Friday, April 3, 2015

Intimidating Classics

Although I was an English major in college and have a masters in philosophy and theology, I am intimidated by certain books. I sometimes wish I still had an English teacher to walk me through them. But I've discovered the next best thing: simplified (but not dumbed down) versions.

The less-daunting language helped me get over my qualms about these titles and it didn't take long to recognize their well-deserved classic status. The books I have tackled this way are:

Beowulf (Serraillier's children's version)
Paradise Lost (comes with a plain English version next to the poetic version)
The Odyssey (retold by Charles Lamb)
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (Morpurgo's version for young people)

Another favorite method for getting through a difficult book is to listen to the audioversion, but this doesn't always work for books that requires careful, slow reading. Here are a few titles I would not have read (and enjoyed) if it had not been for the audioversion:

Shakespeare plays, The Turn of the Screw by James, Heart of Darkness by Conrad, Emma & Northanger Abbey by Austen, Daniel Deronda by Eliot and Moby Dick.

Even though I know they are worth the extra effort I'm still avoiding:

Anna Karenina, The Brothers Karamazov, Spencer's Faerie Queen, Canterbury Tales, The Aeneid, and Dante's Divine Comedy. Oh, and Uncle Tom's Cabin.

What about you? Are there any books you've been afraid to try?


Farm Girl said...

haha that surprises me with your degrees that you are a bit afraid to tackle the ones you listed.
The ones I am are afraid of are like Knowing God by Packer. Non fiction scares me more than fiction. Ones that I have felt so boring when reading them have turned into a feast when I listen to them on tape. Something I don't know if I would have tried if not for your lovely recommendations. I think I got over my fear, when teaching school to my kids and I wanted them to have a very good education in the classics, I had to tackle them first. That helped me so much. I always enjoy your lists. Anna Karina and The Brothers Karamazov are really delightful once you get used to the names. :)

Amy @ Hope Is the Word said...

I do feel intimidated by some books, but it's mostly a lack of desire to put forth the effort to read them, which is sad to me. :-(

Carol said...

A.K - because of it's length (& as Farm Girl said, the Russian names) Dante - not sure which translation I should use. Have you seen Stories From the Faerie Queen?
It's still very long but easier to read; the site also has Tales from Chaucer:

hopeinbrazil said...

Thank you, Carol!

Barbara H. said...

I have found audiobooks very helpful for older classics. Some of them I don't want to tackle just because they're massive and I don't want them to monopolize so much of my reading time - like War and Peace, which I am about 3/4 of the way through now. I probably would never have started reading it just for that reason. I do like to pick up the Kindle version (often free for classics) or a library copy to refer to if I feel I need to go back over a section. Someone told me a while back that the big Russian authors weren't really hard to read, so I tackled The Brothers Karamazov (also via audiobook) last year with an online book club (that helped as well, to compare notes with others). I did find that they are not hard to follow or understand, but they're different in their thinking and how they're laid out.

But I think with things written in much older English like Beowulf and anything by Chaucer, Spencer, Homer, or those people, I'd have to read simplified versions.

Uncle Tom's Cabin is a great one. I didn't think it was intimidating at all. I had had no desire to read it until one pastor said Uncle Tom was the kind of Christian you always wanted to be - I hadn't know til then that it was written from a Christian viewpoint.

Anonymous said...

I'm working through A.K. right now and it's taken me about 400 pages to finally get into it! Only 300 more to go :). It's always so worth it though, right? Brothers K. is on my intimidating list as well.