A part-time buffoon and ersatz scholar specializing in BS, pedantry, schmaltz and cultural coprophagia.
Les Misérables is one of those defining social/protest novels that deserves to be read (and listened to) in its entirety. It is easily on par with the great social novels of the 19th century: Brothers Karamazov, Anna Karenina, Uncle Tom's Cabin and Hard Times.
I remember the first time I read the unabridged version in high school, I was stunned that Hugo could engage me with such force. I practically read it straight through. Listening to Rose's relatively new translation and Guidall's audio version, I was transported back to the emotions and engagement I felt 20 years ago. All those memories and I was again anchored to my pro-unabridged novel bias. If you are going to attempt this work, please go the unabridged route, you will NOT regret it. There are few books I've read twice, but Les Misérables defintely makes the cut.
When you begin this novel it DOES looks like a beast (1376 pgs or 60.5 hours), but when you finish it you realize you have sat down to a feast with a master novelist and social gospel writer. Dollar per page or dollar per minute, you can't get much better for its price, unless you steal it.
I am a ravenous reader. I consume books (audio, electronic, and paper) by the pound and byte. I RARELY go back and reread a novel I've read before. It just seems a waste of time, a waste of an opportunity for another book, another story. The Great Gatsby, however, is one of those handful of books, those rare literary jewels, where this rule of thumb is consistently bent and re-broken. For readers of good literature, this novel is like scripture. IT is something you read to enjoy the page, the paragraphs, the sentences, the words. It draws you back. It haunts future books you read. It invades you.
For American Literature, The Great Gatsby stands with 'Moby-Dick' and 'Huckleberry Finn' as a monument of not just literature but the uniquely American experience. It captures the excess, the energy, and the decadence of the 'Lost Generation'. Other Fitzgerald books are amazing, but Gatsby is one of those novels that seems to have surprised everyone, even Fitzgerald.
Finding the right narrator for any book is an art form (often misunderstood, almost always ignored). Certain books require a certain type of reader. Gyllenhaal was an inspired pick for the Great Gatsby. He has the range to subtly capture the different characters, but the charisma and the energy to embody the dialogue of Gatsby and the easygoing narrator Nick.
'David Copperfield' contains more saints per capita than any beatified book by Butler. Dickens is amazing in his ability to be both grand and personal. 'David Copperfield' is sprawling, with dozens of threads that weave around David Copperfield's youth and adulthood. IT is amazing not only how he can transform a character through time, but also show that our perceptions of those same characters are drawn often from imperfect information and overly simple assumptions. Yes, there are parts of 'David Copperfield' that float between the melodramatic and the grotesque, but one doesn't read Dickens for the unmoving, normal or embellished. There are a handful of novels that I would consider to be the literary equivalent of scripture: 'Les Miserables', 'the Idiot', 'Anna Karenina', and for sure 'David Copperfield'.
There are several moments in 'David Copperfield' when, as a reader, you recognize you will never be half the writer Dickens was (on deadline). He might just be second to Shakespeare in my book, or at least be among a small cadre of writers that belong on the silver pedestal below the Bard.
This isn't as technically perfect as 'Great Expectations', but it is top tier Dickens for sure. A massive novel that floats with the weight of a beach read half its size. If you are going to read a Dickens, this might not be your first stop, but it shouldn't be far from your second.
I grew up on Golden Age Radio, and while I love to read, I typically consume more books via audio thanks to a job that lets me listen while I work. As an aspiring writer, I try to read a great deal of non-fiction in addition to a variety of fictional genres. I especially love history, historical fiction, science fiction, fantasy, and old-style gothic horror.
The Canterbury Tales has withstood the test of time because within them, Chaucer paints character portraits of the kinds of people he met in his time. I have read both modern translations and translations that are closer to Chaucer's original, keeping in mind that English was a foreign language back then compared to anything we understand now. It's the kind of thing that makes Shakespeare far easier to understand. In fact, I had the same problem with Shakespeare and Chaucer both back in school in that I felt like I was missing a vital ingredient in truly being able to understand and appreciate them.
While it took some time to get through this because I was constantly comparing the audio with the printed versions I have, I found that the extra time was well spent. I have a love for the printed word, but I tend to learn and retain information better through audio. As much as I hate to admit it, reading something like this is more akin to literary scholarship than it is reading an anthology of short stories as it might have been in Chaucer's day. I found this audio version to be of immense value in that I could hear the stories perhaps as Chaucer himself might have told them to other people that he met along the way. The character studies become people, even if they are perhaps exaggerated here and there, and that sort of thing helps to bring both this work - and the history of the time in which it was written - to vibrant life. And now that my appreciation has grown enough to catch up to my curiosity, I can truly say that I understand now that it's not simply the age of the work that makes The Canterbury Tales the classics they are. It's the character studies and the stories that make them the classics they are.
As with any translation, there is the risk of potentially losing something. Advanced scholars might be more inclined to try the original versions after hearing this. As it is, maybe it's the style, but it seemed to me pretty close. Most of what I didn't translate well for me was more a case of not understanding some of the vocabulary of the age, which is why I kept comparing the printed texts; I had to keep looking things up as some things that were common in Chaucer's time simply do not exist in ours. Again, well worth it, I think, though I understand most won't take that kind of time or effort. Audio will probably help considerably. There's something about hearing things in context that help a reader to fill in the gaps. If you love old literature, or if you have a fascination with the Middle Ages as I do, this is positively a must-read, for through the arts we better understand our histories.