Saturday 1 September 2018

Les Mis Chapter-a-Day Readalong Update

Life has been a bit crazy again this year, and lots of my good intentions for this blogging life have been curtailed, postponed or in a state of constant catch-up. But the one thing that has kept me going, albeit in fits and starts, is my chapter-a-day read of Les Miserables with Nick and friends from @One Catholic Life.

My last Les Mis check in post was way, way back in early April, which is when my chapter-a-day approach took it's first battering.

We had a three week trip to Japan planned. I didn't want to take a chunkster in my luggage, I also prefer to read books set in the country I'm travelling in at the time, so Les Mis was never going to work for a trip to Japan. I decided to read ahead before leaving.

Over two nights I read about 25 chapters. It was exciting, I felt that the pace picked up and the story was getting very interesting again as we got to back the main action of the story (and away from one of Hugo's very lengthy diversions). I loved seeing Valjean and Cosette settling into a more peaceful life in Vol 3, Book 5, getting to know each other and feel safe. Their life was frugal and inconspicuous.

The night time chase scene through the back streets of Paris in Book 6 was one of the high points in the story so far. So much tension, fear and suspense. It was easy to race through these chapters as I couldn't wait to see what happened next, and how or if, Valjean was going to escape the clutches of Javert once again.

But I did wonder at the time, how they might have been read differently and understood differently, if I had read them one at a time, slowly and thoughtfully.

Book 6 spent time LOTS of time discussing religion and one particular institution, the Petit-Picpus convent. I was glad to NOT be reading these chapters whilst on holiday. I found them dry and rather tedious, but knew that in the usual Hugo style, they were leading us slowly but surely to a point.

I did discover that there was no real Petit-Picpus convent thanks to this post at Carpe Horas and that there is a Les Mis fan community called Abaiss√© where some kind soul had posted a modern day photographic journey that showed the route of the Javert-Valjean chase. Lily Blackmore also has several Les Mis photo posts of her time in Paris in search of Les Mis connections. 

The love for this book runs deep and strong.

Book 7 in my Penguin edition of Les Mis, is treated as an afterthought by the translator, Norman Denny, and popped into the back of the book as Appendix A. A part of me can see why. Book 7 is another Hugo digression. This time into the nature of history, religion and faith. An interesting footnote into the mind and beliefs of the author, that reflected the times he lived through, but certainly not designed to make the reader feel like they can't wait to read the next chapter!

Since returning from Japan I have found it difficult to get back into a good routine.

June was a flurry of visits and weekends away. July saw the entire family sick with a nasty winter cold one after the other. And August was all about exams, as B18 studied for his final in-school exams.

I read Les Mis in fits and bursts throughout this time. Mostly it became a weekend thing where I would read all seven chapters in one hit. But I felt rather disconnected from the story and the readalong the entire time.

Last week I decided to reassert control over my Les Mis journey.

It was time to savour Hugo's work a chapter-a-day once again. With Vol 4, Book 3 I returned to reading this epic story little by little, one day at a time. Each night, before bed, I read my chapter. I'm trying to read each one carefully and thoughtfully.

And it has been a delight.

I have rediscovered the thrill I had at the beginning of the year.

The art of slow reading is not an easy path to follow, but I'm glad to be back on track. I can feel some of the year's stresses melting away, I'm feeling more connected and centred, my brain feels like it's working smarter and I've rediscovered the joy of reading (Les Mis).

As John Miedema, author of Slow Reading (2009) said,
If you want the deep experience of a book, if you want to internalise it, to mix an author's ideas with your own and make it a more personal experience, you have to read it slowly.

My hard-won tips for getting the most out of slow reading (Les Mis) are:
  • Pick a time of the day that works best for you AND stick to it.
  • Leave ALL devices in another room.
  • Do a brief meditation or breathing exercise to calm your mind & focus your attention.
  • Underline words or phrases that move you, that you don't know or want to research further.
  • Read some chapters or sections aloud.
  • Pause, consider, ponder, reflect.
  • Be kind to yourself. There will be times when Slow Reading isn't possible. Don't beat yourself up if you're going through one of those times. Wait it out. You'll know when you're ready to Slow Read again. And you'll love & appreciate it even more when you return to it.

The Battle of Waterloo the Victor Hugo Way
Finally Facing My Waterloo
Birthday Check In
Week 2 Catch Up
Week 1 First Impressions


  1. I have gotten behind on the chapter a day readalong and I like your suggestions. My problem was that I was reading on the Kindle (very unusual for me) and my available time is later in the evening and that did not work well with sleeping. I am now switching to my paper copy of the book, and need to think of a way to make that a habit and to keep up with notes on the sections that works for me. Still enjoying the book though.

    1. I leave the book by my bed now for that reason too. It's the first thing I see when I hop in each night. Underlining & asterixing phrases, lines etc helps to find certain parts important to me or that I want to check up on....the hard part is finding the time later the next day to do just that!

      Glad you're still with us :-)

  2. I was thinking about joining in this readalong but never got to it, now I fear I'm too far behind. I do want to read Les Mis (and I have two copies!) but I don't know if I'll ever tackle it alone -- I so wish I had started in January! I wonder if reading just one chapter a day would work for me. I'm normally terrible at pacing myself, if I get caught up in a book I want to finish it and move on to the next one. I've just started reading a Trollope (early!) for an online readalong and I'm pretty sure I'll finish it way ahead.

    1. Never too far behind Karen. If you really want to join in for the last quarter, no-one would mind at all. You could spend September catching up (knowing how quickly you read!) The hard part will be stopping yourself when you've caught us :-) You'd have to have another book ready to get lost in at that time....

  3. My daughter persuaded mt to read Les Mis 3 or 4 years ago. I'm glad I did, it's an impressive work and a great way to get an overview of French history. (sorry though that the convent's not real)

    1. Unfortunately, I think that quite a few of Hugo's remembrances are faulty. I guess he didn't have google to check his facts :-)
      He was also prone to nostalgic revisionism, but then aren't we all?


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