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!

Emma

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A Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle

932671“In the debut of literature’s most famous sleuth, a dead man is discovered in a bloodstained room in Brixton. The only clues are a wedding ring, a gold watch, a pocket edition of Boccaccio’s Decameron, and a word scrawled in blood on the wall. With this investigation begins the partnership of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson. Their search for the murderer uncovers a story of love and revenge-and heralds a franchise of detective mysteries starring the formidable Holmes”

After finding myself sucked in to The Hound of the Baskervilles recently whilst randomly flicking through channels, I realised that I had never actually read any Sherlock Holmes.  Yet, if asked, I’d probably say that I knew the stories well.  After reading A Study in Scarlet, it turns out I was wrong on this count (at least for this novel) and the story is very little like the one I had in my head.

I chose A Study in Scarlet because it’s the first of the Sherlock Holmes stories and I like to do things in order.  It was a good choice I think because it introduced me to a Dr. Watson that wasn’t the bumbling old man I had in my head, rather a war veteran who, whilst maybe not as good at sleuthing as Holmes, had a lot going for him.

Holmes’ introduction was also very interesting. He doesn’t come across as the most personable of people, which I didn’t expect, but he seems more aware of this than I had thought he would be.  Who he is laid out clearly, in his own words (“I get in the dumps at times, and don’t open my mouth for days on end. You must not think I am sulky when I do that. Just let me alone, and I’ll soon be right.” ).

The other main character, Lestrade, was also a bit of a revelation as, again, I think him a bit dull-witted but Holmes himself says he is ” quick and energetic” if conventional.  He also doesn’t seem as annoyed by Holmes as sometimes portrayed but happy to ask for help (if not to share the glory).

I felt like I was meeting all the characters with fresh eyes and tried to keep visions of Basil Rathbone and Benedict Cumberbatch to the back of my mind as I read.  This is difficult with Holmes been so well known but as the novel progressed I found it easier because I was drawn in to the story.

The story itself is one of revenge and it doesn’t take long for Holmes to find the clues he needs to solve the case.  I hadn’t expected him too as the book was short – just over 100 pages – but it only took the first half for him to do so.  Then, with the killer identified, Conan Doyle goes on to tell the story of the how and the why.  The first half was told through the eyes of Dr. Watson, the second in the third person.  Both were good, though I did have a bit of a jolt going from one to the other.  Again, though, it wasn’t long before I was drawn in.

This really is an easy story to get sucked into and to read, both in length and writing style.  It may be over a 100 years old but it didn’t feel it.  With very few changes, it really could have been written today.  No wonder the stories are so loved and the subject of TV and film.  I liked this a lot and will be reading more.

Emma

Authors on Austen

Jane_Austen,_from_A_Memoir_of_Jane_Austen_(1870)During my random wandering around the web last week in search of tidbits for a post I hope to write once I finish Jane Austen’s Emma as part of Austen in August I came across a quote by Virginia Woolf: “of all great writers [Austen] is the most difficult to catch in the act of greatness”. It got me wondering what other authors might have had to say about Austen, whether they felt the same way.

There were some that didn’t, Mark Twain seeming to be most widely quoted critic, saying “I often want to criticize Jane Austen, but her books madden me so that I can’t conceal my frenzy from the reader; and therefore I have to stop every time I begin. Every time I read Pride and Prejudice I want to dig her up and beat her over the skull with her own shin bone!”

More often than not though, other writers seem to be fans and there are a lot out there, including…

…Harper Lee –  “All I want is to be the Jane Austen of the south”

…William F. Buckley, Jr. – “One doesn’t read Jane Austen; one re-reads Jane Austen.”

…Thornton Wilder – “[Her] art is so consummate that the secret is hidden; peer at them as hard as one may; shake them; take them apart; one cannot see how it is done.”

…J K Rowling – “My favorite writer is Jane Austen, and I’ve read all her books so many times I’ve lost count…I imagined being a famous writer would be like being like Jane Austen. Being able to sit at home at the parsonage and your books would be very famous and occasionally you would correspond with the Prince of Wales’s secretary.”

…Anthony Trollope – “Miss Austen was surely a great novelist. What she did, she did perfectly…. she places us in a circle of gentlemen and ladies, and charms us while she tells us with an unconscious accuracy how men should act to women, and women act to men.”

…Margaret Drabble – “Austen’s output was so compact that many of us know much of her work by heart and feel its echoes every day. Yet, on rereading, we always find new shades of meaning, new pleasures and, most importantly, new questions.”

…Val McDermid – “She’s a genius…One of the reasons we all still read Jane Austen is because her books are about universal things which still matter today – love, money, family.”

