Monday, January 15, 2018

Back to the Classics 2018

It's back!  Karen at Books and Chocolate is hosting the Back to the Classics Challenge for2018.  Like most if not all of the participants, I think making up the list is half the fun of the challenge. So here are some I might choose to satisfy this year’s categories:

 1.  A 19TH CENTURY CLASSIC - any book published between 1800 and 1899.  This is the easiest category for me to fill.  I will for sure read both a Trollop (The Eustace Diamonds and/or The Way We Live Now)  and a Dickens title (next on my list is The Old Curiosity Shop) in 2018.

2.  A 20TH CENTURY CLASSIC - any book published between 1900 and 1968. As in previous years, I will try to pick a book here that fits with the Modern Library 100 Best of List; probably it will be Winesberg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson which was published in 1919.

3.  A CLASSIC BY A WOMAN AUTHOR – I have a lot of unread Barbara Pym on my shelves. A few other options among the books I already own are Passing by Nella Larson,  Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston or Evelina by Frances Burney.

4.  A CLASSIC IN TRANSLATION.  Any book originally written published in a language other than your native language.  My native language is English. Now I could of course choose Les Miserables for this category and maybe I will, but I would also like to read a translation from the French of Guy de Maupassant’s Bel Ami.   

5. A CHILDREN'S CLASSIC.  I may try The Jungle Books again by Rudyard Kipling.  They didn’t grab me the last time I tried them for this challenge but maybe the second time will be the charm?

6.  A CLASSIC CRIME STORY, FICTION OR NON-FICTION.  Another very easy read for me to fulfil; I can binge read Agatha Christie titles like nobody’s business and I love a good classic whodunit.   I also have a handful of Josephine Tey titles on my shelf to read and may try The Man in the Queue since Jane also has this one lined up for 2018.

7. A CLASSIC TRAVEL OR JOURNEY NARRATIVE, FICTION OR NON-FICTION. I will try Orient Express by Graham Greene, first published in 1933.

8. A CLASSIC WITH A SINGLE-WORD TITLE. Both Passing by Nella Larson or Evelina by Frances Burney would work here as well.

9. A CLASSIC WITH A COLOR IN THE TITLE. I think I might read The Scarlet Letter by Nathanial Hawthorn or maybe The Red Badge of Courage by Stephan Crane.

10. A CLASSIC BY AN AUTHOR THAT'S NEW TO YOU.  Any of my women authors noted above with the exception of Barbara Pym would fit this category.

11. A CLASSIC THAT SCARES YOULight in August by William Faulkner. Apparently this is one of his more accessible titles.

12. RE-READ A FAVORITE CLASSIC.  Too many to list.  I will say that if possible I will listen on audio rather than read with my eyes.  I am a bit weird about audio books but for re-reads they work really well for me. 

So that is my preliminary list.  All of the specific titles listed above are BOOKS THAT I ALREADY OWN! It has been a goal of mine in recent years to acquire less and read more of what I already have at home. I am comfortable with unread books on my shelves, but at the moment I have "too be read" piles obscuring the spines of other books which does bug me. I want those piles to be wrangled into something more manageable over the next few years.   

Wednesday, January 3, 2018


What, I am posting twice in one week? UNHEARD OF. But the Tournament of Books 2018 Shortlist was announced today! If you are curious about the Tournament and how it functions, here is the TOB link, As you can see in the list I have made below of the 18 shortlisted titles, I have already read 11, which is a personal best.   I think have a good chance at managing to read the remaining 7 titles in time for the judging on March 7, 2018, which I have never achieved before. We'll see 😀.

   No.          Title                                        Author                                    Available?
The Animators
Kayla Rae Whitaker
The Book of Joan
Lidia Yuknavitch
Dear Cyborgs
Eugene Lim

The End of Eddy
Édouard Louis
Exit West
Mohsin Hamid
Fever Dream
Samanta Schweblin
Goodbye, Vitamin
Rachel Khong
Emily Ruskovich
The Idiot
Elif Batuman
Lincoln in the Bardo
George Saunders
Lucky Boy
Shanthi Sekaran
Manhattan Beach
Jennifer Egan
Min Jin Lee
Savage Theories
Pola Oloixarac

Sing, Unburied, Sing
Jesmyn Ward
So Much Blue
Percival Everett

Stephen Florida
Gabe Habash
White Tears
Hari Kunzru

While the Back to the Classics Challenge helps me read those older books I have always been meaning to get to, the Tournament of Books helps me keep abreast of current releases and as well as some way off the radar books. 

Of those yet unread, I am most looking forward to getting to Pachinko, a multi-generational saga about Koreans in Japan and The Book of Joan, an apocalyptic re-telling of the Joan of Arc story.  

