Posts Tagged: Classics Club

The Color Purple
by Alice Walker

February 5, 2017 Book Reviews, Books 7

★ ★ ★ ★

The Color Purple by Alice Walker | 1982 | Open Road Media (this ed.) | E-book $14

Celie has grown up poor in rural Georgia, despised by the society around her and abused by her own family. She strives to protect her sister, Nettie, from a similar fate, and while Nettie escapes to a new life as a missionary in Africa, Celie is left behind without her best friend and confidante, married off to an older suitor, and sentenced to a life alone with a harsh and brutal husband.

In an attempt to transcend a life that often seems too much to bear, Celie begins writing letters directly to God. The letters, spanning twenty years, record a journey of self-discovery and empowerment guided by the light of a few strong women.

Whew… this novel was a bit of a rough ride.

I’ll be honest and admit that I didn’t much like it at first. The dialect and disturbing abuse of the narrator made it tough to get through. In the introduction to this edition, Walker says that the story is supposed to be about a woman figuring out what “God” means to her. But for the first half of the novel, I just couldn’t see it. It seemed more like a simple story about the particular cruelties of the world towards black women in the early 20th century.

I’m glad I kept reading, though. The story seemed to coalesce into something with deeper, complicated ideas about beauty and hope and family and bravery and all of those kinds of things — and I was eager to find out what would happen next, plot-wise, and was pleasantly (or sometimes unpleasantly) surprised several times.

The Color Purple is widely considered a modern classic for good reason. It’s not an easy read, it won’t necessarily give you warm fuzzy feelings or romantic thrills, but it’s still just as rewarding as it is demanding.


Links:


Publication information: Walker, Alice. The color purple. New York: Open Road Media, 2011. EPUB file.
Source: Borrowed from public library.
Disclaimer: I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.


East of Eden
by John Steinbeck

January 29, 2017 Book Reviews, Books 6

★ ★ ★ ★

East of Eden by John Steinbeck | Originally published 1952, this ed. 2002 | Penguin| Paperback $16

Set in the rich farmland of California’s Salinas Valley, this sprawling and often brutal novel follows the intertwined destinies of two families — the Trasks and the Hamiltons — whose generations helplessly reenact the fall of Adam and Eve and the poisonous rivalry of Cain and Abel. Here Steinbeck created some of his most memorable characters and explored his most enduring themes: the mystery of identity; the inexplicability of love; and the murderous consequences of love’s absence.

This book was a late addition to my Classics Club list. I’d tried to read Middlemarch and just could NOT get into it, so I asked for help picking a replacement and this is the title that was most commonly recommended. So — thanks, y’all, for convincing me to read this book!

I was a little intimidated by this chunkster, but needn’t have been. It’s true that it dragged a bit in spots and included some rather heavy-handed moralizing on the part of the narrator, but overall it read more like an old but clever relative telling an important family story — a kind of family story for the country as a whole, perhaps.

Plus, the prose was simply lovely. The content was not often lovely, no, mostly quite the opposite actually, but Steinbeck was unquestionably a master of prose. Take this example from Chapter 7 (no spoilers):

Time interval is a strange and contradictory matter in the mind. It would be reasonable to suppose that a routine time or an eventless time would seem interminable. It should be so, but it is not. It is the full eventless times that have no duration whatever. A time splashed with interest, wounded with tragedy, crevassed with joy — that’s the time that seems long in memory. And this is right when you think about it. Eventlessness has no posts to drape duration on. From nothing to nothing is no time at all.

Have you read East of Eden, or any other Steinbeck novel? How did you like it?


Links:


Publication information: Steinbeck, John East of Eden. Penguin: New York, 2002. Print.
Source: Personal collection.
Disclaimer: I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.


The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus
by L. Frank Baum

December 23, 2016 Book Reviews, Books 4

★ ★ ★ ★

The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus by L. Frank Baum | 1902 | Bowen Merrill | Paperback $10

A magical Christmas story by the author of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus answers the enigmatic Christmas questions: Why does Santa travel via Reindeer? How does he fit through the chimney, and how does he deliver all those toys in one wintry night?

First published in 1902, the tale begins as a wood nymph discovers a baby abandoned in a forest. Raised among mythical forest creatures, the child learns to outwit evil as he grows towards adulthood and must discover how to re-enter the human world, which leaves him determined to share gifts and spread love to his fellow man.

If that summary sounds vaguely familiar, you may remember the rather weird Rankin-Bass stop motion animation TV movie by the same name — you know, Rankin-Bass, the same folks who did the more popular stop motion Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Santa Claus is Comin’ To Town Christmas specials you see on repeat around this time of year?

