You have the mind of a man yet the delicate heart of a woman!" does grate. As does some of the correspondence between Mina and Lucy where they go on about what noble creatures men are to look after weak and feeble women. I do like Mina for her intelligence and bravery. I have no real opinion on Lucy.

Grignr
02-21-2013, 04:55 PM
"You have the mind of a man yet the delicate heart of a woman!" does grate. As does some of the correspondence between Mina and Lucy where they go on about what noble creatures men are to look after weak and feeble women. I do like Mina for her intelligence and bravery. I have no real opinion on Lucy.

Have you read Alan Moore's League of Extraordinary Gentlemen? Mina is closest to being the main character throughout the series.

Droewyn
02-21-2013, 05:42 PM
Yes, and I really liked her in that!

Mightyblue
02-21-2013, 07:22 PM
To Build A Fire

I like this short story a lot, partly because it's really good and fun to pick apart and the other half because I took my last required general lit seminar for my English degree in my final year of college (I delayed taking it since I wanted to take easier stuff while working on my senior project) and this was one of the things the class sections were assigned to read, analyze and then write papers on. I ended up skimming and offering lots of suggestions to about half the discussion section since it was about 95% freshmen and sophomores. You would not believe how many people kept projecting their own biases and social norms on the main character and his actions, and as such reading and analyzing that story is an excellent way to check how well your students are actually paying attention to what they read and who's just skimming stuff to do the mandatory section bits and papers.

Reinforcements
02-22-2013, 07:02 AM
Oh, the beginning of Dracula is easily the best part, both for the fact that things are actually happening and because Jonathan's naivety seems so crazy to us modern readers with our familiarity with vampires and Dracula. The letter inviting him to the castle being signed, "Your friend, Dracula," cracked me up. That said I thought the rest of the book was incredibly boring and I stopped like 75% through.

Anyway, you should just follow the Idle Book Club podcast! They read all sorts of good stuff.

Droewyn
02-22-2013, 08:04 AM
See, I really liked it nearer the end, but getting through the beginning bit with Harker was a slog.

Evil Dead Junkie
02-22-2013, 10:13 AM
I highly recommend grabbing a copy of Danse Macabre from your library and reading King's essay on Dracula.

It's the bee's knees.

Droewyn
03-08-2013, 07:41 AM
March's book: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum.

I didn't read a lot of children's classics. I was a precocious reader, and some member of my family bought me the entire Nancy Drew series in hardcover. I pretty much went straight from those to the adult sf/f section before I was ten. As a result, I missed out on all of the Oz books (except for the novelization of Return to Oz, which doesn't count and I didn't like anyway because holy shit that shock therapy bit in the beginning was traumatizing).

It took me about an hour to read this, and it was.... definitely a book written for children in the days when it was thought that adding a B plot would cause their dear little heads to explode from the effort of keeping track of more than one story. The language was simple and repetitive ("Oh no, if we do not overcome this new hurdle, we will never reach the City of Emeralds and I shall never get a brain." "And I will never get a heart." "And I will never get courage." "And I will never get home to Kansas."), and the story itself was a lot of random events strung together. Other than the bit where Dorothy was imprisoned by the Wicked Witch as a serving girl, which was easily the best part of the book, obstacles were overcome as soon as they were encountered. (Oh no, the Scarecrow is stuck in the middle of a river! Oh, look -- a stork! Miss Stork, can you please go and fetch our scarecrow out of the river? Oh, thank you! We almost had some actual dramatic tension up in this story, and that would have been simply awful!) I might have liked it a whole lot more if I'd read it at six when I was supposed to, but as an adult in a post-Harry-Potter world I expect a bit more from my kid-lit. I didn't dislike it, but it's not exactly winning this year's Droewynbery Medal award, either.

It was interesting comparing and contrasting it to the movie. The bit with the green glasses in the City of Emeralds was cool, and I didn't actually know that the "it was all a dream" ending wasn't part of the original story. And the fact that the good witch Dorothy meets in the beginning is the Witch of the North and not Glinda makes a whole lot more sense. I mean, why the hell would Glinda send Dorothy on a dangerous cross-country quest to get home when she knew damn well the slippers could do that the entire time? How "Good" a Witch is Glinda, anyway? The answer is of course that the Witch of the North didn't know what the slippers did, and Dorothy doesn't meet Glinda until the end.

