Thursday, May 9, 2019

My Second Classics Club List (Update: 50/50 in March 2021)

"Read the best books first, 
or you may not have a chance to read them at all."

What is the Classics Club? From the blog:

  • Choose 50+ classics.
  • List them at your blog.
  • Choose a reading completion goal date up to five years in the future and note that date on your classics list of 50+ titles.
  • E-mail the moderators of this blog ( with your list link and information and it will be posted on the Members Page.
  • Write about each title on your list as you finish reading it, and link it to your main list
  • When you’ve written about every single title, let the club know.
Happily, I completed my first Classics Club list of fifty titles on May 2, 2019. It's time to create a second list.

I spent a day browsing through and organizing the lists of books I am interested in reading I keep under Perpetual Challenges on my blog. I'm pleased with how this came out. (If you are interested in copying any or all of these lists, feel free to do so.)

The day culminated in the formation of my second Classics Club list. I am quite proud of it. There are fifty books I plan to try to read in the next five years. I have five long books, including The Decameron (554 pages), The Old Curiosity Shop (545 pages), Tom Jones (690 pages), Wives and Daughters (583 pages), and Dickens' Bleak House (800 pages). But most books on my list fall within the very-doable range of 200-400 pages. My list is heavy with adult fiction (20 titles) and children's fiction (11 titles). But I also included science fiction (2), short story collections (4), poetry (2), biographies (1), philosophy (2), folk tales (2), plays (3), mysteries (1), travel (1), and nature (1). 

All Passion SpentSackville-West, Vita1931Fiction174 pages
Around the World in 80 DaysVerne, Jules1873Science fiction256 pages
Arsene Lupin, Gentleman-BurglarLeblanc, Maurice1905Children's304 pages
Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, TheStein, Gertrude1933Biography238 pages
Bell Jar, ThePlath, Sylvia1963Fiction190 pages
Book of Tea, TheOkakura, Kakuzo1906Nonfiction160 pages
Cloven Viscount, TheCalvino, Italo1959Fiction128 pages
Collected Stories of Katherine Anne PorterPorter, Katherine Anne1965Fiction512 pages
CranfordGaskell, Elizabeth1853Fiction192 pages
Diary of Anne Frank, TheFrank, Anne1947Diary352 pages
Emperor of Ice Cream and Other PoemsStevens, Wallace1954Poetry96 pages
Essential Rumi, TheRumi1240Poetry340 pages
Family from One End Street, TheGarnett, Eve1937Children's212 pages
Four Loves, TheLewis, C. S.1958Spirituality180 pages
French Fairy Talesd'Aulnoy, Marie-Catherine (Madame)1697Children's896 pages
Friday's TunnelVerney, John1959Children's263 pages
Girl of the Limberlost, TheStratton-Porter, Gene1909Children's233 pages
Good Man is Hard to Find, AO'Connor, Flannery1955Short stories256 pages
Howards EndForster, E. M.1910Classic368 pages
In Search of Lost Time: Swann's WayProust, Marcel1927Fiction285 pages
Introduction to French PoetryAppelbaum, Stanley1991Poetry208 pages
Jungle Book, TheKipling, Rudyard1894Children's433 pages
King Arthur and the Knights of the Round TableGreen, Roger1953Legend330 pages
L'AssommoirZola, Emile1876Novel528 pages
Les Malheurs de SophieSégur, Comtesse de1857Children's228 pages
Little Women (Annotated)Alcott, Louisa May1868Children's736 pages
MaigretSimenon, Georges1934Mystery144 pages
Main StreetLewis, Sinclair1920Fiction368 pages
Moby DickMelville1852Fiction463 pages
My Friend Mr. LeakeyHaldane, J.B.S.1937Children's149 pages
My Sweet Orange TreeMauro de Vasconcelos, Jose1968Children's262 pages
Narrative of Sojourner TruthTruth, Sojourner1850Memoir290 pages
No ExitSartre, Jean-Paul1944Play60 pages
One Hundred Poems from the JapaneseRexroth, Kenneth1955Poetry140 pages
Pursuit of Love, TheMitford, Nancy1945Fiction247 pages
Right Ho, JeevesWodehouse, P. G.1934Fiction248 pages
Selected Stories of O. HenryHenry, O.1922Short stories544 pages
Seven Little AustraliansTurner, Ethel1894Children's240 pages
Short Walk in the Hindu Kush, ANewby, Eric1958Travel306 pages
Sea Around Us, TheCarson, Rachel1951Science482 pages
Silver Sword, TheSerrallier, Ian1956Children's181 pages
Stars My Destination, TheBester, Alfred1956Science fiction232 pages
StoriesChekhov, Anton1903Short stories384 pages
Tales of Snugglepot and CuddlepieGibbs, May1940Children's224 pages
Tom Brown's SchooldaysHughes, Thomas1857Children's420 pages
Tree Grows in Brooklyn, ASmith, Betty1943YA493 pages
Vicar of WakefieldGoldsmith, Oliver1766Fiction170 pages
War and PeaceTolstoy, Leo1869Fiction1229 pages
WeZamyatin, Yevgeni1924Science fiction224 pages
Wilderness EssaysMuir, John1920Nature296 pages

Update: 50/50 (March 2021)

All Passion Spent by Vita Sackville-West

Lord Slane is dead---what will become of his 88-year-old widow? The six children discuss this, and Lady Slane listens to all the plans and says, "I am going to live by myself."

She goes on to say, "...I have considered the eyes of the world for so long that I think it's time I had a holiday from them. If one is not to please oneself in old age, when is one to please oneself? There is so little time left!"

"I am going to become completely self-indulgent. I am going to wallow in old age."

And so Lady Slane rents a favorite house and makes new friends and reflects back upon her life and encourages her young granddaughter to make the choices she did not make, picking the choices of one's heart.

On old age: "The mind was as alert as ever, perhaps more alert, sharpened by the sense of imminent final interruption, spurred by the necessity of making the most of remaining time; only the body was a little shaky, not very certain of its reliability, not quite certain even of its sense of direction, afraid of stumbling over a step, of spilling a cup of tea, nervous, tremulous; aware that it must not be jostled or hurried, for fear of betraying its frail inadequacy."

