Classic Club Spin…it’s been a while

One of my new years resolutions was to get back onto my Classic Club challenge, which I neglected miserably last year.  As we’re already in March I have only started one book from the list (which still isn’t finished), I thought it might be time to join in with the classic club spin again and give my reading the kick up the … it needs.

For the spin, you pick 20 books from your list and then, tomorrow, a number is announced and you read that book.  Easy, as long as I don’t get a book I’m dreading!  Here’s my list…


  1. 1984 – George Orwell
  2. A Farewell to Arms – Ernest Hemingway
  3. Beloved – Toni Morrison
  4. Catch 22 – Joseph Heller
  5. East of Eden – John Steinbeck
  6. Fahrenheit 451 – Ray Bradbury
  7. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings – Maya Angelou
  8. Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte
  9. Lacuna – Barbara Kingslover
  10. Never Let Me Go – Kazuo Ishiguro
  11. On the Road – Jack Kerouac
  12. Possession – A S Byatt
  13. Romeo and Juliet – William Shakespeare
  14. Sons and Lovers – D H Lawrence
  15. The Bell Jar – Sylvia Path
  16. Waiting for Godot – Samuel Beckett
  17. The Secret History – Donna Tartt
  18. Breakfast at Tiffany’s – Truman Capote
  19. War of the Worlds – H. G. Wells
  20. Oscar and Lucinda – Peter Carey

I have to admit a few of these are re-reads I’m quite looking forward to revisiting (like Oscar and Lucinda which I haven’t read in over 20 years) and some are by authors I know and trust but just haven’t gotten round to reading (like Barbara Kingslover).  A few though I am dreading as I’ve tried and failed to read them before.  The biggest of those is Possession (I wrote about my inability to finish it here).  So wish me luck and keep your fingers grossed it’s not number 12!


The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan


Richard Hannay has just returned to England after years in South Africa and is thoroughly bored with his life in London. But then a murder is committed in his flat, just days after a chance encounter with an American who had told him about an assassination plot that could have dire international consequences. An obvious suspect for the police and an easy target for the killers, Hannay goes on the run in his native Scotland where he will need all his courage and ingenuity to stay one step ahead of his pursuers.

In the early summer of 1914, former soldier and adventure Richard Hannay finds himself in London, without friends and bored. That is until one evening when a neighbour knocks on his door, telling him a tale of spies and espionage. The neighbour is afraid, hiding out in Hannay’s flat…until he ends up dead and Hannay finds himself on the run, accused of the murder.

Fleeing not the just the murderers but the police, Hannay heads to Scotland, convinced he just needs to stay safe for a few weeks before the secrets shared with him can be shared with the rest of the world – secrets which will either bring about a world war or end one.

It’s a story I know well because I have seen the movie The Thirty Nine Steps (both the Alfred Hitchcock version and subsequent 1958 version) many times. At the same time, it felt very different because, it turns out, the movies have taken liberties with the plot.  The core is the same though, lots of running away from the bad guys, lots of close shaves for Hannay, and way too much luck.

Coming across an acquaintance in his car in the highlands of Scotland whilst in desperate need of escape is just one such piece of luck but there are many and by the third or fourth I was getting bored. Yes, they proposed the plot forward but they also made it silly. At the same time, I know this was a magazine serial so I wonder if these were the weekly cliffhangers?

Still, knowing this didn’t help and I struggled with reading the book as a result. The writing style didon’t help either. Written in 1915, it felt like it – the language was stilted and didn’t have the flow I like. The story also didn’t hold the tension I expected – in part because he keeps escaping. It all left me disappointed I’m afraid…not one for me.


p.s. On a plus note, this is my first Classic Club read for a while!


Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

So I did it, after days of struggling to read any book, let alone the only one I’d set myself for Frightfall, I finally found my rhythm late last week and got not only Frankenstein but also Eeny Meeny finished too (a review of that will follow later in the week).


So, what did I think of Frankenstein? I liked it a lot, which I’d hoped I would.  A gothic novel and one of those books that you think you know the story of, even if you don’t, it was written by Mary Shelley when she was 18 and travelling in Europe with her future husband – Percy Shelley – and Lord Byron.

