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September ROC Recap October 1, 2010

Posted by Heather J in Reading and Reviewing Classics.
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The first month of the Really Old Classics Challenge ended yesterday and here’s what we know:

  • Bev @ My Reader’s Block is making excellent progress!  She read Dante’s Diving Comedy, both the Hell and Purgatory sections.  She enjoyed Hell better than Purgatory (it IS a bit funny to write that!) but considers both books to be poetically beautiful.
  • Shelley @ Book Clutter is considering starting Virgil’s The Aeneid in October, but so far she’s just flipped through the pages.
  • Heather @ Age 30+ … A Lifetime of Books (me) started reading The Prince, by Niccolo Machiavelli but only got through the preface so far.  I’ve read this before and am wondering if I’ll enjoy it as much this time around.

This may not seem like great progress but considering that there are three more months in this challenge and that the goal is to read just one ROC, I’d say we’re off to a pretty good start!


My experience with Really Old Classics September 8, 2010

Posted by Heather J in Reading and Reviewing Classics, Reading and Reviewing Retellings.
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Hi ROC participants! It’s your challenge co-host Heather J, here to share with you some of my experiences with Really Old Classics.  My hope is that what I’ve learned may help you choose books and formats that are right for you.  Do chime in and let me know if I’m successful! (Links included below take you to my reviews on my blog.)

The Language

Many ROCs are written using formal or outdated language.  This can make them seem very intimidating to the modern reader.  If there’s a book that intrigues you, give it a shot!  Usually the story will suck you in once you get used to the language (most ROCs are really quite exciting).  If you’re new to ROCs you may want to try something short, like the play MEDEA, by Euripides.  The story should keep your attention and you’ll likely be able to handle the antiquated language for the short duration of the play.  That said, if you are really struggling with a book feel free to put it aside and find something that works better for you.  I did that with THE GOLDEN ASS, by Apuleius, and I couldn’t be happier with that decision.

The Format

The way in which you experience a book can have a great impact on your enjoyment of that book.  Some stories were originally meant to be read while others were originally meant to be told by a storyteller.  Epics like THE ILIAD and THE ODYSSEY are excellent to experience via audiobook; when I listened to them I felt like I was sitting by a fire hearing these epics told by a master storyteller.  These two are perhaps my favorite ROCs and I think that is due in great part to the way I experienced them.  However, not all ROCs lend themselves to audio format; I don’t think the Viking epic VOLSUNGASAGA would have worked any better for me if I had listened to it instead of reading it.  Some things just aren’t a good fit!

The Translation

All translations are not equal.  To ensure a good ROC experience you may want to sample a few different translations of the same book and see which one works best for you.  Do you want an ancient epic poem to read like a poem or like a story?  Are you more concerned with the original intention of the author or with the original wording?   Former challenge host Rebecca wrote an excellent post about this a while back; if you are interested at all in the various ways a book can be translated, check out the excerpts she provides from four different translations of THE ILIAD.


In addition to your local bookstore and library there are two websites I’d recommend for finding ROCs.  Project Gutenberg is a great resource and I’ve found that the versions on that site often include footnotes or additional info that is helpful to me as I read; my experience with MEDEA was greatly enhanced by what I learned in the footnotes.  The Online Medieval and Classical Library is another helpful place to find ROCs (that’s where I read VOLSUNGASAGA).

Modern Retellings

There are innumerable modern books that retell stories from ROCs.  Some, like GATES OF FIRE and TIDES OF WAR (both by Stephen Pressfield), retell the battle histories written by Herodotus and others.  Others retell ROCs from an different character’s perspective.  Two examples of this that I have experience with are LAVINA, by Ursula K. LeGuin and Til We Have Faces, by C.S. Lewis.  For me, a retelling is more enjoyable if I am already familiar with the original work. That isn’t true for everyone though, and most retellings stand on their own very well.

Review Round-Up #2 March 4, 2010

Posted by rebeccareid in Reading and Reviewing Classics, Reading and Reviewing Retellings.
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You’ve been busy reading. Here are some of the reviews you submitted to us from your challenge reading!

Ancient History

Jenny Loves to Read discusses The Epic of Gilgamesh, which she says “it was a quick read and it certainly piqued my interest in ancient texts or stories.”

It’s Greek to Me

Heather at Word Trix wrote about Aristotle’s brief Poetics, which she calls “the first book for writers.” She enjoyed it and says “how little the “rules” of writing have changed over the centuries.”

Roman Holiday

Heather J. at Age 30+ A Lifetime of Books discussed her attempts to read Aupelius’ The Golden Ass. She says it was the old translation that made this a “did not finish” for her.

Olde English

Rebecca at Rebecca Reads finished Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. I said, “I enjoyed reading Sir Gawain for the language” because it really is beautiful.

Asian Traditions

Rebecca at Rebecca Reads finished The Pillow Book by Sei Shonagon. I really enjoyed it because she was like a blogger: I say, “I think she was born 1000 years too early, because she loved finding something, be it funny, annoying, or ironic, in the ordinary events of the day.”