But the last word goes to Helen Fielding whose Bridget Jone’s Diary is based on Pride and Prejudice and has its own Mr. Darcy.   It sums up why Jane Austen may have been adapted so many times on TV, film and books. “Jane Austen’s plots”, Fielding said, “are very good and have been market researched over a number of centuries, so I decided simply to steal one of them…I thought she wouldn’t mind and anyway she’s dead.”.  Here’s to more stealing of plots!

Emma

May Round-Up

I have to start this post by saying that May has been a really good month for me.  It’s my birthday and wedding anniversary  month.  Plus, one of my best friends has been here for the last week, visiting from the States.  We’ve spent the whole week in Scotland (which is why there have been no posts).  It was so lovely and – for the most part – sunny.  I got to visit lots of palaces and castles, making it the perfect place for me, and have come back with a plan to read up on Scottish history which I realised I know very little about.

This will be a change from this month, which was all about who-dun-it.  Looking back for this post, I realised all but one review has been crime related. My favourites were probably Claire DeWitt and the Bohemian Highway by Sara Gran, which I haven’t stopped recommending since I finished it, and Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey, which had a very different “detective” as the central character.

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Claire DeWitt is the second in a series and I’ll be going back to read the first soon.  I also discovered another new series for me in Camilla Lackberg’s The Ice Princess.  Unfortunately, I’m 10 or so books behind on this one so not sure if I will be able to catch up as easily.

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It was a good read though, as were the final two books in my accidental “crime-fest”, The Detective’s Secret by Lesley Thomson and Before We Met by Lucie Whitehouse.

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There probably isn’t much between these two (in hindsight they were my least favourite) but the latter is stand alone and so good if you are looking to take something on your summer holidays.

Under Milk Wood by Dylan Thomas was my only non-murder related review and not what I expected by a really good result for my latest classic club spin.  It reminded me I don’t read anywhere near enough poetry and that I am behind my target for my classic club challenge.  I plan on making a real effort in June to catch up.

In my world outside books, I got creative, travelled back in time and learnt to love the chaos that is my garden.  So, all in all, a good month.  How about you – how was your May?

Emma

Uncle Vanya by Anton Chekhov

For March, the Play On! challenge was post-renaissance plays.  The guidance said anything post-renaissance is allowed and Wilde and Shaw are welcome…which meant they were the first playwrights I thought of and looked at.  I’ve read both though, and love Oscar Wilde, so – as part of the point of my taking part in this challenge was to challenge myself – decided I needed to look further afield.

The further ended up being Russia and I picked Uncle Vanya by Anton Chekhov, which I knew nothing about (a seeming habit with me for picking books). I have, however, read some of his short stories and know a little about the period in Russian history the play was written and set in (1897). Because of this, I think I expected something a little more political but, whilst there were some references to the industrialisation that was taking place at the time, this play is much more about the internal – human nature in general and love in particular.

Set on a poor rural estate, the story focuses on the upset a visit from an elderly professor and his much younger wife (Yelena/Helena) causes Uncle Vanya, his mother, his niece – who is also the professor’s daughter by his first marriage – Sonya, and the local doctor, Astrov.

The professor has been living in the city for many years, with the estate funding his extravagant lifestyle, and (now) that of his new wife.  In the city, the professor is a man about town, an intellectual, well known and well respected.  At least that is what Uncle Vanya, his mother, and Sonya thought until the ill old man turned up at their door, upsetting their routines and causing chaos with his demands and health complaints.

It is then they realise they have built a picture of him that is nowhere near reality and that their sacrifices and years of living close to the poverty line have all been for nothing; the professor’s behaviour suggests he knows as much too. It doesn’t help that both Uncle Vanya and Astrov have fallen for the beautiful young wife, or that she has realised she was more in love with the idea of the professor than she is with the man himself. It all comes to a head when the professor, himself unhappy with rural life, announces that the best thing to do is to sell the estate so he can afford to move back to the city.

In parts, the play feels like it is going to turn into a farce, with drunken characters going in an out of rooms and misunderstandings when people walk in on each other when they shouldn’t and there are some moments of dark humour.  These moments are few and far between though and, for me, despite the fact I had read it was a tragi-comedy, the play was pure tragedy.

Everyone goes through their days in a general malaise, picking at each other and unpicking every mistake they feel they have made with their lives.  The characters complain – a lot – but do nothing to help themselves. No one is satisfied with what they have, what they have achieved; and they all seem to really dislike each other.

