Monday, December 28, 2015

Back to the Classics Challenge 2016 - Possible Contenders


It is with great pleasure that I announce my intentions to participate in the 2016 Back to the Classics Challenge hosted by Karen at the blog Books and Chocolate. Below are the categories and the books that I will possibly read:
  1. A 19th Century Classic - any book published between 1800 and 1899. Something by Dickens! I still have 5 of his novels to read...maybe I will tackle The Pickwick Papers or maybe The Old Curiosity Shop...
  2. A 20th Century Classic - any book published between 1900 and 1966. Since I am slowly working my way through the Modern Library's 100 Best List , I am going to choose one from that particular group; maybe The Grapes of Wrath, Native Son or Lolita?
  3. A classic by a woman author. I might choose another title by Dorothy Whipple, or maybe Frankenstein or Their Eyes Were Watching God or Evelina by Frances Burney...lots of good choices here.
  4. A classic in translation. Any book originally written published in a language other than your native language. Feel free to read the book in your language or the original language. This will possibly be the hardest for me to fill.. I have a copy of War and Peace, but don't want to tackle that this year. Maybe something by Collette or Zola.
  5. A classic by a non-white author. Can be African-American, Asian, Latino, Native American, etc. I have wanted to read Things Fall Apart for a long time.
  6. An adventure classic - can be fiction or non-fiction. I think I will try The Lost World by Conan Doyle.
  7. A fantasy, science fiction, or dystopian classic. Dystopian could include classics like 1984. Maybe Frankenstein?
  8. A classic detective novel. It must include a detective, amateur or professional. I have all of Josephine Tey's books, so I think I will read The Franchise Affair.
  9. A classic which includes the name of a place in the title. It can be the name of a house, a town, a street, etc. Examples include Bleak House, Main Street, The Belly of Paris, or The Vicar of Wakefield. This fits The Small House at Allington perfectly, which is the next book in the Barsetshire Chronicles that I have to read
  10. A classic which has been banned or censored. If possible, please mention why this book was banned or censored in your review. All three of my 20th century classic novel choices above have been banned at some point, so the one that I don't read for that category will be my choice to fill this category.
  11. Re-read a classic you read in school (high school or college). If it's a book you loved, does it stand the test of time? If it's a book you disliked, is it any better a second time around? This one is tough for me. I don't like re-reading. I wouldn't mind, however, re-reading Wuthering Heights, but while I read it during college, I didn't read it for a class. I basically read it because of the Kate Bush song! If I have to pick a book I actually read for class, I might opt for A Separate Peace which I read for high school freshman English and about which don't much remember except for the end.
  12. A volume of classic short stories. This must be one complete volume, at least 8 short stories. Children's stories are acceptable in this category only. I think I will try Daphne Du Maurier The Birds since I have a copy on hand.
 I am hoping to read as many titles from my actual shelves as possible and then supplement with library books as needed. The only book that I might need to buy would be Evalina.  Below are some of the books that I already have on hand that would fill ten of the categories easily!