Of those I have already read, my favorite is hands down, The Idiot. But I would say this book is one of those books where you either get its humor or you don't; like A Confederacy of Dunces (which I hated, BTW). 

What about you dear readers?  Have you read any of these or do you want to read any of them?

Monday, January 1, 2018

Les Misérables Chapter-a-Day Read-along

Happy New Year all!

I thought I would throw my hat in to the ring and participate in the 2018 Les Misérables Chapter-a-Day Read-along hosted by Deacon Nick at One Catholic Life.  I have never read this chunkster and this seems like an interesting way to tackle it since there are exactly 356 chapters in the unabridged version of the novel. I found out about this challenge on Lory's blog Emerald City Book Review. I know I will not be posting about each chapter per day, but maybe I will chart my progress on the blog as I complete each of the five major sections.
I just downloaded the Norman Denny translation from the library to my e-reader (just an aside...I am also currently reading Lonesome Dove, a book I do own in hardback and boy howdy, e-readers really are a fantastic way to access such huge books.  I was skeptical at first but have become a convert!). I am crossing my fingers that I will not have to actually purchase the book since my library has multiple copies, although I will have to probably switch between the e-book and the print edition along the way. 
I am vaguely familiar with the story but have never seen a film or the musical adaptation of the book. 

I am 99.9% sure I will be able to read this book in 2018. My only qualm is if I will be able to limit myself to the chapter a day or will I feel compelled to read ahead?

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Back to the Classics 2017: My Final Wrap-Up

Wally is not as impressed with my efforts as I am.

JUST UNDER THE WIRE.  Well, not really. There are still 5 days left in the year.   But I am currently reading furiously books from the 2018 Tournament of Books long list plus there is the usual end of year/holiday activity so I did actually cut it a little too close for my comfort this year!

Below are the 12 books I read for this challenge, with links to my reviews. My email contact is naessa [at] yahoo [dot] com.

1. A Russian Classic: One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Alexander Solzhenitsyn
2. A Romance Classic Dragonwyck by Anya Seton 
3. A Classic in Translation : The Red and the Black by Stendhal  
4. A 19th Century Classic:  Nicholas Nickleby by Charles Dickens
5. A Gothic Classic: No Name by Wilkie Collins and The Monk by Matthew Lewis 
6. A Classic by a woman author: Less than Angels by Barbara Pym
7. An award winning Classic: The Yearling by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings 
8. A 20th Century Classic: Go Tell it on the Mountain by James Baldwin
9. A Classic About an Animal or With an Animal in the Title:  The Call of the Wild by Jack London
10. A Classic with a number in the title: The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas, Père 
11. A Classic set in a place you would like to visit: Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay 
12. A classic published prior TO 1800:  The Oresteia by Aeschylus  

My favorites were Nicholas Nickleby, No Name, Less than Angles and The Yearling.  My  least favorites were The Red and the Black and The Monk. I am glad to have read all of them however, and bonus points to me  for having read Go Tell it on the Mountain and The Call of the Wild which I can also now tick off my list of Modern Library 100 Best that I am making my way through.

Many thanks to Karen at Books and Chocolate for hosting and doing all the heavy lifting!

Sunday, December 24, 2017

BACK TO THE CLASSICS CHALLENGE 2017: The Orestia by Aeschylus

Orestes pursued by the Furies, by William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1825-1905)
For the last category of the 2017 Back to the Classics Challenge:  A CLASSIC PUBLISHED PRIOR TO 1800, I went  WAY before 1800,  about two thousand years earlier to 5th century BCE and read The Oresteia by Aeschylus.   Aside from a handful of plays in high school read and/or performed, the only play I have read in my life was Lady Windermere’s Fan, which I read for the 2016 Back to the Classics Challenge and which I found to be not only delightful but also very quick read.
The Orestia was not quick or delightful actually.  But the experience was interesting and worthy. What slowed me down was the essay by the translator Robert Fagles and W.B. Standford which preceded the plays which was almost as long as all three works put together. It was tough reading, very scholarly. But it added EVERYTHING to my understanding of the plays…without it I would have been pretty lost.  Really, my  only understanding of much of ancient Greek literature comes from the Psych 101 course I took in college over 25 years ago…and that was of course filtered through Freudian thought.
Briefly, the Oresteia is one of the many tellings (there are other extant versions of the story by Sophocles and Euripides for example) of the myth of the curse over the family of Agamemnon, he of the Trojan War fame.  In this version, Agamemnon has willingly sacrificed his daughter Iphigenia to the gods in order to win the war and naturally, his wife Clytemnestra isn’t happy about this. So she kills Agamemnon upon his return from Troy. Agamemnon is in turn avenged by their son Orestes, who kills his mother.  Orestes is then pursued by the Furies for matricide. This all comes to a head in Athens where the goddess Athena presides over a trial to determine if Orestes can be acquitted of his crime and the Furies pacified by becoming "The Kindly Ones" (or the Eumenides , which is actually the title of the third play). 
According to Fagles’ interpretation of the trilogy, what Aeschylus was trying to do with the plays was to show his audience the civilizing effect of law on society  in the way the Furies are moved from a force of raw vengeance to a force for justice.  That is paraphrasing a 90 plus page essay, but that is basically my take away in a nutshell.
 I am glad to have read it for its reverberations in later literature.  Let’s hope it pays off in my future reading. Already I am thinking of The Kindly Ones which is the title of the 6th book in Anthony Powell’s A Dance to the Music of Time series, which I read a few years ago.   

