Ep 97; Catching Up On Rather A Lot & Classic Literature

Welcome to the latest episode of The Readers. This fortnight Simon and Thomas discuss something which always makes Simon feel a little bit nervous… Classic literature. They also have a good old catch up too.

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Catching Up () It seems ages since Simon and Thomas have had a catch up even though it has only been a few weeks. In the first part of the show Simon talks about two new projects; Beardy Bibliophiles and Stationery Scribbles, as well as stalking Agatha Christie in Yorkshire and his new literary tattoo and the London Book Fair which is coming. Thomas also has a chat about his time away from social media and turning back to books instead, and how hard it was.


Classic Literature () So Thomas, and some of you apparently, wanted himself and Simon to talk about the classic novels, be they modern or ‘classic’ classics. Which are the classics that Simon and Thomas have read? Which did they love and which did they not? Which classic tales or authors are they desperate to read and which ones are they desperate not to read? Simon also asks the small question of what makes a classic a classic, who decides? Which classic authors have you read, which have you loved and loathed?

Next time on the Readers () Thomas and Simon will be back in two weeks with more book based banter. Simon will be back next Tuesday with You Wrote The Book! Where he will be talking to Kate Colquhoun about Did She Kill Him? A Victorian Tale of Deception, Adultery and Arsenic a look into the Maybrick Murder back in the 1880’s. Until next time thanks again for listening…

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10 thoughts on “Ep 97; Catching Up On Rather A Lot & Classic Literature

  1. Simon, do NOT start with Gaskell’s North and South (the stereotypes are more pronounced), but you might enjoy Wives and Daughters. You’ve just convinced me to blow the dust off my copy of The Shuttle that’s been languishing on the TBR and read it sooner than later!

    Thomas, you (not living in northern England) might enjoy North and South by Gaskell. It’s one of those that is far superior to the movie (even though the Richard Armitage version is very faithful to the book) simply because you get to “wallow” in her words. Be warned that if you read Cranford, the miniseries morphed some of the literary characters into “types” for the show.

    H.G. Wells’s Invisible Man is a good (short!) place to start with him. As for R.L. Stevenson, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde might be a good intro (again, short) and not so “adventure-y.” I completely agree with the two of you on Virginia Woolf and A.S. Byatt (good fire kindling, perhaps? 😉 ) As for Dickens, David Copperfield stands out to me as one of his better stories.

    Lastly, just a comment on Shakespeare. A wise woman told me (as I was about to start teaching my kids high school) to always keep in mind that Shakespeare was intended to be watched on stage, not read in book form. She suggested that I have my kids read a children’s summary version (like Lamb’s Tales) first, then watch movie versions if we couldn’t catch a live performance, and *then* let them read the play if we still felt the need. We followed that format with discussions about each play that we studied before they wrote about them. It seemed to have worked with my crew – they all love Shakespeare (or, maybe it’s just Kenneth Branaugh that they love? 🙂 )

    I didn’t really enjoy classics until I read them with my kids and had to find a way to teach literature without ruining it, as it seemed to be ruined for so many of us in the classroom.

    Mary Elizabeth Braddon is one I would like to read more of as I did love Lady Audley’s Secret. Maybe y’all could do part of an episode on favorite “sensational novels” alongside those lesser known/undiscovered classics?

    • Now that you mention it, I think I have read Jekyll and Hyde. And I think I still may check out Treasure Island or one of those.

      I loved my Shakespeare class in 11th grade. My teacher was great.

      Your penultimate paragraph about teaching classics dovetails with an episode topic I have been thinking about. Now I just need to convince Simon.

  2. Simon, don’t waste your time reading Lord of the Flies! It is abhorrent! I first read it as HS student so thought that might be why I didn’t like it (You know what they do to great books in HS English classes!) Anyway, I retread many books with my nieces/nephews when they were in HS and yep, still awful!!!!

    You said that you didn’t enjoy Willa Cather. May I suggest Death Comes for the Archbishop. Completely different from her other works and so much better.