This is a simple story, if somewhat more… hm, pagan than typical Christmas stories, featuring plenty in the way of wood nymphs and fairies and such (not sure “pagan” is quite the word I’m looking for, but it’s close enough). I suppose it could be read as something of a religious allegory à la Narnia — the kind man who devotes his life to making the world a better place for children is blessed with supernatural assistance and a happy, everlasting life — but I’m honestly not sure whether younger readers would pick up on that.

Have you read this book or seen the animated movie version? What did you think of it?

If you’re a fan of L. Frank Baum, don’t forget that I’m hosting a read-along of his Oz series starting in January!


Links:


Publication information: Baum, L. Frank. The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus. Indianapolis, IN: Bowen Merrill, 1902. Print.
Source: Used bookshop.
Disclaimer: I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.

Read My Own Damn Books Challenge Image

This book also counts for my #ReadMyOwnDamnBooks challenge.


The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood
by Howard Pyle

December 22, 2016 Book Reviews, Books 6

★ ★ ★ ★

The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood by Howard Pyle | 1883, this ed. 1985 | Signet Classics | Paperback $3.99

The beloved adventures of Robin Hood come vividly to life in this wonderfully illustrated version by Howard Pyle. Deep in Sherwood Forest, the legendary Robin Hood – the brave, good-humored outlaw the whole world loves – proves himself the best in England with his bow.

This is probably Pyle’s most well-known work outside of his legacy that is the Brandywine School of illustration. Actually, this book includes nearly 50 examples of Pyle’s illustration style, either as full-page woodcut (or woodcut style) scenes or ornaments and frames. When I was first learning to draw I just loved copying the art out of this book.

Sure, the book was written in the 19th century and with an exaggerated approximation of 12th century language (lots of “whither hath that knave gone” and “take thou what thou wilt have” and that sort of thing), but it’s actually not a difficult read. The stories are engaging and mostly, well… merry!

This edition also includes an informative Afterward by Michael Patrick Hearn, which was well worth the extra pages for its explanations of the repeated anti-Catholic sentiments (Pyle was a Quaker) and distinct erasure of Robin’s romances in the older versions of his stories (Pyle thought his assumed audience, little boys, wouldn’t be interested).

This book is certainly a keeper, and one I’ll probably end up re-reading again in the future at least a couple more times.


Links:


Publication information: Pyle, Howard. The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood. New York: Signet Classics, 1985. Print.
Source: Owned.
Disclaimer: I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.

Read My Own Damn Books Challenge Image

This book also counts for my #ReadMyOwnDamnBooks challenge.


The Once and Future King
by T. H. White

December 9, 2016 Book Reviews, Books 8

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

The Once and Future King by T.H. White | 1958 | Ace | Paperback $9.99

Once upon a time, a young boy called “Wart” was tutored by a magician named Merlyn in preparation for a future he couldn’t possibly imagine. A future in which he would ally himself with the greatest knights, love a legendary queen and unite a country dedicated to chivalrous values. A future that would see him crowned and known for all time as Arthur, King of the Britons.

I imagine that most of y’all have heard of this book — or at least of its first part, which is often read as a stand-alone children’s book, The Sword in the Stone (yes, like the Disney movie) — or AT LEAST the legends of King Arthur and Camelot. Right? Because if not, you’re missing out on a HUGE piece of Western folklore / literary canon and you should get off the internet and go to a library to amend this situation right freakin’ now.

Although it looks at first glance like a typical kind of “classic” novel, I’d say it’s closer to something like The Lord of the Rings meets Discworld meets A Game of Thrones meets Narnia. (In fact, even though I originally had it classified as red-font “20th century literature/poetry” on my Classics Club list, I’ve switched it to green for SF/F.) I was actually convinced that T.H. White had been a part of the “Inklings” group because the writing/themes seem so in-tune with their work, but apparently he wasn’t (although he did correspond with C.S. Lewis to a limited extent).

The first section — the aforementioned The Sword in the Stone — is certainly the most lighthearted of the stories, leaning more heavily on kid-friendly British folk tales and general silliness than the latter sections. It’s a kind of bait and switch, though, because the stories grow rather more morbid and grown-up after Arthur pulls his sword from that stone. The second section begins with a bored sorceress torturing a cat in gruesome detail, which should give you some clue as to how things go on for the rest of the book. The author might as well have titled part 2 “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.”