A little more on old age: "Those days were gone when feeling burst its bounds and poured hot from the foundry, when the heart seemed likely to split with complex and contradictory desires; now there was nothing left but a landscape in monochrome, the features identical but the colours gone from them and nothing but a gesture left in place of speech."

Around the World in 80 Days by Jules Verne

Around the World in Eighty Days was my Classics Club spin pick this time. I had never read it before. I had never seen the movie. I actually knew nothing about the story.

The story takes place in the 1870s. Phileas Fogg bets his friends a boatload of money that he can travel all around the world in eighty days. Accompanying him on his trip are his valet Passapartout, a princess from India, and a detective, Mr. Fix. As they travel around the world, they are delayed by troubles on the railroad; a storm; the need to rescue the princess and the later legal difficulties this ensues; an attack by Native Americans; and other problems. But Passapartout is always instructed to reach deep into the money bag and this generally solves most of the problems. Most of the episodes along the way are not intended to be taken as realistic, I think; most of the adventures are simply that, adventures. The ending is quite satisfying, too, if you don't know what's coming.

I also watched the 1956 movie version with David Niven and acclaimed Mexican comic Cantinflas, and that was extraordinarily big, with a huge cast of characters (it's fun just trying to see who is in the movie) and sets and costumes. It won Best Picture and I think it holds up fairly well.

Arsene Lupin, Gentleman-Burglar by Maurice Leblanc

Who is this mysterious Arsène Lupin? He keeps announcing his upcoming appearance in the homes of very rich people to steal their possessions, and he is seemingly able to do the thievery without any trace of his entering or leaving. He steals only from the very, very rich. How is he able to do it?

Arsène Lupin is a classic mystery novel in France. It's on the list of the 1001 Children's Books You Must Read.

The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas by Gertrude Stein

Tedious and tedious and tedious. Sometimes reading this book felt like reading random pages of a (very popular) teen girl's diary. "I saw so-and-so and he is working on a new painting and Gertrude Stein was amused by him." "I saw so-and-so and he is writing a new novel and he bored Gertrude Stein." Yes, on and on and on. Every celebrity of her age visited Stein, I think. The book felt a like an thinly-disguised attempt to pump up the renown of Gertrude Stein herself. And the writing was unbearably tedious.

But, at the same time, some of the little stories were fun to read about. After all, Stein and Toklas hosted Hemingway. And Fitzgerald. And Picasso. Talked to them. Laughed with them. Ate with them. Argued with them.

Tedious. But oddly mesmerizing.

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

First reading:

I should not have read this book when I was sixteen.

I'm not sure anyone should read this book when she is sixteen.

It was dark and despairing and bleak and reading it left me feeling dark and despairing and bleak.

Nevertheless, The Bell Jar was the truest picture of teen depression I've ever read.

If only someone could write a book that good that would help teens find their way out of depression.

Second reading:

Did reading The Bell Jar at sixteen drop a bell jar on my head? Or was it already descending?

I was Esther as a teen, in many ways. I was competitive about academic achievement to the exclusion of everything else, and when all the prizes I'd worked for didn't come my way, I found myself lost and depressed and alone. Esther's experience provided no solace at sixteen; it only increased my pain.

Reading The Bell Jar as an adult who has scrambled to find ways to fight depression all her life was a different experience than reading the book as a teen. I saw how Esther isolated herself rather than finding people who could offer help. I saw how Esther plummeted rather than responded with resilience when her plans did not work out. I saw how the psychiatrists of Esther's time did not have the knowledge or the treatments to effectively help her.

The Bell Jar should be a book that is read and reread, with much to offer readers of all ages.

The Book of Tea by Kakuzo Okakura 

"Teaism is a cult founded on the adoration of the beautiful among the sordid facts of everyday existence. It inculcates purity and harmony, the mystery of mutual charity, the romanticism of the social order. It is essentially a worship of the Imperfect, as it is a tender attempt to accomplish something possible in this impossible thing we know as life."

"The long isolation of Japan from the rest of the world, so conducive to introspection, has been highly favourable to the development of Teaism. Our home and habits, costume and cuisine, porcelain, lacquer, painting--our very literature--all have been subject to its influence."

"(The taste of tea) has not the arrogance of wine, the self-consciousness of coffee, nor the simpering innocence of cocoa."

'Lotung, a Tang poet, wrote: "The first cup moistens my lips and throat, the second cup breaks my loneliness, the third cup searches my barren entrail but to find therein some five thousand volumes of odd ideographs. The fourth cup raises a slight perspiration,--all the wrong of life passes away through my pores. At the fifth cup I am purified; the sixth cup calls me to the realms of the immortals. The seventh cup--ah, but I could take no more! I only feel the breath of cool wind that rises in my sleeves. Where is Horaisan? Let me ride on this sweet breeze and waft away thither."'

"How can one be serious with the world when the world itself is so ridiculous!"

"Those of us who know not the secret of properly regulating our own existence on this tumultuous sea of foolish troubles which we call life are constantly in a state of misery while vainly trying to appear happy and contented. We stagger in the attempt to keep our moral equilibrium, and see forerunners of the tempest in every cloud that floats on the horizon. Yet there is joy and beauty in the roll of billows as they sweep outward toward eternity."

The Cloven Viscount by Italo Calvino

Is this the strangest story I have ever read? Truly I think it is. Here's a plot summary from Wikipedia. Decide for yourself.

"The Viscount Medardo of Terralba and his squire Kurt ride across the plague-ravaged plain of Bohemia en route to join the Christian army in the Turkish wars of the seventeenth century. On the first day of fighting, a Turkish swordsman unhorses the inexperienced Viscount. Fearless, he scrambles over the battlefield with sword bared, and is split in two by a cannonball hitting him square in the chest.

As a result of the injury, Viscount Medardo becomes two people: Gramo (the Bad) and Buono (the Good). The army field doctors save Gramo through a stitching miracle; the Viscount is "alive and cloven".[1] With one eye and a dilated single nostril, he returns to Terralba, twisting the half mouth of his half face into a scissors-like half smile. Meanwhile, a group of hermits find Buono in the midst of a pile of dead bodies. They tend to him and he recovers. After a long pilgrimage, Buono returns home.

There are now two Viscounts in Terralba. Gramo lives in the castle, Buono lives in the forest. Gramo causes damage and pain, Buono does good deeds. Pietrochiodo, the carpenter, is more adept at building guillotines for Gramo than the machines requested by Buono. Eventually, the villagers dislike both viscounts, as Gramo's malevolence provokes hostility and Buono's altruism provokes uneasiness.

