After a feeble attempt of starting this novel while traveling through Southeast Asia over the winter break, I finally made it through the unabridged version of Victor Hugo's literary masterpiece, Les Miserables, yesterday. And despite the fact that I have read some amazing books in my life, I feel like this one now stands alone at the top of my favorite books list. I know it sounds pretentious, but this is a novel that is filled with so many profound life lessons that it will truly inspire you to evaluate and change your life for the better.
Ever since I first heard the music from the play and my cousin Erik gave me a day long ten-year-old's abridgment of the story (Circa 1992) I have wanted to read through this classic, but it has taken me awhile to find an actual interest in taking on a 1,500 page novel. I have always figured that there were so many other great works of literature that something like that was a bad use of my time. I was completely wrong. Now, I am not saying that all long novels are more profound or better written than other, less sizable, novels. All I am saying is that this novel is one that I would encourage anyone to read through. You will run into several hundred pages of historical tangents and question their relevancy, but it will all feel necessary in the end.
Here is a quote from the preface that I believe explains the importance and value of this novel:
"So long as there shall exist, by reason of law and custom, a social condemnation, which, in the face of civilization, artificially creates hells on earth, and complicates a destiny that is divine, with human fatality; so long as the three problems of the age — the degradation of man by poverty, the ruin of woman by starvation, and the dwarfing of childhood by physical and spiritual night — are not solved; so long as, in certain regions, social asphyxia shall be possible; in other words, and from a yet more extended point of view, so long as ignorance and misery remain on earth, books like this cannot be useless."
I have often thought about the value of my literary degree and how it is often only viewed as a steppingstone to something more lucrative, such as law school; but this is the type of novel that shows the true value of what a literary education teaches you about life. My love for literature and my learned ability to analyze the world through a variety of lenses is something I will always be grateful for. I strongly believe the world would be different if more people took the time to sit down and read through an inspiring book, watch a meaningful film, listen to some great music, analyze a beautiful piece of art, or bother with anything with artistic value as opposed to obsess over the kitsch and meaningless stuff the media continually tries to pass off as valuable. That being said, I will now step down from my soapbox.
I encourage you all to go out and read a good book.