I finally read those classics I bought two years ago

One on hand, I wouldn’t really recommend any of these, and on the other, I would recommend all of them. That’s how I feel about classics in general. (Of course To Kill a Mockingbird is an exception, that goes without saying.) Sometimes they’re confusing, and sometimes they’re boring, but I don’t know — there’s just something about the fact that they’re classics that make them compelling.

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

Page count: 1110

War and Peace is not what I expected. It literally is about war and peace. It switches back and forth between the front lines (aka Napoleon’s invasion of Russia, soldiers, really specific descriptions of battles and strategy) and society (aka dinners, parties). I thought that the “peace” sections were way more interesting than the “war” parts, and apparently that’s a common opinion — so common, in fact, that I saw one article arguing how you can’t fully understand the book if you skip the “war” chapters.

The second thing about this book that I did not see coming were all the ramblings. Tolstoy goes on so many detours — history, calculus, free will. I’m still not completely sure what argument he was trying to make. Or if he was trying to make one at all. My best guess is that the book’s about how history is determined by all the million little decisions made by regular people, not by the famous heroes.

Finally, although I knew how infamously long this book was, I was still thrown off-guard by how it was SO LONG. Not only is it over a thousand pages, but the spacing and the font was smaller than almost every other book on this list. If it was 1.5 or double spaced, it would have maybe been two thousand pages. It was so long that when I still had 200 pages left, I already felt close to the end.

Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky

Page count: 521

Once again, I was surprised by how unfigurative the title is. Crime and Punishment is about a man who maybe commits a crime and maybe gets punished for it. When I saw that the back cover called it “one of the most gripping crime stories of all time,” I was very skeptical. In the beginning, my suspicions were very much confirmed. It seemed like it was going to be filled with confusing philosophical meandering like War and Peace. But then it started getting good and lived up to its description of being a murder mystery–it still does have a philosophical bent though.

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Just look at these insults.

“I’m sure I wouldn’t be worth a baked onion myself…perhaps with you thrown in.”
“That’s too little; I’d give two for you.”

“But that’s not the point,” Raskolnikov interrupted with disgust. “It’s simply that whether you are right or wrong, we dislike you.”

Update: I’m actually reading this for school right now?? And I have to say, after reading it again and hearing my teacher explain things, it makes a lot more sense now. It’s also just making me like it more. Specifically, Razumikhin. I might be slightly coming around to Raskolnikov too. I’m also impressed by myself being able to spell and pronounce these Russian names. SVIDRIGAYLOV. (Uhh, I hope that’s correct.)

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

Page count: 229

Once again again, I was surprised by how unfigurative the title is. It’s literally about the painted portrait of Dorian Gray. This story was very strange, but it’s certainly memorable. I’m not sure how to describe it. It’s angsty, it’s dark, and it has basically no likeable characters. A bunch of these classics felt like they were trying to make a point, but that felt especially clear in The Picture of Dorian Gray.

Middlemarch by George Eliot

Page count: 794

Once again again again, I was surprised by how unfigurative the title is. It’s literally about this village called Middlemarch and the lives of several people living in it. Middlemarch is by far my favorite one out of all of these. It’s the only I truly liked. The writing feels both similar to Austen and very distinct. (Also, George Eliot was a woman as well!!!) It started out slow at first and there were one or two chapters later that I was confused about, but somewhere in the middle, it got so good. Basically, certain moments at the end made any previous boring sections irrelevant in my mind. After reading three classics with only one or two likeable characters, it almost felt strange to fall in love with several characters in the span of one book.

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Another amazing one-liner.

“Oh, Brooke is such a leaky-minded fool,” said Lydgate contemptuously.
“Well, I was glad of the leakiness then.”

Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray

Page count: 680

This time I was expecting the title to be extremely unfigurative, but I was let down. Vanity Fair is actually a metaphor–of what exactly, I’m still not sure. My version has an introduction by Nicholas Dames, and he describes it like this:

“If Dicken’s novels describe a generally garrulous, sociable crowd of eccentrics, and if George Eliot’s novels (ANNIE HERE: aka Middlemarch) show us individuals consoled for their social and vocational failures by rich inner lives, Thackeray’s characters retreat from their social performances to private emptiness.”

My translation: Dicken has a lot of interesting characters, Eliot has a lot of moral characters, and Thackeray has a lot of characters who just…I don’t know how I would translate this part. I think Nicholas Dames said it really well — “private emptiness.”

I wouldn’t say the book is sad, but it isn’t a pretty sight either. I didn’t realize the subtitle of this book was “A Novel Without a Hero” until the Story Sponge wrote about it in her post, but that really sums this book up. I think Thackeray’s main point is that none of his characters are very admirable because none of us are either.

