CC-Spin, Classics Club

Time to SPIN! #ccspin

Recently, the original moderators for The Classics Club (including yours truly) stepped down after six years and handed things over to four new individuals. They’re starting their tenure off with a bang, by diving into Classics Spin #18! 

What is the Classics Spin? Essentially, clubbers choose twenty books from their classics club reading list and post them by the due date.Then, on “spin day,” a number between 1-20 is revealed, and that is the book you have to read before the deadline (usually the end of the following month). You can choose your books randomly, divide them by categories, or whatever. Part of the challenge, though, is to choose at least a few that you know you’re dreading, just in case this is the opportunity to nudge you toward it. 

So, I went mostly with a “random” sort this time, but I did choose at least one book from each of the “centuries” represented on my main club list. Here are the twenty I’ve pulled to play with:

  1. The Blazing World by Margaret Cavendish
  2. At Swim, Two Boys by Jamie O’Neill
  3. The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck
  4. The 120 Days of Sodom by Marquis de Sade
  5. Kim by Rudyard Kipling
  6. A Vindication of the Rights of Woman by Mary Wollstonecraft (re-read)
  7. Eugénie Grandet – Honoré de Balzac
  8. Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder
  9. So Big by Edna Ferber 
  10. The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood
  11. Paradise Lost by John Milton
  12. Dead Souls by Nikolay Gogol
  13. The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
  14. The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
  15. Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
  16. North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell
  17. Wise Blood by Flannery O’Connor
  18. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  19. Metamorphoses by Ovid
  20. The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe

I guess I’m hoping for Number 3, Number 5, or Number 8 and probably most worried about Number 20, Number 19, and Number 13 – mostly because of how long they all are; but whatever happens, I’m ready to read! Let’s spin! 

Standard
Book Review, Classics, Classics Club, Coming-of-Age, Fantasy, Frances Hodgson Burnett, Horror, Middle Grade, Mythology, Potpour-reads, Rick Riordan, Stephen King, Thriller, Young Adult

A Garden, A Maze, A Sematary*

In this second “potpour-reads” post, I share some quick thoughts on three recent reads, all of which were completed in May. The Secret Garden was a title on my Classics Club Challenge list. The Burning Maze is third in the Trials of Apollo series by Rick Riordan, and I read Pet Sematary because a new film adaptation is supposedly in the works and I tend to get caught up in that sort of thing. 

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

I recently read The Secret Garden as part of my Classics Club Challenge, after many years of seeing it come and go from my various TBR lifts and shelves. I’ve been meaning to read this book for years but have always put it off, probably because, subconsciously, I thought of it as a children’s book – a sorry excuse indeed because why should that matter? How many children’s books, especially classics, have I read and loved? Nevertheless, I have these tendencies, as I’m sure all readers do, to approach my reading with certain prejudices, and this being both a “child’s” book and a “girl’s” book, I wondered, isn’t it likely to be well beyond my interest at this point? Of course, then I actually started reading the book and couldn’t stop myself thinking, where has this book been all my life? Confession time? I guess I’m a bit of a reading diva, and it’s pretty stupid.

Anyhow, The Secret Garden begins in India under British colonial rule. We are introduced to the protagonist in this way: “When Mary Lennox was sent to Misselthwaite Manor to live with her uncle everybody said she was the most disagreeable-looking child ever seen. It was true, too.” Hilarious. Who begins a children’s book by dissing the main character’s appearance!? Something about that opening, and the honesty of the narrator throughout, drew me into the story and had me feeling equal hatred and empathy for little Mary and even little Colin, her cousin, both of whom are really rather terrible little brats at the beginning. But then a farm boy named Dickon starts to come around, and the secret garden is discovered, and the magic of humanity found in friendship, childish wonder, and the natural world begins to do its work. And it’s stunning and romantic in the best way imaginable.

For some reason, I thought this book was going to be more of a magical realism/mystery/fantasy kind of tale. It is actually firmly rooted in naturalism and realism; it is a coming-of-age tale that expresses magic in the everyday experience, and in the way children, even horribly disagreeable ones, can grow and change into wonderful people, given the right environment, the best challenges, and some great friends. I wasn’t expecting this kind of story, but it was exactly the kind I needed at the time of reading it. And Dickon, the nature sprite who is all things dirt and animal, plant and hill, is now one of my favorite characters of all-time. If Burnett had written a sequel from Dickon’s perspective, I could easily imagine it becoming a favorite of mine. The other characters, including the adults, are human enough and just present enough to matter without getting in the way of the children’s’ tale, which is and should be front and center. There are some very adult themes, a truly underlying sadness, and some dark commentary on colonialism, which makes reading this one as an adult all the more interesting and moving.