Pamela, the peasant, prefers Buono to Gramo, but her parents want her to marry Gramo. She is ordered to consent to Gramo's marriage proposal. On the day of the wedding, Pamela marries Buono, because Gramo arrives late. Gramo challenges Buono to a duel to decide who shall be Pamela's husband. As a result, they are both severely wounded.

Dr. Trelawney takes the two bodies and sews the two sides together. Medardo finally is whole. He and his wife Pamela (now the Viscountess) live happily together until the end of their days."

What in the world is the wise Italo Calvino trying to tell me?

Collected Stories of Katherine Anne Porter

“It was, I think, the fact that I had participated in death and I knew what death was and had almost experienced it,” she continued. “Now, if you have had that, and survived it, come back from it, you are no longer like other people, and there’s no use deceiving yourself that you are.”

Katherine Anne Porter spoke in a 1963 interview about the time she contracted influenza during the 1919 resurgence of the pandemic. Subsequently, she wrote the novella for which she is most famous, Pale Horse, Pale Rider.

I came to this collection intrigued by the pandemic theme of this story and by the fact that Porter is a Texan, but I left with a deep appreciation for Porter's writing. Porter sees the world and she writes just what she sees. She doesn't stick to writing from within her own narrow culture of her time, either; somehow she is able to sneak little glimpses of other cultures, too.

V. S. Pritchett wrote of Porter in the New Statesman: "Miss Porter's singularity as a writer is in her truthful explorations of a complete consciousness of life. Her prose is severe and exact; her ironies are subtle but hard...." Yes.

Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell

A modern soap opera aint’ got nothing on Crawford. A wayward son who leaves home abruptly, and his mother dies in her grief at his departure. A bank scandal and a rich woman loses everything. A high-and-mighty woman arrives, townspeople are kept from her because they are not good enough, and it is learned that the woman wasn’t even rich enough to ever see the queen.

A fabulous picture of small-town England in the mid-1800s.

The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank

How is it that I have never read Anne Frank's diary? I've read parts, little pieces, snippets, and, of course, I know the story of her life. But what was she like as a person? How did the confinement affect her and her family? What was it like while she was in hiding?

Anne is feisty, speaking up to her teachers, her parents, her friends, and yet this did not have the effect of putting others off her. No, her honesty and forthright manner seemed to draw others to her. It also led to lots of conflicts with the adults in her life. Her entire time in hiding seemed to be spent in conflict with one or more of the others with her.

As Anne gets older, she learns to moderate her anger and she eventually finds ways to get along with others, though she always wishes she had a different sort of mother and she still finds fault with all the people she shares the hiding space with. Anne's sharply critical nature surprised me, yet it seemed to serve her well during her short life.

It's the deep sadnesses of the if-only and how-it-could-have-been of Anne's life that reminded me all through the book that this is all Anne Frank would ever have to share with the world. And yet we do have this, a completely honest picture of a desperate time from a girl who made the most of her life while she had it and who dared to share every detail of her thoughts.

The Emperor of Ice Cream and Other Poems by Wallace Stevens

I took a long time to read this little 96-page collection of early poetry from master poet Wallace Stevens, and I'm glad I did. A couple of the poems in this book, including Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird, are among my old favorites. Some of the poems are likely to become new favorites. As I read, I felt like I was trying to read art; I mostly felt like I was reading along, admiring the beauty of the words, and the set of the phrases, and occasionally getting a flash of what that beauty was all about.

The Essential Rumi by Rumi

I've finished Rumi. In a way. I've come to the last page. I've closed the book. But I'm pretty sure I will never really finish Rumi. I will come back to Rumi again and again.

Rumi is a mixed bag. Brilliant, so much is brilliant. And then there are a few pieces that I thought, Huh? Really? But mostly brilliant. And wise.

Read Rumi. You know you want to. See what you think. For yourself.

The Family from One End Street by Eve Garnett

The Family from One-End Street is a three hundred page children's chapter book originally published in 1937. It's the story of a poor family. Mom is a washerwoman and Dad is a dustman (I had to look that up...he is what we in the US refer to as a garbage collector). The family has seven very different children. Lily Rose is the oldest and finds her name to be embarrassing. Kate is bright and does extremely well in school. The twin boys, Jim and John, like adventure. Jo, short for Josiah, tries to find ways to get enough money to go to the cinema often. Peg is the youngest daughter, and William is the baby.

The family has struggles and little adventures and great joys, and it's all set in a small town in England in difficult economic times. There are beautiful little black-and-white drawings throughout the book. It's just the sort of story I would have loved when I was a child, with something for everyone.

The Four Loves by C. S. Lewis

C. S. Lewis takes on love. Lewis defines four loves: affection (storge), friendship (philia), romantic love (eros), and charity (agape). Lewis is wise and yet somehow accessible.

The book is stuffed full of brilliance. I enjoyed it by reading it, and then listening to the delightful YouTube C.S. Lewis Doodle.

French Fairy Tales by Marie-Catherine d'Aulnoy 

Fairy Tales is a classic collection of French stories. It is on the 1001 Children's Books You Must Read list. 

French Fairy Tales include stories that have found their way into English via Andrew Lang's fairy books. But the stories are much, much longer than those I typically read in English, some stretching on for almost one hundred pages, with elaborate descriptions of setting and long conversations between characters. 

The entire book, with thirteen stories, consists of almost nine hundred pages. The stories were originally part of the oral traditions of France. It was popular to write down the stories in French salons in the 1600's and that is when this collection was first set down in written form.

Friday's Tunnel by John Verney

There are 1001 Books you almost give up hope of ever reading; some books are long out of print and completely unavailable in your country. But then, suddenly, unexpectedly, you see one of these impossible-to-find books has been picked up by a new publisher and reissued, and your heart is filled with happiness.

This is the story of one of those wonderful, zany families you always wished you could be a part of, with a plethora of kids, an adventurous father, a clever mother, and oodles of fascinating family friends who are scientists and madcap race car drivers and world leaders and journalists and even, possibly, spies. Friday Callendar (yes, the children all have quirky names, too, as suits the members of such a tribe) is digging a tunnel, their father is off (or is he?) to a remote island where trouble is stirring, and his sister February is trying to help solve the mysteries that surround her: Where is February's father? What is happening on the strange island of Capria? Who are the odd people she encounters in the nearby village? Is there such a thing as caprium? And, if there is, what does caprium do, and why do America and Russia want it?