Bottom line: Meh. I liked it well enough to not want that hour of my life back, but I'm pretty sure it's not going to leave a lasting impression. I'd really like to hand it to a six-year-old and see how well they like it.

Droewyn
04-16-2013, 04:35 PM
April: Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

I knew next to nothing about Jane Eyre going into it. I knew it was a romance, I knew it was written by one of the Bronte sisters, and I knew it was generally loved by the sort of girl who starts planning her wedding before losing her baby teeth. I was kind of dreading it, to be honest. I cringed when I saw that it was over 500 e-pages.

I really enjoyed it.

The thing is, I like Regency romances. I like the improbable plotlines, the wacky misunderstandings, the antics of people with more money than sense, the exhaustive descriptions of muslin gowns and food. I like happy endings. I like easily identifiable villains getting what’s coming to them. I really really like sex that’s offscreen, vague, implied, or absent altogether because for me pleasure reading and “pleasure reading” are two foods that don’t belong on the same plate, let alone close enough to touch each other and mingle flavors. Once pulsing, thrusting, throbbing, and melting starts, I roll my eyes and skip ahead. But I also like Regency novels written from a modern perspective. Sweet, pious, and submissive heroines make me gag. Historically accurate or not, I want independence and spunk.

Jane Eyre is pious, but she’s also intelligent, creative, curious, forthright, and outspoken. As a poor orphan child at the mercy of wealthy relatives who see her as an unwelcome burden, she rejects the idea of enduring their bullying without complaint because she might one day be rewarded in heaven for her suffering. She demands social justice as a basic human right and argues that Christian charity should apply to everyone, not just the upper class. How could I not fall in love with this character?

Jane is no beauty, and I can’t tell you how refreshing that is. She’s actually plain, too, not that “Oh, I’m so ordinary and that’s why all the men who encounter me walk into doors and babble incoherently with their tongues hanging out” crap that you see when the author wants to highlight how virtuous the heroine is while not making her, you know, actually unattractive. The leading man, Mr. Rochester, isn’t appearing on any topless calendars, either; he’s consistently described as a rather ugly man. As a result, their relationship sparks are entirely formed by the two strong personalities interacting. One of the cool things about their romance is seeing each of them slowly become beautiful in the other’s eyes as they fall in love.

I loathed the other romantic prospect, St. John. He is a missionary, and supposedly a good man, but he is cold and emotionless, coming off as doing good solely out of obedience and not because he feels any real compassion or has a working moral compass of his own. He decides he wants to marry Jane, not because he loves her – he candidly admits that he does not – but because she is intelligent and hard working. He feels that if she suppressed her “unsavory” traits of curiosity and independence she would make an ideal missionary’s wife. When she doesn’t leap at the chance to wed a man she does not love and who wants to stamp out her personality, he becomes angry and manipulative and tells her that if she denies him she is also denying God and her immortal soul may be forfeit. Jane is clearly affected by this tactic; her choice is ultimately not between two men, but between secular love and religious duty. I’m not sure how much I’m “supposed” to dislike St. John, other than his being the obviously inferior choice according to the romantic narrative. Did “Team St. John” shipping exist in Victorian literary circles? Is he really supposed to represent a viable alternative to Mr. Rochester instead of the creepy fanatic I’m seeing? I suspect I was intended to be drawn into the “is this really what God wants her to do” question, but my secular feminist heart was screaming for Jane to cut off all contact and file a restraining order, asap.

The story was, well, kind of ridiculous. Tragic orphan? Check. Unyielding authority figures who do evil while paying lip service to good? Check. Sudden very large inheritance from a previously unknown wealthy relative? Check. Secret insane wife kept locked in a hidden cell in the mansion only to be discovered on the day of the wedding in order to keep the lovers apart for another two hundred pages before said fruit loop ultimately kills herself and frees them to finally wed? Wait – what? Okay, okay, I get it. This book and its contemporaries are the originals that spawned the clichés, but wow this story reads like a fourteen year old wrote it on the Internet. That said, I was wrapped up enough in the characters to not think… much… about the crazy plot points.

