Announcing the Les Misérables Chapter-a-Day Read-along

Les Miserables Read-along LogoThis is the official sign-up post for the Les Misérables Chapter-a-Day Read-along. Please join me in spending the next year reading one of the great works of world literature, Les Misérables by Victor Hugo. If you’ve always wanted to read the unabridged edition of Les Misérables, this is your opportunity. Maybe you love the musical or one of the movies. Maybe you’ve read an abridged version and now you want more. Whatever it is that has brought you here, I invite you to join me in reading this epic work of historical fiction that touches on themes of justice, love, sacrifice, and redemption.

Starting January 1, 2018, we’ll be reading it in little bites, a chapter a day, savoring the experience and making it a part of daily life for the next 365 days.

Why a Les Misérables Read-along?

The origins of this read-along are two-fold. First, I participated in Brona’s Hobbit/Lord of the Rings Read-along last year and really loved it, especially the slow pace of stretching Tolkien’s books out over seven months. And second, last March I read Novel of the Century: The Extraordinary Adventure of Les Misérables by David Bellos. At the very beginning of that book, Bellos makes a remarkable statement that I have not been able to get out of my head:

…the fact is that Les Misérables is made of exactly 365 chapters. You can therefore read one chapter a day – most of them are quite short – and complete Hugo’s vast novel of love and revolution in the time that it takes planet Earth to complete its revolution around the sun.

So, since Les Misérables is one of my favorite novels, and since I taught it to eighth graders for over twenty years, I thought I would try hosting a chapter-a-day read-along of the complete novel. It may sound intimidating at first, committing an entire year to reading a book, but I think it has the potential to be a deeply transformative experience.

Imagine getting up early each morning and as part of your daily routine opening up one of the truly great books of the world and spending a little time with unforgettable characters like Jean Valjean, the Bishop of Digne, Fantine, Javert, and little Gavroche. Or imagine settling in each evening before going to sleep, losing yourself in the world of 19th century France: galley slaves, the sewers of Paris, the battle of Waterloo, the barricades. And finally, imagine waking up on December 31, 2018, knowing that you are about to finish the last chapter of one of the longest and most profound books ever written. This is the extraordinary adventure of the Les Misérables Read-along.

How to Participate

  1. Get an unabridged copy of Les Misérables. See below for suggested translations/editions.
  2. If you have your own blog, write a welcome post explaining why you are joining the read-along and what you hope to gain from it. Include your past experience with Les Mis in any of its forms. Leave a link to your post in the linkup section at the end of this post. If you don’t have a blog, you can leave your information in the comments section below.
  3. Download the Les Miserables Chapter a Day Reading Schedule 2018.
  4. Commit to reading a chapter a day. If you get behind or race ahead, no worries. Life happens. My blog posts will stay on track with the reading schedule, and I would ask that you please respect the reading experience of those who may not know the full story. In other words, no spoilers!
  5. Please feel free to post the official Les Misérables Chapter-a-Day Read-along graphic on your website or blog to spread the word.
  6. Subscribe to One Catholic Life so you don’t miss any read-along posts throughout the year. You can get updates via email by using the form in the right-hand sidebar or you can subscribe via RSS and read them in your favorite blog reader.

Which edition should I read?

You can read any edition (including audio), as long as it is unabridged. I don’t read French, so I will be reading a translation. Here are a few of the translations I’m familiar with and can recommend:

  • Christine Donougher (2013) – This is the translation I’ll be reading and quoting from during the read-along. I’ve not read it before, which is why I’m reading it this year. It’s also the translation Bellos quotes from in Novel of the Century.
  • Norman Denny (1976) – This is the translation I read the last time I read Les Misérables, in 2013. I don’t remember having any qualms about the translation, in fact I remember liking it quite a bit.
  • Charles Wilbour (1862) – Wilbour’s was the first English translation, and is really quite good. This is the translation I taught to eighth graders, albeit in an abridged edition.

My Plans for the Read-along

Here are some of the things I’m going to do to keep you motivated and interested in reading during the year:

  • Introducing each major section of the novel and writing a wrap-up after each one
  • Sharing background information and context periodically throughout the year
  • Posting weekly status reports, giving you a chance to comment on your progress, joys, and/or difficulties
  • Connecting the book with the musical
  • Sharing the beautiful illustrations of the novel by Émile Bayard
  • Offering insights into the symbols, imagery and major themes of the book

If you’re ready to sign up, I invite you to leave a comment in the comment box and/or write your own introductory blog post and share it with us using the linkup button below.

