Classics Club Spin List!!

cropped-classicsclub3So The Classics Club is doing another spin! This will be my first time participating. I’m a few books behind on my list and want to dive back in. This seemed the perfect opportunity to do that. I followed the suggested procedure and picked 5 books I’m dreading, 5 books I can’t wait for, 5 books I’m neutral about, and 5 freebies. All the books are off my original list, and I’m not telling you which category each falls into!!

 

1. Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates

2. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte

3. Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier 

4. Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

5. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

6. The Ambassadors by Henry James

7. Sense & Sensibility by Jane Austen

8. Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

9. Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery

10. The Hours by Michael Cunningham

11. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

12. I, Claudius by Robert Graves

13. East of Eden by John Steinbeck

14. Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein

15. Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare

16. The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

17. American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser

18. The Tempest by William Shakespeare

19. The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner

20. Neuromancer by William Gibson

Can’t wait to see which number decides my literary fate!!

Mansfield Park by Jane Austen

IMG_20130901_102915Mansfield Park was a book with baggage. Lots of bad baggage. I originally read the book after seeing the 1999 film with Johnny Lee Miller that I absolutely adored. Honestly, I can’t tell you how many times I watched that movie. Video Warehouse probably hated me with how torn and damaged their VHS copy was by the time I graduated and moved away. This was all before my Jane Austen obsession.

Even though I wasn’t quite the book fangirl I am now, I still wanted to read the source material. But Mansfield Park just wasn’t a book I should have attempted in high school. Obviously, I hated it and chucked it into a dusty corner to be forgotten. Until now!!!

Fourteen years have gone by and man, what fourteen years can do. I loved Mansfield Park this time around despite all of the anxiety and apprehension I felt going in. I’m also well aware that the 1999 film only borrowed bits and pieces from the novel and is in no way an adequate representation of Austen’s original story. And, for me, that’s okay. I still love the movie for what it is. Although I was a bit shocked at how sexualized everything was in the film…not that I should have been. Edmund is also far more appealing in the movie.

I read Mansfield Park over the course of four weeks. Slowly, but surely, I made my way through Austen’s most serious novel and mostly adored every word. I liked Fanny – her moral compass, although rigid, was respectable because she truly believed in her morality in the face of so many detractors. She fiercely defended her beliefs and didn’t back down for anyone. That’s far more than we can say about Edmund and his fickle morality in the face of Mary Crawford.

Sir Bertram is another father figure I’ve come to love (I know that Sir Bertram isn’t always the kind of character one can praise – specifically when you consider whether or not he was involved in the slave trade). Jane Austen can write some excellent fathers. Aunt Norris is a despicable bit of comic relief. I loved that Aunt Norris dotes on Maria while trashing Fanny which only manages to ruin Maria in the end.

As for Fanny and Edmund’s ending, holy rushed romance, Batman! Jeez. Edmund essentially just decides to be in love with Fanny and marry her in about two sentences. To me, this romance is underdeveloped and swept under the rug which tells me Austen’s point wasn’t to get Fanny a hero, but rather to let her be her own hero. I like that. I like Mansfield Park. For the moment, however fleeting, it shall stand as my favorite Austen. Until my next reread…

Rating: starstarstarstar

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

198806Lolita is not a book easily reviewed or even discussed. Nabokov’s masterpiece was a book I had put off reading. Despite its presence on my Classics Club reading list, I still wasn’t super pumped to dive in. First, the subject matter wasn’t particularly pleasing and second, my first foray into Nabokov’s writing was less than successful. I attempted Pale Fire when I was about 21 and failed miserably. It went right over my head.

When my best friend and I decided to start our own buddy reads program, she listed three books that she was interested in reading, and I selected our first choice from that list. Having read two of the three choices, I was left with Lolita. It’s not a book that needs an introduction or synopsis. Everyone knows the story follows a pedophile called Humbert Humbert.

What a tragic and masterful story. Nabokov’s command of the English language is astounding considering his native tongue is Russian. The words – oh the beautifully manipulated words! So many puns and wordplay are scattered abundantly throughout Lolita’s nightmarish tale. I found myself laughing out loud often and then feeling terrible about that. Nabokov will reel you in and then bop you over the head with grotesquery. In short, he’s brilliant and so is Lolita if you can get past the yucky.

I was shocked at the absolute bluntness of the molestation, particularly for a book written in the fifties. I’m not entirely sure how the thing got published. The graphic-ness of a 12-year-old getting repeatedly raped by a man in his forties is baffling. Humbert is a monster of the most sordid variety and several times I had to set the book aside. There were even parts I skimmed over in the first half because I just couldn’t digest the imagery.

