Friday, January 3, 2020

BACK TO THE CLASSICS CHALLENGE 2020

I am sure you are all now aware that Karen at Books and Chocolate has decided to host the challenge in 2020 *cue applause and noisemakers*.  It is the only on-line challenge I take seriously.  I find it a great aid in structuring my reading (and blogging) and checking off many titles that I otherwise would put off reading.  Below is my preliminary list of what I might read for the proposed 2020 categories, as ever with an eye on books I already own:

1. 19th Century Classic. Any classic book originally published between 1800 and 1899. 
- I think I will read Dombey & Son by Charles Dickens which was published in 1848.

2. 20th Century Classic. Any classic book originally published between 1900 and 1970. 
- I would like to give the four books in Laurence Durrell’s The Alexandria Quartet a go. They were published in the 50's and 60's. Four books might seem like a lot, but I don’t think each book is particularly long...something like in the 200 page range.  I will have to check the books out from the library BUT they are also on the Modern Library list so I need to read them anyway.

3. Classic by a Woman Author.
I think it might finally be time to read The Dud Avacado by Elaine Dundy. It gets compared to Breakfast at Tiffany’s often. Let’s see if I agree with that. 

4. Classic in Translation. Any classic originally written in a novel other than your native language. -  I was gifted a copy of Der Zauberberg (The Magic Mountain) in German this fall but am not sure I have the fortitude to attack it this year, dictionary in hand. I might end up taking the easy route and read something in English from Balzac or Zola instead which I will probably end up reading from the library or downloading from Project Gutenberg.

5. Classic by a Person of Color. Any classic novel by a non-white author. - I really want to read Giovanni's Room by James Baldwin. Another book I don’t own and will have to get from the library.

6. A Genre Classic. Any classic novel that falls into a genre category -- fantasy, science fiction, Western, romance, crime, horror, etc. – Sci-Fi is the genre, possibly Ubik by P.K. Dick or Bring on the Jubilee by Ward Moore will be the book.

7. Classic with a Person's Name in the Title. First name, last name or both. – I could read either Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser or Evelina by Frances Burney.

8. Classic with a Place in the Title. Any classic with the proper name of a place (real or ficitonal) - a country, region, city, town, village, street, building, etc.– Will this be the year I finally read something by Anne Bronte like The Tenant of Wildfeld Hall? I could also try Frenchman’s Creek by Daphne du Maurier.

9. Classic with Nature in the Title. A classic with any element of nature in the title (not including animals).  -  The Winds of Heaven by Monica Dickens will fit nicely here. 

10. Classic About a Family. This classic should have multiple members of the same family as principal characters, either from the same generation or multiple different generations. - I have long wanted to try Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell. I would have to check it out from the library, however since I don’t own a copy.

11. Abandoned Classic. Choose a classic that you started and just never got around to finishing, whether you didn't like it at or just didn't get around to it. Now is the time to give it another try.- I started and never finished The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce years and years ago. I don’t even remember what happened to my copy of it.

12. Classic Adaptation. Any classic that's been adapted as a movie or TV series. If you like, you can watch the adaptation and include your thoughts in your book review. It's not required but it's always fun to compare – I have The Duke’s Children by Anthony Trollope left to read from the Palliser series and then I plan to watch the 1970s adaptation of all six of the Palliser novels. It is 8 discs and over 22 hours long...I will break out the popcorn and see if it is true to the books or not. If nothing else, it will be worth watching for the costumes.

Now I am off to see what everyone else has listed so far. I think I know most of you blogging friends because of this challenge.  Will you be participating in 2020 as well?

Monday, December 23, 2019

21 by 2021

Happy Holidays to all you lovely readers! 

I realized with my Back to the Classics Wrap Up done I didn’t have any posts planned for December. So I thought I might share with you 21 books from my shelves that I spontaneously stacked up over the weekend and am challenging myself to read before 2021. 

