As of yesterday, I completed the Back to the Classics Reading Challenge! I’m glad I did it. I read a few books I wouldn’t have read otherwise, and got to re-experience some I’d encountered years ago. Every time you read a book, for the first time or the tenth, you get something new from it. So this was a good opportunity to both find new (to me) books, and reread others. Without further ado, here’s my list (also found on Goodreads):
- A 19th Century Classic– any book published between 1800 and 1899. – The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket by Edgar Allan Poe. I chose this book because I quite like Poe’s poems and short stories. Now I know why he only completed one novel – it never came near the genius of his shorter works. Parts of it were ok, but at one point I found myself feeling that it was very familiar. That’s when I realized that it was extremely similar to the experiences of the Essex. He did quite faithfully reproduce the travel narrative that was so popular, at least in parts, while other parts were quite odd indeed (such as the ending). I was glad to get to the end, and am still surprised to find how much I disliked a work by Poe.
- A 20th Century Classic– any book published between 1900 and 1967. – Go Down, Moses by William Faulkner. It’s been awhile since I’ve read any Faulkner, and I’d forgotten how much he likes to write in a stream of consciousness. That took some time for me to adjust, but once I did, I enjoyed the stories.
- A classic by a woman author. –North and Southby Elizabeth Gaskell. I’d never heard of her before, but it sounded like a good book and I wasn’t disappointed. While I wished part of it would have moved a little faster (and apparently it did in the original publication as a serial), it was a well-written story. Having lived in northern England and seen the difference that still exists between north and south, I loved reading of others’ experiences with the great difference present.
- A classic in translation. – A Hero of Our Time by Mikhail Lermontov. First off, I found the author’s obsession with Byron a little odd. Apparently he really likes everything about Byron and kept referencing him. Then again, we all have that one artist we just adore. I’m more of a Coleridge fan, but he’s entitled to like Byron.
I found myself rolling my eyes at Pechorin a lot of the time, but given that the author created the character specifically to illustrate the vices of the age, I’d say that’s a good thing. Unfortunately, Pechorin’s bad traits weren’t limited to that time, but have always been around in some form or another.
So overall, the book was ok. I don’t plan to reread it, but I didn’t feel like I was just slogging through it, either.
- A classic published before 1800.The Last of the Mohicans, by James Fenimore Cooper. I just read The Last of the Mohicans, and I quite enjoyed it. I don’t know why I’d never picked it up before, other than the fact that I don’t generally read much American lit (the exception being Poe). I found it a compelling story, aided by interweaving historical events and people into a fictional story. While Hawkeye’s biases towards the Delawares and against the Hurons colors the interactions, this serves, in my opinion, to add to the authenticity. Both sides held that the tribes who worked with them were better than the opposing tribes, even while they committed the same offenses – this is a common view, excusing the faults of our own side, to which I think we can all relate.
- A romance classic. –A Room with a Viewby E. M. Forster. Meh. I decided to tackle the romance classic first for the reading challenge, and I wanted to read one I hadn’t read yet. I wasn’t overly impressed. It had many of the standard romance classic elements, but not created in a way that stayed with me. None of Austen’s wit, for example (or even the Bronte’s memorable characters, much as I dislike their characters).
A Gothic or horror classic. – Draculaby Bram Stoker. I can’t recommend this book enough! It is such an amazing book. Everyone needs to go and read this. Well – what are you waiting for?! I love all the Catholic imagery, as well, and the allegorical nature of the character of Dracula. And just the richness of the book itself. One of the things I always notice about classics is how rich the language is, and that is especially true of Dracula. It’s one I plan to read again in the future. I can’t wait to share it with others, too.
8. A classic with a number in the title.– Richard III by William Shakespeare. It’s amazing how rereading a book years later can allow one to catch more beneath the surface. Especially now that I’ve studied more of the history of the Wars of the Roses and the Tudor period, I can see how the Shakespearean account uses the accepted Tudor history to make Richard into his greatest villain (well, maybe Iago fits that. No, I think Richard.).
9. A classic about an animal or which includes the name of an animal in the title.– To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. For some reason this was never on the syllabus when I was in school, so I’d never read it. I wish I had – it’s a beautiful book. While set in the 1930s, the observations about people, prejudice, and fearing those we don’t know are just as relevant today as when the book was written. I want to read Lee’s other novel now, and I will definitely reread this book in the future (probably with my children, when they’re a little older). I feel like it should be required reading in schools, and I’m sad to hear that some are now taking it off of reading lists. Obviously I will be recommending this book to others.
10.A classic set in a place you’d like to visit. – The Woman in Whiteby Wilkie Collins. I was intrigued by this, considered one of the earliest mystery novels, and the bonus is that it is set in England. Being an Anglophile, I could happily visit most places in the UK, and I could easily picture the countryside. As for the story itself, I found the changes in narration to be done well. I could’ve wished that the women were more interesting/less passive. The only one who is truly interesting is the one who is described as being more mannish and ugly. Overall, though, I enjoyed the book.
11.An award-winning classic. – The Rievers by William Faulkner. It’s not difficult to see why Faulkner won the Pulitzer for this book. It’s a comic masterpiece, yes, but it was also the commentary on race relations and the options available for men and women, black and white, that struck me. Faulkner had an eye for seeing the relationships between people of different color and sex and bringing that to light in his stories. Yes, he is also a product of his time, but I think he saw the disparity and lamented it. I felt that the thoughts he gave to Lucius at one point, as he mused on race relations, were in fact Faulkner’s own thoughts.
12. A Russian Classic. –The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. I saved this for last. To be honest, I wasn’t looking forward to reading more Russian lit. I know that somehow, somewhere, there has to be non-depressing Russian literature. This was certainly a well-written story, and perhaps more reflective of the realities of life than it would have been had Mitya been acquitted. I suppose it comes down to the question of whether art should reflect life, or provide hope and an escape from the realities of life. As a reflection of life, though, this book does a good job. While I don’t really want to reread it, I did enjoy reading this, at least once I got to book 3 of it. I’m glad to say I’ve read it, at least.