Book Challenge: Bricks, Melville, Shamelessness

What's On the Bookshelf?

Day 16: Longest book you’ve read

I’m actually not sure what the longest book I’ve read is. Its either one of the Robert Jordan Wheel of Time books (I’ve only read the first three or four) or Victor Hugo’s epic Les Miserables.

I read an unabridged translation of Les Miserables back in December/January. It took me six days (that’s a LOT of reading). I started a reread (different unabridged translation) back in May. I’m still reading it on and off, but as you can see, I’ve read a lot this year.

Let me just say, this book weighs a ton. When I bought my paperback copy, the cashier asked if I wanted a truck to bring it home in. I replied that mortar would be all I needed–I was going to use it as the cornerstone to my house.
Day 17: Shortest book you’ve read

A children’s book, probably. I’m sure I read some 24 pagers in my childhood, but I can’t recall any of them. So, shortest adult book that I’ve read? Herman Melville’s Billy Budd. I hated every minute of it, and was extremely happy it was only 90 pages long.
Day 18: Book you’re most embarrassed to say you like

I have no shame whatsoever in books I read. Roald Dahl’s children’s books? Love them. Harry Potter? My generation, baby. Tolkien? Lewis? Lloyd Alexander? No shame.

I take great pride in making the librarians look shiftily at the books I check out. The more atypical, the better. Seven Pillars of Wisdom, Les Miserables, Band of Brothers? I relish in the shocked expressions. Clearly I look like the sort of girl who would be reading scores of chick lit and other, more typical young woman sorts.

Abridgment: A Sign of the Apocalypse or Just Annoying?

The Twirl and Swirl of Letters

Rather than include my usual post about Books that Matter, I thought I’d post my thoughts on abridging books. Please enjoy the rant. Next week, pending the apocalypse, will be back to our regular scheduled program.

This week, I ventured to my local library in hopes of making good on a deal/agreement/suggestion put forth by Holmes: Put aside Hugo and read Dumas. Now, I’m all willing to read Dumas (and have been anxiously looking forward to it), but my library seems to be spiting me.
Abridged books.
Holmes specifically requested that I read The Count of Monte Cristo (so we can go all former English major on it and DISCUSS). I picked up a copy at my school’s library. Nice, unabridged translation. Had to put it aside as I realized I had a hell of a lot more work to do on the thesis. So, now that I am finished with undergrad, I mosey-ed on down to my local library to get The Count.
Two copies. Both abridged.
Why? I don’t see the point in abridging works, mostly because I feel that if I’m going to put in the effort to read a book, I want to read the whole damn thing. I felt that way about Les Miserables. I feel that way about all books that I read.

Reading abridged books feels like being cheated. I remember my dismay when I realized that those “Great Illustrated Classic” books were abridged (I was a bit slow, despite my reading comprehension, when I was in elementary school). I read their version of Little Women in a day. Imagine my shock when I went to read Little Men (one of the sequels by Louisa May Alcott) a couple of weeks later. It took me nearly a month to read it (bear in mind I was in the third or fourth grade), and I was shocked. Why did this book take me so much longer? Well, it was Alcott’s actual words.


Now, I would like to know who decides what to abridge. Do you take out the “boring parts?” What, exactly, are the boring parts? I wouldn’t consider Hugo’s many many many digressions to be boring–quite the opposite. I find them utterly fascinating (and I paid more attention to the Waterloo stuff the second time through). So what if we have to read 50 pages of stuff to get to a chapter that ultimately dictates how the last, um, 4/5s of the book play out? Considering the Brick is over 1,200 pages, I think that’s perfectly fair.

Of course, abridging can work to one’s favor. For example: The Complete Works of Wm. Shakespeare, Abridged is one of the funniest plays I have ever seen.

And I can’t think of any more good examples of abridgment.

Excuse me while I bury myself in my unabridged copy of Les Miserables. Now if I read French, it would be even better…

Sunshine and Happiness

The Twirl and Swirl of Letters

A snippet of a conversation between Holmes and I:

Me (holding a copy of The Count of Monte Cristo): “I can’t wait to finish my paper so I can move on to sunshine and happiness!”


Me: “Sunshine and happiness there being epic, depressing French novels.”

Whenever I finish reading one of Victor Hugo’s books, I feel a big gaping hole in my chest. Since I don’t think my school’s library has anything more of his, I’ve moved onto Dumas. I have yet to start, but I am so looking forward to reading The Count of Monte Cristo.  And get through reading it without slipping up and saying “Monte Crisco.”

Reading Big Books Makes You Look Smart.

