Thursday, November 19, 2009


You remember I recently wrote about the Penguin Classics series of 10 classic books that everyone should read? Well, in the hours that have followed I had a brainstorm after passing our bookshelves and side glancing a copy of a book we have called "Reading The Classics with C.S. Lewis."
I thought, "You know, I don't really have a lot of plans for far future reading at the moment and along with never having read Jane Eyre, many of those books on that list I haven't read in many years. And I do love The Classics. I'm all the time yammering on about them on my blog."

So, you're on, Penguin Classics. I am officially announcing my new series on this blog "Reading The Classics with Paul Mathers." I will be reading (mainly rereading) all ten of the books on Penguin's suggested list and discussing them here. I invite any of you who might be interested to participate along with me. I've never done a reading group before and this one seems suited to me.
Some I read once in high school (Oedipus and The Odyssey), some I've read several times for personal enjoyment (Moby Dick and Pride and Prejudice) and some I've been over countless times (I spent two years working on a production of Hamlet.) I thought this would be fun especially as the only two I think I've read in the past 5 years are one reread of Moby Dick and my first time through Dante's Inferno (so they are automatically bumped to the end of the reading list for our purposes. Or, more accurately, for my own selfish reasons.)
So, here, again, is the reading list if you'd like to print the list up and carry it in your pocket for when you're browsing thrift stores or used book stores (you'll note all of the authors are dead, sorry to say, and, with apologies to our catalyst Penguin Classics, you will remember my post on the ethics of bookbuying. I personally do not feel you should feel any compulsion to buy these titles new.) Here is the order in which we shall read them:

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
Walden by Henry David Thoreau
Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka
The Odyssey by Homer
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
Hamlet by William Shakespeare
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Oedipus Rex by Sophocles
Inferno by Dante Alighieri
Moby Dick by Herman Melville

We will start with Of Mice and Men because it's short and I should be able to get through it before my copy of Prime by Poppy Z. Brite shows up (at which time we'll take a very short break because I'm anxious to read that.) I'm not sure what to say about the pace of the reading group... Well, I'm open to suggestions about that although I will say that when I finish a book I'm probably not going to waste much time before I start blabbing about it on this blog. So, let's get crackin', people! Chop chop! Allons zi!

And, of course, should you decide to decline, I will strive to continue to keep the blog interesting anyway.

Also, needless to say, if any of you read a version of a particular book with zombies added, you are immediately expelled from this reading group.

This should be fun. So, do go out and secure yourself a copy of Of Mice and Men and we will get started.

P.S. Laurie informs me that these online reading groups are done a bit more orderly than I'd originally, in my exuberance, suggested. So, this is how it will work:

If you would like to read along, it would be nice for you to leave a little note in the comments signing on. I will continue regardless of whether anyone joins me or not, but conversation is one of the great benefits of something like this.

If you do decide to get on board, we will begin reading next weekend. I imagine one should have no problem securing a copy of Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck in 9-10 days time even if they order one online. If I'm dead wrong about that, do let me know. The rules are here to keep us on track, but I would hate to see anyone left behind who wanted to take part because we started too quickly.

As we read, I may have a few mini-posts of thoughts, but we will have large posts at the end of each week. With Of Mice and Men, I think we can probably do it in two chunks (actually I think we can do it in one, but again, I would hate to leave anyone behind.) So, Book Groupies, you have a little over a week to secure a copy of John Steinbeck's classic Of Mice and Men. You will get a reminder soon. One week after that we will focus on the first half of the book, then the second a week later.

If you have any further suggestions on how to make this run smoothly, please do let me know.


  1. hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm i've read two of those books already

  2. As your step-dad, I order you to read them all!

  3. Of these, at least 6 are currently on my bookshelf. I cleary recall reading at least 6, but I think I've read 8. I may join you with Mice & Men, (which I have read) but I don't think I'll be able to keep up.