I’m on track to have finished 125 books in 2019 but only 57 were from my shelves. The rest were mostly library books with the occasional loaner from a family member. I need to constantly kick myself metaphorically in the pants to read my own damn books! So here goes, as shown in the stack left, the titles I gathered:

The Duke’s Children by Anthony Trollope – If Karen does the Back to the Classics Challenge again, I will probably be able to choose this for one of the categories. This is the last book in Trollope's Palliser series. 

Dombey and Son by Charles Dickens – see comment above. Also, this is the last of Dicken’s completed novels that I have to read. I’ve been parceling them out since I “discovered” Dickens back in  2005. 

Mom, the Wolf Man and Me by Norma Klein – I bought this on a whim in 2019.  I think I might have read it as a child and I had a sudden nostalgic urge to read it again. 

The Word is Murder by Anthony Horowitz – I liked The Magpie Murders so why not read more from this author?  I will likely include this in my March Mystery Madness list in 2020. 

To Be Taught, If Fortunate by Becky Chambers – I have really loved the first three novels by Chambers in her Wayfarer series and I expect no less from this novella. 

O, the Brave Music by Dorothy Evelyn Smith – recently raved about by Simon at Stuck in a Book. He made it sound so charming, I had to find a copy and read it. 

Taken at the Flood by Agatha Christie – this was a recent purchase at Barnes & Noble. I was actually there browsing while waiting for my car to be serviced and well...one thing led to another. 

The Minotaur by Barbara Vine – I bought this at a library sale years ago.  Barbara Vine is a pen name of the author Ruth Rendell. Why haven’t I read it yet? I will probably also use this for March Mystery Madness in 2020.

Kapitoil by Teddy Wayne – I bought this also years ago when it was recommended on the podcast So Many Damn Books.  But I have also read and didn’t really like Wayne’s the Love Song of Jonny Valentine so I am a little worried about this one. 

The Winds of Heaven by Monica Dickens – A Persephone by Charles Dickens’s great granddaughter. I don’t really know what to expect and I don't remember how I came across it as a recommendation.   

Skippy Dies by Paul Murray – Purchased based on the recommendation of many online sources. It is supposed to be darkly comical. Usually I like dark comedy. 

Rules of Civility by Amor Towles – This was a recent spontaneous purchase at a library sale.  I generally like good historical fiction, so hopefully this will hit the spot. 

The Go-Between by L.P. Hartley – Another recommendation from Simon but this time on the podcast Tea or Books with Rachel from BookSnob

Smoke City by Keith Rosson – I mentioned this book in a post in December 2018.  It just sounds so banana pants, I have to try it. 

Brick Lane by Monica Ali – This was a thrift store purchase and it has been languishing too long unread. I think once I get into it, I will really love  it. 

Homer & Langley by E.L. Doctorow – I loved Ragtime by Doctorow but didn’t like Billy Bathgate.  I need to read a third book as a tie breaker.

The Golden Hour by Todd Moss – This is a thriller my dad gave me after he read it. I think it will be pretty forgettable, but you never know. 

Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver – This has been on my shelf for way too long.  I really enjoyed The Poisonwood Bible and need to try more from Kingsolver.

Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield – I adored The Thirteen Tale when I first read it back in 2006 and Lory at The Emerald City Book Review liked this follow up by Setterfield so I am hoping lighting will strike twice!  

Big Sky by Kate Atkinson – I have been a fan of Atkinson since I first read Case Histories and this is the latest in her series featuring private detective Jackson Brodie.  I have some crazy idea to read all the Brodie books before starting this one…I got as far as re-reading Case Histories in 2019...we'll see about the other three books.  

The Old Drift by  Namwali Serpell – I bought this earlier this year to give to my dad but ended up gifting him something else and keeping it.  I think I will like it. It is a family saga that takes place over generations in Zambia. If I do like it, I can always loan it to my dad when done. It's a win-win situation. :D



Saturday, November 30, 2019

Back to the Classics Challenge 2019 – Wrap Up Post

Hamlet was the last work I needed to read to complete the Back to the Classics Challenge 2019 hosted by Karen at the blog Books and Chocolate. 😃 Below is the summary of the 14 works I read:




I really enjoyed everything but if pressed, my favorites would be A Glass of Blessings and The Way We Live Now.  