According to more than one source I read, they had challenged themselves to see who could write the best horror story – I didn’t find out if Mary Shelley won – and Frankenstein came to her in a dream.  The idea of a scientist who creates a monster and lives to regret it.

Having not read Frankenstein before, I was under the (apparently common) misconception that that was the name of the monster, not the man who created him.  That aside, though, the story itself seemed very familiar; even though I would swear I have never read the book or seen the film, I must have in my (much) younger days.

It is told by Frankenstein to the captain of a ship that rescues him from the icy waters around Siberia.  The captain (Robert Walton) introduces and ends the story through letters to his sister and the story itself was easy to read and easy to follow (coming in at just over 250 pages in my version).  Once I had gotten the rhythm, as I said, I found myself turning the pages and getting drawn into what was happening.

I didn’t find it scary though but, instead, quite sad.  Frankenstein’s monster (he doesn’t have a name) didn’t ask to be created and, once he was, was rejected by the man who created him.  He came to understand the world around him and that there was no place in it for him and no one willing to take the time to understand what he might be thinking or feeling.  It seemed to be a given that if he looked like a monster, he must be one, and so that is what he became, seeking revenge on Frankenstein and his family.

The revenge he took and the people he killed – it all seemed inevitable from Frankenstein’s first selfish act of thinking he could control life itself and I had no sympathy for him (Frankenstein) as a result, especially when his scientific mind couldn’t seem to see anything good in the creature.  I really did wish I could reach into the pages and give him a shake and say “listen to what your creation is saying”.  Towards the end of the novel, he does seem to have a moment of clarity, saying “In a fit of enthusiastic madness I created a rational creature, and was bound towards him, to assure, as far as was in my power, his happiness and well-being. This was my duty.”, but it doesn’t seem to last long.

There is a lot in Frankenstein I feel like I need to re-read, that there are thoughts on friendship and responsibility and the general need to be good to each other.  At some point, I will do that.  In the meantime, though, I am just happy to enjoy it for what I had hoped it would be – a good horror story!


Under Milk Wood by Dylan Thomas

251504Under Milk Wood, my latest classic club spin, is a play originally written for the BBC in 1954.  Set in a fictional welsh village, two narrators set the scene and then lead us through the dreams and lives of its inhabitants including a captain who lost his crew at sea, a widow, and a couple in love who dream of each other.

“It is spring, moonless night in the small town, starless and bible-black, the cobblestreets silent and the hunched, courters’-and-rabbits’ wood limping invisible down to the sloeblack, slow, black, crowblack, fishing boat bobbing sea. The houses are blind as moles (though moles see fine to-night in the snouting, velvet dingles) or blind as Captain Cat there in the muffled middle by the pump and the town clock, the shops in mourning, the Welfare Hall in widows’ weeds. And all the people of the lulled and dumbfound town are sleeping now.”

Starting out, I found all this a little confusing because, whilst a play it reads more like a poem and I had to get into the rhythm. Eventually I did – and then went back to the beginning so I could really understand what I was reading.

Given Dylan Thomas’ style of writing, it all still took a while because I found I couldn’t rush or skim a line without losing where I was in the plot entirely.  I knew this about Dylan having read some of his poems but this felt especially difficult to keep track of. I did, though, like the language and the images it created in my mind, even if I didn’t always know what was happening or to whom.  There was something slightly hypnotic in reading it, a feeling of floating along as if in a dream myself.

“Listen. It is night moving in the streets, the processional salt slow musical wind in Coronation Street and Cockle Row, it is the grass growing on Llaregyb Hill, dewfall, starfall, the sleep of birds in Milk Wood.”

Throughout, there are also some funny moments and some sad ones.  I found myself sympathising with many of the characters and the way they lived their lives, having seen their dreams and what went on inside their heads.

Given it’s a radio play, this is a short read (I can’t say easy given my previous comments) and I did enjoy it.  I then went and listened to the Richard Burton version and enjoyed it more.  It definitely is something to be spoken vs. read and I would recommend to anyone wanted to read this to maybe go down that route.  Read it aloud or listen to someone else doing it – and enjoy getting lost in the language.


Classic Club Spin (Number 9)

It’s Classic Club spin time again, something I really enjoy as it keeps me motivated to read from my Classic Club list but also means I can’t necessarily avoid reading some of those books that are on there because I feel I should read them, not because I actually want to (like Bleak House, which I dread).