Victoria and I haven’t met to discuss the book yet as she’s just started. But she messaged me at about 70 pages in asking how the hell I managed to finish. Honestly, I didn’t have the best of answers beyond the writing is gorgeous. I suspect for many parents this book would be impossible to read so I wouldn’t fault her for not finishing. One saving grace, Nabokov is clearly not glorifying Humbert or pedophilia. He’s clearly not a fan.

The best thing to come out of my reading is how accessible I found the writing, the plotting, and pacing of Lolita. I’m now no longer afraid to visit Nabokov’s other works. In fact, I’m looking forward to a Pale Fire reread in the near future.

Have you read Lolita? Is it a book you can easily recommend to other readers? Do you enjoy books that make you complicit in some seriously demented moral quandaries?

The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler

2052I was wearing my powder blue suit, with dark blue shirt, tie and display handkerchief, black brogues, black wool socks with dark blue clocks on them. I was neat, clean, shaved and sober, and I didn’t care who knew it. I was everything the well-dressed private detective ought to be. I was calling on four million dollars.

So begins PI Philip Marlowe in Chandler’s classic hard-boiled detective noir. I think that quote perfectly sums up the atmosphere of the novel and gives you a little glimpse into why this book is included in TIME Magazine’s top 100 novels written since 1923.

The Big Sleep is all about two crazy dames! The sisters (Vivian and Carmen) are always getting into trouble. This time Carmen is being blackmailed and her extraordinarily rich and dying father has hired Marlowe to get things handled all quiet like, see? What follows next is an almost dizzying romp of murder, mayhem, and pornography with a side of misogyny and homophobia. Ahh…the 30s.

Clearly, Chandler was a master of setting and atmosphere. I was immediately pulled into this world through his gorgeous (albeit, bloody) imagery. The dialogue is golden and holds fast to a time long since past. Thirties slang is the name of the game and it can be hard to keep up with but so much fun to try! I quite literally didn’t know half of what they were saying and had to constantly reread scenes to figure out what had happened in conversation. A man could lose his life without me noticing. That’s how much language and slang have changed in 80 years. Both a pro and a con to this story.

The plot was fast paced but ultimately predictable. I’m not sure that’s the book’s fault. In the thirties, I’m sure this felt fresh and new but so many books have emulated since. Still well worth the read to see how such novels came to be. I loved seeing where some of my favorite modern day entertainment got its inspiration – specifically Veronica Mars. I might have even replaced Marlowe with Mars in my mind once or twice which was confusing because there was an actual character named Mars. But that’s just a me problem…

As for the misogyny and homophobia – definitely a sign of the times and hard to read at moments. Some jovial slapping of women takes place and several derogatory statements are made concerning gay men. So if you’re sensitive to that be forewarned, but I think books should be read as a study of their time. I like seeing how far (or not far) we’ve come since the thirties.

I’d recommend this book to those explorers of literature who want to read the novel often cited as the birth of this particular sub-mystery/detective genre. A quick, fun read – a moment of time to relive. I’m not sure, however, that I’d add this to my own personal top 100 list, but I don’t regret reading it in the slightest!

Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell

6534328Another Classics Club choice moved over to the read column! As always, I enjoyed my time spent with Gaskell and her characters. My edition is the Penguin Clothbound and I’m in love with the green end papers. I now want something in my house that is exactly that shade of green.

Cranford is the story of Cranford. Ha! Cranford is a small town in England with a mostly female population. And as with most Victorian literature, there is a lot of society gossip, money, and class discussions. Each chapter relays a town anecdote, particularly those events which surround Miss Mattie – an old maid and a delightfully endearing lady. Our narrator, Miss Smith, is reliable, witty, and someone who adores Miss Mattie just as much as her readers.

Being that this was my third Gaskell, I was immediately comfortable with her writing style and still think she writes some of the most accessible Victorian literature. Cranford’s story isn’t deep with any symbolic meaning and is often light, funny, and just plain enjoyable to read. The tribe of female characters we get to know range from catty to completely selfless and realistically reflect the many kinds of women who exist in any town in all the world. At roughly 190 pages, Cranford is a novel you visit briefly and hope to one day return to.

What was most appealing to me was Gaskell’s humor. I smirked often at some little bit of hilarity and laughed out loud more than once at some biting turn of phrase. Gaskell is such a keen observationist (not a word, apparently) and gifted storyteller. You often believe you are looking directly through her eyes at the goings on. Her talent makes her humor all the more effortless and genuine. Plus, it never hurts to root for the happiness of a book’s main characters and to laugh alongside them in their many trials, tribulations, and joys.