I’m not sure if Karen is going to keep on hosting this challenge in 2020 – I’m crossing my fingers that she will. because I really do find it helpful to structure my reading and get in those classic titles I’ve been meaning to read.  I wish any of you, dear readers, luck in also completing the challenge. Remember, you only need to have completed six categories to be successful!  😌 My contact is naessa[at]yahoo[dot]com

Monday, November 18, 2019

Back to the Classics Challenge: Hamlet


Well, rather surprisingly to me, the Classic Play that I read for the Back to the Classics Challenge hosted by Karen at the blog Books and Chocolate was Hamlet.  I was initially considering reading more Oscar Wilde and then I though instead maybe some Sheridan based on Reese’s excellent review of School for Scandal at the blog Typings.  I was looking for, you know, something light and comedic. Instead I read Shakespeare’s longest play and a tragedy to boot. I have a very good friend who teaches English and she convinced me to read it with her so we could discuss it since she is considering teaching it in future. Her go-to for teaching Shakespeare is Macbeth, which she can quote, amazingly to me, by heart.

I think like many readers, I was familiar with the play prior to reading it. I may have read it in high school or we may have only read the famous “to be or not to be” soliloquy…the farther I get from my teen years, the more trouble I have remembering the details. But regardless, like Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet has permeated the culture of the English speaking world by osmosis. Originally I wanted to listen to it on audio in tandem to reading the text, but since it is such a long play, I couldn’t find an audio book with the full four and half hour production.

Like I said, I knew the story (and am assuming you, dear reader, know it too), so what is my take away from the play? I was surprised that Hamlet is so morose. As I read, I pictured him as a tortured, goth teenager moaning about his parents and how unfair life is. I do understand that Hamlet does have legitimate cause for complaint; his father had been only dead for two months and no one seems to care or notice. However, I did find him particularly mopey-just my take. I understand from a little internet research that there are a multitude of ways to play and interpret Hamlet, so I may have been reading into it, since I was a pretty mopey teenager myself once upon a time. I also didn’t know that Polonius is supposed to be such a pompous windbag and I had assumed that Queen Gertrude was complicit in Hamlet Sr.’s death, but she appears to be innocent. Clearly there were many details I was unaware of and I am glad I read it and set the record straight. Maybe one of these days I will watch an adaptation or even see it live now that I am better acquainted with the play.

One other thing I really enjoyed was discovering a lot of phrases that I already knew but did not know came from this play. A few examples are below:
“…though I am native here and to the manner born, it is a custom more honored in the breach than the observance.”
 “Though this be madness, yet there is method in’t”
 “The lady protests too much, methinks.”
My friend and I had an interesting discussion on what we felt was the ultimate message of Hamlet. I wasn’t expecting a moral but she was, since she feels that Macbeth makes a clear point about the dangers of ambition. We decided there really isn't any one moral conclusion to Hamlet. Which is probably in part why the play has endured since it is so open to interpretation.

Thursday, October 31, 2019

RIP XIV – WRAP UP

Well today is the last day of RIP XIV and also appropriately Halloween. Here’s my wrap up. I did pretty well, if I do say so myself. 😎  I read all four books that I planned to read which makes up for being a total loser last year when I read none! 😩


  • Hangsaman by Shirley Jackson: The verdict is in: I thought it was really good! I really want to read her three other early novels now. I am not a big short story fan. I know that is what Jackson is known for but lazy reader me doesn’t want to read them…but novels, yes please! Hangsaman is a coming of age novel as only Shirley Jackson could write one. It is funny at times but generally unsettling.  The main character is 17 year old Natalie Waite who goes from her dysfunctional home to her first year at an all woman’s college to possibly a mental breakdown...like in The Haunting of Hill House, Jackson leaves room for the reader to imagine what really happened in the interstices.  If you are a reader who is comfortable with a certain amount of ambiguity, this might be one to pick up and try. 