Sunday, December 27, 2015


I had a huge reading slump in April/May of this year and consequently it was a bit of a struggle for me to finish this challenge hosted by Karen at the blog Books and Chocolate…but then that is why it is called a challenge, right?  However, I was ultimately able to read 12 books for all 12 categories with less than a week to spare! And despite my readers’ block earlier this year, I really did have a ball reading for the challenge and look forward to participating in the 2016 one as well.
I shamelessly used this challenge to further my adventures  in the Barchester Chronicles by Anthony Trollope by reading Framley Parsonage for A 19th Century Classic, the fourth book in the series, which I adored, as I do most Trollope.  Also at the top of my favorites list is One Fine Day by Mollie Panter-Downes, which I read as my choice for a Classic Novella; this book was just exquisite.  I also loved Someone at a Distance by Dorothy Whipple, my option for A Forgotten Classic.  Whipple writes in such a smooth way, it keeps me turning the pages.  And I can’t forget Lucia’s Progress  by E.F. Benson  which I read as my Humorous or Satirical Classic.  I adore the Mapp and Lucia series; the books often make me laugh out loud, which is rare.
The biggest surprise in the 2015 challenge for me was the play, Lady Windermere’s Fan by Oscar Wilde which I read for the category of A Classic Play. This was the one I was looking forward to the least and it turned out to be not only one of the easier reads, but also one of the most fun and entertaining of the 12!
I liked, but didn’t love Armadale by Wilkie Collins which I read for the category of Classic with a Person's Name in the Title, but I read this right in the middle of my slumpiest time, so had I been in a better headspace, I might have appreciated it more.  I also liked but didn’t love American Notes by Charles Dickens which was the title I chose for a Non-Fiction Classic.  I know that the trip chronicled by Dickens was specifically used in Martin Chuzzlewit, which is the first Dickens novel I read and one of my favorites. However, I think ultimately I prefer Dicken’s fiction. 
I definitely think I would have appreciated Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Little Princess more as a child. This was my pick for the category of Classic Children's Book. It was a little hard to look past some of the book’s more dated aspects regarding race and class. As a kid, I would have seen only the Cinderella storyline.
East Lynne was my choice for Classic by a Woman Author and while it didn’t live up to my expectations, I did enjoy it once I let it be what it was, which was very, very melodramatic!

My choice for a 20th Century Classic was Appointment in Samarra by John O’Hara which I found hard going, but since it is also on the Modern Library’s Top 100 Novels in English of the 20th century, it was one that I had to cross of my list anyway.

Lastly, while I didn’t really enjoy either the Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliff which was my choice for  a Very Long Classic Novel or Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse which I chose for my Classic in Translation, as much as I had hoped, I don’t regret reading either book.  In particular I am glad to have read the Radcliff book if only because of its reference in Northanger Abbey. In fact, I probably should re-read Northanger Abbey to get the full effect now!

I am super pleased that a wopping nine of the books I read came from my shelves; for the other three, two were borrowed from the library and only one was purchased specifically for the challenge!

Saturday, December 26, 2015


Whew, I got this one read just under the wire! Charles Dickens’ American Notes for General Circulation was the title I chose to complete the Non-Fiction Classic category and the 12th and final book that I finished for the Back to the Classics Challenge 2015 hosted at the blog Books and Chocolate, thereby completing all 12 categories.
I was particularly interested in reading American Notes, an account of Dickens’ visit to the U.S. in 1942, because Martin Chuzzelwit was the first novel of his that I read and it particularly contains a large section which was inspired by this journey. I was, however, also really surprised to see that Dickens’ tours of some U.S. prisons also must have inspired at least some of Dr. Manette’s incarceration in the Bastille and the repercussions of such experience in A Tale of Two Cities.
As a sort of time capsule, I found much of American Notes to be intriguing. For example, I appreciated the occasional linguistic differences that Dickens noticed between U.S. and UK English (I find that sort of thing fascinating) such as the all-purpose American usage of the verb “to fix” and making it a noun, as in “fixings” and the use of “Yes Sir” in a variety of meanings depending on context and intonation (similar to “whatever” in current usage). I also really was astounded by the sheer difficulty travel that faced anyone in the mid-1800s. What an undertaking! Sometimes one journey from one city to another was comprised of boat, coach and rail!  And there is a section where Dickens is in Ohio going between Columbus and Cincinnati and he extols the fact that the road is paved (after a fashion) allowing for a rate of travel of 6 miles per hour. Can you imagine? An able-bodied human can walk at a rate of 3-4 miles per hour! So for 6 miles per hour to be considered “good” astounds me!  
I admit that I didn’t find American Notes for General Circulation as satisfying as a Dickens’ novel. A lot of readers accuse the author of being “too wordy” which I don’t mind in a novel with a plot, but it did show a bit in this book. Also I found it a little uneven, humorous and satirical in some parts but then sermonizing and didactic in others.  Famously American Notes engendered quite a bit of controversy and ill-feeling on this site of the Atlantic at the time it was published. However, as an American reading this over 150 years later, I don’t feel that Dickens’ was particularly unfair or even mean-spirited in his critiques of the U.S. A lot of what he found distasteful: the obsession with money, regardless of whether it is earned honestly or not, the obsession with partisan politics, etc. has not changed much in the intervening century and a half. I wonder too if the book would have engendered quite the hostile U.S. reaction were it not for the last two chapters, the first of which excoriates the practice of slavery and the second which particularly takes a shot at the libelous press and the love of lucre over the welfare of others.
The picture above is from the Penguin Classic Edition that I read from. It was wonderfully annotated and has an excellent introduction by Patricia Ingham. My Dickens collection is a mix of Penguin and Modern Library paperbacks, but I think I prefer the Penguin editions because of the annotations.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse

