Jamelah Reads the Classics: An Introduction

The world is full of books to read, and no matter how good our intentions may be, there’s just no way to read them all. It’s hard enough to stay on top of contemporary literature, let alone having at least a passing familiarity with the exalted classics of years gone by. Personally, I keep a running list in my head called “Books I Need to Read Before I Die.” It’s a very long list, and even if I somehow get to be really really old, I’m reasonably certain that I’m never going to make it through everything. Call it a hunch.

Anyway, in thinking about my list of books to read, I’ve decided that it’s time to stop being daunted and start getting busy. And though I often say I’m going to do this sort of thing, I usually never get beyond the saying part. As such, I’m putting this out in public, and you can all be my witnesses — I’m actually going to read these, really, I swear. After finishing each book on my list, I’ll post a review which will probably be slightly irreverent, since irreverence is my style.

My list? Here it is. Books I either meant to read, or was supposed to read, or I skimmed parts of, or I read and forgot, or I merely pretended to read when I was assigned them in school:

Aeneid – Virgil
Inferno – Dante
Canzoniere – Petrarch
Troilus and Cressida – Shakespeare
Samson Agonistes – John Milton
Mansfield Park – Jane Austen
Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy
Heart of Darkness – Joseph Conrad

This is in no way an exhaustive list, and though I may add more in the future, I think this is enough to keep me busy for awhile. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some reading to do.

22 Responses

  1. the words i wanted to
    the words i wanted to say…

    is it lazy? what keeps us from reading those words written by those writers that everyone but us (i) have read? i could, should make a list, but i only know that milton was the name of the devil in a movie with pacino. i never read vonnegut, i never read chomsky, i never read tolstoy, i read the words written about them. i am to busy not being busy to read these “legends” of literature. so i think instead of reading, i will become a legend who was never read.

  2. Those are some old musty
    Those are some old musty books

    but I’m sure many would disagree with me. I’ve recently decided that I don’t read enough newer books. For a while I was into the Beats, then the 1800’s, with their Transcendentalism and Opium Eaters (frankly, the opium book by DeQuincey is quite tame by today’s standards and therefore a bit of a letdown) – so now I want to read newer books for a change. I know…you’ve probably been reading newer books and now you want to read old books for a change.

    I have a plan. A method.

    I’m going to divide books into 3 categories:

    1. Anything written before 1900
    2. Anything written between 1901 and 1979
    3. Anything written from 1980 to the present


    I’m going to rotate my reading by time frames. A book from each time, then start over. Sometimes it might be two books from the same author of a particular time, just to get the feel. Like, two Dave Eggers books, followed by some ancient masterpiece, followed by H.P. Lovecraft, for example, then back to the present.

  3. Heart of DarknessI read this
    Heart of Darkness

    I read this about two years ago. If you have insomnia I highly recommend it. If not. . .

  4. Heart of Darkness and I have
    Heart of Darkness and I have a long history… it’s getting to be time to bring the story to an end.

  5. i can’t agree …This is a
    i can’t agree …

    This is a good project, Jamelah, but I can’t agree with Heart of Darkness on this list. First of all, it’s like 120 pages — and secondly, it’s not even hard to read. Lord Jim, maybe … but Heart of Darkness? CHARLIE DON’T SURF!!!

  6. How can you not agree with
    How can you not agree with Heart of Darkness on the list? It’s a classic and I haven’t read it and yes, I know it’s short… but every time I started it in the past, I’d get to page 3 and my eyes would glaze over, so I’m going to force my way through it for the LitKicks public, because I am kind and self-sacrificing that way.

  7. I don’t remember anyone
    I don’t remember anyone asking for agreement … maybe that was over on Maudnewton.com.

  8. Come on, JamelahYou can do
    Come on, Jamelah

    You can do it, put a little power to it. I have to say my list would be longer, but this is why you’re doing this and not me. Because you are a powerful reading warrior and I am weak. Still, at least you don’t have to write 159 novels. Not yet, anyway.

  9. Yeah, that 159 novels thing
    Yeah, that 159 novels thing is my next project. For after I finish my imaginary chapbook.

  10. Well, you used the word
    Well, you used the word “daunted”, and I am just saying that I don’t think Heart of Darkness counts as daunting. Prop those eyes open and get to page 4 already! CHARLIE DON’T … you get the idea.

  11. in a local shop where books
    in a local shop where books are sold, I stumbled (the owner forgave me)
    upon Jekyll and Hyde. I had never read the words, only heard a story. The book was so fucking thick, I thought I’d never finish it. I purchased it.
    (purr-chased-it?) When I got to the end, I realized that it was a collection of stories. But what a great few pages I had read. What a great story. (i knew the man at the gate)

    (my point: it may feel heavy but read it. it may look long but read it)

  12. Just writing the list puts
    Just writing the list puts Jam in the “powerful reading warrior” category.

    Hat’s off, and may the weather be rainy.

  13. Actually, I have a story
    Actually, I have a story about Heart of Darkness, and why it’s daunting (other than that page 3 eye-glaze issue), and all the rest, but I’m saving it for my review. Patience, grasshopper. All will be revealed in good time.

  14. Jamelah, I don’t ordinarily
    Jamelah, I don’t ordinarily push my views on the young people, but there are things – coffee, pep pills, ritalin, which have been proven effective in Lit work. Now I’m not saying you sleep too much. Because, why would your mother be talking to me behind your back? You probably work too hard. Aren’t you supposed to be a generation of slackers? Or was that the generation before you? The point is, slacking is relative. We slack on our jobs so that we can pursue truths at odd hours; bask in knowledge and hubris…

    I hope this has helped.

  15. Hi, I’m new to this site.I
    Hi, I’m new to this site.

    I feel bad about not having read Heart of Darkness but, to be honest, Apolypse Now has kept me from it. I’m probably the only person in the world who hated that movie.

    I want to read The Inferno, though. But not Virgil. I love Homer too much. It would be disloyal 🙂

  16. hey dcoltharp,if you didn’t
    hey dcoltharp,

    if you didn’t like apocalypse now you probably wouldn’t like the book, well, maybe you would. they have the same theme. I saw the movie a few times but not for about 10 years so I don’t remember the details.

    I don’t remember much of the details of heart of darkness either, but that’s because it is so sloooooowwwwww. it’s only about 100 pages but it seems like it’s 400 pages long.

    carry on.

  17. No Dickens?He seems to be the
    No Dickens?

    He seems to be the classic fake read. Nobody actually reads Dickens.

  18. Well, (and for some reason, I
    Well, (and for some reason, I always feel like I’m committing sacrilege when I say this) I hate Dickens. I’ve had to read Oliver Twist, Great Expectations and A Tale of Two Cities (and I actually read them, too), after which I vowed never to pick up another book by him as long as I lived and I really hate breaking vows.

  19. I read me some Dickens also.
    I read me some Dickens also. I had to read Great Expectations in college and really liked it.

    I read A Tale. . . last year. I can’t believe they make kids read that book in grade school or high school. that book can turn a kid off of literature in a heart beat. why not make kids read something that doesn’t plod along. maybe. . . oh I don’t know. . . fight club?

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