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One of my favorite things about classics is how they take something we would say very simply and describe it with fancy words. For example:

On voice cracks: James Crawley, when his aunt had last beheld him, was a gawky land, at that uncomfortable age when the voice varies between an unearthly treble and a preternatural bass…

On trying to grow facial hair: Young Tandyman, a hero of seventeen, laboriously endeavouring to get up a pair of moustachios…

On marriages with large age gaps: …there was old Methuselah, who had married his young wife…

It’s also interesting to find oddly relevant lines.

And as dubious goods or letters are passed through an oven at quarantine, sprinkled with aromatic vinegar, and then pronounced clean…

And finally, another clever quip. I really want to use this one at some point.

“But as for paying your creditors in full, I might as well hope to pay the National Debt.”

Have you read any of these–if so, what were your thoughts??
Do you have a favorite classic?
What are you reading right now?

P.P.S. I didn’t want to write any more actual reviews, so here are my brief takes on the last three. Ivanhoe: Dude why is Robin Hood the character that gets all the attention from this book? Wamba the Jester is clearly the star). Tess of the D’Ubervilles: Possibly the most tragic book I’ve ever read. Wuthering Heights: Uhh, I don’t know how I feel about this book.

16 thoughts on “I finally read those classics I bought two years ago”

  1. This is such a good reminder to read classics, Annie…I haven’t read any of these books quite yet *sobs* but they are definitely going to be on my priority reading list.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. How to Read a Book by Mortimer Adler (started but not finished), Little Women (I reread this every so often), currently on a Jane Austen re-read, Watership Down, Atomic Habits!

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  2. It was interesting reading your thoughts on these! I have read 3 out of the 5: War and Peace, Crime and Punishment, and Vanity Fair. For some reason I didn’t enjoy War and Peace at all (I read it years ago for school, and I was bothered by the SHEER LENGTH of the thing as well as the annoyingness of most of the characters), I liked Crime and Punishment quite a lot, and I wasn’t quite sure what to make of Vanity Fair (I liked some of the characters but the overall tone is so cynical that I’m not sure it’s for me). I have The Picture of Dorian Gray on my list…not so sure about Middlemarch.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. It’s SO LONG. I don’t know why I was surprised when it’s the stereotypical “super long book” in my head, but it still deserves mentioning. Ahaha, and I agree about the characters.
      OH Middlemarch — I think you would really like some of the characters in this book. Umm, I wouldn’t say the same about Dorian Gray. I’m not sure how to describe the tone — you talking about the cynicism in Vanity Fair makes me think that Dorian Gray can probably also be called cynical, but I feel like it’s a different strand.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. “Crime and Punishment” was a surprising read for me – it was much more engaging than other classics I read.

    “War and Peace” felt so so long, and my book had the thinnest pages ever … reading 50 pages did not show any progress! However, I am glad that I managed to read it from cover to cover.

    I think there’s something enriching about reading classics, those books cover so many themes and provide an interesting insight into life and beliefs as they were hundreds of years ago.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ohh, what part of it did you find most interesting??

      AH I know!! OH, I didn’t consider what it would feel like with super thin pages. That must have been mentally defeating.

      Yes, I agree! This weekend I saw a writer describe reading classics as a way of increasing “personal density,” and I thought that was a super interesting way of putting it.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Regarding Crime and Punishment, I would say that the “punishment” sections were the most engaging – all the fear, doubt, and guilt. Witnessing all from the inside of Raskolnikov’s mind was super interesting but also exhausting at times.

        Oh, I love the “personal density” metaphor! Thanks a lot for sharing it!

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  4. The moral of the story: 90% of the time, classics are titled very figuratively. I love how you were ready to not be surprised by Vanity Fair’s title, and then…were surprised XD The only book I’ve read on this list is the Picture of Dorian Gray. It’s been a while since I read it, but I think “very dark, but certainly memorable” is a great way to describe it. I do remember being depressed by how utterly unlikable all the characters were.
    My favorite classic is probably….something by Charles Dickens. I don’t know which one is my favorite, but I really like Great Expectations, Oliver Twist, and Nicholas Nickleby. Dickens books have so many excellent characters 🙂
    Haha, it cracks me up every time I come across the word quarantine in a book now. I don’t even know why it’s funny?? But it is. It’s hilarious.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. YES I KNOW.
      I’m trained by contemporary book titles to not really understand the link between title and story.
      OH, I’m glad my description sounded right to you.
      Ohh, I don’t think you would find this surprising, but the Story Sponge mentioned Dickens as well. The only one I’ve read the unabridged version of (oh wait, it might’ve still been abridged) was Tale of Two Cities. Does that place anywhere near the top of your Dickens rankings??
      Oh my, it’s so strange now. Um, the end of Crime and Punishment talks about how he has a dream of a microbe disease traveling from Asia to Europe?? It’s really weird.

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