Saturday, December 2, 2017

BACK TO THE CLASSICS CHALLENGE 2017: Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay

I chose Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay as my read for the Back to the Classics 2017 Challenge category “Classic Set in a Place You'd Like to Visit”.  I have never been to Australia and probably never will visit given the expense and the distance but I have long been interested in it as both a country and a landscape.  Picnic at Hanging Rock is a fiction, but Hanging Rock is a real volcanic rock formation located in Victoria, Australia.
The story features the students and teachers of a girl’s boarding school located a few miles from Hanging Rock, a popular local attraction for day trips and outings.   As the book opens on Valentine’s Day 1900, the girls and two of the teachers are preparing to go for a picnic at the rocks.   Later, however, party turns tragic, when three girls and one teacher go missing. This mysterious event affects not only the remaining staff and students but also two young men who happened to also be at Hanging Rock that days; some of the ripple effects are quite terrible, while others are quite providential.
This is a very short book (198 pages in the pictured Penguin edition I read)  and it is structured as a faux-history/ true crime format which I found interesting.  In particular, the ambiguity in the book really worked for me and the lush, atmospheric writing was a pleasure to ponder and digest. I think there is a lot of subtext in the book, for the reader who cares to look for it. I was especially drawn to the author’s depiction of the natural world as something independent and uncaring of humans, but always present and threatening.  However, there is an actual “ending” to the book which was cut from the manuscript when the book was first published in 1967 which somewhat takes away the ambiguity I so enjoyed and definitely pushes the book in to speculative fiction territory. 

There is also a really good film of Picnic at Hanging Rock directed by Peter Wier.  It is pretty good, as I recall; very atmospheric and creepy.

Friday, November 10, 2017

BACK TO THE CLASSICS CHALLENGE 2017: The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas père

“All for one and one for all” was never actually stated in the translation by Jacques Le Clercq in the 1999 Modern Library edition that I read.  I wonder where that comes from and if it is maybe even apocryphal?  

I find my reaction to finally experiencing a classic fiction source that has sparked so many adaptations, spin-offs, etc. to be quite varied.  Which is normal, of course. But I still have this idea that I am obligated to appreciate anything deemed “classic”. Silly, yet true.  Frankly, I was less than enamored when I finally read Frankenstein and also I thought The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde would have been a thousand times better if had been less familiar with the story prior to reading it.  However, I have been delighted by pretty much everything I have read by Charles Dickens and Jane Austen.

Which brings me to Les Trois Mousquetaires by Alexandre Dumas.  I liked it, but with reservations which are mostly based on reading a book written 200 years ago and which is set in a time period 200 years before it was written. I don’t know why sometimes my 21st century mores get in the way of reading older books and sometimes they don’t.  But in this case, I was annoyed by the moral ambiguity of 17th century Europe as portrayed by a 19th century author…in particular since the one female villain is so severely punished (her greatest evil seeming to be having the intellect of a man but born in to a female body) whereas the male bad guys are actually respected as worthy adversaries. Milady deserved better.  Frankly, I much prefer her depiction in the 1993 movie version starring Rebecca De Mornay. Whatever faults that movie may have (Charlie Sheen as Aramis?), it gives Milady (and Athos) a more nuanced personality than in the book. I guess one could argue that the book does allow for a more generous reading of Milady in the negative spaces, but you have to be a better reader that I am to get that.

My other reservation is that it isn’t particularly well written. There is literal mustache twirling going on.  One of the chapter title’s is literallyThe Plot Thickens”.  This book’s success rests I think on its characters, who are very memorable, despite their questionable behavior. I mean, these guys are constantly walking around, looking for a fight. And they very often actively work AGAINST the best interests of France in their support of Queen Anne.   Who knows, maybe Dumas was deliberately writing them as anti-heroes? That is for someone’s term paper to work out!

So, in summary, I am happy to have finally experienced Dumas’ original but I don’t think I will read on in his oeuvre.  I read this for the 2017 Back to the Classics Challenge: Read a book with a number in the title.