Classic Novels: How Many Have You Read?

As I have said many times, I am probably the world’s worst read romance novelist. I am in awe of how many books my fellow Riskies and our commenters are able to read, but I just can’t keep up, even though my love of books is deep and heartfelt.

Somehow (don’t ask me how), Janet’s and Megan’s blogs about movies made me think of movies I’ve seen and those I haven’t. That led me to books. That led me to wondering just how poorly read was I.
There are tons of must read lists on the internet, but most were too long or included obscure (to me) titles I figured most people would not have read. Others seemed to be confined to one person’s opinion. I settled on Booklist’s Classic Novels list. This would be a good test of how poorly read I am.
Here’s the list and my scores as well:
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
yes
All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque
no
Beloved by Toni Morrison
no, but I think I’d like this book
The Best Short Stories by O. Henry
I’m not sure if I’ve read them all, but I’ve read O. Henry
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
surprisingly enough, no. My schooling somehow did not include this book.
The Call of the Wild by Jack London
no
Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
yes, read by choice, not for class
The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
yes. A must-read for any adolescent
The Complete Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle
(don’t hit me!) no
Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky
no
Cry, The Beloved Country by Alan Paton
no. I confess, I had not heard of this book.
Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes
yes
Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton
yes
The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck
yes
The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
no
The Great Gadsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
no
Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
no
Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
yes, thanks to a wonderful Black Literature course in college
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
yes, of course
Lord of the Flies by William Golding
yes
Moby Dick by Herman Melville
yes
My Antonia by Willa Cather
no, but I’m certain I read some of her short stories
Native Son by Richard Wright
yes, that Black Lit course, again
1984 by George Orwell
no. It was never required of me
Of Human Bondage by Somerset Maugham
no
Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
maybe…but somehow I think I read it as a play
The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway
yes
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
yes!!!
The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane
no
Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe
yes
The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
yes
A Separate Peace by John Knowles
no, but I would like to read this one
Silas Marner by George Eliot
yes
The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner
no
The Stranger by Albert Camus
no
A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
yes
Tales by Edgar Allen Poe
yes, at least some of them
Tess of the D’Ubervilles by Thomas Hardy
yes
Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
no, but another one I’d like to read
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
yes. In fact, my high school English teacher, Miz Lee, was Harper Lee’s cousin, but I’d read the book before then
Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe
no
War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
no – are you kidding?
Wineburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson
no. Another collection of stories I’d not ever heard of.
Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
yes
My score is 23 out of 44, a tad above 50%. I suppose that would be a failing grade, wouldn’t it?
I have excuses! Although I was an English major in college, I steered myself primarily to English authors, not American ones. In fact, that Black Literature course, innovative for its time, was probably the only course I took covering American authors.
Even more appalling, I asked my adult daughter if she’d read some of these books. She took lots of English in high school and some in college. She’s even worse than I am, which makes me wonder about the state of schools these days. She never read Moby Dick, for example. Or The Old Man and The Sea. She did read The Grapes of Wrath, but for an economics course, not English.
Who is brave enough to share their scores? If you graduated high school in the last 10 years, we might need to give you consolation points.
Visit me again on Thursday at Diane’s Blog. I’m going to talk about asking for what you want, and NOT in The Secret kind of way. And on Wednesday I’ll be writing something historical for the Harlequin Historical Author blog.

About diane

Diane Gaston is the RITA award-winning author of Historical Romance for Harlequin Historical and Mills and Boon, with books that feature the darker side of the Regency. Formerly a mental health social worker, she is happiest now when deep in the psyches of soldiers, rakes and women who don’t always act like ladies.
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Alyssia
11 years ago

Oh, my, Diane! I am mortified at how many of these I have not read! And really, I consider myself an individual well-versed in classic literature. I can talk Austen for days, but I only got a 22 out of 44 on this one. Shame on me!

All that aside, however, I must confess… Silas Marner is one of my favorite books of all time, and anything by Maugham makes me sigh dramatically, because he’s so wonderful. Great post! I’d better get crackin’!

Diane Gaston
11 years ago

Alyssia, I think Booklist’s list is skewed toward American authors. You’d do much better if this list had been compiled by the BBC, I’m sure.

Anonymous
Anonymous
11 years ago

Okay, 42 of 44, but I’m probably much older than you. Though I also agree that it isn’t the best of such lists.

Why wouldn’t you want to read War and Peace? It’s wonderful! Really. The greatest novel ever written. As you near the end, you will wish it was even longer.

Carolyn
11 years ago

Good Lord, I’ve read 41 of those books. I haven’t read The Old Man and the Sea, Moby Dick or that Eyes of God one.

But I’ve read all the rest. It is a very American list, but there are some really fine books on it. Wineburg Ohio is really lovely.

Diane Gaston
11 years ago

Anonymous is ahead (and I seriously doubt that you are older than I am, although I’m not telling my age!)

Carolyn is a close second, but I am not at all surprised at that!