So… yeah. Good book. I’m glad I read it. I’m about ready to read something set in the twentieth century for next month, though.

Behemoth
04-16-2013, 08:43 PM
I love, love, love Jane Eyre, and I'm glad you liked it too. Like you, I appreciated that Jane and Mr. Rochester weren't great beauties (I haven't seen the most recent adaptation, but I can't help but be off-put by how good (http://flavorwire.files.wordpress.com/2012/03/jane1.jpg) looking (http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-rdB915DmzOU/UO7qbhUhLjI/AAAAAAAAE-w/Hr1N5n0JQTQ/s1600/jane-eyre2%255B1%255D.jpg) the leads are).

It is fairly ridiculous, but as you point out, those tropes had to start somewhere. It's been funny as I've gotten older to realize how over-the-top some classics really are (The Count of Monte Cristo and anything by Dickens) (not that there's anything wrong with that, I love The Count of Monte Cristo and Dickens). At some point you should read Jane Eyre's darker (but no less ridiculous) counterpoint, Wuthering Heights.

Finally, I think we were supposed to hate St. John. Hell, I think Bronte hated St. John. He was never meant to be a viable alternative, much in the same way that Alec in Tess of the d'Urbervilles was never meant to be a viable alternative.

Rascally Badger
04-16-2013, 09:33 PM
I think hate is a little strong for St. John. I don't think you are supposed to like him, and he is obviously a bad fit for Jane, as everyone in the novel save St. John seems to immediately recognize, but any hate should be reserved for basically the entire Reed family.

Droewyn
05-09-2013, 06:26 PM
If I'm really into a book, I can knock off a hundred and fifteen pages in about an hour and a half.

The Great Gatsby took four days.

It actually reminded me quite a bit of a period romance novel. People with more money than sense living a life of endless parties. The problem is, there are no heroes here. And instead of delightful wickedness hidden behind a veneer of elegance, you've got petty and stupid people throwing up in the flowerbeds. It was horrible people being horrible to each other, and the only idealist in the entire book is living so far in his head that he doesn't even see what the woman he thinks he's in love with is actually like. He acts as though they're both still nineteen, and when Daisy doesn't follow his romantic script for happily-ever-after, he loses it. The entire fucked up climax was entirely his fault.

Bleah. Hated Tom, hated Daisy, hated Jordan, felt nothing for Nick, and thought Jay Gatsby was way too douchey to actually like for real. I could go on, but the best part of this being a self-directed project is that I don't have to conform to a word count. I didn't like this book, and I'll leave it at that.

Falselogic
05-09-2013, 09:56 PM
If I'm really into a book, I can knock off a hundred and fifteen pages in about an hour and a half.

The Great Gatsby took four days.

It actually reminded me quite a bit of a period romance novel. People with more money than sense living a life of endless parties. The problem is, there are no heroes here. And instead of delightful wickedness hidden behind a veneer of elegance, you've got petty and stupid people throwing up in the flowerbeds. It was horrible people being horrible to each other, and the only idealist in the entire book is living so far in his head that he doesn't even see what the woman he thinks he's in love with is actually like. He acts as though they're both still nineteen, and when Daisy doesn't follow his romantic script for happily-ever-after, he loses it. The entire fucked up climax was entirely his fault.

Bleah. Hated Tom, hated Daisy, hated Jordan, felt nothing for Nick, and thought Jay Gatsby was way too douchey to actually like for real. I could go on, but the best part of this being a self-directed project is that I don't have to conform to a word count. I didn't like this book, and I'll leave it at that.

Your not supposed to like any of the characters. It's not a feel good book it's an indictment of the Gilded Age.

Loki
05-09-2013, 10:14 PM
The problem is, there are no heroes here. And instead of delightful wickedness hidden behind a veneer of elegance, you've got petty and stupid people throwing up in the flowerbeds.