In the end, I disliked them all too and, as a result, I disliked the play.  My initial sympathy for Uncle Vanya and Sonya disappeared quickly and the ending left me just plain old depressed, maybe a little bit frustrated too. For all that happened, nothing happened.  As a play, it wasn’t that long but I found it a struggle to stick with it.  As a story, I just couldn’t engage with it because I had no sympathy for any of the characters.  All in all then, not for me I’m afraid!  Have you read it – what were your thoughts?

Emma

The Merry Wives of Windsor by William Shakespeare

For this months Play On! Challenge, I decided to read The Merry Wives of Windsor by William Shakespeare.  The theme for the month was Renaissance Plays, including Shakespeare and his contemporaries, and I had planned on being more adventurous than Shakespeare.  I couldn’t seem to make a decision though, so went with the obvious choice but, hopefully, not one of his most obvious plays, The Merry Wives of Windsor.

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Sir John Falstaff, a rather dodgy character, decides to seduce a number of wealthy women in Windsor and make his fortune. He writes them identical letters but doesn’t know the women are friends and discover his plan. They come up with a plan of their own to teach him a lesson.  At the same one of their husbands learns of Falstaff’s plan and tries to catch the two of them together. Meanwhile, the much younger Anne is being pursued by three men but loves another.  There is duel and Falstaff is involved in this too.

At least, I think that’s what happens. This is Shakespeare’s first play and I actually found it much more difficult to read than I thought it would be, especially as last year I read eight of his plays in as many weeks and thought I had gotten into the grove of reading them. Even my normal trick of reading out loud didn’t help me much.

The Merry Wives of Windsor is a bawdy comedy with lots of jokes which were probably very funny at the time but went right over my head.  It is the only one of his plays to be set in middle class England and this was part of where I struggled at times. There lots of colloquialisms and references I didn’t understand so I found I spent more time looking things up on the Internet than reading.  

After much frustration, I ended up watching an RSC production…and felt much, much, better.  It all made sense and I found it quite funny.  I even managed to finish the play second time around.  Did I enjoy it? Not really but at least I understood what was going on! 

Emma

The Suppliant Maidens by Aeschylus

I read The Suppliant Maidens as part of the Play On! challenge, picking it because Aeschylus is described as “the father of tragedy” and I thought I had more chance of understanding an ancient tragedy as opposed to an ancient comedy.  I haven’t read any comedy to compare this tragedy to (yet) – this is my foray into Ancient Greece but as far as understanding goes I had no problems with the plot and few with the language.

The man himself...
The man himself…

The play is the first of three that tell the story of the 50 daughters of Danus who flee Egypt and forced marriages to their cousins. They seek refuge in Argos, Greece, claiming to be descendants of Zeus and the Argians (?) promise to protect them, even when a Herald from their cousins comes to take them away, by force if need be.

As with all good trilogies, this is where the pay ends – on a cliffhanger. Unfortunately, it’s one I’ll never get to know the middle or end of as the remaining two plays are lost (there are scholarly reconstructions online of what might of happened but who knows if they are right?).

Although a play, because of the structure and length, I found I treated it much more as a play and ended up reading it out loud. I think this helped my understanding and enjoyment. At the of the day, this is a fairly classic story and it was easy to get drawn in and worry about whether the maidens would be safe.

The maidens make up the Chorus in what I have since discovered is the standard format for Greek plays; the other characters are Danus, King Argos and the Herald. The maidens fate is not a happy one, especially given the threats of the Herald (“Or e’er from hands of mine, Ye suffer torments worse and blow on blow) and I was left hoping King Argos would keep his word and protect them. This being a tragedy, I don’t hold out much hope.

When I started this play – even before I’d picked it up – I was nervous about reading it. I worried it would be hard going or hard to understand. It was neither, the opposite in fact (although I know I will have missed things, I read that this was a political statement for example on Greek widows being forced to marry their brother-in-laws). I’m now disappointed the remainder of this trilogy is lost but know I will be reading more Greek tragedies in the future…this was a great “taster” to a previously unknown world.

Emma

Play On!

Last year, I did an short course on Shakespeare and his world, reading 8 of his plays in an effort to understand how they reflected the times in which he lived and what was happening in his own life as well. I really enjoyed it. I loved reading Shakespeare at college but hadn’t read any since. In fact, I rarely read plays. After the course, I planned to read more – not just Shakespeare. I have failed miserably. So, to get me going on play reading again, I’m taking part in the Play On! challenge from Half Filled Attic.

