Reflections on Reading

This post is a self-analysis of how I’ve appreciated the classics.  (or not)

My inspiration is the post “The 100 best novels written in English: the full list“.  The list is pretty impressive with each book title linking to a description of the book.  At my time of reading, there were over 800 comments to the original article.  When you create a list like this, you’ll only find agreement with yourself.  Everyone has an opinion and a favourite that may or may not have made the list.  And, of course, where it appears on the list can be subject to debate as well!

If nothing else, it answers the question “Why should we read this?”

I decided to go through the recesses of my memory and see which novels I’d read from that list.

  1. The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan (1678)
  2. Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe (1719)
  3. Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift (1726)
  4. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley (1818)
  5. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë (1847)
  6. Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë (1847)
  7. Moby-Dick by Herman Melville (1851)
  8. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll (1865)
  9. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain (1884/5)
  10. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde (1891)
  11. Dracula by Bram Stoker (1897)
  12. The Call of the Wild by Jack London (1903)
  13. Of Human Bondage by W Somerset Maugham (1915)
  14. The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald (1925)
  15. The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett (1929)
  16. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley (1932)
  17. The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler (1939)
  18. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck (1939)
  19. Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell (1949)
  20. The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger (1951)
  21. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (1960)
  22. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller (1961)
  23. A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess (1962)

The rest?  I’ll just wait for the movie to come out, I guess.  I was actually quite impressed with the number that I had read, albeit a long, long time ago.  I will confess that I have a copy of Dracula on my iPad at the moment. 

Most of my recreational reading today is quite a bit more contemporary and, quite frankly, technical in nature.  Who doesn’t like a good manual?

I would challenge you to go through the list and see how many you’ve read.  Have you hugged an English teacher lately?

8 thoughts on “Reflections on Reading

  1. Congratulations Doug! It’s interesting, as we’ve read a similar number of these books, but not all of the same ones. Between us, I think that we’ve actually read about half of the books on the list.

    What I find more interesting though is when (and why) did we read these books? For me, most of them were required readings in different English classes/courses. I read just a few for personal interest and because a dear friend recommended them. I wonder how many other people are like me, and if so, why are these books in school not influencing our later reading choices? Does this matter? Are these reads impacting us in different ways?

    You’ve given me a lot to think about early on a Wednesday morning! 🙂


  2. I’ve read fewer of these than you. I wonder how much of what we’ve read is influenced by the schools we attended. Probably a lot as most of the ones I read were school assigned. Few of them are the sort of book I read for pleasure. Something I’ll probably think about all day.


  3. Good morning, Doug!

    Like Aviva says, a bunch of the books I read were read because they were on a syllabus. I’ve read about 20 on the list, and of them, 12 match with your list. I recall a number as dog-eared copies in high school — that we passed through the same province’s education system within roughly the same time suggests a few implications:
    1. the books were considered important reads back then;
    2. schools (or teachers) were influenced by the same curriculum (official, or “books for school purchase” lists);
    3. contemporary fiction wasn’t on the curriculum.

    That Aviva has encountered a good number of them suggests some additional comments:
    1. the books are still considered important reads;
    2. teachers are still influenced by the same curriculum (interpret that one in several ways, please);
    3. there are likely a lot of dog-eared copies of these in schools.

    Were I to “challenge” this list in contrast to the syllabi from my education, I’d suggest the list is darn light on Shakespeare and Canadian fiction.

    I find it interesting to note that if we ask the different question, “How many of these have you watched in movie form?” then I can report I’ve seen about 30. Of course, the movie versions that I saw weren’t as good as the books that I didn’t read, but they did pass in front of my consciousness, so there is that.


  4. Thanks, everyone, for your comments on the titles. I think that the common thread is that we read most of them in school. Why? Other than the school had a class set, we now know that they’re considered the classics. I guess it’s like eating vegetables – they’re good for you.

    I wonder though, what makes these these “read worthy” and owning the title “classics”. What titles released recently has the potential to make this list should it ever get updated?


  5. One student of mine a number of years ago came up with the equation of what made a “classic novel”. He said: “long, boring, and somebody important dies at the end”. This was while his class was working through a classic novel unit in Grade 6 (there were different levels of classics for different kids). My son, who’s going into Grade 9, is a little horrified that he may be reading the same things I read, and that his grandmother read, as well – he’s good with the Shakespeare, not so much with the “To Kill a Mockingbird”. Not that there’s anything wrong with the novel, but wouldn’t Canadian kids potentially get more out of reading something by Thomas King or Joseph Boyden (first nations author) that dealt with the same kind of issues than reading something about racism in the American south?

    I’m struggling with this one. I still read (and re-read) Jane Austen because it’s a guaranteed happy ending. I still go and see Shakespeare (saw Shrew at Stratford last night and it ROCKED). But I have always been a voracious reader, and I love digging into words. And…. I really don’t watch TV, and I think that’s an important factor.

    There was a study a number of years ago that concluded that today’s youth really struggle with “classic novels” (and I would put my own kids on that list – they should really love Robert Louis Stevenson, but the language gets too dense and archaic, even for really strong readers), because you have to pay attention for a long chunk of time, and that’s hard – if you stop and tweet, or insta, or whatever, you’re going to need to go back and read that page again.

    Stepping off my soapbox now. 🙂


  6. One of the things that our English department and awesome teacher-librarian are trying to do is to have students set up the context for each text…whether it’s a novel or a tweet. In other words, we have to look at the lens of the author, the setting in which the book was written, the setting of the book itself and often the protagonist as a vehicle for the author’s message. You can’t answer the question: so why’s this book so important? without doing this. So I like to read the classics when I travel or when I get interested in a particular part of history or an issue. Of course, like you Doug, I read a lot of contemporary fiction but one of my greatest reading thrills in recent history was reading The Hound of Baskerville while visiting England.

    I think (I hope) that we’re allowing students more choice in their reading for novel studies because everyone has so many cultural/historical social contexts to bring to a text. I’ve been struggling to find great writings by athletes as our school has become home to an elite basketball program! And I keep telling you to read this:

    I think the titles that are going to be ‘classics’ are the ones that truly represent the unique context in which they are written: The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini, A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry, In the Skin of a Lion by Michael Ondaatje, for starters.

    Like Andy, I think the stories are just as important as the books….so we need to stop discounting the movie versions of great stories if we truly value the contexts of these books. Movies are great!! So there’s my final word: if you don’t know some of these stories, then you’re missing out. However you want to access them, go for it. Here’s one that happened to me this week: Woman in Gold (movie) and I had no idea this happened! I’m all excited about Art Restitution now and I can’t wait to read the book that influenced the movie.


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