Great Books Week: Les Misérables is 150 Years Old

Great Books Week 2012: Celebrating Les Misérables by Victor HugoOne of my favorite books of all time is Les Misérables by Victor Hugo. Even though I first encountered it in an edition so badly abridged it could have been more accurately described as butchered, it was a beautiful, moving story of love and justice. If you haven’t read it or seen the musical, please do. You’ll be in for a treat.

If you were going to choose one book as your Great Book of the year, what would it be? It doesn’t have to be classic, but rather something that has stayed in your memory and affected your thoughts in some way. Share it in the comment section, or blog about it and link back– I’m always happy to find more wonderful things to read!

Visit the Great Books Week site for a few ideas on how to celebrate, some quotes on great literature, and more. In a world of strife and turmoil, the classics remain beautiful and timeless. I hope you enjoy celebrating this week!

Here are few quotes, and at the very bottom, a video of the Les Misérables musical to inspire you:

Victor Hugo's Les Miserables, unabridged, translated by Julie Rose with an introduction by Adam GopnikHave courage for the great sorrows of life and patience for the small ones; and when you have laboriously accomplished your daily task, go to sleep in peace. God is awake.    Victor Hugo 

By elevating your reading, you will improve your writing
or at least tickle your thinking.”
~ William Safire

Anyone who says they have only one life to live must not know how to read a book. ~Author Unknown

Upon books the collective education of the race depends;
they are the sole instruments of registering,
perpetuating and transmitting thought.
~ Henry C. Rogers

All books are divisible into two classes,
the books of the hour, and the books of all time.
~ John Ruskin

It is no more necessary that a man should remember the different
dinners and suppers which have made him healthy, than the different
books which have made him wise. Let us see the results of good food
in a strong body, and the results of great reading in a full and powerful mind.
~ Sydney Smith

2 Responses

  1. Julie Conte says:

    Hi Janice,

    I saw you speak at ENOCH last weekend, and was surprised that your talk on reading old books was the one that stuck with me the most of all the sessions I went to. I went home with your 5 year checklist, found all the books and short stories I owned from that list, checked off the ones my teens have already read/listened to… I was envigorated to persue more of the classics.

    In fact, I told my son, who will graduate next year, that although he may not go to college (he hopes to persue a career in woodworking/carpentry), I would ask that he continue reading classics in a disciplined way. I may look into signing him up for an Omnibus class with Veritas, post high school.

    He is a struggling learner, especially in the area of reading, so does most of his “reading” auditorially. I can accept that he won’t be going on to college, if I think he will keep expanding his world through good books.

    My issue is not so different from his. I want to read all these good books, too, but I find that many of them are just so hard for me to get into. I am a fairly educated woman, only because my folks were, and made sure I went to the best high school in the state. But I have definite limits. I studied graphic design in college as I was very poor in all academics, except writing.

    Ironically, I direct a classical homeschool co-op where, by the way, we use lots of IEW materials. But I feel trapped by my own limits, intellectually. Do you have any advice regarding how my son and I could get into these deep books with better success? Do you have a remedial book list that is a bit less intimidating for those like us? Haha!


    • Dear Julie,

      I’m so glad you enjoyed the talk on old books. You’re wise to ask that your son continue reading these these old books in a disciplined way.

      It sounds as if you both may be auditory or kinesthetic learners, which would explain some of the challenges you face. If this is the case, reading via audiobooks is a very good solution. My auditory learner retains so much more from audiobooks than from visual reading, as does my kinesthetic learner. So that is a good solution. T

      o get a bit deeper into the classics, there is, of course, perhaps starting with the first level. You may also want to see if there is a classics book group near you, or look on for one. Discussion is an amazing tool to encourage understanding. And if all else fails, CliffNotes and SparkNotes are free online. Keep in mind that the analyses are from a thoroughly modern perspective, and there is never just a single way to read a book.

      If you haven’t read a lot of old books before you started the classics, you may want to start with the most engaging ones you can find. Sometimes these aren’t actual classics, but simply good, clean books that can get you up to speed with the broader vocabulary and greater detail of old books. It also helps to begin with the genre you usually enjoy.

      You may want to look for books from the early 20th century (many free online or easily findable used) by authors such as:

      Mary Roberts Rinehart (mystery, sometimes humorous)
      E. Phillips Oppenheim (mystery/thriller/spy)
      John Buchan (The 39 Steps and other spy thrillers)
      James Oliver Curwood (adventures in frozen north)
      George Barr McCutcheon (romance, sometimes a hint of mystery)
      Harold MacGrath (romance, sometimes a hint of mystery)
      Grace S. Richmond (The Indifference of Juliet and others)
      Gene Stratton Porter (Freckles, Girl of the Limberlost, Laddie)
      Bess Streeter Aldrich (pioneers on the plains)
      Helen Hunt Jackson (Ramona)
      Eleanor H. Porter
      John Fox, Jr.

      If you try and enjoy of these, I’d love to hear about it!

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