Today’s Google Doodle celebrates Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables because the last chapter of this epic novel was published on this date in 1862.
As arguably the most famous work of French literature, Hugo has been cited as an extremely prolific writer who’s had a lasting impact on literature. Some have even argued Hugo divided French literature into before- and after-Hugo. (Read more above the relevance of Hugo on literature here.)
Les Mis took Hugo nearly two decades to complete. (Some articles say it was more than 20 years, but many estimate it took Hugo 17 years to complete it.)
And I can understand why it took him so long. The book has about 1,500 pages with 530,982 in English. (Surprisingly though, it’s only number 20 on the list of the longest novels ever written, coming in with slightly fewer words than Tolstoy’s War and Peace, which has 561,304 words. )
But even at number 20, that’s still a lot of writing. And it’s a lot of pages to read—a lot of pages with long historical and political digressions.
Like many people, I have seen the stage production and two of the movie adaptations. However, I confess that I have not read the book.
I know, I know! I feel like a booknerd failure. It’s difficult for me to confess that I have not read such a quintessential piece of literature. But there you have it. I have never even attempted to read it.
And it’s not the length that has kept me from picking it up. I have read Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind, which has 418,053 words. I really have no excuse for why I haven’t read it. I just haven’t.
But since I’m confessing on books I haven’t finished, here are some other classics that I haven’t read:
- The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
- The Grapes of Wrath and Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
- Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë—although I tried, I just didn’t get into it. But I do like her poetry.
- Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë—again, another one I started, but could not finish. (And this one is touted by many a female friend as one of their favorites. I just can’t get into it and really don’t understand the appeal, but more on that another day.)
- The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien—I read most of the Hobbit, but could never get through the rest of Middle Earth.
- The Color Purple by Alice Walker—although it’s currently sitting on my book case in the to-read section, so there’s hope for this one.
- Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut—yet another book on my shelf that I’ve picked up and then just put back down.
I’m sure there are more classics that I’ve failed to finish or just never started—these were just the first ones to come to mind. Some of these I will eventually pick up again. Whether or not I’ll finish them … well, that’s to be seen. But if I don’t, that’s okay.
There are no rules on what books you “should” finish (except if you’re in school and it’s an assigned reading). I mean, there are some books I debate whether they should be designated as “classic.”
For example, I strongly dislike both Hemingway and Dickens. I had to read their works in various literature classes in high school and college, but I will never willingly pick up either, no matter how “brilliant,” “insightful,” or “remarkable” these authors’ works are touted to be.
My philosophy, if you haven’t ready figured it out, is read what you want. As long as you’re reading, who cares what it is. Reading is reading.
If you love anime or graphic novels, then read anime and graphic novels. If you love trashy romances or cozy mysteries, then by all means, read them. I myself enjoy a good trashy romance or cozy mystery every once in a while.
The point is, it doesn’t matter what you read just as long as you are reading.
Do I think there is some value in reading the classics? Absolutely. I have enjoyed several of the various “best of” literature lists. But I’m not going to beat myself up because I haven’t finished all the books on the top whatever literature list.
But after reading more about Victor Hugo today, I may just have to give Les Mis a go. Apparently, Hugo’s cure for writer’s block was to remove all his clothing and lock himself in a room with only a pen and paper. Now that’s an interesting way to cure writer’s block. And I for one am interested in seeing exactly how that worked out. So Les Mis is now officially on my to-read list.
Have you read Les Mis? What did you think about it? Or what classic literature have you either disliked or failed to finish? Tell me in the comments below.