II. November’s Autumn
Katherine at November’s Autumn is hosting a challenge to read seven classics. On the fourth of each month she will post a prompt, a set of questions or way of thinking about the reading, and we are to post a response about the book we are currently reading. This should be a good way to generate some discussion. The books I have selected for this challenge are:
1. Michel de Montaigne-Essais
3. Karl Marx-Capital
4. Alexis deTochqueville-Democracy in America
5. Ferdinand Celine-Journey to the End of the Night
6. Jack Kerouac-Big Sur
7. Gustave Flaubert-Bouvard et Péceuchet
I have known for a long time that Flaubert was an excellent writer but it is only in recent years that I have come to really love reading him. I have only read a few of his novels but hope to get through all of them eventually. If Madame Bovary is Flaubert’s great tragedy, Bouvard et Péceuchet is the comedy. Flaubert thought it was his best book, although he never lived to finish it.
Jack Kerouac intended most of his novels to form one very large work; a semi-autobiographical panorama of the times in which he lived. He envisioned it to be an American A la recherché du temps perdu. He called it the “Legend of Duluoz” and Big Sur is the conclusion of the many-volume saga. I have read most of the other novels that make up the saga and have some sense of its overall structure and pattern. Kerouac probably did not intend Big Sur to be the end but I think there is a kind of tragic finality to it that brings the “Legend” to its conclusion. I’ve long been wanting to read it so that I could see how all the pieces fit together.
Journey to the End of the Night is my reread. I read it for fun when I was in college and loved the book. I once even considered writing an opera based upon it. I always feared that rereading it I would not like it as much or find it as exciting as I did the first time around. I’m interested in learning if it will live up to second reading by a more experience reader.
I have read and enjoyed reading a great deal of Marx but have never read all of Capital. I have known many people who have very strong opinions about this work but very few have actually bothered to read it. I’ve always wanted to have a better understanding of what Marx really says in Capital and perhaps just as important, what he does not say.
Like Capital, Democracy in America is another one of those classics that everyone talks about but few have read more than scattered excerpts and quotations. This is an insightful work that deserves to be read and understood, rather than just misquoted out of context.
I have been reading Montaigne for most of my life. I find him challenging, entertaining and enlightening. I have read many of the essays over and over. Yet there are many others I have never read. By (finally!) reading the entire collection from cover to cover I hope to uncover all those missing gems and reacquaint myself with some favorites.
Xenophon is another writer I have enjoyed and learned from. Hellenica is one of two books by Xenophon that I have not yet read, but it is said to be one of his best and most important works. A few years ago Robert Strassler published the wonderful Landmark edition of this work that should make for a very enjoyable experience.
I think it is a good list and am looking forward to it. There is variety; novels, essays, history, philosophy. And, this is consistent with my idea of a classic. While the monthly prompts are aimed at works of literature I think there is much to be learned from reading great non-fiction with an ear to its literary merits.