Revisiting the classics: a new reading project

Last Thursday, I brought you my reading list for fall 2010.  The list was well-thought out, and filled with a variety of books to keep me occupied and entertained this season.  It was a pretty good post, except the next day I realized I had forgotten to include one book I’ve been planning to read for quite a few months now.  And that reminded me that I have yet to tell you of my new reading project.  Bad, neglectful me.

I’m already knee-deep in quite a few reading projects already.  Many of you know that every summer and winter, I read one “big” book.  “Big” both refers to its size, and the weight of its intellectual merit.  Summer and winter is when I work up the courage to tackle those hulking literary monstrosities we all mean to read, but are afraid to start:  Anna Karenina, Gone With the Wind, Roots.  Having these books scheduled out so makes it easier to “get around to them,” and lends my two least-favorite seasons some intellectual heft.  What better way to count down to spring and fall then by losing myself in Tolstoy?

Then, there’s my favorites project.  All the smart guys say that you should really read a book three times during your lifetime, but I realized that even when I find a book I love, I will read it once then quickly move on.  Why?  Well, there’s just SO MANY books out there waiting to be read, and so why bother with repeats?  Unfortunately, this severely undercuts your ability to appreciate those favorite books, and allows you to forget why you loved it so much in the first place.  And so every summer and winter (I somehow conceive these seasons to be longer, thus why I read more), I re-read one of my favorite books.  This summer it was The Stand.  Last winter, Pride and Prejudice.  I believe that’s as far as I’ve gotten, but I plan to revisit old favorites like Life of Pi and All Over but the Shoutin‘ in the next few years.

All this leads me to my third reading project, of which I will kick off this fall.  It combines both projects, and attempts to solve a problem just as great.  Just as we must revisit our favorites in order to fully appreciate them, I find myself longing to revisit the literary classics I read (what feels to be) ages ago.  These are those tried and true high school standbys:  The Scarlet Letter, The Adventures of Huck Finn, 1984.  Unfortunately, because we had to read them, we oftentimes didn’t care much for them.  We oftentimes didn’t pay attention to what our English teachers were saying, only absorbing so much so as to pass the class.  I loved literature and reading in high school, but even I (a future English major, at that!) am guilty of this crime.

In the years since, I’ve scanned countless lists of “GREAT AMERICAN NOVELS” or “10 MOST IMPORTANT BOOKS OF ALL TIME.”  As an ego boost, I like to count how many I’ve read and pat myself on the back for my assumed literary superiority.  Unfortunately, when I’m honest with myself, I have to admit that I don’t remember much about Brave New World, much less fully appreciate why it’s a literary giant.  And why would I?  I was 17 when I read it, stuck in high school, and probably dreaming of boys (or, whatever you do when you’re 17).

These mental gaps are simply not acceptable, especially for someone who wishes to educate herself in the spirit of classical education.  And so, every fall and spring I will be re-reading a classic that I read in either high school or college.  This will be a book that I don’t remember much about, its significance muddled among memories of prom and locker assignments.  I can now approach these texts with the patience, attention span and maturity of an adult.  The fact that this adult now has an English degree will also help.

The first book in this series will be The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne, which I last read in 10th grade.  If I remember correctly, I enjoyed the book and even used it in a final project, in which I made a haphazard venn diagram using poster board, and black and red construction paper.  Yikes.  I got good grades in high school, but I guess none of us are all that sophisticated at 16.  This is why, kids, I didn’t go to Harvard.

And so here is my final, updated reading list for fall 2010, Scarlet Letter included:

How Soccer Explains the World: An Unlikely Theory of Globalization by Franklin Foer
A History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters by Julian Barnes
The Bourne Identity by Robert Ludlum
The Bourne Supremacy by Robert Ludlum
Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabrial Garcia Marquez
Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn
The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne (re-read)
Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier
Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach
The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde
The House on Mango Street by Sandra Ciscernos
Winnie the Pooh by A.A. Milne

To find out more about my projects, check out my Projects page.

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5 thoughts on “Revisiting the classics: a new reading project

  1. Great idea. I remember some of the classics I read in high school more than others. Recently I realized I remembered NOTHING about The Great Gatsby (except a vague recollection of a car accident), so I listened to it on audio. Glad I did!

  2. Oh! I love your projects! I know just what you mean about “big” books. I’ve started getting the unabridged audio versions of big books from the library, knowing that that might be the only way I will get to some of them. In the last couple of years, I’ve listened to Moby Dick, The Count of Monte Cristo, Great Expectations, and several others. Classics are particularly good in audio, I have found.

    And I am right there with you on the re-reading thing. I don’t usually re-read a book, but I have started re-reading some that I read in high school because I simply can’t remember them. I just re-read The Razor’s Edge and didn’t remember a thing except for Sophie MacDonald’s mascaraed eyebrows. And when I recently re-read the six Austen novels, they seemed practically brand new.

  3. Pingback: Sunday Salon: September 12, 2010 « Paperback Fool

  4. Pingback: Reading Update: The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne | Paperback Fool

  5. Pingback: Winter Reading List, Take Two | Paperback Fool

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