You will love all the characters in this book so much that you will wish John Verney had written a long series with all these folks. Happily, it does seem that there is a second book, and I think I must look for it. You mustn't miss this Friday's Tunnel.

The Girl of the Limberlost by Gene Stratton-Porter

I don't want to make it sound like it's perfect, but it is an awfully good story, a hopeful story, an inspiring story, and I never would have read it if I hadn't seen it on the 1001 Children's Books You Must Read list. A Girl of the Limberlost is the story of a girl, Elnora Comstock, who desires above all things to go to high school. Elnora's mother, sadly, seems determined to thwart her every attempt to do so. Elnora meets tremendous obstacles and nevertheless finds ways to overcome them.

A Girl of the Limberlost addresses caring for nature and the abilities of women to achieve, both of which must have been astonishing to the readers of the time when it was first published in 1909.

There are many quotes I enjoyed reading:

"I believe the best way to get an answer to prayer is to work for it," muttered Elnora grimly.

What you are lies with you. If you are lazy, and accept your lot, you may live in it. If you are willing to work, you can write your name anywhere you choose, among the only ones who live beyond the grave in this world, the people who write books that help, make exquisite music, carve statues, paint pictures, and work for others. Never mind the calico dress, and the coarse shoes. Work at your books, and before long you will hear yesterday's tormentors boasting that they were once classmates of yours.

What you are lies with you. If you are lazy, and accept your lot, you may live in it. If you are willing to work, you can write your name anywhere you choose, among the only ones who live beyond the grave in this world, the people who write books that help, make exquisite music, carve statues, paint pictures, and work for others. Never mind the calico dress, and the coarse shoes. Work at your books, and before long you will hear yesterday's tormentors boasting that they were once classmates of yours.

To me, it seems the only pleasure in this world worth having is the joy we derive from living for those we love, and those we can help.

"There never was a moment in my life," she said, "when I felt so in the Presence, as I do now. I feel as if the Almighty were so real, and so near, that I could reach out and touch Him, as I could this wonderful work of His, if I dared. I feel like saying to Him: 'To the extent of my brain power I realize Your presence, and all it is in me to comprehend of Your power. Help me to learn, even this late, the lessons of Your wonderful creations. Help me to unshackle and expand my soul to the fullest realization of Your wonders. Almighty God, make me bigger, make me broader!'"

The world is full of happy people, but no one ever hears of them. You must fight and make a scandal to get into the papers. No one knows about all the happy people. I am happy myself, and look how perfectly inconspicuous I am."

The Limberlost is life. Here it is a carefully kept park. You motor, sail, and golf, all so secure and fine. But what I like is the excitement of choosing a path carefully, in the fear that the quagmire may reach out and suck me down; to go into the swamp naked-handed and wrest from it treasures that bring me books and clothing, and I like enough of a fight for things that I always remember how I got them. I even enjoy seeing a canny old vulture eyeing me as if it were saying: 'Ware the sting of the rattler, lest I pick your bones as I did old Limber's.' I like sufficient danger to put an edge on life.

A Good Man is Hard to Find by Flannery O'Connor

I don't know what I was expecting but it wasn't this.

The characters in a Flannery O'Connor story are about as far from politically correct as you can get. The characters in her stories point out the perceived flaws and failings of every person they meet or know. And every person they meet or know has numerous flaws and failings - handicaps, limitations, problems with race or gender or ethnicity. And to make it even more uncomfortable, the characters rest in the certainty of the validity of their cruel judgments, and often openly note their adherence to Christianity.

Oh, but it's an uncomfortable read. You know that these people were real and common in their time (the book was published in 1955) and you suspect they are probably real and common today.

Howards End by E. M. Forster

It felt like the perfect time to read this book after watching the PBS Masterpiece mini-series. And it was.

Howards End is the story of rich and poor, of the difficulties of befriending others, of the price paid when a relationship is broken, and of the sacrifices made in marriage. There are three families in the story. The Schlegels are a brother and two sisters who live together in affluence and read and listen to music and discuss important ideas with their friends. The Wilcoxes are a wealthy family with three adult children. The Basts are a poor man and wife. The various members of the families have their lives intertwined with the various members of the other families in ways that hurt and challenge and destroy.

Howards End will be one of my favorite reads of the year.

In Search of Lost Time: Swann's Way by Marcel Proust

I listened to an audiobook of Swann's Way. It was over seventeen hours. Like my writing teacher said yesterday when I told her I was listening to an audiobook of Swann's Way, it's the perfect classic to listen to (unless, she added, you are going to be tested on it), as it goes on and on with details that are superfluous to the story.

There are really two parts to the book. The first part is the story of the narrator as a child, and I have to say that I much preferred this part of the book. The narrator tells stories of his childhood, his deep fears, his need for his mother, his peculiar aunt, and each story is filled with rich and sensual details. The second part is the story of Swann, a friend of the child's parents, and Swann's obsession with Odette. Swann only grew to be intrigued with Odette after he realized she did not care for him, and that seemed oddly true. Nevertheless, I quickly grew tired of both Swann and Odette; I kept hoping the story would return to the child, but it never did.

Will I read on? After all, there are apparently six more volumes. I don't know. Maybe. There is an allure to this writing.

Introduction to French Poetry edited by Stanley Appelbaum

A nice overview of French poetry, from the earliest poets to modern-day poets, with a little biographical information about each, along with a sample poem in French and English.

The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling

The Jungle Book is a collection of seven stories, three of which (my favorites) center on Mowgli. Mowgli is a human child raised by wolves in the jungle. Mowgli learns how to survive in the jungle from his animal teachers.

The laws of the jungle are clear and the consequences of not obeying them are stark: generally death or death-like exclusion from the group.

I've never seen the movies and I knew little about the book until I began to listen to the audiobook this week. I wasn't as captivated by the other stories (the mongoose Rikki-Tikki-Tavi; an elephant-handler; the animals of the English army in India; and, oddly, the story of a seal in the Bering Sea), but I was so intrigued by Mowgli that I listened to those stories twice.

