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Classics confusion: Have you read the original?

Photo of classic books in Kennedy Library's GoodReads Collection

This is a guest post by Kristen Thorp, who, among many things, manages the library’s Good Reads collection. She earned her MLIS this past June. Hooray!

Normally I have a book with me wherever I go. (Why have down time when you can have reading time?)

However, recently I was stranded in a waiting room without of book of my own:

Stephen Colbert looks shocked in a GIF

Stephen Colbert feels my pain.
Gif from replygif.net/i/120.gif

It was tough.

Since I am not a magazine reader I picked up the only book on the table, 1001 Books to Read before You Die. This self-explanatory book is just what the title suggests: a giant book list. Because I love bragging rights, I wanted to use my wait to see how many of these 1001 books I have actually read in order to flaunt my superiority amongst my friends.

Flip to #897 on the list: The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne.

Knowing a book without having read it

I made a mental check-mark in the “have read” column and was ready to flip the page. Then I thought, Wait! Have I read this book? I knew the story really well; a woman accused of adultery is forced to wear a red A on her dress. I have seen Easy A and I’m sure that every teen show that I am embarrassed to admit I watch, has done some version of this story, but have I actually read Hawthorne’s original?

NOPE!

The more I flipped through the book, the more I realized that my knowledge of these classics is minimal. (Yes, I only know The Odyssey ’cause I loved Oh Brother Where Art Thou and The Percy Jackson series.) Classics become so interwoven into our collective pop culture consciousness, that even when we know the story it doesn’t necessarily mean we know the story.

Read the original books that inspired the modern stories

In the hopes to rectify this possible gap in everyone’s knowledge, we are adding new editions of classics to our Good Reads collection. If you’re like me and your high school English teachers have failed you (just kidding Coach Welsh, you rocked!), now is the time to dive into some familiar yet possibly unknown territory.

Here are the classics we’ve added to Good Reads for this year, that you can check out now:

  1. Things fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
  2. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
  3. I, Robot by Isaac Asimov
  4. The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury
  5. Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury
  6. Naked Lunch by William S. Burroughs
  7. Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
  8. Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote
  9. The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
  10. Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle
  11. The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner
  12. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  13. Tess of the d’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy
  14. The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
  15. The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton
  16. The Odyssey by Homer
  17. Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
  18. The World According to Garp by John Irving
  19. Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis
  20. 1984 by George Orwell
  21. The Republic by Plato
  22. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
  23. Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra
  24. Black Beauty by Anna Sewell
  25. The Jungle by Upton Sinclair
  26. Travels with Charley by  John Steinbeck
  27. Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson
  28. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
  29. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne
  30. Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut
  31. The Time Machine by H.G. Wells

What are your favorite classics?

Are there any classics you hope to read or revisit? Tell us here or join us on goodreads.com/kennedylibrary.

3 Comments
  1. Jan #

    I’m glad to hear I’m not the only one who has this problem! It reminds me of an old New Yorker cartoon: two guys chatting at a cocktail party, and one guy says “No, I haven’t read the book, but I did read a review of the movie.”

    “O Brother”‘s treatment of the Odyssey is perfect, and forever changed the way I pronounce obSTACle.

    August 23, 2013
  2. Those collections of books have classic inspired stories! Great reviews!

    August 28, 2013
  3. Thanks for sharing the list of books to read. I do agree that you can know a book without having to read it but the thing is that you’d not know what can be the big plot or the big twist in the whole story that’s why it’s really better to read it from the start.

    September 8, 2013

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