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679 of 694 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Useful Tips for Reading Les Miserables, August 9, 2005
This review is from: Les Miserables (Mass Market Paperback)
Having not read many literature books in my lifetime, undertaking to read one of the finest piece of work ever written is a challenge.

If you are like me and have read the reviews on Amazon before tackling this gigantic novel then I do not need to go on about how great this book is and what it is all about.

Also, if like me, you are a beginner in the world of fine literature, the following are a few tips I would give to those who haven't read Les Miserables. Here goes:

1. Get the book and do not be intimidated by its size. It is huge but the chapters are not very long and this version is made so that it is easier to understand. If you compare several different translation, you will see the difference.

2. Make sure to buy the Signet Classic version translated by Lee Fahnestock and Norman MacAfee (ISBN 0-451-52526-4). One reviewer said that this was the best version available and I totally agree with that. This is the new version based on the 19th Century Charles E. Wilbour translation. I had another version of this book and this one is by far the only completely unabridged paperback and also more reader-friendly.

3. Have a dictionary handy as there are many words that need translation.

4. Knowing the French language/history is a bonus but not required. Although knowing about French history will make some of his detailed descriptions of France not so tedious. In one chapter entitled "In the Year 1817" he talks about what was going on in France in that time period and although I read every single word, I must confess I was confused because it is all based on the history of France in that year of which I know nothing. He also tends to sprinkle French words, phrases, bits of poems and songs of which I am totally clueless but I still read it without understanding. I felt I was cheating if I did not read every single word (English or French).

5. Have patience - this book will require time to read and when I say read, I mean savor each word. Do not read hastily or skip over parts that you think are not important. Yes, Mr. Hugo is very meticulous and detail-oriented in his description of characters, things and places but by reading and in some cases (like me) re-reading, you will realize that they were written because they are essential to the plot of this book. Also make sure that when you are reading the book, there are no distractions, i.e., tv, this book requires total concentration in order to fully appreciate it.

6. Do not be tempted to see the movie or show instead of reading the book. Read the book first and then go see the show or watch the movie if you want to. Be prepared to be disappointed with movie/musical as they cannot convey the, emotion, wisdom, love, etc... contained in the written version. Seeing the movie/musical instead of reading the book is like watching a Yankees game on TV instead of being at the stadium in NYC cheering along with the rest of the fans. Well you get my drift....

7. Be prepared to be changed by this book. No, it is not the Bible but it does deal with all aspect of human emotions and by reading it, you will want to be a better person. I know I do!!!

These tips were added in 2013 while re reading this magnificent book and reading comments from those who reviewed my review (no pun intended).

8. Have a highlighter when reading this books as there are many lines, quotes and paragraphs that you will want to highlight because of the simple truth and wisdom that they convey about the human spirit.

9. One of the reviewers sent me this tip which I think might be useful. Go to Wikipedia to get a list of all the characters. However, if you are like me and want to be surprised, don't read the synopsis as it is very detailed and will spoil your enjoyment of the book. If you don't want to go to Wikipedia then have a little notebook and pen handy and make your own list of the major and minor characters in order to keep track of them. That is what I do for the larger novels (over 1,000 pages or a book that is part of a series, like Harry Potter).

With that being said, enjoy the book as it is a reading experience that you will not soon forget and thanks for all the comments. I love receiving them and responding back when I can as I know that I am talking to a person who will be experiencing the beauty of this classic.
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Showing 1-10 of 42 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Dec 30, 2009 3:51:40 PM PST
R.A.H says:
Thanks for your tips, I'm sure they will come in handy.

Posted on May 3, 2010 6:40:11 PM PDT
Thanks Mitzi, how nice of you to attempt to help. I have the Signet version and a dictionary, so I'm closer to being ready to read this...

Posted on May 25, 2012 1:10:16 AM PDT
Sherkhanlock says:
Thank you for this! I actually came here from the ISBN you provided first hoping beyond hope that this kindle edition was the same and was let down! 209 pages? what a crock! I don't want to read the abridged first, that's cheating (unless it's the Princess Bride--i refuse to read an entire chapter about a Florin Queen's packing of hats!)

I havent been able to read this yet, i've been daunted by the sheer massiveness of the novel and it's my fave musical of all time (thank you, Alain Boubil!!!) and at the time i was going to read this, I'd already read Gaston Leroux's Phantom of the Opera and couldn't fathom another novel of that magnitude or more. (I was in 7th grade, gimme a break LOL)

Now that i'm in my 20's and have read Guy de Maupassant's "Bel Ami" and having been able to understand that brute, i think i can handle Hugo. Now to get the good version first!!!!

Posted on Jul 8, 2012 12:30:02 PM PDT
I have my students read this in French IV. (of course, in French, but use a translation if you prefer). This many years later, the story still makes me cry.

Posted on Jul 22, 2012 9:24:06 AM PDT
Useful review. I would like to amend the analogy you used at the end: Seeing the movie/musical instead of reading the book is like reading the final score and a brief overview of the Yankees game in the paper the next day nstead of being at the stadium in NYC cheering along with the rest of the fans.

In reply to an earlier post on Jul 22, 2012 1:23:52 PM PDT
Ditsy Mitzi says:
Good analogy. I'm a huge Yankees fan. Lol

Posted on Aug 31, 2012 7:43:32 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Aug 31, 2012 7:46:05 PM PDT
Yanju Dragon says:
Thank you Mitzi. your comment encourse me to abandon ebook. I have ebook and signet classic version. But ebook version is to difficult for me to understand. To the foreign language reader ebook may useful to look up words. But with your tips I choose paper book. I'm Korean. Trying to read Les miserables by English version.

Posted on Nov 12, 2012 1:12:19 PM PST
A lovely and meaningful review that would apply to all great works of literature.

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 12, 2012 2:43:07 PM PST
Ditsy Mitzi says:
Thank you. I think so too!

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 12, 2012 2:49:56 PM PST
Ditsy Mitzi says:
Nice to know that people from other countries are reading this book. I agree that reading the book is much better than e-books. I have found that most e-books are incomplete as far as great literature. What I mean is that the book is well over a 1,000 pages but the e-book is 300. Hello, where did the rest of the book end up? Also, have the dictionary handy. It may take you a long time to read but don't give up. Read 1 chapter a day. Good Luck!
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