    When you get to Wallace Stegner, try Crossing to Safety. Everyone usually recommends Angle of Repose.

    I suggest you try The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison. I always have better luck with the less famous classics.

    The reason that I think I can give you all these recommendations is because of all the classics my favorite of favorites is The House of Mirth!!!

    Be well. Love the podcast. Thank you, Michelle Wilson

  3. Sounds like a good idea for an episode, Susan in TX!

    Loved this episode. The classics… read a lot of George Eliot and the rest in my early 20’s, thinking I’d catch up when I was older. Well, I’m older now, and my concentration and patience is much less than it was then (let’s blame the internet).

    Henry James is just so ponderous and those sentences…they run on forever. But I recently read Dr Jekyll from Mr Stevenson, because my son was studying it for GCSE, and really liked it. Dark and atmospheric.

    At the moment I’m on a Maigret kick. Short, good sense of place. Are they 20th Century crime classics, perhaps?

    Episode 96 was good, too. I left a comment, but it seems to have disappeared into the ether. I remarked that Kingsley Amis famously said he couldn’t read a book that didn’t start ‘A shot rang out’. I’m kinda agreeing with him at the mo, no page-turning plot = no Cindy as a reader.

  4. This was an interesting and thought-provoking show. I have a doctorate in literature and have read any number of English-language “classics,” only some of which deserve the designation. I agree with you about James Joyce and A.S. Byatt, and would personally also stamp “Avoid” on Samuel Richardson’s PAMELA and Hardy’s JUDE THE OBSCURE. I disagree, however, about Kipling, or at least partially: I adore STALKY & CO., the Indian-set children’s works, and about half his short-story output for adults, but am bored stiff by the remaining stories and all his verse.

    Simon, definitely read Gissing’s THE ODD WOMEN, but I’d skip his more famous NEW GRUB STREET, which is just plain depressing. (Jack London covers much of the same territory in MARTIN EDEN and tells a far better story.) H.G. Wells can be heavy going, but his novellas THE ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU and THE TIME MACHINE will leave you hungry for more.

    Other suggestions: Nathaniel Hawthorne’s THE HOUSE OF THE SEVEN GABLES is sad and funny and eerie by turns and the incidental love story is satisfying. I discovered Edna Ferber’s short stories at 19 and fell in love with her descriptive style and knack for giving each character exactly the right voice. She’s most famous for the novel SHOW BOAT, but FANNY HERSELF (1917) was one of the best books I read last year. I’d also recommend THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY by Oscar Wilde, Bret Harte’s stories of the American West, Vita Sackville-West’s ALL PASSION SPENT, Charles W. Chesnutt’s slave-days ghost story collection THE CONJURE WOMAN, Christopher Morley’s PARNASSUS ON WHEELS, Elizabeth von Arnim’s THE ENCHANTED APRIL, James Hilton’s LOST HORIZON, and E.M. Forster’s A PASSAGE TO INDIA. They may not all belong to the literary canon, but every one of them deserves it.

  5. Cindy, this whole year so far is proving to be a must have plot kind of year for me. Or if not plot, it has to be something I really enjoy. I seem totally incapable of branching out this year.

    I’ve never read Maigret but from what I know of the books I definitely think they qualify as classics.

    I enjoy George Eliot but I think I was trying to read her too fast. One should not keep looking at page count progress when reading Middlemarch.

  6. Great epidote, one of the best IMHO. I’m with you both on Henry James, he’s so slow. How can anyone take so long to describe a woman opening an umbrella. Has he never heard of the paragraph?
    Classics to avoid for me would be Moby Dick. A thousand pages about the feeding habits of whales and natural history I general seems deadly dull. Don Quixote no thanks either.

    • You are so right about Moby Dick, no interest in reading that. I have never made it past the first page. I did read Melville’s White Jacket in grad school and enjoyed it to a certain degree. And I love Benjamin Britten’s opera Billy Budd based on the Melville book. But Moby Dick? No.

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