One of the 1001 Children's Books You Must Read.

King Arthur and His Knights of the Round Table by Roger Lancelyn Green

Merlin created a sword in a stone, and it was the young Arthur who pulled the sword out, he alone who could do this task, and because of accomplishing the task, he was crowned king. Arthur began a reign of knights who went out into the world to drive back the barbaric Saxons and who fought for goodness. Many knights came to sit at Arthur's Round Table including Launcelot, Gareth, Gawain, Percivale, Bors, Tristam, and Galahad, and this book collects many of their most famous stories. But it also ends with the destruction of the beautiful kingdom Arthur built, with the evil by his wicked cousin, Sir Mordred, and the betrayal of his Arthur's queen, Guinevere, with his friend, Launcelot.

Many, many battles, like this one:

"But presently they staggered to their feet, drew their swords, and rushed together like two fierce lions, lashing at one another until pieces of armour flew from them on every side, and the blood ran down, dyeing the lawn a darker, rustier red."

Some of the most famous stories are that of Sir Tristam and the Fair Iseult; Sir Gawain and the Loathly Lady; The Knight of the Kitchen; and The Quest for the Holy Grail.

L'Assommoir by Emile Zola

I am now officially a Zola fan.

I finished my first Emile Zola book while I was in Paris, and it went straight to my list of Favorite Books Ever and Must-Reads. L'Assommoir is the story of a poor washerwoman, Gervaise, and her decline into deeper and deeper poverty and decadence and despair. It's a brilliant portrait of a woman's life during the mid-to-late 1800's.

Les Malheurs de Sophie by Comtesse de Ségur 

Sophie's Misfortunes is a French children's classic. Sophie is four and is always disobeying her mother. With terrible results. Especially for animals.

This was an awful translation. Especially awful were the incorrect pronouns. I only know a little French, but I think I could have done better than this.

Nevertheless, it's the first time I've found an English translation. I suppose it's better than nothing.

Of course it's on the 1001 Children's Books list.

Little Women (Annotated) by Louisa May Alcott

The recent release of a new movie version of Little Women inspired our book club to choose this for our February read. At the heart of the story are the wonderful and vivid characters of Meg, Jo, Amy, and Beth, and their fascinating mother as well as their next-door neighbor, Laurie. There are adventure and travel, romance and illness, redemption and's a rich and thoughtful story.

This edition is ideal for anyone who would like to look carefully at the story and at Louisa May Alcott's life that inspired the story.

Maigret by Georges Simenon

Maigret works a side of Paris the tourists don't see; it's dark Paris, seedy Paris, the Paris of solicited liaisons and Underworld figures and greed and lust and wickedness. Maigret is at home here. He is retired in this volume of Inspector Maigret, but his nephew, now working on the force, is accused of a murder, and Maigret is asked by his sister-in-law to intervene. Maigret is quickly able to sort things out and send the bad guys where they belong and return his out-of-his-depth nephew back home. It's the nuance in this book that is remarkable. Simenon tells a complete story in about a hundred pages, but at the edge of every scene are feelings and stories that are barely viewed, and yet add color and resonance to the story.

Main Street by Sinclair Lewis

Recently I've become interested in America. All the nasty conflicts between the major political parties, the incessant greed even among those who are inordinately rich, the racism against black people and immigrants and Muslims, the spread of lies, the denial of science---all of these things have made me conscious of wanting to better understand my country and its past.

And that's the reason I picked up Main Street. And I think I did learn a lot about America of today from this book set in the 1910's.

The central character is Carol. She develops lots of ideas about how she wants to improve the world in college and during her time working in big cities, and she married Will and moves with him to start a life in his small town in the Midwest. She tries to improve the town by joining groups and pushing for art and poetry and discussion. She tries to get the schools and city hall improved. She tries to form a dramatic society. Everything she does ends in failure, and Carol is in despair.

It is startling to me to see how contemporary the people she associates with seem, with their self-satisfaction, their pettiness, their tendency to gossip cruelly about anyone who goes against their norms. The town's elite has little to say about the poorer elements of the town, except derision. Political movements to empower women or to unite the farmers to work together for change are quickly squashed.

It's only after Carol leaves and takes a job in Washington D. C. that she is able to return and find a new way to approach change, from within the existing structure.

I'm now inspired to look for other American novels like Winesburg Ohio. I'd love to hear other recommendations.

Moby Dick by Herman Melville

I've been a little obsessed this month. I read Moby Dick.

I'm not an expert. I'm just a regular, ordinary person who loves to read, a person who felt like I should read Moby Dick., and so I did.

It took me all month. I read the book while listening to narration, either from the Moby Dick podcast or the Moby Dick Big Read.

I found myself thinking about Moby Dick. A lot.

Of what did my Moby Dick experience consist?

I read a lot of books about Moby Dick. Kid books. Comic books. Whale nonfiction. Historical fiction about a (possible) relationship between Melville and Nathaniel Hawthorne. A whole book on why people should read Moby Dick.

I wrote reviews for ten Moby-Dick-related books:
Moby Dick: 10 Minute Classics retold by Philip Edwards and illustrated by Adam Horsepool
Moby Dick (Classics Illustrated, No. 5) Comics - 1943 by Herman Melville
The Whaleship Essex: The True Story of Moby Dick by Jil Fine
Moby Dick retold by Lew Sayre Schwartz, illustrated by Dick Giordano
Why Read Moby Dick? by Nathaniel Philbrick
The Whale: A Love Story by Mark Beauregard
Spying on Whales: The Past, Present, and Future of Earth's Most Awesome Creatures by Nick Pyenson
In the Heart of the Sea The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex by Nathaniel Philbrick
The Whale: In Search of the Giants of the Sea by Philip Hoare
The Sea Mammal Alphabet Book by Jerry Pallotta

I loved the vocabulary in Moby Dick. I wrote a lot about the wonderful words in the book:

Moby Dick: Great Words to Note and Save and Use
Moby Dick: Odd Words We Should Add to Our Vocabularies Today
Moby Dick: Whale Words and Boat Words

I wrote four other posts about Moby Dick and talked about Moby Dick covers, Moby Dick characters, Moby Dick art, and Moby Dick themes:

But What is Moby Dick About? Why Everyone Should Read Moby Dick
Classic Book Characters from Moby Dick: Who is Your Favorite?
A Sea of Moby Dicks: Who Knew There Were So Many Covers?
Moby Dick: Art

I watched a Moby Dick movie.