Now the real question: Should I watch the movie? Final Verdict: 4.0 out of 4.0.

The Burning Maze by Rick Riordan

The Burning Maze is Book Three in the Trials of Apollo series. Apollo has been sent to earth in the form of a pudgy, pimply teenage boy, largely without any kind of godly power at all, and is tasked with helping the Roman and Greek demigods fight the horrors of the Triad: three evil, dangerous, and powerful former Roman Emperors with plans to take over the world. Beneath their plot, even, lies the power of Apollo’s most feared antagonist, Python, the god of snakes. As is typical with Riordan’s books, the pace is fast and the plot is fun. There is a lot to learn regarding roman mythology, especially, and that is always exciting for me. There is also a bit of tragedy in this third book, one that the reader is somewhat eased into but that is nevertheless difficult for those who have been invested in the two Roman series’ so far.

In this third installment, we learn much more about Meg, the twelve-year-old demigod who is essentially Apollo’s “master,” and her background. Some old and familiar characters from other books in this series, as well as the Percy Jackson and Heroes of Olympus series’, reappear. As with many of the other books, this one follows a certain formula that readers of Riordan’s books should come to expect; Burning Maze even revisits one of the original Percy Jackson battlegrounds, the Labyrinth, but in this case the visit is short and sweet, and the maze then becomes an underlying menace rather than a place of action for the entire plot.

Riordan has also taken more and more chances with his books over the years, something he began with (I think) the Heroes of Olympus series and then carried over into the Magnus Chase books (I have not kept up with the Kane Chronicles, unfortunately, so I can’t speak to that one). Riordan is an outspoken LGBTQ ally, for example, and a number of LGBTQ+ characters have been written into the stories, some major and some minor. This has been extraordinarily exciting to witness in the middle grade genre, and it has been particularly effective, I think, because Riordan does a nice job of delicately handling the reality of “coming out” with the kinds of reactions his queer characters receive from other characters, mostly accepting but sometimes with shock, wonder, curiosity, etc. The humor is still excellent, as are the character relationships. One of the most interesting and rewarding elements is the way that Apollo is growing from book-to-book. One of the themes of all the Riordan novels is how flippantly the gods take their relationships with humanity and their human children. The fascinating piece of this series is that we have a god who has been made human and who is now experiencing all that it is to be human, which is changing him in very profound ways. It is a smart and meaningful take on the modern myth series. Final Verdict: 3.25 out of 4.0.

Pet Sematary by Stephen King

I was going to check my Goodreads account to see how many King novels I have read so far and where this one falls in that line, but I realized it would take more time than I’m willing to give it. We’ll just say, I’ve read a lot of Stephen King. The reason why I like King so much is actually not because I like horror/thrillers (it’s quite frankly not a genre I read very often). Instead, I like King because he has so much to say about the human psyche and human instinct. Pet Sematary is considered to be one of King’s most chilling horror novels and, while I don’t think it’s really his scariest or goriest or any of that, I can agree with the assessmentbecauseit treats the human condition in such an honest, and horrible, way.

The book is about Dr. Louis Creed and his young family, all of whom move to Ludlow, Maine so that Creed can take a job as a University physician. The majority of the novel is background, character building, and scene-setting. Almost all of the real action, the terror, takes place in the third and final section, which is much shorter than the first two. This helps create a false sense of security throughout most of the book while simultaneously allowing the ending to be much more dramatic and exhilarating, even unexpected (if anything from King can be considered unexpected – maybe that’s silly!) The horror begins when Creed’s daughter’s cat is killed and Creed’s neighbor, perhaps against his will, shares a secret that is better left unknown. This sets forth a series of ominous events that increase in impact and effect, until at last, a force beyond anyone’s control grips Ludlow, especially the Creeds, and begins to pull all the strings.

Pet Sematary was written between 1979-1982 and then published in 1983. King was reluctant to send it out to his publishers because he himself was so concerned with what he wrote, and it is not hard to understand why. Few popular novels that I can think of at this time so honestly and deeply addressed the lengths to which a person will go in order to ease an unthinkably painful emotional and psychological burden. Creed is suffering the worst pain imaginable, as is his wife, and his grief causes him to be compelled further and further down a path he knows is horribly dangerous and morally wrong. How can a man be driven to make all the wrong steps? In small increments and through tiny justifications and false ratiocination (as Poe would call them), until, without realizing what is happening, the decisions have been made and the actions have been taken, and all hell has broken loose.

