PHOTOGRAPHY BY NICK TRAIL
I mentioned my personal reading challenge before. I have spent the summer luxuriating in the experience of reading a 150-year-old literary classic, Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables. With 365 chapters, it would never be mistaken for a quick or easy read. It is a door stop of a book in its modern form of well over a thousand pages. Imagine what it must have been like to write such a book, with just ink, paper and quill. No typewriter, electricity, computer, spell check or Google search! The book is a marvel on many levels. It is the opposite of summer literature and I was consumed with Hugo’s masterpiece about the French Revolution, poverty, and social injustice.
My next read helped me appreciate Hugo’s brilliance. In The Novel of the Century, The Extraordinary Adventure of Les Miserables (2017), Princeton professor David Bellos engages his readers with the story behind the story of Les Miserables and how it finally came to be written, illuminating Hugo’s tenacious resolve and dedication in completing it, even though it took almost 20 years. Bellos’ work is a clear, concise and easily readable documentation of Hugo’s circumstances and contemporary influences. Entertaining and intriguing anecdotes offer insightful information and challenge the reader to find out what went on between the lines of Les Miserables.
If you are thinking of reading Hugo’s masterpiece, I recommend reading Bellos’ book along with it. If you have already read Les Miserables, Bellos’ book will offer new perspectives as it gathers scholarship into appealing and enlightening readable form.
Even after I turned the last page of Les Miserables, parts of the plot hovered in the back of my mind, almost haunting me. Les Miserables and the social injustice it exposes, whether in written, musical, or cinematic form, still resonates with readers. I wonder if the author knew the effects it would have over a century later. I wonder about his views on current events. A clue may be gleaned from his reply to the publisher of the first Italian translation of the book who asserted Les Miserables was merely a book about the French with no relevance to any other country. Hugo was blunt in his response, writing, “I do not know whether [my book] will be read by all, but I wrote it for everyone…the sores of the human race, these running sores that cover the globe, don’t stop at red or blue lines drawn on the map.” Les Miserables offers reminders that the life one lives is about choice and the consequences of those choices. Relevant indeed.
Our book reviewers have chosen well. Fifth-grader Emily reviewed a book that teaches a valuable lesson about bullies. College freshman Matthew chose a book that sheds light on the heat of wartime battle and the protection of precious freedoms. Judge Walker chose a book that ponders rarely considered aspects of a bombing’s aftermath. What all three reviewers have in common is an inherent mindfulness of their particular book’s message. What books are on your “to be read” list? And thanks for your emails. If a book inspired you, then drop me a line and share your thoughts with our readers.
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