Category: The Classics Club

The Classics Spin #2!

I am super excited that The Classics Club is doing another spin! I had such a fun time wringing my hands over the last one — what number is going to be picked!? What is my reading fate?! After the number was chosen, I loved matching it to my book (Frankenstein!) then reading about everyone else’s destiny. Finally, I deeply enjoyed the book itself. What a fun game! I am so ready to do it again!

I’ve listed 20 books taken from my Classics Club list below.Once I deleted the books I’ve read or will be reading soon for read-a-longs or other projects, this is pretty much all I have! I think when I do my One Year Classics Club Anniversary list maintenance, I’m going to have to bring my list up to 100 books from 50. (Glee!)

So, here is my list! Monday, Monday, what will you bring me?

1. The Classic Fairy Tales – Tartar

2. Angels and Insects – Byatt

3. Don Quixote – Cervantes

4. Great Expectations – Dickens

5. 1984 – Orwell

6. Hamlet – Shakespeare

7. King Lear – Shakespeare

8. Macbeth – Shakespeare

9. Much Ado About Nothing – Shakespeare

10. The Tempest – Shakespeare

11. Twelfth Night – Shakespeare

12. As You Like It – Shakespeare

13. War and Peace – Tolstoy 

14. The Virgin in the Garden – Byatt

15. The Bell Jar – Plath

16. Huckleberry Finn – Twain

17. Moby Dick – Melville

18. Mrs. Dalloway – Woolf

19. The Rainbow – Lawrence

20. Howards End – Forster


A Musing: Crime and Punishment



What can you say in a blog post about experiencing the Vast Human Condition over a three month span? I’ll try.

As I said on Unputdownables, reading Crime and Punishment was exhilarating. Annihilating. I felt full of fear, compassion, hate, love, you name it. I questioned every idea I thought I believed in. Repeatedly. The end of section six was the most INCREDIBLE end of a novel I’ve ever experienced. Even after the epilogue (which I did not like!) you get the sense that nothing is complete.

During the read-a-long, I kept on referring to the book as “grey” — as in not black and white. A prostitute has the most pure morals and motives of the book. One character who seems at first generous and protecting (Luzhin) is actually the worst villain of the book (yes, worse than Svidrigaïlov. Much worse in my opinion). Dostoevsky is talking about higher things than our petty, changing societal norms. Whilst I think he has some definite opinions (love and kindness as the only remedy we have in this world) Dostoevsky is definitely asking more questions than providing answers. After reading this book, I may just have to admit there are no answers, but only questions.

These words of Razumihin get to the heart of it for me. I’ll leave you with them. You may feel just as uncomfortable and unresolved as I feel right now after reading them. I hope they inspire you to read Crime and Punishment.

Human nature is not taken into account, it is excluded, it’s not supposed to exist! They don’t recognise that humanity, developing by a historical living process, will become at last a normal society, but they believe that a social system that has come out of some mathematical brain is going to organise all humanity at once and make it just and sinless in an instant, quicker than any living process! That’s why they instinctively dislike history, ‘nothing but ugliness and stupidity in it,’ and they explain it all as stupidity! That’s why they so dislike the living process of life; they don’t want a living soul! The living soul demands life, the soul won’t obey the rules of mechanics, the soul is an object of suspicion, the soul is retrograde! But what they want though it smells of death and can be made of india-rubber, at least is not alive, has no will, is servile and won’t revolt! And it comes in the end to their reducing everything to the building of walls and the planning of rooms and passages in a phalanstery! The phalanstery is ready, indeed, but your human nature is not ready for the phalanstery—it wants life, it hasn’t completed its vital process, it’s too soon for the graveyard! You can’t skip over nature by logic. Logic presupposes three possibilities, but there are millions!