I don’t think Cranford will ever be my favorite Gaskell novel, but I still enjoyed my time and reading experience. And I’m sure I’ll find myself deep within its pages in another few years when I’m feeling an itch for lighter Victorian fare. Wives and Daughters might always remain my favorite – most likely due to its luckiness at being my first Gaskell. If you haven’t read anything by Gaskell, you’re really doing yourself a disservice. Add something of hers to your classics list today!

Bonus:

Gaskell is often compared to Austen and with Cranford the comparisons ring very true.

Vanity Fair by William Thackeray – Readalong Wrap-Up!

Vanity Fair Button

So Vanity Fair has come to an end. And getting to that end had some rather painfully boring bits – not going to lie. In fact, there were chapters that convinced me I would never finish the book, chapters that I literally have no recollection of what happened. But that’s okay because much of Thackeray’s story was superfluous fluff that got lost somewhere along the way for me. I definitely think my main issue was the audio. Not that this particular audio was bad, just that an 800+ page Victorian monstrosity should probably be read if I want to catch all the nuances and details. Lesson learned. Also, SPOILERS.

However, the last 200 pages or so were quite entertaining learning how everyone’s story concluded. I’m glad Amelia finally understood that her marvelous George was a devious rascal and that Dobbin truly loved her. I did get the feeling that by the time they married Dobbin’s feelings had rather cooled towards Amelia though. As for dear, darling Becky, we can only assume that she had some major role in Jos’s death as she continued on with her wily ways. The children, little Rawdon and Georgie, appear to have grown up well enough and hopefully their lives in the Vanity Fair will turn out more honest. But judging how ensconced society still is in the conceit of the Vanity Far some 150+ years later, I sort of doubt it.

In addition to finishing the novel, I also viewed the 2004 film starring Reese Witherspoon. I thought the movie was okay. The casting really intrigued me and turned out fairly perfect. I especially loved Jonathan Rhys Meyer as George Osborne. Perfection. Reese Witherspoon was a good choice for Becky, but Julian Fellows and his fellow script writers dropped the ball on her characterization. They did their best to make her a redeemable character – far less of the wicked little social climber that Thackeray created which bothered me. Do we not watch films with wicked women as lead characters or do we just demand that a wicked woman be getting ahead for reasons we can justify? Can’t she just want a title and money for a title and money’s sake?

I compared Becky Sharp to Moll Flanders throughout my entire time with her. I love Moll Flanders something fierce, even the movie adaptations. For this reason, I think my love for Becky Sharp could never surpass a trifle fondness. Without a doubt, a marvelous character and Vanity Fair’s best, but I didn’t embrace her quite as much as Moll.

Do I recommend this book to fellow readers? If you love Victorian literature and can deal with myriad side plots and large families with the same name – YES! Otherwise, good luck! I’m immensely glad I read Thackeray’s supposed masterpiece but have a feeling the details will fade over time. Now that you’ve read my ridiculous blunderings, head over to Melissa’s blog for the official wrap up post! And a huge thank you to Trish and Melissa for hosting!

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The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

4672That blasted green light! Gatsby clinging to it for dear life. Reading The Great Gatsby feels so awfully bittersweet. Fitzgerald’s talent as a writer is beyond words in my opinion and he’s quickly climbing the list of my most beloved authors. I’m shocked at how long it took me to reread Gatsby’s story since my introduction as a high school junior. I suppose I feared being disappointed. That somehow the past 11 or so years had jaded me too much to find Jay Gatsby a remarkable character. Thank the literary gods my fears have been put to rest and I can honestly say Fitzgerald’s crowing achievement will always hold a special place on my shelves. With the movie looming on the the not-so-distant horizon, I knew now would be the perfect time to revisit my old friend Nick as he told this short little tale of the slippery American Dream.

I’m fairly certain no one needs a serious synopsis. Jay Gatsby is a self-made man from humble origins who becomes this larger than life personification of the American Dream. Unfortunately, his own ideas of success and happiness are never obtained because the woman he loves – the incredibly vapid Daisy Buchanan – will never be his. No matter how shiny his house, how green his grass, or how deep his pockets.