Pet Sematary reminded me very much of King’s other most popular of horror novels, IT. The ominous force is even described as “IT” –an unnamed thing—and various points in the novel. I wonder if King was already working on that idea as early as 1979, even though IT itself did not appear until 1986. There are so many similarities, but the most prominent is the theme of evil as an uncontrollable force of human nature: good and smart and decent people being compelled to do terrible things. What is scarier than that? Final Verdict: 3.5 out of 4.0. 

Standard
ccspin, Classics Club

The Classics Spin #17! #ccspin

Even though I am one of the founders and moderators of The Classics Club, it has been quite some time since I’ve participated in a Classics Club Spin, one of the fun events we do a few times per year.  I thought I would jump back in, this time, since I’m ahead of schedule on my own TBR Pile Challenge but way behind schedule in my Classics Club challenge list?

What is the Classics Spin? Essentially, clubbers choose twenty books from their classics club reading list and post them by the due date.Then, on “spin day,” a number between 1-20 is revealed, and that is the book you have to read before the deadline (usually the end of the following month). You can choose your books randomly, divide them by categories, or whatever. Part of the challenge, though, is to choose at least a few that you know you’re dreading, just in case this is the opportunity to nudge you toward it. 

So, I went mostly with a “random” sort this time, but I did choose at least one book from each of the “centuries” represented on my main club list. Here are the twenty I’ve pulled to play with:

  1. The Blazing World by Margaret Cavendish
  2. At Swim, Two Boys by Jamie O’Neill
  3. The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan
  4. The 120 Days of Sodom by Marquis de Sade
  5. Kim by Rudyard Kipling
  6. A Vindication of the Rights of Woman by Mary Wollstonecraft (re-read)
  7. Eugénie Grandet – Honoré de Balzac
  8. The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
  9. The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck
  10. The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood
  11. Paradise Lost by John Milton
  12. Dead Souls by Nikolay Gogol
  13. The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
  14. The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
  15. Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
  16. So Big by Edna Ferber
  17. Wise Blood by Flannery O’Connor
  18. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  19. Metamorphoses by Ovid
  20. The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe

I guess I’m hoping for Number 3, Number 5, or Number 8 and probably most worried about Number 20, Number 19, and Number 13 – mostly because of how long they all are; but whatever happens, I’m ready to read! Let’s spin! 

 

Standard
CBAM2017, Classics Club, Fyodor Dostoevsky

November’s Classic: The Brothers Karamazov

cbam2017

As we wrap-up October and our latest classic, Tony Kushner’s Angels in America, it’s time to start planning for November! This time, I chose a new-to-me book that has been on my TBR pile (and my Classics Club list) for years . . .  The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky! 

This is a long book, and the Russians always seem intimidating, but what I have read of Dostoevsky has always qualified as a “page-turner,” to me, so I’m hoping a month is more than doable. We Americans also have the Thanksgiving holiday in late-November, so hopefully anyone participating can spend a few of those days reading this classic tome.

Don’t forget: We have a Goodreads group! And we’re using #CBAM2017 to chat on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

About the Book:

The Brothers Karamazov is a murder mystery, a courtroom drama, and an exploration of erotic rivalry in a series of triangular love affairs involving the “wicked and sentimental”

Fyodor Pavlovich Karamazov and his three sons―the impulsive and sensual Dmitri; the coldly rational Ivan; and the healthy, red-cheeked young novice Alyosha. Through the gripping events of their story, Dostoevsky portrays the whole of Russian life, is social and spiritual striving, in what was both the golden age and a tragic turning point in Russian culture.

This award-winning translation by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky remains true to the verbal inventiveness of Dostoevsky’s prose, preserving the multiple voices, the humor, and the surprising modernity of the original. It is an achievement worthy of Dostoevsky’s last and greatest novel.

Schedule:

  • November 1st: Begin reading
  • November 15th: Mid-point Check-In
  • November 30th: Final Thoughts

Feel free to read at your own pace, post at your own pace (or not at all), and drop by to comment/chat about the book at any point. The schedule above is just the one I plan to use in order to keep myself organized and to provide some standard points and places for anyone who is reading along to get together and chat.