(how great is this cover for C&P? It really gets to the heart of what the book is about, in my opinion. Cover design by Shelby Blair – entry for the 50 Watts’ Polish Book Cover Contest. You can see more entries here — they’re all so compelling)

Classics Club Meme #9: Heroes


The Classics Club asks:

“Who is hands-down the best literary hero, in your opinion? Likewise, who is the best heroine?”

 Hmm. First of all, I would say, what do you mean by hero? I went the beloved OED to find some definitions:

1. Hist. A name given (as in Homer) to men of superhuman strength, courage, or ability, favoured by the gods; at a later time regarded as intermediate between gods and men, and immortal.

2. A man distinguished by extraordinary valour and martial achievements; one who does brave or noble deeds; an illustrious warrior.

3. A man who exhibits extraordinary bravery, firmness, fortitude, or greatness of soul, in any course of action, or in connection with any pursuit, work, or enterprise; a man admired and venerated for his achievements and noble qualities.

4. The man who forms the subject of an epic; the chief male personage in a poem, play, or story; he in whom the interest of the story or plot is centered.

Let’s say heroines are female heroes and call it a day. They both come from the same root: protector.

(I won’t unpack the word “best” too much, but “of the most excellent, effective, or desirable type or quality” …

Obviously the answer would be very different depending on of you center on the valor/bravery/admiration part of things, or simply the protagonist of the story. My hunch is that the question does contain aspects of both definitions 3. and 4.

That being said, I’m going to twist things around and proclaim:

…the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones that never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes “Awww!”

Yes, Sal Paradise. Right now I’m trying to wrap my mind around Rodion Raskolnikov from Crime and Punishment. Henry Miller, calling his protagonist Henry Miller!! in his Tropic books, in all his deeply flawed glory. Fitzgerald’s characters. Cathy and Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights. Charlotte’s Lucy Snowe! So many of Shakespeare’s. Woolf’s sad, undulating women. Pip from Great Expectations! Just to name a few.

I don’t think it’s any accident that the historical definition includes the words superhuman, gods, and immortality. As much as I love Jane Eyre, there is the aura of fantasy about her; Bronte projected her longing for freedom and bravery into her character. We respond to it (I ask WWJD every time I get in a tangle!) but it’s very different from exploring the incredibly human, imperfect, searching, mad ones – the ones who are just like us.

(image: Orson Welles as Macbeth, via

A Musing: Frankenstein


Wow. Frankenstein! I finished this book a few days ago, but it left me with such a wave of amazement and sadness that I needed to sit with a little to process. Frankenstein’s monster is … oh gosh. The ultimate outsider? Milton’s Adam? (You gotta read Paradise Lost. It’s so incredibly evocative and talk about the ultimate rebel Satan! Talk about ambiguity! but I digress.) Thoughts about what we have created (personally, as a society) – have we overstepped our bounds (Ah, hello global warming, it seems we have)? Are we like Victor Frankenstein, hating what we created, instead of taking responsibility for what we did? As curious, striving humans, can we even help ourselves from trying? My heart hurts.

Did you know Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein when she was a teenager? Can you imagine: a rainy summer spent on a lake in Geneva with Percy Shelley and Lord Byron reading ghost stories and talking late into the night? Frankenstein is said to have been the result of Byron asking each of them to write their own spooky story. Mary had run away with the married Shelley when she was 16, and the next few years were ones of not only personal transformation, but ostracism, very little money, and moving from place to place. She also faced rough emotional waters in the time she wrote Frankenstein: her first child died soon after birth, and Shelley’s wife committed suicide. Was Mary Shelley feeling like Frankenstein and Frankenstein’s monster in these years?

A few notes about the writing: I loved the way the structure of the book mirrors the monster. The letters, stories tacked on to stories, narrator within a narrator within a narrator, poetic digressions, etc. are like a stitched together agglomeration of disparate elements much like how Victor made his creation. It was funny how it felt sort of… Udolpho-like… in tone and language, only it was good. I had a little chuckle when she included the “modern” poet Coleridge in her book (Coleridge read Rime of the Ancient Mariner in her home when she was eight years old. Mary Shelley’s upbringing is another fascinating part of her story. Her mother was Mary Wollstonecraft and father William Godwin. Side note: why can’t there be 289349274 hours in a day so that I can learn about everything that interests me? Rhetorical question). Also, no neck bolts, no lightning, no hunchbacked assistant. Sheesh.

