9 Books in 9 Months–Unveiled!


I wrote a few weeks ago about my “Rediscovering the Classics” class, which is beginning its third year this September. In fact, this weekend we had our first meeting where we talked about what the year may bring and I unveiled the list of books we will be reading. The list is (I hope) a mix of well-known favorites and lost treasures ready to be unearthed again.

Anybody who knows me knows that I have strong opinions about how the classics are taught in school. One of my criticisms is that students are thrown into books whose vocabulary, terms and language–although it may still be English–are so antiquated that the students are intimidated and even feel that the story has no relevance to their lives anymore. Nothing could be further from the truth! These books are classics because the language is often hauntingly beautiful and because the stories themselves deal with timeless themes. But sometimes students need to ease gradually into these older works of literature, so that the language and vocabulary is not such a shock. So you may notice that (with one or two exceptions) we read the books in backwards chronological order based on the date of publication.

And now, without further ado, here is the list. I hope you will enjoy it, and maybe even read along with us. I would love to hear your comments!

Happy Reading!

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4 thoughts on “9 Books in 9 Months–Unveiled!

  1. While I haven't read everything on the list, the ones I have read (and, I suppose the ones I've heard about — great way to study the classics, no?) suggest how eclectic and ecumenical your definition of "classic" is, which is laudable. Also, as far as "the way the classics are taught", you've included female authors. That sort of absence is the most glaring problem to me of efforts such as the Great Books project.I'm not a huge fan of Wuthering Heights — it is a kind of oversaturated melodrama that grates on me == but that's more than made up for, in my opinion, by the inclusion of Candide, which is dear to my heart. I was thinking it odd that it was included at all, as it stands out to me as not really literature. But on a re-read it seems as if you are using "literature" and "book" interchangeably. This is raher unfair to Walden, Leviathan, Republic, The Prince, and other boundary cases between literature and non-literature, not to mention works which are decidedly not literature such as Elements (Euclid), Analects (Confucius), various collected poems, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, and so on.So maybe the answer is that boundary cases with a gloss of fiction are permitted and Plato then would be eligible but is not included due to very small space? Or maybe that you consider Candide to be without-a-doubt literature? Either way, my stickler's mind requests some more precision or elaboration to your criteria.Where is the class being taught?

  2. I admit that Wuthering Heights has never been one of my favorites either, but Harold Bloom says it is "as unique and idiosyncratic a narrative as Moby Dick, and like Melville's masterwork breaks all the confines of genre." I'm partial to Bloom and have learned to trust him, so I'm giving Wuthering Heights another chance–but this is the LAST chance!My definition of classic *is* somewhat eclectic. Every year I choose one book by a still-living and writing author, none of which can be strictly defined as "classic" because they have yet to withstand any kind of test of time; but I include these books because 1) I think it's a good way to draw readers in, and 2) these books are too beautiful (or culturally revealing, or intelligent, etc.) to leave out.For the record, Josh, I WOULD consider the books you mentioned above "classics", but this class is mostly about classic *novels* really, and I only refrain from calling it that because I absolutely must include a Shakespeare play every year, and I sometimes assign a couple of short stories one month instead of a full novel. "Candide" may not be a novel, strictly speaking, but… it's close enough.You've given me some food for thought for next year's syllabus. Thanks Josh!

  3. Ahh that's an awesome list – the top two are just – ah I can't even talk about how good they are. I just bought Candide so I hope you'll post all about that one here, juts for my own interest.

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