And if you’re reading this after we’ve already started, feel free to catch up and join the read-along already in progress!

Deacon Nick

Nick Senger is a husband, a father of four, a Roman Catholic deacon and a Catholic school teacher, vice principal and technology coordinator. He taught junior high literature and writing for over 25 years, and has been a Catholic school educator since 1990. In 2001 he was named a Distinguished Teacher of the Year by the National Catholic Education Association.

52 Responses

  1. Louise says:

    Oh I can’t wait to do this! I’m very excited, your schedule and extra activities all sound fantastic. It can’t be chance that there are 365 chapters? Can it? I’m pretty sure that I have the Norman Denny in the house. I’ll read that, it will be interesting to be able to be able to compare passages between the translations. I’ll do an introductory post at some stage- it will take me a while.

  2. Brenda says:

    Count me in!

  3. Melisa says:

    I’m in. I first read the abridged version in your class 22 years ago. I have read two abridged versions since that time, but I’ve never never finished an unabridged version. I think now is a perfect time. I hope I can convince my college freshman to join me in the journey.

  4. I love ideas like this, can’t resist giving it a try!

  5. This is one story that our entire family loves, but I’ve only experienced movie and live theatre version. Looking for to this journey!

  6. Lynn says:

    You have caught my attention and I am going to join in on the journey! I can’t wait to get started.

  7. Brona says:

    I’m very, very tempted Nick. Let me get through #AusReadingMonth and I’ll see what I can do 🙂

    PS Thanks so much for the LOTRH shout out. I really enjoyed the leisurely read too and that’s what appeals most about this readalong too…as well as your fine company, of course!

  8. I think this is a fantastic idea. Count me in!

  9. I’m very intrigued by this. I’ve been wanting to read Les Miserables in French, and doing a chapter a day may be a realistic way of going about it. Will look into whether my french copy is unabridged 🙂

  10. I know from experience that this kind of pace doesn’t work for me – I tried it with War & Peace last year, failed, but read and loved the book. So I might start with you but I’ll move forward at my own pace, and you can consider me an interested onlooker. My copy is a quite recent translation by Julie Rose.

  11. Carolyn says:

    I’m in and bringing my mom along for the journey, too! We are both looking forward to it!

  12. Lisa Hilderbrand says:

    I am so intrigued by this! Signing up! Got my copy today!

  13. Bekah Brandt says:

    Hi Mr Senger, I’ve been wanting to read the unabridged Les Mis since we first read it in your class a very long time ago. Count me in!

  14. Diane Senger says:

    Nick, I am looking forward to this journey with you and this group! Thank you!

  15. Ruthiella says:

    I’m in! I just downloaded the Denny translation. I am looking forward to the experience of reading along in this way!

  16. Denise says:

    Having seen the musical on stage and the movie version, I’m happy for this encouragement to read the book now.

  17. Molly Bayne says:

    Hi Mr. Senger. I’m in. Looking forward to starting this year long journey!!

  18. Jane Simpson says:

    I’m a little late to the party, but I’m glad I just found out about this and would love to join in. I read Les Miserables in the original French at university 40-odd years ago, loved it, and still have my original copies, so I shall attempt to struggle along in rusty French and see how I get on.

  19. Gine B. says:

    I’m in! You’re the perfect guide on this literary journey. Thanks, Nick!

  20. Terrina says:

    I’m in~ Carolyn turned me on to this & I’m excited to read along!

  21. Jenna Richardson says:

    Carolyn invited me along on the journey. I’ve been an avid reader most of my life, but never read Les Miserable! I’m looking forward to this!

  22. BJ says:

    This event sounds great! I only just found out about it through Ottavia’s sign up post. I sure am glad for her post! 🙂
    I’m coming into this a bit late so I have some catching up to do but I would love to join in.
    And, my sign up post should be up within the next couple of days.

    • Deacon Nick says:

      Welcome, BJ, I’m glad you found us! I look forward to seeing your sign up post.

      • BJ says:

        Thanks, Nick! I’ve been reading and I’m already enjoying the story! I am not familiar with the character of Monseigneur Bienvenu, but he is an inspiration! Stop by tomorrow, my sign up post should be up in the morning. 🙂

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