Artistic, transgressive, brave, in over her head, loyal to her beliefs, paid the price. In short, Mary Shelley might be my new patron saint. I am so glad to have read Frankenstein. Thank you Classics Spin – you sure got my number!

Classics Club Discussion: Who is your favorite Brontë?


The Classics Club asks:

Who is your favorite Brontë, and why?

A few years ago, I would have piped up “CHARLOTTE!” without hesitation. Of course the author of Jane Eyre is my favorite. But now, it’s impossible to say. The more I learn about stubborn, homebody, animal loving Emily, the more I love her. I like gentle yet opinionated Anne too, through reading her book The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. I’m hoping I’ll be getting to know them all a little better over the next year. I have The Brontës Wild Genius on the Moors: The Story of a Literary Family sitting on my table to read very soon, and we are reading Agnes Grey by Anne over at Unputdownables in September 2013. Ask me again in October. I most likely will say that my additional reading has made me love each of them even more, but do ask.

P.S.  Want to go dude watchin’ with the Brontës?

P.P.S.  Oy vey with putting the e-umlaut when I write Brontë — and I’m always writing about the Brontës!

P.P.P. S. ë ë ë!!!

(Image of the Brontës painted by their brother Branwell. Spooky how he painted himself out. via wikipedia)

A Musing: Wolf Hall


Sometimes, I have the very least to say about the books I love the very best.

Wolf Hall knocked me over. It’s beautifully, carefully, yet freshly written. It’s intense — you feel the heat, you smell the streets, you ache. It has so much to say about human nature and life. I am now always thinking that I should “arrange my face” and wondering what others wear under their clothes. If you want to read a woman write a man (a 16th century man nonetheless — without any of the trappings of writing like a 16th century man), read this book. I never doubted the gender of Mantel’s Thomas Cromwell for one moment. I have absolutely no hesitation in calling this a classic even though it was written in 2009.

I can throw out a bunch of words like spellbinding, tour de force, and  masterpiece, but all I really want to say is, wow, gulp, and again, please.

(portrait of Thomas Cromwell by Holbein, via

Classics Club March Meme: Jane Austen

For March, The Classics Club asks:

Do you love Jane Austen or want to “dig her up and beat her over the skull with her own shin-bone”? (Phrase borrowed from Mark Twain)

1. Why? (for either answer)?

Aw, Mark Twain! That’s harsh! Even when I wasn’t crazy about Jane Austen’s writing, I never wanted to dig her up and beat her with her own shin-bone (although I might like to beat the people who write all those spin-offs…with their own shallow, derivative books! I’m sorry – they are not all shallow and derivative. Just most of them. Ahem!)!

I appreciate Jane Austen. I do not love her with the fierceness that I feel for Charlotte Bronte, or treasure her in the way that I do Dickens. I admire what she does with language and her sly wit. That being said, I haven’t read her widely, and have read only one one of her books recently. Northanger Abbey is on the schedule for later this year, and I look forward to seeing how it colors my opinion. I want to read them all, though, eventually.

2. Favorite and/or least favorite Austen novel? 

See above. I’ve read some others in college, but they were before Virginia Woolf helped me think differently about Austen. I look forward to discovering them again with my Woolf Glasses on 🙂

P.S. – If you have an opinion on why Jane inspires so many spin-off books, I’d love to hear it! I won’t point fingers, but Melody at Fingers and Prose did a post about a few recently, and compiled a list of nearly 200 titles! My mind . . . it boggles.

(funny cartoon from isthatcoffee. hee!)