Of the 11 works I have read thus far for the Back to the Classics Challenge 2015 hosted at the block Books and Chocolate, this has got to be my least favorite. This was for the Classic in Translation category.

I am not a fan of allegory and Siddhartha reminded me of books like The Alchemist or Jonathon Livingston Seagull; books I fail to appreciate. I was thinking at first it is a book I should have perhaps read when I was younger, like On the Road, but I am not sure if I would have really liked this any better at 25 than at 50.

This is the story of Siddhartha, who tries on a variety of lifestyles (Brahmanism, Asceticism, Buddhism, Capitalism, Hedonism, etc.), takes each mode of living and experiencing the world to their limits and then ultimately rejects them to follow his own path. My take away from this slim book was that there is no substitute for actually living something; listening to a lecture on a concept on or being preached a hypothesis is not enough for one to internalize the idea. Ironically, I think that this might be why this book doesn’t work for me; I think I would need to experience the concepts it propounds first before I can say “aha, I get it”.

The edition I read of Siddhartha is well under 200 pages, but took me forever to read in English. I also have the German original which I am still plodding my way through now. The sentence structure is fairly simple (it reads a bit like scripture), but a lot of the vocabulary is well beyond my personal lexicon. I am still interested in reading more from Hesse, however, before I give up on him. I do want to try The Glass Bead Game and I have a copy of Narcissus and Goldmund someplace.

Lady Windermere's Fan by Oscar Wilde

The category of Classic Play from Books and Chocolate's BACK TO THE CLASSICS CHALLENGE 2015 was the one I was least looking forward to. I hadn’t read a play since high school and I had this idea that plays are meant to be performed and watched and not read in the way one would read a novel. I chose Lady Windermere’s Fan because I had never read any Wilde before, although I have seen the movie version of The Importance of Being Ernest. I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised with my choice and I enjoyed reading this play very much.

Lady Windermere’s Fan is a dramedy of manners about the Victorian double standard for women regarding infidelity within marriage. I know that Wilde is known for his bon mots and quips and I thought the dialogue in this paly was snappy and delightful. The play opens with the young and very conservative Lady Windermere rebuffing a would be lover Lord Darlington’s flirtatious advances. Later, she is confronted with what she believes to be proof that her husband is having an affair which so addles her and upsets her world view that she actually considers throwing her reputation, her marriage and her child out the window and running off with the besotted Lord Darlington.

I found it interesting that this is the third work from the Victorian era that I have read this year concerning the contradictory views on adultery. The other two works were He Knew He Was Right by Trollope and East Lynne by Ellen Wood and were much more serious in tone, particularly East Lynne. The Wilde play was also much more direct and obvious about pointing out the hypocrisy of the situation. I know that this play has been filmed at least once and I would like to check it out or, better yet, see an actual live stage production someday. I am also interested in reading more from Wilde. I know he wrote a lot, across a lot of mediums, so there is a lot of good stuff for me to delve into when the mood strikes!