Alyssia, I’m afraid you are even behind me. I would not have thought it possible!

Diane Gaston
11 years ago

About why I wouldn’t want to read War and Peace. It’s the time commitment, Anonymous. Only reason.

Karenmc
Karenmc
11 years ago

I’ve read 24 of the 44, and I was also an English major. Can I get extra credit for having read Joyce’s Ulysses?

Dtchycat
11 years ago

I’ve read 24 out of these, most of them I read when I was younger and they were the only books that my parents had in their bookcases. I loved a Tale of Two Cities!

Rachel
11 years ago

I’ve read all but two. I haven’t read Beloved and Their Eyes Were Watching God. But I will say that I didn’t read anything that was considered a classic from the time I was 10 until I was 18. So that really limits what you can read.

catslady
11 years ago

I think I’ve read around 33. Many were back in my honor’s english classes in high school and I should probably reread some of those. There were only a couple I didn’t recognize and I actually have a few in my tbr pile. The only one that I started and could not finish (I never don’t finish a book) was The Sound and the Fury – I just could not get through that book!

Judy
11 years ago

You can all pat yourselves on the back and feel much better, now. I graduated 30 years ago, and I can only remember reading 3, maybe 4, of those books, though I’ve read bits and pieces of 26 of those. I didn’t read Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea, but I did read his The Hills are Like White Elephants, and disliked it so much I never read another book by him. I tried reading Moby Dick, but couldn’t get much past the first page. And it isn’t about the length of the book because I have read the unabridged Count of Monte Cristo. I’ve also read Lord of the RIngs. I’m dubious about someone else’s list of what’s “classic” and what isn’t. I’ve never been one much for following the crowd.

Susan/DC
Susan/DC
11 years ago

Diana, you must read Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby”. It’s only about 180 pages long so is a very quick read, and the imagery is lovely. He captures the time period and the setting and the characters so beautifully. It’s not a perfect book, but it’s very good. And because you live near DC, you can visit Fitzgerald’s grave in Rockville, with the famous last line of the book carved in his headstone — quite poignant.

Amanda McCabe/Laurel McKee

This is so funny–just last night I was reading Roger Ebert’s excellent new blog post about being “well-read” and what survives in literature (he made me want to go re-read some Henry James): here is the link

http://blogs.suntimes.com/ebert/2011/04/death_disports_with_writers_mo.html

I’ve read many of the books on the list (though only half of “Moby Dick”–the only book that has ever put me to sleep!). And I agree with Anonymous: “War and Peace” is more than worth the time to read! (but I’m a sucker for big Russian novels)

Elena Greene
11 years ago

I’m embarrassed to say 21 out of the 44. Maybe that’s good for someone who started adult life as a math & computer science major? 🙂

Enid Wilson
11 years ago

Just 10 out of 44. Shamefaced…

My Darcy Mutates

Isobel Carr
11 years ago

I’ve read 37 of them, and like you have never heard of “Wineburg, Ohio” or Sherwood Anderson. List seems VERY skewed toward American authors, and there are some that I wouldn’t consider “cannon” (too recent to judge).

Susanna Fraser
11 years ago

18/44. Sigh. I’ve tried to read The Great Gatsby three times but have never made it past the first chapter–does that count for anything? Oh, and War and Peace is on my bucket list, but I’m planning to read it next year. Because 1812 -> 2012.

But I’ve always been a genre reader by preference, and I wasn’t an English major–BS in Economics, with most of my electives in History. I fulfilled my collegiate English requirement with Fairytales & 19th Century Gothic Literature and a Shakespeare overview.

Louisa Cornell
11 years ago

Uhm. Okay, I am officially a nerd. I’ve actually read 44 out of 44. I had to double check. You see I keep a notebook of all of the books I’ve read – romance and non-romance. Started it when I was a girl of about ten, I think. But you have to understand I have been SO very fortunate in the teachers I had in grade school, junior high, high school and college. I was a problem child in elementary school and junior high, but I was lucky enough to have teachers who realized I was simply bored. This was in the 60’s and teachers knew very little about how to deal with bored students at such a young age. They sent me off to the library to read and then write book reports. When I see how few of the classics children are asked to read today it makes me sad and very grateful for the eclectic education being an Air Force brat afforded me.

Funny, Isobel. I think Sherwood Anderson might be right up your alley. 🙂

We have a Gatsby museum not far from where I live. Zelda was from Montgomery and they lived here for a while. Their home is a lovely museum.

Diane Gaston
11 years ago

What a wide range.
Judy, you have obviously been on a different path reading-wise, which is not to say you are not better read than I, because I’m still abysmal. Several of the books on the list were required reading in jr. high or high school. The requirements in your schools must have been different. They sure were for my daughter. Enid, I wonder if you and Susanna and Judy just didn’t have the exposure. I sure would not have read Moby Dick, The Old Man and the Sea, and The Scarlet Letter if they hadn’t been required reading.

