What to Know Before Reading Les Misérables by Victor Hugo

What to Know Before Reading Les Miserables via From Left to Write

I’m no stranger to reading long, epic novels.  I’ve read Gone With the Wind (twice!), Crime and Punishment, six books in The Wheel of Time seriesand all the original Dune series (which is basically one book).

However, one book that’s intimidated me is Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables. Penguin Classics recently released a new deluxe edition translated by  Christine Donougher with a beautiful new cover. Look at that gorgeous artwork by Jillian Tamaki. And I got my hot little hands on a copy! It’s 1300 pages long-not counting the endnotes. 

LES MIS Full jacket by Jillian Tamaki

Before I dig into this classic work of literature, I asked a few friends what I should know before reading Les Miserables.

What to Know Before Reading Les Miserables

My friend Dawn, who writes at 5 Minutes for Books, has been obsessed with all things Les Miz for twenty years. She’s my Les Miserables expert and here’s some pointers for first time readers:

It’s okay to skim or skip some parts of the book. Some parts that Dawn gave me permission to skip/skim are:

  • Waterloo (First chapter of Part Two: Cossette): This chapter is mostly about the battle of Waterloo with a small bit of action pertinent to the plot which comes at the very end of the chapter. Dawn recommends muddling through this chapter for your first read. For your second read, just skip to the end of the chapter.

(I love how Dawn assumes I will finish reading the entire book and jump in for a second read.)

  • Petit Picpus (Chapter Six of Part Two: Cossette): With its focus on the history of convents in France, this chapter has only a small bit of important action. I guess if you’ve always wanted to know about the history of convents in France, you should read it.

Take your time. This tip is from me. I know it’s obvious, but don’t beat yourself up if it’s taking you forever to read the book. It’s long and it’s dense.

Take notes. I know, I know. I’m reading this voluntarily and not for a class assignment. I think I make more notes in books I read outside of my college classes than I did the entire four years I was there! Les Miserables is a classic for a reason. Hugo’s social commentary about class in French society is the reason many people still love his work. Underlining passages or marking them with flags (because I have a hard time writing in my books) are how I remember important (to me) lines.

The movie version is nowhere close to the book. Another obvious one but I’ve only seen half of the movie with Hugh Jackman and listened to my theatre friends sing songs from the musical for their auditions. Don’t watch the movie hoping for a leg up on the book. The movie version is terrible, but I do enjoy the Broadway original cast recording.

If all else fails, read the abridged version. Is it cheating? Yes, but if you don’t have time for 1300+ pages, then it’s better than not reading it at all.

Thank you Dawn for sharing your reading tips. She also writes about children’s books on My Thoughts Exactly. Those no-brainer tips are from me; mostly to make myself feel better if I don’t finish reading Les Miserables.

Have you read Les Miserables? What should I know before reading it?

9 Books You’ll Read in One Sitting

Books to Read One Sitting

Spring break is almost here and I’m ready to hunker down with a stack of books. Since my kids are also home for break, I usually choose books that are quick, fun reads. Something that I can pick up whenever I have a few minutes or if my kids interrupt me, I can easily get back into the story.

Whether you get a break or not for spring, here’s a few books you’ll read in just one or two sittings. Promise.

9 Books To Read In One Sitting


In Shell Collector by Hugh Howeythe ocean is dying due to warmer temp–which means seashells have become so rare that everyone is obsessed with them. Maya is a shell enthusiast and a journalist who’s given an opportunity of a lifetime. The reclusive CEO of Ocean Oil, whose business practices helped destroy so many beaches, has given Maya an exclusive interview. However, she discovers more than the villain she expected. Howey offers his usual end of the world scenario, but his latest book will appeal to those who might not enjoy typical science fiction. It’s action packed and  has great character development.

You’ve already heard me rave about Laline Pauls’ The Bees.  Who knew that a dystopian novel about bees could be so engrossing? Trust me, you’ll want to read it. I finished it in one sitting on New Year’s Eve. Not convinced? Read my full review.

