Sunday, October 9, 2011

Is This Self Torture?

When I picked up my first Dickens novel A Tale of Two Cities I thought it would be torture.  Going from reading nothing but horror to picking up a classic was a bit daunting.  Instead I read a wonderful piece of story telling from a master.  When I picked up Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment I thought 'this will definitely be torture', but I read a fantastic psychological thriller which I still think about today, and which has encouraged me to try other Russian works with equal delight.  Back in  my twenties I read The Bible. I decided that I would read a few verses a day, following the reading guide at the back of my edition, but all the who begat who in Genesis, and all the cubits of this and that when building the ark were mind numbing I wanted to speed read and get to the good stuff.  I did, however finish it, and I can honestly say that was TORTURE!

So, now I've picked up Homer's The Iliad and I'm wondering as I commence this slow read - like The Bible I shall be taking this 'verse' by 'verse' - will it be torture?  Somehow I'm thinking not, even after my partner had a flick through it and threw the book at me and told me to 'give it up' before I had even started.  Talk about narrow minded - or perhaps he's worried about my mood swings if I don't enjoy it!  I understand that this is not the type of book that you jump into feet first, on reading the first page I could not understand a thing.  So I took the sensible step of downloading the Shmoop Study Guide.  I've read the back story, the character summaries and the themes and with its help I am finding a rhythm to the poem.

So why torture myself?  Because Shmoop writes that "you'd be hard-pressed to find a work that comes close to the Iliad for depth of insight into human life, as well as sheer beauty" and when I read literature I love the subtle references to other classical work and the more I read the more I 'get' these references.  The Iliad and The Odyssey have had a huge impact on classical and modern literature and I want to understand this and relate to it.  

Happy Reading!



  1. I love your determination to tackle the classic! I get in that mode too! Make sure you read Dr. Jeckul and Mr. Hyde! And although it isn't a classic, have you read "The Amityville Horror"? Better than the movie!'

  2. I read Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde earlier this year, it was a great character study but I was disappointed that it wasn't very long.

    I haven't read The Amityville Horror, I think all the hype about it put me off. Guess I'll put it on the list now I've got a recommendation :)

  3. I read the Odyssey when I was a teenager, and I thought that would be torture too, but I ended up loving it! If you can get through the language, what you've got is an exciting story!

  4. The Odyssey is definitely next on my list. I'm now on Book 4 of the Iliad (I'm taking it very slowly), and it really is an eye opener. All those Greek and Trojan characters I've heard of actually mean something now. Those Gods are terrible meddlers aren't they?!

  5. Ha, yeah it's funny when a reference you've heard a thousand times finally makes sense. I've been thinking I am in need of a new book...was considering re-reading The Lord of the Rings series, but maybe I will tackle the Iliad instead. One things for sure - can't exactly read that one before bed! Going to take too much focus!

  6. I loved Lord of the Rings. What I loved most about it were the legends and back stories, it left me wanting to know more. I've read The Children of Hurin which was one of the legends and I want to read the Silmarillion.

  7. Hi Maxine (from blog hop here)- agreed. I did the same thing, as so many references to "canon" literature comes up in modern day reading. I also found such books torture - but there was an immense sense of satisfaction when I finished.
    With Crime and Punishment, you live it and you feel it. Everything about it is difficult and I was delighted that the ending wasn't nearly as bleak as I had predicted.

  8. Hello there - I totally agree about the classics. They are classic for a reason. Enough people liked them then and even today. I was always surprised in college or even high school when we would be assigned certain books in literature for reading, that they actually weren't too bad. A more recent 'classic' that pleasantly surprised me was 1984 by Orwell. While the book is a bit of a mindjob, it is excellent in its creepy, paranoid-ness. I may need to add C&P to my to-be-read list.

    Hope you have a good afternoon! (I'm also here from the bloghop).


  9. I read literally 100's of novels each year... But when it comes to the "classics" I used to have to force myself to push through what sometimes seemed like the driest writing on the face of the planet. Then I picked up Sense and Sensibility one day and fell in love. Since then I've made the effort to incorporate 5-6 classics into my reading pile each year. I don't typically read them beginning to end uninterrupted, but take them piece-by-piece, chapter-by-chapter, verse-by-verse, and sometimes just page-by-page. But, you know, it's totally worth the effort. Happy reading and I hope you like the Iliad... I know that I loved it!

    I'm following the WW Blog Hop hosted by 'The World of My Imagination.' See you around the Hop!


  10. Thanks for dropping by 'blog hoppers', I'll be visiting shortly :)

  11. The classics definitely are hard to get through. It makes my brain "ache" just thinking about it. Lol. But they are good training ground. Or, so they say. No, really, they do.

  12. The hardest classic novel I have 'enjoyed' so far is Melmoth The Wanderer by Charles Maturin. I felt great satisfaction at finishing it and it did yield one of the most darkly beautiful passages I have read so far:

    "It is the answer of the rock to the wave - we collect, foam, dash and disperse ourselves against it, and retire broken, shattered and murmuring to the echoes of our disappointment".

  13. Interesting post, Maxine. You're bringing back memories.

    Years ago my boyfriend used to read parts of the Iliad out to me, but I preferred The Odyssey (I think Richard Lattimore was the translator - a very fine edition). You're right, though. They're classics for a reason.

    Today, I was actually remembering another classic I read years ago by Ovid. It was the story of Philomena, about a woman who gets raped by her brother-in-law, has her tongue cut out, then turns into a bird (if I remember right). When I read it, I didn't really understand it - I was far too young, still a teenager. But now I think I know what he was getting at symbolically and psychologically.

    Amazing - and obviously memorable story.

    I've never tackled C&P, though. I'll put it on my 2BRead list.

    Thanks for your post.

  14. I would love to have had a boyfriend to read to me! I don't even know if my partner can read!! Only joking there, he can quote the TV guide so I guess he can. He has NO interest in books though, hence my blogging.

    I have Chapman's version of The Odyssey. He translated my copy of the Iliad too. The English is quite archaic but that sort of lends some charm to it too. I plan to read that next year.

    You've piqued my interest with Ovid. I've heard the name but didn't know the premise.

    Love what you are doing with the Australian Women Writers, that's such a great initiative.