  4. I'm signing on for Mice & Men (just to be clear) but I have two library books that have to get read first - Arthur C. Clarke's Imperial Earth (just started) and Chuck Palahniuk's Rant. Here's to hoping I can clear them in 10 days. Now that I'm regularly employed at an 8-5 job (that I get up for at 6 AM, it's much harder to read much before my 6 hour sleep period. (Whine, Whine, Whine) - I'm sure you remember fondly the early to rise, early to bed schedule of delivery driving.

  5. Good luck with your group read. I've always wanted to enjoy the benefits of a group reading, but never seem to be in sync with others on what to read and when. I'm afraid I won't be joining you as I'm currently buried in piles of short fiction I want to get through, as well as reading Lord Dunsany's The King of Elfland's Daughter and re-reading Gene Wolfe's 4-volume Book of the New Sun, but this time with the accompaniment of the wonderful Lexicon Urthus.

    As for the list of 10 -- let's see...

    Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck -- Have always intended, but never gotten around to reading.

    Walden by Henry David Thoreau -- I read through parts of this in my early 20s, and for the next 5 years believed my goal in life was to become a subsistence farmer. ;-)

    Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka -- Another one that I have always intended to read, but haven't taken up.

    The Odyssey by Homer -- I've read and re-read The Odyssey several times. I enjoy it far more than The Iliad.

    Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte -- Nope. Never caught my attention.

    Hamlet by William Shakespeare -- Another that I've read and re-read. Love Hamlet.

    Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen -- Never could get into Austen. I remember bs-ing my way through essays in AP English Lit and getting high scores when I really had only paid attention in class and not read the book.

    Oedipus Rex by Sophocles -- I should read this.

    Inferno by Dante Alighieri -- Check my Library Thing account to see how many different translations I have of this. :D Read and re-read.

    Moby Dick by Herman Melville -- I read half of this in my early 20s. there were parts that I loved, but talk about the old expository lump.

    My problem with these lists is that there are always other things that I'd rather read. I'd trade several of these books for a re-reading of Ovid's Metamorphoses. Where's Virgil? Where's Beowulf... and come-on, don't give me that high-school spastic shudder of dread... Beowulf is wonderful in a good translation. Unfortunately high schools usually throw some miserable prose translation at kids and talk about it's historical relevance rather than the story and the poetry. Where's my Russians? Where's Dickens? And what about the our beloved fool, El ingenioso hidalgo don Quijote de la Mancha?

    Well, anyway... I look forward to your posts on the books even if I won't be following along.

  6. Sedge,
    yes, I do remember that. In some ways I miss it, but in other ways... Anyway, glad to have you aboard. Do bear in mind that you actually have more than 10 days (also, let me know what you think of Rant. I'd like to read that someday.) Next weekend we begin reading, but it's a whole week after that before we address the first 50 pages.

    I highly highly recommend Kafka. I think you would really enjoy his work. I'm with you on some of the omissions. It wouldn't be my own personal 10 left to my own devices. Laurie was, as I predicted, none too happy about all the ancient Greeks and also missed The Russians.
    Also, let me know what you think of Lord Dunsany. He is also one who seems to always be in my "I'd like to get around to reading that someday" pile.

  7. I've always wanted to read Kafka and can never figure out why I haven't read him, yet.

    I like the ancient Greeks and Romans. Can I be forgiven for preferring Ovid to Virgil? Ovid strikes me kind of the same way as Oscar Wilde, while Virgil seems rather... earnest.

    Dunsany is great. Gaiman describes his writing as sounding drunk on the King James Bible, and it makes sense. It is wonderful stuff -- both the short stories and the novel I'm reading. How can one not read someone who was an inspiration for so many writers. It is a shame he's not better known these days.

    (BTW... be sure to let me know what you think of the Lafferty I sent you. He's uneven, sure, but the best of his stuff is quirky brilliance.)

  8. I will be joining you. I just scored a copy on Amazon for one cent.

  9. Hi,

    This is 6p00e55043abd08834.

    What on earth?

    Dave Porter here...I will be joining you.

  10. Yay! Glad to have you aboard, Dave Porter. And you too, cyborg Dave Porter.

  11. I will try to join you. I believe I have read most of these but will need to get new copies since most of the books I've had in my life I've given to my son.