That's not the problem that's the point.

Pajaro Pete
05-09-2013, 10:20 PM
If I'm really into a book, I can knock off a hundred and fifteen pages in about an hour and a half.

The Great Gatsby took four days.

It actually reminded me quite a bit of a period romance novel. People with more money than sense living a life of endless parties. The problem is, there are no heroes here. And instead of delightful wickedness hidden behind a veneer of elegance, you've got petty and stupid people throwing up in the flowerbeds. It was horrible people being horrible to each other, and the only idealist in the entire book is living so far in his head that he doesn't even see what the woman he thinks he's in love with is actually like. He acts as though they're both still nineteen, and when Daisy doesn't follow his romantic script for happily-ever-after, he loses it. The entire fucked up climax was entirely his fault.

Bleah. Hated Tom, hated Daisy, hated Jordan, felt nothing for Nick, and thought Jay Gatsby was way too douchey to actually like for real. I could go on, but the best part of this being a self-directed project is that I don't have to conform to a word count. I didn't like this book, and I'll leave it at that.

you aren't wrong, but like loki and false said that is literally the point of the book. all these people are gross and awful.

i mean i totes understand wanting at least one sympathetic character to maybe kind of root for and not enjoying books that lack them.

THAT BEING SAID you can now enjoy this episode of Hark, a vagrant (http://www.harkavagrant.com/?id=259)

Droewyn
05-10-2013, 06:12 AM
you aren't wrong, but like loki and false said that is literally the point of the book. all these people are gross and awful.

i mean i totes understand wanting at least one sympathetic character to maybe kind of root for and not enjoying books that lack them.

THAT BEING SAID you can now enjoy this episode of Hark, a vagrant (http://www.harkavagrant.com/?id=259)

I did enjoy the Hark! A Vagrant Gatsby comics, thank you!

I understand that it's supposed to be cynical, but I just don't care for that level of cynicism. (Husband: But you like Game of Thrones and it's like Game of Thrones with less rape and more automobile accidents! Me: And if he keeps killing off all the sympathetic characters I'll probably lose interest in that, too)

Also... He spelled out the symbolism of the billboard. Like, in as many words. Wow.

Falselogic
05-10-2013, 08:44 AM
Also... He spelled out the symbolism of the billboard. Like, in as many words. Wow.

and yet people still don't get it... (http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2013/05/the-sublime-cluelessness-of-throwing-lavish-em-great-gatsby-em-parties/275592/)

Behemoth
05-10-2013, 08:48 AM
I understand that it's supposed to be cynical, but I just don't care for that level of cynicism. (Husband: But you like Game of Thrones and it's like Game of Thrones with less rape and more automobile accidents! Me: And if he keeps killing off all the sympathetic characters I'll probably lose interest in that, too)

I retract my earlier recommendation - you shouldn't read Wuthering Heights.

Evil Dead Junkie
05-10-2013, 02:22 PM
To me the point of Gatbsy is less simple social critique and more about taking aim at the American idea that we all have the power to remake ourselves as whatever we want to be. Which is A) pretty much the heart of the American Dream and B) pretty much bullshit, according to Fitzgerald.

Gatbsy is basically 1920's Don Draper whybe the son of a whore when you can be an ad man. Why be poor and unrequetted qhen you can be rich as shit? The second point is where the social commentary comes in which is the less important, "besides the thing you want to make yourself into is shallow and awful".

Also I always loved how Fitzgerald basically slipped that gay sex scene right in there without anyone noticing.

Evil Dead Junkie
05-10-2013, 02:30 PM
I just looked at David Foster Wallace's personal, annotated copy of Gatbsy.

Workimg in a museum is weird.

Falselogic
05-10-2013, 02:40 PM
I just looked at David Foster Wallace's personal, annotated copy of Gatbsy.

Workimg in a museum is weird.

And by 'looked' you mean 'stole.' And by 'working' you meant 'once worked but now on the run from museum security?'


Or you know at least photocopy that shit and share it!