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Summer Read Throwback: Two Classics for Your List

Michelle Rafferty, Publicity Assistant

Don’t know what to read this summer? Swore off ye olde canon after high school? Associate Editor Andrew Herrmann insists that literary classics are a necessary foundation for any pop cultural enthusiast, and he has just the two for us: a bawdy ancient novel and a sweeping swashbuckling adventure.  (Don’t worry, no plot spoilers here!)

Michelle Rafferty: So I’m here today with Andrew Herrmann who is an Associate Editor here at Oxford. Every time I see Andrew he has an Oxford classic in hand—in the elevator, in the canteen when he’s eating his lunch. He’s a voracious reader and is a huge fan of our classics. So I asked Andrew if he would sit down and give us a few recommendations for summer reading, and he kindly agreed to give us a few. Hi Andrew.

Herrmann: Hey Michelle, thanks for having me. One book that I think people might consider this summer is Petronius’ The Satyricon, which you may be thinking, “What in the world is that?” But it’s actually an ancient novel, one of the first novels ever written, and the great thing about it is that it gives you an insight into the Roman World that you don’t usually get from things we think of when we think of Roman classics like Virgil’s The Aeneid, etc. It’s a really bawdy novel and very graphic. And there’s quite a bit of Roman profanity and odd situations, so it’s definitely a hidden beach read if you will. The main character Encolpius, his name in Latin kind of translates into “the groin,” and he is always getting into trouble and is on the wrong side of the law half of the time and fleeing from people and from ex-lovers, etc. So he’s definitely a fun character to follow. And some of it is not appropriate to be shared on the blog I’m sure, but it’s definitely worth checking out.

Rafferty: Could you just give one little inappropriate anecdote? You got to sell us on this Andrew!

Herrmann: Well there’s definitely a lot of prostitution that occurs, definitely some use of sex toys, definitely a different take on Roman society that you may not get from the epics you may have read in high school.

Rafferty: And how many pages are we looking at?

Herrmann: It’s not too long. The one bad thing, or the one drawback I would say is that it has come down to us in somewhat fragmentary condition. There are parts that are missing just because the text was not transmitted fully. But the main parts are there. So it’s not super long. You’re definitely only looking at a few hundred pages I think.

Rafferty: Alright. So what else do you recommend for us this summer Andrew?

Herrmann: The other book that I would recommend is the old classic The Count of Monte Cristo. It’s quite long, but it reads very much like an action adventure, romantic adventure, so it’s never boring certainly. It basically focuses on the life of Edmond Dantès. Life is going great and he’s about to get married, but due to a series of events, and people conspiring against him gets thrown into prison and is stuck there. And his escape is engineered by a fellow prison mate who, well I don’t want to give too much away, but kind of helps him escape and then puts in a good position to seek revenge on the people who have wronged him.

Rafferty: So this is like a vengeance story, a story of vindication.

Herrmann: Yeah, it is a story of vengeance. But it has something for everyone because there’s plenty of action and plenty of swashbuckling adventure if you will, but there’s also some tender moments between lovers, between family members, so there’s definitely something for everyone. And it’s long enough to keep you busy for quite some time this summer.

Rafferty: I’m sorry Andrew, you just used a term I’m not familiar with: swashbuckling?

Herrmann: Like pirate, high seas, sort of adventure. Pirates of the Caribbean if you will.

Rafferty: Ahh, so it’s like Pirates of the Caribbean but better.

Herrmann: Well I don’t know if I’d go that far, but definitely similar moments and similar type of adventure throughout the novel.

Rafferty: So we live in a world of 3-D movies, television is pretty good these days, why should someone pick up a classic this summer?

Herrmann: Well Michelle, it’s good to have a background in classic literature just because it’s the basis for all the new movies and tv, and even the recent fiction that’s come out. So, having an understanding of classics helps you better enjoy the things that you’re watching or the other things that you are reading and gives you a better link into culture.

Rafferty: Is there anything else you’d like to share about these wonderful reads?

Herrmann: If you’re looking for something along the lines of black humor and risqué sorts of adventures and fun, definitely go for The Satyricon. You’ll definitely learn a thing or two about ancient culture and times, which I’m sure will serve as some great cocktail conversation. If you’re looking for a more traditional sort of adventure novel, sweeping scale and scope definitely go with The Count of Monte Cristo . The main character says, “I have always had more dread of a pen, ink, and paper than of a sword and pistol.” It’s interesting that there’s this allusion to the political workings and things behind all the action that’s really the scary part of the book.

Rafferty: Well Andrew you sold me. Thank you for taking the time to come in and give us your recommendations today.

Herrmann: My pleasure Michelle. Thank you for having me.

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