  • Slade House by David Mitchell: This is the one book that really suits the season since it is sort of a ghost-cum-horror story. If anyone has read The Bone Clocks by Mitchell, Slade House makes a nice complement to that novel but can also stands alone as a short, creepy read.  In the book, Slade House is a place that does and does not exist. It can only be accessed by certain people through a small iron door in a wall in a grubby, dark ally. Every nine years someone is invited to enter that door and find out what lies beyond, but leaving is another story...(sounds like the lyrics to Hotel California...LOL). 


  • Appointment with Death by Agatha Christie: I enjoyed this one a lot. I think the plotting of the mystery was really interesting  and the resolution was unexpected. The red herrings are particularly good ones.  The story features sadistic Mrs. Boynton who has terrorized her stepchildren all their lives. Now as adults, they are pathetic shells, still flinching at her baits and switches. When Mrs. Boynton ends up dead (was it natural or was it murder?), the list of suspects is pretty clear.  I also have a particular fondness for Christie novels set in North Africa or the Middle East as  Appointment with Death is. I think Christie does a good job of giving the reader a good sense of place when her books are set in these regions.


  • Snake Ropes by Jess Richards: This was the one non-starter for me. I think this book would appeal to fans of Helen Oyeyemi…readers who enjoy the fantastical and books with dark fairy tale overtones. That’s just not my jam but it might be yours.  The story is about two young women whose narration alternates chapters throughout the book. The first narrator is Mary. She on an island under a matriarchy where the handwork of the women is the main source of trade with the “Tall Men” who come from the mainland. Since the death of her mother, Mary has been the main caregiver of her baby brother, whom she hides for his own safety when the Tall Men arrive.  The nother narrator is Morgan. She is imprisoned in her family home, not allowed to wear shoes and forced to keep house for her narcissistic mother and her enabler father. Her only solace are the books she reads and her dreams of escape. Eventually the two stories converge and both women discover how to battle the forces trying limit their power and potential.


Tuesday, October 15, 2019

As I Lay Dying – #1930Club

As I mentioned in my last post, I have been trying to read all 100 books listed on the 100 Best Novels which is a list of English-language novels published in the 20th century.  I do understand that this 100 Best Novels list was a marketing ploy on the part of the Modern Library, an imprint of Random House, which – SURPRISE- publishes all 100 titles.  I also understand that any list of "best" books is incomplete and subjective.  But for me it has been an interesting challenge to try and tick off every title and while there have been a few stinkers, there have been wonderful discoveries too.  

When the 1930 Club (hosted by Simon, who blogs at  Stuck in a Book and Karen, who blogs at Kaggy’s Bookish Ramblings) was announced for November, I saw that As I Lay Dying, which is on the 100 Best Novels list, was published that year. My choice was made! I worried at first that I wouldn’t finish it in time for the 1930 Club, but it is pretty short (my edition had 244 pages) and aside from some of the stream of consciousness bits, not too difficult to digest.   

As with some high falutin’ modern classics, the story is simple: Aggie Bundren is dying. Her feckless husband has promised her that she will be buried in Jackson where her “people” are from, which is 40 miles away from their farm. She dies and the journey with her corpse is bedeviled by bad luck and ignorance on the part of the Bundren family.   A journey that should take a couple of days ends up taking over a week and meanwhile, the body starts to decompose in the summer heat.

This is the second novel I’ve read from Faulkner and I am confident he will never become a favorite of mine. Despite the book's brevity, it still behooves the reader to read it fairly slowly. I did think the sections that were straight dialogue were great. I looked up a few samples of Mississippi accent on YouTube so I could get the right voice in my head. U.S. Southern dialects and accents are all really different from another and I needed some verisimilitude. 