The idea of the spin is you pick 20 books from your main list (mine is here) and a number is picked on Monday 6th April. You read that numbered book on your list by 15th May. Last time, I got The Moonstone, which I loved. Let’s hope I’m as lucky this time. Here is my list…

1. The Secret History – Donna Tartt

2. Under Milk Wood – Dylan Thomas

3. Fahrenheit 451 – Ray Bradbury

4. Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov

5. On the Road – Jack Kerouac

6. Breakfast at Tiffany’s – Truman Capote

7. A Farewell to Arms – Ernest Hemingway

8. The Joy Luck Club – Amy Tan

9. Waiting for Godot – Samuel Beckett

10. Little Women – Louisa May Alcott

11. War of the Worlds – H. G. Wells

12. Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte

13. Romeo and Juliet – William Shakespeare

14. Bleak House – Charles Dickens

15. Wolf Hall – Hilary Mantel

16. The Secret Garden – Frances Hodgson Burnett

17. To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee

18. The Golden Notebook – Dorothy Lessing

19. The Big Sleep – Raymond Chandlor

20. Brighton Rock – Graham Greene

I’ll be back Monday to let you know what I get. Any I should be keeping my fingers crossed for?


The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins


The Moonstone, my latest Classic Club Spin, is billed as the first proper detective novel and I can see why. A country house, a distraught heiress who is hiding something (but what?), a butler, a detective who can learn a lot by a smudged bit of paint, handsome gentlemen with non to clear motives, and a missing diamond. Add in plenty of red herrings and accusations and you have a great “whodunit”.

The story of the missing diamond (known as the Moonstone and obtained by the distraught heiress’ uncle under questionable circumstances whilst fighting in India) is told in turn by each of the primary characters. Each tells only of their direct knowledge of events, meaning you are always filling in the gaps as the story progresses and wanting to know what happens next (I was pretty much wrong the whole way through!).

Wilkie does a good job of distinguishing the voices of each person, although the attitudes are a bit dated in a few parts made me cringe as a result. He also uses them to add a bit of social commentary here and there – especially through the Betteredge the Butler – which I liked given my love of politics and there is also the odd bit of humour, making me smile if not laugh out loud.

The main person you want to hear from, of course, is the Heiress, Rachel. She seems to be the only one who knows what has happened to the Moonstone and keeps everyone guessing, running off at one point to avoid being interviewed by the police. By the time I got to her version of events I was holding my breath a little. In fact, I did that on and off all the way through. By the end of each person’s story, I really, really, wanted to know more and found the book harder and harder to put down as the story went on.

When I’d added this book to my Classic Club list, I wasn’t sure what to expect but I had a good response to my post, telling me it was a good book and so I hoped I would enjoy it. I really did. I haven’t read any other Wilkie Collins but I will now. Possibly my best classic club pick yet!


Classic Club Spin (No. 8)

For November/ December I’m taking part in The Classic Club’s “Spin” again, choosing 20 books from my main Classic Club list. A number from 1 to 20 will then be chosen at random tomorrow, November 10th. I’ll then have until January 5th, 2015, to read the book.

Last time I got A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf and loved it so I’m keeping my fingers crossed for another good pick. For the last spin, I let my daughter randomly select which ones to read. This time, I’ve chosen books under four categories to see how that works out for me.

Books I Really Want to Read

1. 1984 – George Orwell

2. Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov

3. Breakfast at Tiffany’s – Truman Capote

4. East of Eden – John Steinbeck

5. Brighton Rock – Graham Greene

Books I Really Don’t Want to Read but Feel I Should

6. Brave New World – Aldous Huxley

7. Fahrenheit 451 – Ray Bradbury

8. The Hobbit – J. R. R. Tolkien

9. Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte

10. Bleak House – Charles Dickens

Books I Know So Little About I Don’t Know if I Want to Read

11. The Golden Notebook – Dorothy Lessing

12. The Joy Luck Club – Amy Tan

13. The Moonstone – Wilkie Collins

14. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn – Betty Smith

15. Lacuna – Barbara Kingslover

Books I’ve Read Before and Hope are as Good as I Remember

16. The Secret History – Donna Tartt

17. On the Road – Jack Kerouac

18. One Hundred Years of Solitude – Gabriel Garcia Marquez

19. The Return of the Native – Thomas Hardy

20. Oscar and Lucinda – Peter Carey

And that’s the list. the number has been drawn and the winner is No. 13 The Moonstone.