I listened to Moby Dick music.

I made a Moby Dick poll: The Moby Dick Character I Like Best.

What are my take-aways from reading Moby Dick?

1. Many people have told me they have tried to read Moby Dick and came away thinking it was a daunting book or a boring book. Another huge group of people told me they never want to read Moby Dick. It is possible that Moby Dick is the classic that the least number of people ever plan or want to read.

2. A very small group of people have told me they read Moby and loved this book. Moby Dick has a tiny, but devoted group who are obsessed with this book.

3. Reading Moby Dick is daunting. The Great Gatsby is 7.3 on Accelerated Reader's ATOS readability scale. Tom Sawyer is 8.1. Anna Karenina is 9.6. War and Peace is 10.1. Moby Dick is 10.3.

4. I thought Moby Dick was the story of a captain who hunted a whale. It is. But Moby Dick is so much more than just the story of a man seeking a whale. It is the story of a man seeking a new life by going to sea. It's the story of man vs. nature. It's the story of whales. It's a story of adventure, drama, and even comedy.

5. I expected Moby Dick to be structured like a typical adventure novel. It is not. Moby Dick reads like a contemporary novel, with chapters written as plays, with chapters written as soliloquies, with chapters written like nonfiction text, and with paragraphs full of action but intermingled with deeply philosophical thoughts.

6. I thought if I read far enough into the novel I would grow to love it, and that happened. I did. I loved Moby Dick, but it took me 655 pages to decide that. In the process of reading it, I also disliked huge portions of it. I can't imagine that I will reread it, but I'm terribly glad I read it.

Have you read Moby Dick?

My Friend Mr. Leakey by J. B. S. Haldane

"I hope Abdu'l Makkar won't be late with the strawberries," he said.

"Strawberries?" I asked in amazement, for it was the middle of January.

"Oh yes, I've sent Abdu'l Makkar, who is a jinn, to New Zealand for some. Of course it's summer there. He oughtn't to be long now, if he has been good, but you know what jinns are, they have their faults, like the rest of us; curiosity, especially. When one sends them on long errands they will fly too high. They like to get up quite close to Heaven to overhear what the angels are saying, and then the angels throw shooting stars at them. Then they drop their parcels, or come home half scorched. He ought to be back soon, he's been away over an hour. Meanwhile we'll have some other fruit, in case he's late."

And on and on and on the story goes, as if J. B. S. Haldane is writing down a weaving, winding tale of the life of a magician just as it comes to him, full of zany details like an octopus servant and flying carpets and visits with penguins that are oddly scientific.

A 1001 Children's Book.

My Sweet Orange Tree by José Mauro de Vasconcelos

Zeze is a precocious five-year-old who lives in a poor neighborhood in Rio de Janeiro. He enjoys playing tricks on others which upsets his family and results in many severe beatings. When Zeze finds a good friend, his life begins to change.

I am not sure if I ever read a children's book that made me feel such strong empathy for a character. Zeze is only five, and yet his life is full of pain and misery. He is only five, and yet he knows how to work, to make money, to make deals, to get along in life. He is only five, but he seems much older, and perhaps that is because he has had to become much more worldly.

My Sweet Orange Tree shares a life completely different from my own, though Zeze and I were both born at similar times. It is said to have been based on the author's own life, and the stories told sound very real.

A 1001 Children's Book.

The Narrative of Sojourner Truth

Sojourner Truth relates the story of her life, from her childhood and early adulthood as a slave to her spiritual awakenings as a young person and finally to her role as a spokesperson for both the rights of African-Americans and spirituality. There's an underlying honesty to the text as if she is working things out as she goes along that is true and refreshing.

No Exit by Jean-Paul Sartre

Three people are escorted into a room, a room where they are to stay for all eternity. All three are dead. We come to know each character and are not surprised to learn that each has lead a life of great wickedness. "Hell is---" one of the three tells us, "other people!"

100 Poems from the Japanese edited by Kenneth Rexroth

American poet Kenneth Rexroth has translated and collected over one hundred poems from the Japanese in this thin book of poetry. "Japanese poetry does what poetry does everywhere: it intensifies and exalts experience," Rexroth tells us in his introduction to the book.

Here are a few of my favorite poems:

Have you any idea
How long a night can last, spent
Lying alone and sobbing?

I have always known
That at last I would
Take this road, but yesterday
I did not know that it would be today.

That spring night I spent
Pillowed on your arm
Never really happened
Except in a dream.
Unfortunately I am
Talked about anyway.

No, the human heart
Is unknowable.
But in my birthplace
The flowers still smell
The same as always.

Autumn evening —
A crow on a bare branch.

No one spoke.
The host, the guest.
The white chrysanthemums.

The Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford

Fanny Logan narrates the story of her cousin, Linda Radlett, the central character in The Pursuit of Love. The Radletts are a curious and wealthy family, and the children grow up between the wars in England. Fanny writes, "Linda was not only my favourite cousin, but, then and for many years, my favourite human being." The Radletts are a large family; (t)he great advantage of living in a large family is that early lesson of life’s essential unfairness." "But, while they (the Radletts) picked up a great deal of heterogeneous information, and gilded it with their own originality, while they bridged gulfs of ignorance with their charm and high spirits, they never acquired any habit of concentration, they were incapable of solid hard work." Yes, odd, but charming and fun.

I delighted in the characters and in the subtle humor of the writing. Here's a little example, with Linda describing her attempts to take on doing housework for the first time during her second marriage to a poor man: "But oh how dreadful it is, cooking, I mean. That oven—Christian puts things in and says: ‘Now you take it out in about half an hour.’ I don’t dare tell him how terrified I am, and at the end of half an hour I summon up all my courage and open the oven, and there is that awful hot blast hitting one in the face. I don’t wonder people sometimes put their heads in and leave them out of sheer misery. Oh, dear, and I wish you could have seen the Hoover running away with me, it suddenly took the bit between its teeth and made for the lift shaft. How I shrieked—Christian only just rescued me in time."

Some of the funniest lines are Linda's thoughts about revolutionaries of her time:

"And Left-wing people are always sad because they mind dreadfully about their causes, and the causes are always going so badly."