Extra Credit

Megan at Working title reviewed The Palace of Illusions, a retelling of some of the events in the Indian classic Mahabharata. She says, “This is an absolutely lovely story, filled with beauty, and utter despair, and everything in between. I highly recommend it to anyone that wants to sample the literature of India, with a modern twist.”

Rebecca at Rebecca Reads read Moses, Man of the Mountain by Zora Neale Hurston, a retelling of the story of the Hebrew Exodus. Although it had some faults, I’m fascinated by the story of the Exodus so I loved the premise: “tell the story of Moses and the Hebrews basing it on African-American folkloric practices (hoodoo and magic).”

And there you have it! The second round-up of reviews. If you have also reviewed something in the second half of the challenge, let us know and we can add it here. Thanks for reading and reviewing these greats of antiquity!

November Reviews Round-Up December 2, 2009

Posted by rebeccareid in Reading and Reviewing Classics.

Although the challenge still has three months remaining, we already have three reviews to share with you!

Book Pusher at The Genteel Arsenal shared thoughts on the Greek play Oedipus Rex by Sophocles as a crime/mystery story.

Sari from The View from Sari’s World shared her thoughts on the English medieval story Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, saying “The words flowed and the language was easy to understand. I found myself so absorbed in the story I finished it in one sitting. … Why don’t they write books like this anymore?

On my blog, Rebecca Reads, I wrote about Aucassin et Nicolette, a medieval French song-story. I say, “I think Nicolette is such an awesome heroine, going beyond the stereotypes of Medieval France.”

If you have reviewed something for this challenge on your blog, leave a link to it on the Reviews page so we can include it in a future round-up.

Classics in Translation November 23, 2009

Posted by rebeccareid in Reading and Reviewing Classics.
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A translation can make a big difference in how a story is portrayed. Older translations may have an older feel to it, and authors may have inserted their own insights into a text.

Most classics in translation have a note at the beginning before the text begins. I’d highly suggest you figure out what you are looking for in a translation before opening a classic work.

For example, consider the following questions:

  • Do you want a literal translation?
  • Does it matter to you if the text you read is exactly as the author wrote it (except in your language)?
  • Are you reading for the language, or for the story, or for both?
  • Which translation would be most accurate and yet readable for you?

Your needs in reading a really old classic might change. At one point, you may be reading for a story. At another point, you may be reading to get a feel for the author’s poetic intent. Below, I’ve compared a few translations of classic works so you can see just what a different a translation can make in reading really old classics. (more…)

Reviewing Classics October 26, 2009

Posted by rebeccareid in Reading and Reviewing Classics.
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I originally wrote some thoughts on reviewing classics for Book Blogger Appreciation Week. Here it is again, if you missed it the first time around.

I personally love to read classic literature, those older books that have been around for dozens or even thousands of years. Book blogs have been a great place for me to remember my old favorites and to discover new old favorites.

Reviewing a classic on a blog may seem daunting, but it doesn’t have to be. Most bloggers review classics in a similar style to other works they review: short and to the point, or detailed thoughts about a particular theme, or sarcastic, or rambling and personal. Just because Dickens got paid by the word doesn’t mean your review has to follow the style as well! We rejoice in the individuality of book blogs.

I’ve seen some bloggers do “read-alongs” of the really daunting epics, linking to each other as they progress. Others do weekly or biweekly updates until their personal read of a mega-work is complete. I love to read those progress updates because it is interesting to see how impressions of a book change while progressing through it.

With classics, I think the fact that many people have already read it makes it ideal for online discussion. Our blog audience is our fellow book bloggers in the book community, and we all have a lot to say.

Many familiar old classics (Homer’s epics or Grimm’s fairy tales, for example) have entered in to our literary consciousness already: you may not need to give a complete plot description, and it’s hard to accidentally “spoil” the work for blog readers. With many classic works, people may relate to the issues because they’ve read retellings or even seen a movie. Learning about the original may then be fun for you and for your readers.

It’s perfectly alright to admit “I dislike this classic.” Once, I wrote that I couldn’t finish one classic; another time I posted about how much I disliked a particular classic. Both times, I received a few comments saying “I agree and here’s why” and other comments saying “Oh, I loved this book and here’s why.” Disliking the work opened up the discussion just as much as loving it might have, and I now want to give the books a second chance.

As a blog reader, I love it when someone reviews a classic. If it’s one I’ve read, I like recalling my impressions when I first read it, whether that was last year or in tenth grade. I may even be inspired to reread it. And if it is a work I haven’t read, it is fun to consider how it compares to those I have read. I’ve added so many classics to my “to be read” list, thanks to bloggers!

Don’t hesitate to blog about classics. We’d love to hear your thoughts on these old favorites.

From Rebecca Reid of Rebecca Reads

P.S. There is a fun post about classics at BiblioBuffet. Go check it out — you won’t be disappointed!