Standard
CBAM2017, Classics, Classics Club, Edith Wharton, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Lorraine Hansberry

Thoughts on 3 Classics

This year, I am hosting a “Classic Book-A-Month Club,” hosted on Goodreads. So far, we have read: Little Women by Louisa May Alcott; the Oedipus Cycle (Oedipus the King, Oedipus at Colonus, and Antigone) by Sophocles; The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton; Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald; and A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry. Next month’s selection is The Confidence-Man: His Masquerade by Herman Melville. 

The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton

This is the third Wharton novel I’ve read, following The Age of Innocence and Ethan Frome (read twice). Compared to these others, House of Mirth was a struggle. I didn’t feel invested in the story until about 3/4 of the way into it. I didn’t find the protagonist, Lily Bart, to be a compelling or sympathetic character, as I’m sure readers are meant to. I can certainly see what Wharton is trying to say about the “somber economics of marriage” and “the powerlessness of the unwed woman” at the turn of the twentieth century, but for the most part, I just wasn’t made to care. Normally, this is the kind of story I would empathize with, so I’m not sure what exactly left me feeling so ambivalent and detached. Certainly, personal circumstances may have gotten in the way (this is why I’m still a proponent of reader-response theory; you cannot convince me that one’s personal relationship with a book at a particular moment in time does not matter). I did begin to respond near the end of the novel, when Lily’s circumstances were most dire not necessarily because of her own poor decisions, but because of the pettiness and prejudices of her supposed friends and family. I’ll admit that, had Lily’s circumstances been entirely predicated upon others’ terrible personalities, I probably would have found the story a bit too pathetic and fatalistic (at least currently). The realism, then, is both appealing and off-putting. I found myself thinking Lily Bart had any number of opportunities to turn her situation around, but didn’t. Then, I realized I was becoming psychologically and emotionally attached to her despair because of the personal/professional situation in which I’ve found myself this past year; this perhaps intruded on my experience and prevented me from being able to sink into the story itself, to appreciate it for what it is. I’ll have to give this one a re-read, someday, when I can read it more carefully and from a more receptive/less sensitive position. I’m glad to have finished another title from my Classics Club list, though. 

Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald

This was a re-read for me, and one that was a long time coming. I started reading it when I was about half-way into The House of Mirth and ultimately got to the end of each ’round about the same time. This was not a good thing. I had a very personal relationship with this book for a very long time. As a result, it colored my impression of it for years. Reading it again has been a blessing and a curse. On the positive side, I no longer feel as desperately attached to the doomed relationship Fitzgerald presents in Dick and Nicole Diver (fictionalized versions of Francis and Zelda). In a way, I suppose this means that enough time has passed, and I’ve changed enough, to let go of certain difficult memories and experiences. On the negative side, I did not find the story as interesting or beautifully written as I once imagined. I used to argue vehemently that this book is far superior to The Great Gatsby. Now, I’m not so sure. I think they’re close, but Gatsby may indeed be the masterpiece. I was reminded, however, that Fitzgerald deals with homosexuality in this novel; I had completely forgotten this. He includes homosexual innuendo in Gatsby, too, and he’s one of the very few major literary figures of the time to do this (in more than one work, I now realize). Of course, the portrayal here is not a glowing one, which makes one wonder at the more naturally incorporated moment in Gatsby. Was one of these pre-Hemingway and the other post? This would be interesting to explore. In any event, as a piece of expatriate American literature and a study of marriage, mental illness, incest, psychology, and the like, it’s still a damn fine book. It’s just, somehow, not at all what I remembered. The situation of reading this alongside House of Mirth, at this particular time of my life, also created some problems. The combined assault on my emotional connection to this story plus my closeness to Lily Bart’s circumstances left me feeling exhausted and despondent. Simply bad timing. 

A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry

Honestly, what took me so long to read this? I haven’t “reviewed” a book in many, many months. I think it’s safe to say that Hansberry’s play is the reason I’m back at it. It’s always such a thrill to read a book that is so alive, so important, so visceral, that it rekindles my faith in the art of literature itself. I’ve never considered myself much of a drama aficionado. I’ve read a number of plays, seen some, and almost always find something to praise; yet, I also somehow think that reading drama is not quite an honest endeavor, because drama is meant for the stage. Still, I loved the characters in this book, their diversity and range of experiences, even while most of them were members of the same single-household family (there’s an opportunity for me to teach Intro to Drama next spring, an opportunity I was not really considering, but I think I’ve changed my mind completely). I loved the main plot and the minor sub-plots, the neighbors interventions and the “I’m not a racist, but…” moments. I loved that the play is set in Chicago, a liberal beacon of the north, and yet reveals the hypocritical racism on which neighborhoods were founded and that we have yet to overcome. I needed this play after my experiences with House of Mirth and Tender is the Night. While the story is still one of desperation, it has a much more hopeful ending. Of course, if I think too hard about it, I have to admit that the reality that probably found the Younger family was probably not a pleasant one. But Hansberry leaves this open, to be determined, which at least offers the possibility that these good people might make it, after all. And, in that way, so too might we all. I can’t think of a message more necessary right now than this. 