Karenmc and dtchycat can console themselves that they’ve read more than I have. Elena, I’m pretty impressed that you’ve read that many and haven’t been an English major!

Isobel and catslady, you both have respectable numbers. Rachel, you are up there with Carolyn and Anonymous (who still is in the lead).

Amanda, you will have noticed, failed to give us her score! But she did share that interesting blog by Ebert that made me feel even worser read.

Susan/DC, I could probably handle the time commitment of 180 pages to read The Great Gadsby. Susanna, you remind me that reading is so personal. One person’s greatest book is another’s wall-banger.

Diane Gaston
11 years ago

Louisa! You’ve read them all! You are definitely the winner. I love that story about teachers sending you to the library to read. And that you’ve kept up a reading journal.

I had forgotten that Zelda Fitzgerald grew up in Alabama. Now, I read her biography (while on my honeymoon…). I still remember it and that was a long time ago.

Louisa Cornell
11 years ago

Those teachers really were a God-send to me. I might have turned out very differently had they not encouraged my voracious curiosity. And the reading journal was something the two retired librarians in England, who introduced me to Austen, the Brontes and Heyer, made me do. I kept it up as a way to keep their memory with me. They changed my life, as did those marvelous teachers.

Yes, if memory serves, Fitzgerald was serving at the base here when he met Zelda at some society function.

On your honeymoon? How lovely!

Isobel Carr
11 years ago

If we were talking about obscure Russian literature I’d score much better, LOL! Oh, how I love Bulgakov!!! My lit concentration was in magical realism, so I read a lot of Russians, South Americans, and Africans.

Judy
11 years ago

What a different experience Louisa had than I did. When I was in elementary school, my teachers informed my parents that I was not allowed to read any more horse books because I needed to broaden my horizons. I chose to stop reading, except required school material, until college. I wonder what I would have read if I had been encouraged simply to read.

Susanna Fraser
11 years ago

I wonder if you and Susanna and Judy just didn’t have the exposure. I sure would not have read Moby Dick, The Old Man and the Sea, and The Scarlet Letter if they hadn’t been required reading.

Yeah, I think my middle and high school curriculum was relatively light on the literature and heavy on the grammar. (This was 1980’s, small-town Alabama) We didn’t completely switch over from grammar exercises to literature and writing essays until 11th grade, which I gather is unusual, and is probably why I haven’t read as much of the canon. Of my 18 read, less than half were assigned. The others I picked up on my own.

And maybe we should’ve had more literature and less grammar in our curriculum. OTOH, I never struggle with grammar, so maybe that practical skill is worth being a few canons short of a literary battery.

Diane Gaston
11 years ago

Louisa, you have been fortunate to have had so many women in your life support your reading. Judy, I am appalled that anyone would stop a kid from reading!! My daughter read Baby Sitter Club books by the dozens, I think. I was glad she was reading.

Susanna, I went to high school in Alabama, but maybe in a different era. Jacksonville HS was right next to Jacksonville State College and that might have made a difference.

I, too, value learning grammar. I don’t always remember the rules but I know to look things up.

Isobel, I’m sure my score would have been abysmal if the list was of Russian Literature!

Elena Greene
11 years ago

Judy, too bad about those teachers! I used to go on reading binges as a kid. Sometimes it was all horse books (Marguerite Henry was my favorite author for a time) then it was all mysteries, then it was all fairy tales. Teachers used to tell me reading should be a “balanced diet”. I am glad I ignored them. Now I think they probably didn’t love reading themselves, poor things!

Susan/DC
Susan/DC
11 years ago

As for learning grammar versus literature, my middle school English teacher taught us both at the same time. He would give us paragraphs from Gogol, Virginia Woolfe, Henry James, Hemingway, and others, and we had to name the part of speech and function of every word. It was enlightening as an 7th/8th grader to try to follow James’ myriad dependent clauses (some of which seemed to be dependent on nothing in the same paragraph, much less the same sentence) compared to Hemingway, who had lots of straight declarative sentences. It also introduced us to many authors and the idea of authorial voice in a far more interesting way than diagramming disconnected sentences. I still periodically say thank you to Mr. Palmer.

And it’s completely appropriate that my spam word is “verse”.

Diane Gaston
11 years ago

Susan/DC, what a great teacher! And how wonderful that he thought middle school kids could handle it.

librarypat
librarypat
11 years ago

I did more poorly than you did, about 20. It has been such a long time since I was in school, I am not sure if I read some of them “back then.” I have most of these books in my home library. I tried reading WAR AND PEACE – 5 times. I don’t think I ever made it past page 100. I just couldn’t get into it. Maybe now that I am older, I will try again. For some reason, many of the courses I took had very few required books. LORD OF THE FLIES was one and not one I would have read on my own. Well written, makes a good point, and still gives me the creeps over 40 years later.
I bought those books because I know I should read them, want to read them, and will read them one of these days. There are just too many good books out there to get to them all.

Megan Frampton
11 years ago

I’ve read 27 of these–so not so far off your mark, Diane!