Why you should read Les Misérables

You’re watching it on PBS, and maybe you can hum all the tunes from the musical – but there’s nothing quite like reading the book itself.

But it’s so looong!

True. Compared to the miniseries adaptation‘s six-hour running time, the unabridged audiobook – read by master narrator George Guidall – runs for over sixty hours, and the Modern Library edition is 1,330 pages long, with 365 chapters. One reason that many 19th Century novels are so long is that they were originally read serially, in weekly installments, rather than straight-through. Read this way, the novel’s length becomes an asset, stretching out the narrative across time. Prolong the pleasure! Set out to read one chapter a day, for a year – and enjoy binging ahead when you just can’t stand the suspense.

What suspense? I already know the story!

Ah, but do you? You may know the main plot, but what about all the little subplots that are first to go in any adaptation. Walk-on extras and bit parts – such as Monseiur Myriel, the bishop of Digne, or the diverse band of revolutionary students – become fully-fleshed characters with arcs of their own. And there’s so much more than just the story here: Hugo’s masterpiece is replete with digressions on a whole range of topics, from the Battle of Waterloo to the Sewers of Paris.

Digressions on sewers? This is a selling point?

Perhaps not in any author’s hands, but this leads us to the main reason to read Les Mis: Victor Hugo’s voice. The author is not shy about inserting himself in the text, and he’s a total genius, a giant of his age. (He even saved Notre Dame Cathedral!) The pages bristle with profound ideas, beautifully expressed. Read with pen in hand, or use the highlighter on your Kindle: there are so many passages to make you stop, think and admire, and Hugo’s wisdom does not age. Read it, and see if you don’t learn something about intolerance, forgiveness, partisan politics, and the power of individual acts of kindness. It just might change your life.

Okay, sounds interesting – but I just don’t have the time.

Yes, there are a lot of demands on our attention, with the result that many of us are having a hard time focusing on much of anything for very long. Reading demanding novels such as Les Misérables is the perfect way to add muscle to your attention span, and regain lost focus. Take a break from social media, turn off the alerts on your phone, and read. Like running a marathon, when you cross that finish line you will be a different person.

             ~ posted by David W. 

3 thoughts on “Why you should read Les Misérables”

  1. I stopped reading it because I couldn’t get passed the long descriptions of the Bishop of Digne. Like get on with it.

  2. And eyecatching/motivational blog titles aside, I’m going to go against the thrust of my own post here to say that we librarians go to great lengths to take the “should” out of reading, and fully support any reader who says that Book X, Y or Z is just not for them. The more leisurely prose of Hugo and some other 19th Century novelists is definitely an acquired taste. That said, I think it is really interesting when I read an author who invites me to sloooow down and hang out with the prose. I love the serial reading approach, which (for me) takes some of the sting out of the sheer girth of such a book, and makes that “get on with it” frustration feel like more of a welcome pressure.

  3. I read the unabridged book- the entire book four summers ago. What helped me understand what was going on was my knowledge of the musical. I love Les Misérables- it is hard to put into words why I love it

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