The Twirl and Swirl of Letters

Today, I finished reading Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables. I opted to read an unabridged translation, my thought being “if I’m going to put in the time and effort to read this damn book, it may as well be the entire thing.” As a result, I picked up a huge book from the library, joking that it would free up a lot of shelf space…any ways, the librarian’s expression was one of surprise that I’d read this over my Christmas break. A trip to the doctor’s office elicited the same response–surprise from all who saw me lugging the massive tome about with me. Along with this typical exchange:

“What’s that?”

Les Miserables.”

(insert confusion)

“There was a musical based off of it. And numerous movies.”

“Why are you reading it?”

“Because I want to.”

I’m rather pleased that I finished the book when I did, so I don’t have to lug it through airport this following week. My back thanks me.

Returning to my impressions of reading this book.

Words…words sometimes fail, but I shall do my best.

At first I was bored. Bishop Bienvenu failed to capture my interest at first, but after a while of getting used to the book’s style, I found him a charming character.

Then, of course, we get to the main story lines. Fantine, Jean Valjean, the Thenardiers, Javert, Marius…ah! I loved how all of the characters’ lives intersected. There would always be someone from someone’s past showing up–be it Marius running to Javert, letting the police inspector know of devious dealings with his neighbors, the intersection of fate with Thenardier and Marius…

The digressions, which to many who attempt to read the book are off-putting I found incredibly interesting. I’ve wanted to visit the Paris sewers for years, but the whole digression was wonderfully informative. And the bit about nuns? Never knew a lot of that stuff. I felt that the digressions were fantastic for providing the context to the world Hugo created. Details about convent life aren’t things you learn regularly; heck, even basics about Waterloo are regularly skipped in history classes (I greatly enjoy the Napoleonic era, so I knew a small amount–still, always ready to learn more). Given my love of footnotes, this enjoyment of the digressions should come as no surprise.

What I loved most of all was how the characters were drawn. No character was completely good or completely evil. There was no perfection. Jean Valjean is haunted by his previous actions, by the theft that changes his life (ultimately for the best, but changes it nonetheless). The Thenardiers, as odious as they are, care for each other (to some extent…poor Gavroche and the younger sons), and are fascinating to read about. Javert, while he hunts Jean Valjean, isn’t a bad person–he sees the Law as Truth, and whatever does not fall within the Law is outside. The most ‘perfect’ character we have–Cosette–is beautiful but a bit of a dip.

The inner lives that the characters have was wonderful to read. Each of the characters thought, breathed of their own accords. Javert’s distress was brilliantly written…and my goodness, depressing to read. Even though I knew what was to come, his fate still stuck with me.

I loved it. I have a feeling that once I get my own place, I’ll be buying this translation, as I feel that each time I read Les Miserables, I’ll pick up new details. This is the sort of book that ought to be read at different points in one’s life. The fervor of youth, the complacency of middle age, the end of life, looking back on what you have done and what you have left undone.

Now, I’m not sure what to read next…

Anyone know of a good translation of War and Peace? Unabridged, of course.

And the year’s book count is…

What's On the Bookshelf?


Yes, I know that there are still five days left in 2010, but I doubt that I will finish Les Miserables by then (reading a non-abridged translation…current update is: finished Book One). I’m hoping to finish Les Miserables before I return to school mid-January.

2010 was a good year for me, book reading wise. Way back in middle school, my favorite teacher suggested that I make a list of every book I read. Took a few years, but I finally got around to it. I think it’s a pretty successful exercise, and I’ll be continuing in 2011.

2011, along with having my list of what books I’ve read, will include a list of movies I’ve watched. I considered starting it this October, when I started watching a TON of classic and generally awesome movies. But that list will start January 1st as well.

As for the books I read this year, there were a few stand-outs, particularly in the getting-me-to-be-creative front. First up is Dante’s La Vita Nuova/The New Life. I read The Prince with the thought that Macchiavelli’s work would help with word-building (particularly around the power department), but it was Dante’s reshaping poetry that really stuck.

For sheer captivation, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy really grabbed my attention. I guess that 2010 was the year of the Spy for me, reading three works by John Le Carre, Ian Fleming’s Casino Royale and numerous books on spy television for my epic thesis.

And, to keep me from losing sight on the small things, Alexander McCall Smith’s works. I’ve caught up with his wonderful 44 Scotland Street series and am anxiously awaiting the release of the next one. Plus, I met Mr McCall Smith, which was wonderful.

So, what does 2011 have in store for me? Well, after finishing Victor Hugo’s epic Les Miserables, I have no idea. I want to read some of Len Deighton’s stuff, and will probably read Smiley’s People by John Le Carre (I must know how the Karla saga ends).