Happy Reading!

Emma x

A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf

A Room of One’s Own was my Classic Club Spin book back in August, something I was quite pleased about as it’s one of those books I’ve always wanted to read. Although I admit to knowing very little about it before I picked it up, I just knew it was one of those works that has had an impact on a lot of people and is frequently referenced in feminist literature. I thought it was something I would probably enjoy reading and get a lot out of. I did on both counts.

A Room of Ones Own Cover

The book itself is not that long at 123 pages, an extended essay based on two lectures Virginia Woolf gave to female students at Cambridge in 1929 on the subject of Women and Fiction. It is easy to read, though some references to writers and the politics of the time weren’t that familiar to me so I may have lost some of the finer points of her argument, and not dry at all (a slight worry as I knew this was initially written to be heard, not read).

Woolf starts by discussing what could be covered under the heading, women who write fiction, for example, or women in fiction, before stating that “a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction”. This is because without these things, she will never have the space and freedom to write; she will spend her time instead trying to earn a living or make ends meet, taking care of her home, her husband and her children, and bending to the wills and expectations of a patriarchal society (Woolf writes, “England is under the rule of a patriarchy. Nobody in their senses could fail to detect the dominance of the professor. He was the power and the money and the influence.”) Read More »

My Time in Middlemarch

Although I’ve read other George Eliot novels, Middlemarch has always scared me a little – in part, because it always seems to end up on the greatest books of all time lists. The other part is the length – my copy was 900 or so pages long, which is long! In the back of my mind, though, I’ve always felt I’ve been missing something by not reading it. That’s why I included it in my classic club list. Then I received a review copy of My Life in Middlemarch, a book a really wanted to read – but without spoiling Middlemarch itself for me. So, it felt like (almost) now or never and I cracked the spine. I’m really glad I did – even if I’ve pretty much read nothing else for the last four or so weeks – because I loved it.


Set in the 1830s, Middlemarch is the tale of residents of what Eliot describes as a provincial town. They include Dorothea, who makes an unsuitable marriage to the much older Mr. Casabaun; Mr. Ladislaw, Casabaun’s nephew who he supports but comes to dislike and distrust; Mr. Lydgate whose modern thoughts on medicine make the establishment dislike him but whose recent arrival makes Rosamond fall in love with the idea of marrying him; Fred Vincy who doesn’t feel the need to study or take life seriously as he is bound to come into an inheritance; the Garths, whose life Fred almost ruins with his recklessness; and Mr. Bulstrode whose past comes back to haunt him. There are many other characters too and each life weaves around the others as they often do in small towns or social circles.

For many of the characters, their stories are of love, and it’s (sometimes) disappointments. They are also stories of how people grow – older and (if they are lucky) wiser – of how simple things, thoughts and feelings, and the decisions they lead to, can have such a huge impact on their lives and those of others. And how actions are so often based on how we perceive things and how we wish to be perceived, even if this means we go against our better judgement.

The fact there are so many stories being told and there are so many strong, interesting, characters are two of the things I liked most about the novel. I also like Eliot’s writing style, even though it can be a bit “meandering” at times. She is smart, witty, and insightful, and has a way of pointing out the absurdities in life. Absurdities which apply very much to the now, not just the way back when this was written, because human nature doesn’t change that much, or that quickly, and books like this remind us of that.

So, if you have a month to spare, definitely one for the reading list (unless you’ve read it, of course, in which case I would love to know if you enjoyed it as much as I did).

(My First) Classic Club Spin

Following on from Friday’s post, tomorrow is the Classic Club Spin…my first chance to start making good on my plan to read more classic novels. To take part, you list 20 books from your full list and then on Monday they post a number between 1 and 20. You have to read that book by 6th October and (ideally, I guess) post a review.

After just picking 50 books, I was a bit hesitant about now cutting it down to 20 so I chose a bit of a haphazard approach and asked my daughter to keep giving me numbers until I had enough (not very scientific but it worked) and so, here it is, my spin list.

Read More »