My favorite writers all tend to have one thing in common – the ability to write something, even the ridiculously mundane, and make me drool while reading it. My heart pitter-patters at long, luscious prose far faster than a deftly plotted masterpiece. And while I can definitely appreciate both, beautiful words will always win. The Great Gatsby is just that – freakin’ beautiful words and full-bodied sentences. This very book and all of Fitzgerald’s other work demonstrates while I’ll never actually write anything myself. I could never even come close to his genius.

I’m swooning all over this blog post! So sorry, y’all. Let’s get back to business. What surprised me this time through was how short the novel is – how succinct. I remember agonizing over this narrative in high school only to fly through it as an adult. The novel suffers not at all from its brevity, but rather benefits from the swift pacing and nearly overnight downfall of this colossal man-giant. The book is one huge symbol and filled with literary technique. Quite literally, literary terminology leaks across the pages. I can understand why this would turn away some readers who prefer a more abstract rendering on existentialism, but I love this no-nonsense approach. It’s definitely a wonderful teaching tool and I easily grasp why The Great Gatsby is read so often in school. It’s also, hands-down, Fitzgerald’s most accessible story and the one I recommend unfamiliar readers begin with.

As far as the characters are concerned, they, admittedly, are mostly detestable. Daisy and Tom especially. But as John Green says in his crash course youtube video (I’ll link it below), the characters don’t have to be likeable to be interesting. What’s fascinating about Daisy is how a man like Gatsby could become so enraptured by her as to ruin his entire life. These people existed and still exist. We read about them in magazines and hold them high on gilded pedestals. Reading The Great Gatsby gives us a lens not just to view the 1920s Long Island elite, but to help us understand hero worship, idolatry, and celebrity which we all fall victim to at some point. Do the things to which we aspire, our own American Dreams, actually have any valuable substance or will we all end up face-down in a pool when our dreams come crashing (pun intended!) down around us?

I’m excited to see the film in May. While the casting has me scratching my head a bit, I do think Leonardo DiCaprio will be a great Gatsby. The vibrant cinematography will add an interesting juxtaposition to the somber realities of the movie’s end. I’ll be there opening night and hope you other bloggers will be as well so we can all share our experiences. The more the merrier, and this is one story that deserves all the attention!

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Black Beauty by Anna Sewell

10931946Horses! Again! Not a fan. I don’t know what a horse did to me in a previous life, but the only horsey thing I can think of that I’ve loved in the past 29 years is Wild Hearts Can’t Be Broken – remember that movie? My aunt used to take us horseback riding when we were little and I was never impressed. Perhaps Mr. Ed had something to do with it – I hated that show.

Anyway, I had a copy of Black Beauty growing up (who didn’t?), but I never read the thing due to my horse aversion. I would hold it, smell it, and generally love it – but no reading about the horse inside was allowed. A strange child – absolutely. And to be honest, the only reason I bought the book as an adult is because it was part of the Penguin Threads editions. I feel like I should write Penguin a letter now and thank them profusely for providing the proper incentive to read a book about a horse.

Black Beauty tells the story of a horse living life in England during the Victorian era. I was surprised to learn that the narration is told by Black Beauty himself! Getting into a horse’s mind was quite fascinating and even I crumbled a bit under his trials and tribulations. Beauty goes through many owners – some wonderful, many wicked – and learns much about the ways of humans and horses alike. Seeing humanity through his eyes was somehow more powerful, more engaging, and extremely more damning than through ordinary human eyes. You’ll be hard-pressed not to shed a few tears at Beauty’s ending, even if you have been known to turn a cold shoulder to these beautiful, majestic creatures.

Sewell’s writing is nothing less than lyrical. Every so often, I did find myself slogging through some of the more obvious preachy moments about such things as bearing reigns and the like. Characters would have conversations entirely devoted to making a rather bland point about how to rightly treat a horse. I’d sooner have seen these ideas depicted through the novel’s actions rather than repeatedly summed up through dialogue. But I know Sewell’s intentions weren’t necessarily to write a masterpiece, but instead to bring light to a troubling problem.

I also found Sewell’s rainbow of human characters well done. Yes, many are morally upright and well behaved and others are downright cruel – fairly black and white. But she also populates her story with all the in-between which always makes for more convincing moral tales in my own opinion.

Don’t let the horse keep you away from this story! It was lovely and a great book to share with a child you know and love. So many important lessons, fun characters, and a swiftly plotted pace can only make this book the beloved classic known and beloved by so many over the past decades. Spending an afternoon with Black Beauty was time more than well spent!

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cropped-classicsclub3I’m on a roll with my Classics Club reads this year! How about you?

