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Really Old Classics Challenge Wrap-Up

February 27, 2010

To successfully complete the second round of the Really Old Classics Challenge, participants only had to read one book written before 1600 by Feburary 28. There was also an optional ‘Classics Certification’ level, which you could get by reading four books. I went for that, and I’m happy to say that I hit it!

The books I read, linked to reviews where they exist:

I ended up reading two non-fiction books and two fiction, two Middle Eastern and two European, all Medieval. Next time, I definitely want to add some BCE books in there! (I did have If Not, Winter out from the library at one point but didn’t get to it.) And I can’t wait to explore medieval Japan, with The Pillow Book, which I’m currently reading slowly with the Japanese Literature Read-a-Long group.

The best book: Sir Gawain and the Green Knight…the story is such fun and Armitage’s translation is amazing.
Any new authors? Yep! Ibn Battutah, St. Teresa, the anonymous contributors to Arabian Nights, and all of the translators were new.
Books I did not finish: I mentioned that I didn’t get to If Not Winter by Sappho, but I didn’t really start it either. Book of My Life I squeezed in at the last minute, finishing it yesterday! (Look for a review soon.)
What did I learn from this challenge? I think it’s a shame how much I’ve neglected older classics in my reading, and this challenge has really reminded me of how wonderful it is to dig into early lit. I plan to keep reading from my original pool of potentials throughout the year. And I really hope to see another round of this challenge in the not-so-distant future! :)

Help me out…do you have a pre-1600s book to recommend? I’d love to get more ideas!

16 Comments leave one →
  1. S. R permalink
    February 27, 2010 5:10 pm

    Just thinking of what I’ve enjoyed most from classical India and China …

    From India, I’d recommend the Ramayana (Jonah Blank’s brief re-telling interspersed in Arrow of the Blue-Skinned God is most readable), The Manimekhalai, Dandin’s Tales of the Ten Princes, and selections from the Panchatantra. If you can get hold of several volumes of the Tawney translation of the Kathasaritsagara, it is basically a Hindu equivalent–not a derivation–of the Arabian Nights; unfortunately the brief version from Penguin is pretty dense and doesn’t encourage you to skip along to the more readable stories, and the Tawney version is ten volumes. I see the Bhagavad-Gita is on your list–it has the merit of being very short and very important for religious reasons, and its parent work (the Mahabharata) is too long to read as a whole anyway.

    From China, I’d recommend Outlaws of the Water Margin (Pearl Buck’s translation All Men Are Brothers is good; there’s no short version) and Journey to the West (Arthur Waley’s translation/abridgment Monkey is good). The Tao Te Ching and Confucius’s Analects are very readable. _Tang Dynasty Stories_ from Panda Books is a fun, short collection of very short stories. Romance of the Three Kingdoms still intimidates me.

    • February 28, 2010 7:18 pm

      Thanks for all of these recs! :) My library is sadly lacking in classical Chinese lit, but I hope I can ILL some titles. I already had Arrow of the Blue-Skinned God on one of my challenge lists, so I’m delighted to see that you recommend it!

  2. February 27, 2010 5:29 pm

    The Aeneid! Have you read the Aeneid? It’s so amazing. There is nothing not amazing about it. Like there’s this one part? Where Aeneas goes to the Underworld? Oh my God, it’s so great, but I won’t tell you, because I don’t want to spoil it for you. When you inevitably read the Aeneid, which you have to read because it’s phenomenal and your life is an empty shadow without it, be prepared for something amazing to happen when Aeneas goes to the Underworld.

    • February 28, 2010 7:24 pm

      I read excerpts in Latin class, but I’ve never read the whole thing! Thanks to your gushy comment, I think it’ll be the next old classic I reach for!

  3. February 27, 2010 6:45 pm

    I utterly failed at this challenge. I got started on Aristotle’s The Politics which is really good (well once you get past the slavery is natural BS), but then got distracted by other books. Members of my James Joyce Ulysses group really like Armitage’s translation of the Odyssey too (We read the sections of the Odyssey that correspond to the chapter of Ulysses we’re on).

    • February 28, 2010 7:23 pm

      I’m not the biggest fan of Aristotle, so I’m not going to blame you getting distracted! I didn’t realise Armitage had an Odyssey translation out. I really love the Fitzgerald one, but now I want to try Armitage too! (Also, Ulysses is number one on my “List of Literary Works that Terrify Me in Theory”. So I’m impressed!)

  4. February 28, 2010 12:40 am

    This sounds like it was a fun read. I have two bookshelves stuffed with really old classics that I love. Don Quixote is my favorite book of all time and I even went to Alcala de Henares just to be where Cervantes was.

    • February 28, 2010 7:26 pm

      I really want to read Don Quixote…I got my mom the Edith Grossman translation for Mother’s Day several years ago and she really liked it. So I might just borrow it!

  5. February 28, 2010 12:35 pm

    I haven’t read tons of really old classics, but I come across them in my work. I love some of the very old women’s writting.

    • February 28, 2010 7:27 pm

      I have several 18th century women authors on my Reading the Decades Challenge list-I’m excited to try them out! And I need to read Sappho, lol. Do you have any authors to recommend?

  6. February 28, 2010 3:11 pm

    Read some anglo-saxon poetry, or better yet some Norse mythology.
    For a more specific recommendation, I love Egil’s Saga:

    • February 28, 2010 7:27 pm

      I definitely want to read some Norse mythology this year, since I’ve been reading several books about medieval vikings (hehe). Thanks for the rec-I wasn’t sure where to start!

  7. February 28, 2010 6:23 pm

    Wow. I love old books but I don’t think I’ve ever read anything from before 1600 – I feel so ashamed!

    But congratulations, Eva! What an awesome read.

    • February 28, 2010 7:30 pm

      Don’t feel ashamed Ceri! There are lots of types of books I’ve never read. But if you do want to change that, I HIGHLY recommend picking up Armitage’s translation of Sir Gawain & the Green Knight. It’s a one sitting read, and such fun!

  8. February 28, 2010 9:14 pm

    Sappho is definitely a favorite of mine. I think I have a collection somewhere in a box…

    I have to say, I only have a few really old classics on my list, but I definitely want to read more of them in the future.

  9. March 1, 2010 7:14 pm

    Even though I was a co-host, I still feel unqualified recommending works! I know you know i love the Iliad. I want to read more Euripedes because I’ve enjoyed the one I read for the challenge. Hmmm. I have a VERY long list of what I want to read!

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