In Faulkner's depiction of the various character’s innermost thoughts, he often uses references and vocabulary that wouldn’t be known to persons of the Bundren’s socio-economic class.  It is here where the book didn't work for me. I get that there is a line between what one states and what one thinks and we don’t think in words but it was jarring nonetheless.  Especially when the speaker/thinker is supposed to be a child. The characters also drove me insane! I realize it was purposeful, but they all make the worst choices, whether out of ignorance or spite or selfishness. I think what makes the book and the characters so frustrating is that, while the book doesn't come right out and say it, in death they are honoring their mother in a way they neglected to when she was alive. But this is foolish. She is dead and there is no point to this ritual. It only damages and impoverishes them further. The devotion should have been shown when she was alive and could have had some benefit from it. But this is often the way of human motivation I think. 

In some ways As I Lay Dying reminded me of Erskine Caldwell's Tobacco Road which also features poor, rural whites in the American South in the first half of the 20th century. But Caldwell went more for comedy - dark comedy, but still comedy. I guess some readers might find humor in the various setbacks that plague the Bundren family as they journey (or maybe in the youngest child Vardemann's confused thoughts, "My mother is a fish") but I found As I Lay Dying pretty bleak. 

I am glad to have read it however. I am glad that Faulkner’s works exist. He had an significant influence on other writers;  Cormac McCarthy for one, whom I’ve never read and Toni Morrison for another, whom I revere. I can see the through line to Morrison, although I find her books and her style to be much more compelling. 

Monday, October 7, 2019

Back to the Classics Challenge: The Wings of the Dove

Milly was indeed a dove; this was the figure, though it most applied to her spirit. Yet he knew in a moment that Kate was just now, for reasons hidden from him, exceptionally under the impression of that element of wealth in her which was a power, which was a great power, and which was dove-like only so far as one remembered that doves have wings and wondrous flights, have them as well as tender tints and soft sound. It even came to him dimly that such wings would in a given case – had, truly, in the case with which he was concerned –spread themselves for protection. Hadn’t they, for that matter, lately taken an inordinate reach, and weren’t Kate and Mrs. Lowder, weren’t Susan Shepheard and he, wasn’t he in particular, nestling under them to a great increase of immediate need?”

No lie: it took me over two months to read The Wings of the Dove. The edition I read had over 500 pages, but it wasn’t the length of the book that slowed me down, it was Henry James and his MANY, MANY, carefully chosen words.  I read pretty much every line twice if not three or four times and even then, I often wasn’t sure if I understood the sentence.  It’s a good thing that one of the main characters is also a little dense. When things had to be spelled out to him, it was to my advantage as a reader too. Also, I had seen the film waaay back in 1998 or so and was familiar with the plot.  But this is a psychological novel; the plot is barely there.  James takes paragraphs and sometimes pages to explain one thought or perception.  I realize that it might have been better for me had I a solid base in James and worked my way up to his later, more complex works.  I read his first novel, Daisy Miller, earlier this year and found it both delightful and not difficult in the least. My reason for reading the Wings of the Dove now instead of later were fueled by the fact that (a) I owned a copy of this book already and (b) it is on the Modern Library’s 100 Best Novels list of the best English-language novels published in the 20th century from which I intend to someday read every title.  So I persevered. 

As I stated above, there is not much of a plot. The story is simple:  young Morton Densher and Kate Croy are Londoners who want to marry but feel they cannot due to certain social constraints that would be smoothed away if only either of them had any money. Along comes dove-like Milly Theale, a very rich but naïve (or is she?) American who has a crush on Morton and not too much longer to live. Will Morton marry Milly for her money as Kate hopes? Is Kate really doing Milly a favor as she would like to believe? Can Kate and Morton’s relationship survive this, whatever the outcome? 

While this book was a lot of work for me, it didn’t put me off Henry James. I am not much of an athlete and the analogy may be poor, but runners don't avoid running a marathon because it is too challenging, right?  I have at least two more "difficult" James’ titles that I HAVE to read due to my personal goal of reading all the Modern Library’s 100 Best Novels and I would certainly be interested in reading some of his more accessible novels like Portrait of a Lady or Washington Square.  

I read this for the category Classic Tragic Novel for the Back to the Classics Challenge hosted by Karen at the blog Books and Chocolate.