Agnes Grey by Anne Bronte

8240080The Bronte sisters are some of my favorite writers EVER, but I had never read anything by Anne until this reading of Agnes Grey. It’s my first Classics Club read of 2013 and a superb way to begin my classics reading list for this year.

Agnes is a young women born into a family of good standing, but lack of money. Her mother was once a Lady, but married out of love instead of proper social climbing etiquette. When her family’s monetary situation begins to worsen and her father’s health to decline, Agnes goes in search of governess positions to save her family or at least make their lives a little easier. She’s met with spoiled children and a solitary life until she meets a clergyman she can’t stop thinking about!

Anne’s writing, at least in my opinion, is the perfect combination of both Emily and Charlotte. Her prose is perhaps more simplistic (like Emily’s) and straightforward, while her subject matter mirrors Charlotte’s a great deal. Once you’ve taken the supernatural, spooky undertones of Wuthering Heights or Jane Eyre out of the equation, you’re left with a lovely story of a young woman’s coming-of-age, some social commentary, and the common marriage plot.

There’s nothing overly complex about Agnes Grey with the entire plot and characterizations being grounded in realism and concision, but Agnes was a joy to meet among the pages. Her descriptions of the wild heathen children she taught were bitterly humorous at times and the sense of her own loneliness was often heartbreaking. Many readers criticize Agnes’s ‘goody-goody perfection’ and believe that she lacks development. I tend not to agree – I love her struggling with her affections and attractions for the first time, her often unpleasant thoughts and emotions towards her pupils, and can see her underlying struggle to remain the upright and moral woman her parents have raised her to be.

If you’re new to Victoria literature, Anne Bronte would be a superb introduction to her more flowery sisters and other writers of the time. The story is short and sweet and offers a gentle first glimpse of mid-nineteenth century England. Anne is a protagonist that we’d all like to be friends with and who we root for against the nasty little sprites that only hope to see her fail!

I wish Anne had lived much longer (she died at 29) because as a writer she could only have grown more focused, mature, and amazing. She and her sisters are very deserving of your attention and I’m so very close to having read all their novels! Add them to your classics list if you haven’t already!

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cropped-classicsclub3First Classics Club read of 2013! I’m off to a great start.

I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith

Smith’s novel saw me through the entirety of my read-a-thon participation and was an absolute delight to spend several hours reading.  If you think you’ve never heard of her before (and many of her novels are out of print), she wrote 101 Dalmatians!  What more do you really need to know after that?

I Capture the Castle could be described as a young adult/coming of age tale about a precocious 17-year-old in early 20th century England.  Cassandra and her family live in this cozy, little hamlet and their house is a dilapidated old castle!  Her father made money initially off writing a critically acclaimed novel, but then spent some time in prison after threatening a neighbor with a  butter knife and never wrote again.  They live in extreme poverty with seemingly no way out.  Cassandra, her older sister, younger brother, father and stepmother (who loves getting naked outdoors) are completely sequestered away from modern society and come off as very eccentric – basically, freaks.  Rose and Cassandra’s hopes appear to rely solely on finding a rich husband, but with no marrying men about what’s a girl to do?  Enter their new landlords, the exceptionally rich Cotton brothers straight out of America and you’ve got yourself a little golddiggery on the horizon!

Smith’s novel is excellent, but on the same eccentric side as her characters.  Cassandra is our narrator via her diary and you honestly wouldn’t know she was 17 except that she tells you so in the first few pages.  I constantly thought of her as 12-14 with her naivety being so overwhelming.  You really get a sense of how closed away this family is from anything remotely normal.  But this aspect also makes Cassandra and her family super charming and refreshingly unique.  You never really know what’s going to happen next due to the family’s quirks and that made the pages easy to turn.  The Cotton brothers help ground the novel in actual reality when the Mortmain family seems sure to transcend into fairytale land at any moment and add just the right amount of romantic intrigue.

The best way I can describe how I felt reading I Capture the Castle is enchanted.  I wanted to climb the castle’s walls, hold midsummer bonfires, and get swept away by the riches of London right along with Rose and Cassandra.  If I have any complaints, it’s only that sometimes the Mortmains seemed a bit too unrealistic, but that was also half the fun.  And let me just take a moment to recommend the film version because I watched it a year or so ago and loved it!  Henry Cavill stars and he’s a bucket full of fried chicken – YUM!  Notice how I just got real Southern on y’all?  That’s what Mr. Cavill does for me.

So don’t waste anymore time reading this post – go pick up a copy of I Capture the Castle pronto!

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Knocking ‘em down one book at a time!  Loving my classic’s list!