"He was really only interested in mass wretchedness, and never much cared for individual cases, however genuine their misery, while the idea that it is possible to have three square meals a day and a roof and yet be unhappy or unwell, seemed to him intolerable nonsense."

It's a light comedy but with tragic overtones. And now I'm adding the sequel, Love in a Cold Climate, to my future reading list.

Right Ho, Jeeves by P. G. Wodehouse

Need a good, hearty laugh during these strange, dark days? I encourage you to seek out Jeeves.

Jeeves is the valet to rich and idle Bertie Wooster. Jeeves is extremely clever, described by author P. G. Wodehouse as "a walking Encyclopedia Britannica." Wooster, as Jeeves' boss, is both pompous and unaware of Jeeves' true worth. It's the wonderful, deferential relationship between the servant and his master that sparks the comedy in the story.

Completely delightful.

The Sea Around Us by Rachel Carson

In 1951, after researching her subject for eight years, Rachel Carson published The Sea Around Us. It's the story of the ocean, including its origins, the minerals in it, the tides, the currents, the life that resides in it, and more.

Carson writes in a way that is both beautiful and yet scientifically accurate (for her time). She explains complex systems in a manner that makes them explicable to even the least scientific (me) among us.

Selected Stories of O. Henry by O. Henry

Author O. Henry has become iconic, associated in people's minds with the idea of a trick ending in short stories, so much that he has had a preeminent award in short story writing named after him.

He also lived most of his short life in Texas.

For these reasons, I was curious enough about him to choose a book of his short stories for my Classics Club list.

I listened to an audio of much of the book. I also read many of the most well-known stories again, including "The Last Leaf" and "The Gift of the Magi."

My takeaway? O. Henry was a master of the short story, taking the reader instantly deep into the lives of characters in only a few pages. He, like no other, saw the sometimes humorous-often disconcerting-always true paradoxes of life and he peopled his stories with folks characterized by these paradoxes, and he related his tales brimming with these paradoxes.

Seven Little Australians by Ethel Turner

“But in Australia a model child is - I say it not without thankfulness - an unknown quantity. It may be that the miasmas of naughtiness develop best in the sunny brilliancy of our atmosphere. It may be that the land and the people are so young-hearted together, and the children's spirits are not crushed and saddened by the shadow of long years' sorrowful history. There is a lurking sparkle of joyousness and rebellion and mischief in nature here, and therefore in children.”

This is a classic children's book, the story of a family in Australia with seven rather difficult children.

You can't help but like this family, with real children who disobey their parents, act willfully, and speak back to their elder; with a real stepmom who tires easily from the work that goes along with trying to keep the children in line; with a real dad who is constantly forced to discipline the children. The children are willful, yes, but charming, too, and the dad is strict, but loving. 

All isn't joy and happiness in this world; I don't want to say too much, but there are several very sad parts of the story. 

One of the 1001 Children's Books You Must Read Before You Grow Up.

A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush by Eric Newby

Eric Newby left a decade-long career in the fashion industry and embarked on a new life as a travel writer in 1956 when he took off with a friend on an ill-considered, almost-unprepared-for trip to Afghanistan. It’s a delight of a story, full of danger and humor and success and failure. Bill Bryson ain't got nothing on Eric Newby. A classic travel book.

The Silver Sword by Ian Serrallier

World War II is over. Three siblings---Ruth, Bronia, and Edek---along with their new friend, Jan, are on their way to Switzerland to find their father. The home of the three siblings in Poland has been destroyed by the war, and their mother and father were both taken away by the Germans. Jan has been orphaned and is living on the streets, making his way by hook or crook.

It's a story of adventure, of making their way on foot, scrounging for a place to stay in a barn or with a kind family, searching for food. It's a story with much to say about the right and wrong things to do, a story that would be excellent for discussion with children. Is it right or wrong to steal food when you are starving? And what if you are stealing from food that is marked for your own hungry people? Are all German soldiers wicked? What about the Russian ones?

It's based on true stories of children after the war, and these are stories children of today probably haven't heard. How do mere children survive a long trek?

A 1001 Children's Book You Must Read Before You Grow Up.

The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester

Gully Foyle has been trying to survive in deep space for 170 days when a spaceship approaches, but the spaceship refuses his pleas to pick him, and Foyle is left with a deep hatred for the ship, its owners, and its captain. Foyle is captured and tattooed with a horrifying tiger on his face, and his anger grows stronger, and he is driven by a desire for revenge. His attempts are unsuccessful, and Foyle ends up in prison where he meets Jisbella McQueen who teaches him to hone his emotions and helps him to partially remove the tattoos.

I felt a need to read some classic scifi, and this book was at the top of many lists. I was intrigued by Foyle's world created by author Alfred Bester in 1956, with the rise of corporations and the wars going on between planets and the abilities of people to jaunt, to travel quickly between distant locations. The people were almost all unlikeable, especially the main character, and that made the story difficult to read.

I liked it, but didn't love it.

Stories by Anton Chekhov

We never read Chekhov in high school. Or college. Why? Why did no teacher share the wonder that is Chekhov with me?

This is a short collection of stories, seven of them, read by Stephen Fry, and it includes An Avenger, A Blunder, Boys, The Huntsman, The Lady with the Dog, Misery, and Oysters. Chekhov starts right in with the action, with characters in trouble; all the extraneous material has been sliced away, leaving only the important. The stories are as mesmerizing as any I've ever heard before, with boys threatening to run away and doing so, with an estranged couple, with a starving man and his son nearing a restaurant, and more...I already want to read these again.

Tales of Snugglepot and Cuddlepie by May Gibbs

Snugglepot and Cuddlepie are foster gum-nut brothers who live in the Australian bush. Together they set off on an adventure to find humans. Mr. Lizard accompanies them, and along the way they meet Ragged Blossom, who also join them. They meet many new friends, but find they must fight the wicked Mrs. Snake and the Bad Banksia Men.

Snugglepot and Cuddlepie is one of Australia's best-loved children's books. It was first published in 1941.

One of the 1001 Children's Books You Must Read.

Tom Brown's Schooldays by Thomas Hughes

Tom Brown is sent off to school when an epidemic breaks out in his local school, and, at first, his times at school are scarred with incessant bullying. But then Tom is befriended by Harry East and he is given charge of young George Arthur, and things begin to change. Tom gradually becomes a man of character.