Play-Challenge

It is pretty simple as far as challenges go, read a play and post a review each month for the next four months, the first three of which are themed:

January: Ancient Plays, including Greek and Roman plays
February: Renaissance Plays, including Shakespeare and his contemporaries
March: Post-Renaissance Plays, anything post Renaissance is allowed. Wilde and Shaw are very welcome
April: Freebie Plays, if you find any particular playwright interesting during the 3 months, feel free to read another of his/her plays. Or if you want to experiment with other genre or other playwright, you are in.

I’m quite excited about January as I haven’t really read anything “ancient”. I’ve picked Aeschylus (c.525 – 465 BC) who, according to Wikipedia is “the first of the three ancient Greek tragedians whose plays can still be read or performed [and] is often described as the father of tragedy”. I’m going to start with The Suppliants, which tells the story of the fifty daughters of Danaus who must flee to escape enforced marriages, and see how it goes. Has anyone out there read this or other Greek plays – have I picked well? Here’s hoping!

Emma x

What I’m Reading this Week: 12th January, 2015

Afternoon everyone. Bit of a late start to my blogging week this week. Not sure why but today has just completely gotten away from me, as did the weekend. I really couldn’t believe it was Monday this morning. I need more time off to enjoy life! Oh well, on to my books for this week.

As predicted last week, Brave New World is taking a bit of time to read so I’m starting off this week’s what I’m reading with what I didn’t get finished last week. It’s not that it’s that long, I’m just struggling to get into it. I am finding many other things to do instead I’m afraid. It will be finished but when is another matter. In between times, this week I’ll be reading….

The Martian by Andy Weir which I’ve read good and not-so-good reviews for. Although, I’m not much of a one for review copies (too much pressure to read them), I did get one for this so thought I should give it a go.

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Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first men to walk on the surface of Mars. Now, he’s sure he’ll be the first man to die there. It started with the dust storm that holed his suit and nearly killed him, and that forced his crew to leave him behind, sure he was already dead. Now he’s stranded millions of miles from the nearest human being, with no way to even signal Earth that he’s alive–and even if he could get word out, his food would be gone years before a rescue mission could arrive. Chances are, though, he won’t have time to starve to death. The damaged machinery, unforgiving environment, or plain-old “human error” are much more likely to get him first. But Mark isn’t ready to give up yet. Drawing on his ingenuity, his engineering skills–and a relentless, dogged refusal to quit–he steadfastly confronts one seemingly insurmountable obstacle after the next. But will his resourcefulness be enough to overcome the impossible odds against him?

I’m also going to listen to A bunch of Sweet Peas by Henry Donald. This is an older book (published 1988) that I came across at my local library and I just liked the sound of it. Plus, it’s short and with Brave New World, I think I need something like this.

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In 1911, in the Scottish Border village of Sprouston, the young parish minister wrote to the Daily Mail for entry forms for its sweet pea competition. The top prize was a staggering £1000 and organizers predicted that as many as 15,000 would enter. He could not foretell that the paper’s estimate of the number of competitors would be more than doubled, or that a fortnight before the deadline a nation-wide drought would threaten the very existence of the sweet peas he was so painstakingly cultivating. This touching and beautifully illustrated tale is based on a true story.

And that is it for this week. Something old, something new, and something short and sweet. Seems like quite a good mix! What are you reading – something good I hope.

Emma

Once again, I’m linking in with Sheila at Book Journey, who has a weekly linky post, It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? Click on the link to find out what Sheila and other book bloggers are reading.

The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton

The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton was no. 1 on my classic club list and a book I had wanted to read for a long time.

The Age of Innocence

Set in 1870’s New York, it is the story of the upper class elite, specifically Newland Archer, his fiancé – beautiful if slightly shallow – May, her cousin Ellen – who has just returned from Europe after (scandalously) leaving her husband – and their families and friends, the majority of whom are narrow-minded, judgemental and determined to live within a strict set of rules governing behaviour for their social circle.

From the outset, this means an unwillingness to accept Ellen when she arrives back in New York – especially as she has made the mistake of wearing an unsuitable address for her first public appearance, causing a stir and much comment.  Eager to help her cousin, May asks Newland to be nice to her, hoping others will then follow suit.  Eager to help his fiancé, Archer goes one step further, announcing their engagement – tying his well-respected family to theirs in the eyes of the public.

It’s only then that Archer starts to get to know Ellen.  And like her.  She is a free spirit, unwilling (unable it seems) to bend her will to the world around her.  She follows her heart, has the strength of her convictions, and a love of life..  She is, in fact, a female version of everything Archer secretly wishes he was but finds he can’t be.  Because of this, he starts to question the decision to marry May, who lives life on the surface.  She is a woman who is happy in their world and finds nothing in it she would like to change.Read More »