Standard
CBAM2017, Classics Club, Events

Announcing #CBAM2017: The Classic Book-a-Month Club

cbam2017

Hello, Everyone! 

A couple of months ago, I was browsing through my rather massive list of “read” books, when I began to revisit a list of “favorite books” that I started over a decade ago. One thing I realized while revisiting this list was that some of these books that I call favorites, I have never revisited. I have books marked from 10- or 15-years ago with 5 stars, and yet, I can only vaguely remember their plots and why I responded to the books so well in the first place.

I’m a firm believer that much of one’s reaction to a book is based on who we are, where we are, and what is going on in our lives during the time we read it. Isn’t this kind of like reader-response theory? Well, yes, a bit; but that’s fine because reader-response theory, in my opinion, has a great deal of merit. Reading is a very personal and human activity, and we, most of us, change over time. Now, of course, some books are just incredibly good, and their appeal has as much to do with the talent of the writer as with any individual experiences or perceptions we bring to the reading experience. See: it all matters!

Bearing that in mind, I am determined to revisit some of my favorite pieces of classic literature; those works which I love and have called “favorite” at sometime or other, but which I’ve only read once. But, I also want to continue to read new-to-me material. So, I came up with a plan for myself to read 12 books in 2017, 6 of which will be re-reads and 6 of which will be new to me. To make this even more fun, I thought I would invite anyone and everyone to join me, either for the entire year or for the books which you’re most interested in reading (or re-reading) along with me. 

There are no obligations to stick with this for all 12 months. Come and go as you please. 

My plan at the moment is:

  1. Post an announcement with the #CBAM2017 reading list (below).
  2. Ask those who would like to join me for all/part of this book club to share about it on their blog/site and post a link to the Mister Linky widget below. (spread the word!)
  3. Have an introductory post around the 1st of each month, describing the book and a reading pace (for myself – you can use it or not!) 
  4. Post a check-in each month, around the 15th, to see how people are doing, generate a Q & A, etc. 
  5. Post a wrap-up/review at the end of the month, when I finish the book, and open up the comments for discussion, just like an in-person book club. There might even be wine and chocolates! (on this end at least)

The List:

  • January: Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
  • February: The Three Theban Plays by Sophocles
  • March: The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton
  • April: Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • May: A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry
  • June: The Confidence-Man by Herman Melville
  • July: Paradise Lost by John Milton
  • August: Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen
  • September: Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather
  • October: Angels in America by Tony Kushner 
  • November: The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
  • December: Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë

So, what do you say? Come along with me for this Classic Book-a-Month Club next year? You can sign-up by posting about it on your blog and then linking to our Mister Linky widget:

Please use #CBAM2017 to share on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, etc. 

Standard
2013 Challenges, Challenges, Classics Club

Back to the Classics 2013

classics2013
 
This is the second of two year-long challenges that I’ll be participating in during 2013 (the other being my own 2013 TBR Pile Challenge).  I’m taking part in this one because 1) Sarah is awesome; 2) The challenge has some great twists, including selecting books based on categories within the massive “Classics” canon; and 3) it will help me make progress toward completion of my Classics Club list.
 
 
THE CATEGORIES:
 
The Required Categories:
  1. A 19th Century Classic: The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
  2. A 20th Century Classic: Orlando by Virginia Woolf
  3. A Pre-18th or 18th Century Classic: Emma by Jane Austen
  4. A Classic that relates to the African-American Experience: Beloved by Toni Morrison
  5. A Classic Adventure: Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra
  6. A Classic that prominently features an Animal: Henderson the Rain King by Saul Bellow

Optional Categories:

  1.    Re-read a Classic: Animal Farm by George Orwell
  2.    A Russian Classic: The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky
  3.    A Classic Non-Fiction title: A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking
  4.    A Classic Children’s/Young Adult title: The Princess Bride by William Goldman
  5.    Classic Short Stories: Welcome to the Monkey House by Kurt Vonnegut
Standard