I enjoyed this look at British schools in the 1830s, especially after learning that the author based the story on his own time away at school.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn tells the story of Francie Nolan and her family, from her childhood to her young adulthood. Francie grows up fast, often hungry, with her mom working in the poorly-paid job of janitor, and her dad seldom working. It's a powerful story, set in early-20th century Brooklyn, and Francie suffers many setbacks including the early loss of her father and having to quit school to go to work.

The Vicar of Wakefield by Oliver Goldsmith

Not every classic story is going to be a five-star read, I guess. I had such high hopes for this book, and for the first half of the book, my hopes were realized. But then I hit the last half, and the story sagged and dragged, and the humor got lost, and it felt like melodrama.

The Vicar of Wakefield is the story of a vicar, his wife, and his children, who live quite comfortably on a sizable inheritance. Things go along quite well until the inheritance is poorly invested and the vicar ends up bankrupt.

Nevertheless, the vicar adjusts to his new circumstances, and the family learns to handle the new ways of life.

But about midway through the story, Goldsmith pulls out all the stops and throws everything disastrous for the family into the plot. It just didn't hold together for me, and the ending seemed exceptionally unlikely.

Overall, a disappointment, one of the few I've had on my Classics Club path.

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

Whew! Let me start by saying that is one long and complex novel. I started it on January 1st and here I am at the end of the year and I've just finished it. That's 1,225 pages of love and hatred, new life and death, marriage and separation, sickness and healing, friendship and animosity, and, yes, even war and peace. Everything is in this book.

I was most taken (and this was a surprise for me) with the war scenes. These scenes that take place during the war were not what I thought about war at all. War leaders give instructions to soldiers for battle plans and nothing is carried out as planned. Soldiers go running, many for home, when the battles begin. These war scenes felt true to life.

The other thing about War and Peace that I found to be very true is the depiction of relationships in the book. Love sparks and fades. Some relationships grow slowly over time, and some grow overnight.

This has been a remarkable experience for me, reading this complex book over a long period of time, giving me time to reflect upon it, reread parts, and think about it carefully. I have a deep respect for Tolstoy as a writer after reading this book.

We by Yevgeni Zamyatin

D-503 lives in One State, a nation created to invoke perfect harmony and happiness, a nation that runs on laws of logic and by requiring all the citizens of the state to subsume their own wants to that of the state. D-503, like all the other members of his society, sees One State as a paradise...until he meets I-330, and she challenges all he has thought of as ideal.

The stilted language, probably a result of the translation, and what I saw as the triteness of the storyline together combined to create a meh-experience for me in reading this book.

Wilderness Essays by John Muir

I may have finished reading this collection of essays, but, now that I have found him, I will never stop reading John Muir. Muir takes you deep into nature, deep into glaciers, deep into the wonders of Yosemite, deep into the glories of Yellowstone, and you don't want to return to 2019. His essays, unexpectedly, are not dated at all; the essays could have been written today, as the lands he writes about are still (many, thanks to his efforts) kept as holy ground. Muir writes like no other nature writer I've ever read, with the factual detail of a scientist and the eloquence of a poet.

Everyone should read these essays.

I'd love to hear your thoughts.


  1. What a fun list! I'm particularly looking forward to what you think about the children's classics--they're mostly new to me.

    I have We on my classics club list and read it last summer and quite liked it. Some of the others I read pre-blogging, but Bleak House is one of my favorite Dickens.

    Congratulations on finishing your first list!

    1. I not only have never read We, but, despite having a ten-year run of nothing but sci fi, I'd never even heard of it until I joined the Classics Club.

  2. Yay! I was so inspired by your recent wrap-up posts that I have put together my first list. I'll start next week, and the list will go up on the blog then. I think we have Bell Jar and Howard's End in common.

    I re-read Jungle Book a couple of years ago, and like a lot of classic children's lit, I definitely see more racism and colonialism in it now. I remember liking Man & Superman when I read a bunch of GB Shaw in college, and being very unsettled by Yellow Wallpaper. I didn't think of essays for my list; John Muir would be interesting to read.

    Enjoy the adventure!

    1. I'm so happy for you, Wendy. I can't wait to see what you are putting on the list.

  3. This will probably sound insane, but I'm anti-classics. I'm not sure if it's because they were forced on me during school or what, but I avoid them. I can appreciate them for what they are, what they represent, and what they've accomplished, but they just don't do it for me. Kudos on your list! I hope you're able to get through them all!!

    Lindsi @ Do You Dog-ear? 💬

    1. Hey! I just saw your comment. If you like the images/icon tags at the bottom of my reviews, you can use them! I have a tab at the top of my blog (Book Blogger Icon Tags), where I've uploaded all of the icons I've created. Fee free to use them!

    2. I'm sure being forced to read books may have contributed to your dislike of classics. Please don't let that kill your love for classics. Classics are just really good stories.

  4. We're watching a TV adaptation of Tom Jones at the moment and it's a lot funnier than I expected it to be so I hope the book will be as good for you.
    I read The Yellow Wallpaper a while back. Disturbing, but brilliantly atmospheric

  5. I have only read a few of these, but I vividly remember reading Yellow Wallpaper in college. Intense stuff.

  6. Oh! The Jungle Book. I have always wanted to read that one.

  7. Love the variety on your list and always happy to see a couple of Dickens' books. Of the others, I enjoyed We, and loved The Mystery of the Yellow Room - lots of melodramatic fun! Enjoy your reading...

  8. Wow, this has a lot of books I haven't read yet either. I really liked Bleak House, Agnes Grey, and End of the Affair, and I know I've read Winesburg, Ohio and The Yellow Wallpaper but honestly can't remember whether I enjoyed them or not, lol.

    1. There are so many great books. I'm a little tired of reading the books that appear on my radar simply because they have just been published.

  9. wonderful to be on your 2nd list! I love the diversity. By the way, I wouldn't consider Arsene Lupin for children, mystery category rather. and this is the first book of a long series

  10. Looks like a great list. I've read a couple of them, but nothing too exciting. I really enjoyed the character of Arsène Lupin, but the translation I read was terrible.

    1. Maybe I should look for something other than the free translation at Gutenberg.

  11. Congratulations on finishing your list! I read Tom Jones years ago and remember a rambling, bawdy tale!! Enjoy your new list!


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