The Strange Library by Haruki Murakami: While there’s only 96 pages in this illustrated book, it ripe for multiple reads. A young boy enters an oddly quiet library in search of more books and is sent to Room 107, where he discovers a mysterious world of spirits and danger. It’s deliciously dark.

Crossing by Andrew Fukudu: I bought this novel on right before I boarded my plane because I needed something to read on my flight. I wasn’t sure what to expect but I couldn’t read fast enough. Chinese born Xing is a loner at his all-white high school and can’t make friends–no matter how hard he tries. Until new girl Noami Lee arrives and befriends him. HIs quiet crush on Naomi turns into an obsession when she disappears. Xing attempts to find her abductor while his community turns on him.


Five Fires by Laura Lippman: I’m cheating by putting this novella on the list, but Lippman’s masterful writing is best showcased in her stand alone work. (Though I do enjoy her Tess Monohan series.) You’ll want to read Five Fires several times to catch all of Beth’s secrets as she follows the mysterious fires occurring in her small, quiet town. Plus, you can’t beat the $1.99 price.


The Trouble with Love by Lauren Layne: I was an avid romance reader in my younger days, but stopped when my college course load took over my life. Novels like The Trouble With Love are why I loved romances so much. The characters’ chemistry leaps off the page, the banter is fiery, and both of our leads have friends we all wished we had. Plus it’s spring break, why not read something a little frivolous?

If you enjoy this book, Lauren Layne has an entire series featuring each of the couples: Sex, Love & Stilettos series.

Paper Magician Series

The Paper Magician & The Glass Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg: If you loved The Night Circus by Julie Morgenstern, you’ll love the magical realism in The Paper Magician series. Ceony Twill has recently graduated from Tagis Praff School for the Magically Inclined, but is assigned to apprentice with a paper magician instead of her chosen element. Paper seems so boring, but Ceony uncovers a deadly conspiracy after her teacher is left for dead. I absolutely loved this series and can’t wait for book 3 to be released in June! The Kindle versions of these novels are only $4.99 so not a bad price to try them out.

On my list is for spring break is The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins. I’m #1261 on the hold list for the ebook at my library but the audiobook hold list was much shorter. I prefer to read than listening to an audiobook because I’m such a fast reader. However, I’ve heard so many rave reviews of The Girl on the Train, I’ll take it in any form I can. If your library has a long wait, the Kindle version is currently only $6.99, the price of a mass market paperback.

What’s on your reading list for spring break?

Book Club Discussion: Dead Wake by Erik Larson

Dead Wake FL2W Book Club Banner

Nothing makes you realize your mortality than reading about someone else’s. There’s plenty of mortality in our latest book club selection Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson.  This year marks the 100th anniversary of the disaster and Larson had us riveted. Head over to From Left to Write members’ sites to join our […]

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Book Club Feature: Dead Wake by Erik Larson

Dead Wake FL2W Book Club Banner

We’re so thrilled to feature Erik Larson’s new book Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania as our next book club selection. Well written narrative non-fiction truly brings history alive for me. This year marks the 100th anniversary of the disaster and Larson will have you hooked by page one: On May 1, 1915, with WWI entering its tenth […]

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Book Club Challenge: Thrive by Arianna Huffington

Thrive FL2W Book Club Banner

For our latest book club discussion, we’re approaching the book a little differently. Inspired by Arianna’s book, I challenged my fellow From Left to Write book club members to take a 7-day Thrive challenge. Some of us opted to unplug in the evenings, while others attempted to get more sleep in the evenings. So how […]

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What’s On Your Nightstand: M.D. Waters

MD Waters Author Photo

I already have M.D. Waters‘ books on my to be read pile (on my Kindle) so why not invite her to share what she’s reading? Her first book Archetype is a psychological thriller about Emma, whose memory has been wiped but she dreams of a war and a camp where girls are trained to be wives? Doesn’t […]

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