The writing style remains consistent throughout the book, despite the abrupt shift in tone/content. The narrator fairly frequently “butts in” for little explanatory asides or gently snide remarks, which I think annoys some readers but I personally find it charming (at least in this case). The characters are mostly fully developed (or at least sketched with decent detail), with the obvious exceptions of the villainesses, who seemed to be hardly more than seductress-witch caricatures. There are certainly more interesting portrayals of Arthur’s sisters out there, though, so I’ll just leave this little quibble to whither away in the face of the book’s more significant virtues.

This was actually a re-read for me, though it’d been probably about a decade since I read it originally. It’s certainly a favorite of mine now!


Links:


Publication information: White, T.H. The once and future king. New York: Ace, 1958. Print.
Source: Owned.
Disclaimer: I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.


A Slight Adjustment

November 20, 2016 Books 6

A few days ago, Karen at BookerTalk wrote a very thoughtful post about what, exactly, counts as a “classic” book. Please, go visit her blog — I think she wrote more eloquently about the subject than I can really hope to.

Anyway, this got me thinking (haha what?! I know); how well do the titles on my own Classics Club list actually qualify as classic books?

You know, I think I’ve done a decent job of packing my list with “real” classics. Some are a little more obscure or niche than others, but that’s actually on purpose. I wanted to focus a little bit on SFF and nonfiction classics, so some of the titles on the list will necessarily be below the radar of more typical ideas of classic literature. And that’s OK.

There was one title that I’ve decided to replace, though: Quick Service by P.G. Wodehouse. I had originally intended to read the author’s short story collection My Man Jeeves, but ultimately decided that I’d rather have one actual novel instead. Fortuitously, a friend of mine gifted me a collection of Wodehouse stories for my birthday, and Quick Service was included in this collection. However, as awesome and “classic” as Wodehouse might be considered as an author, ultimately I don’t think that this novel in particular really qualifies as a classic in the same way that every other title on my list does.

All this blather is just to say that I’ve replaced Quick Service on my CC list!

My replacement of choice will be The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus by L. Frank Baum.

Baum_Santa

I wrote last year about some Christmas-y books that draw my attention around the holiday season (The Most Wonderful Time of the Year?) and this book was included on that list. But you know what? It’s actually be several years since I’ve picked it up. I think I last read it in high school, actually. I think it’s high time for a re-read, especially considering my plans for a Wizard of Oz read-along in 2017.

How do you define “classic” when it comes to books? Do you think The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus fits my list a little better?


Voyage of the Beagle
by Charles Darwin

October 9, 2016 Book Reviews, Books 6

darwin_voyageofthebeagle

★ ★ ★ ★

Voyage of the Beagle by Charles Darwin | Originally published 1839 | Penguin Classics | Paperback $16

When HMS Beagle sailed out of Devonport on 27 December 1831, Charles Darwin was twenty-two and setting off on the voyage of a lifetime. His journal, here reprinted in a shortened form, shows a naturalist making patient observations concerning geology, natural history, people, places and events. Volcanoes in the Galapagos, the Gossamer spider of Patagonia and the Australasian coral reefs – all are to be found in these extraordinary writings. The insights made here were to set in motion the intellectual currents that led to the theory of evolution, and the most controversial book of the Victorian age: The Origin of Species.

In a word: FASCINATING.

I’m so, so glad that I put this title on my Classics Club list — and I’m so, so glad that I just happened to find a dusty copy languishing at a local used bookshop for only $3!

A couple of minor but relevant pieces of information: I have a BS in Biology and am the child of a scientist and am employed at a science-focused academic library. I also do not usually get on well with Victorian literature.

In this case, my enthusiasm for the subject matter (and the youthful author’s own clear enthusiasm) won out over my difficulties with the Victorian-ness of the writing.

Darwin suffered from terrible seasickness for much of the voyage, so he spent as much time travelling by land as he could possibly justify. I feel bad for the guy, but his extended explorations through various countries is what allowed him to produce this book and its controversial heir.

It’s not all sunshine and rainbows with this book, of course. Young Charlie subscribed to some of the rather paternalistic/racist views of typical imperialist Englishmen of the time, and his opinions on the foreign cultures he encounters do awkwardly (for the modern reader) reflect that. Besides that, he does tend to get a little too excited about some topics that no one else besides a fellow topic-specific geek would care about. Even I couldn’t be bothered with pages of descriptions of flatworms or geological strata. You have to be OK with skimming past this kind of stuff if you want to make it through the whole book.

That said, there are some real jewels to be found. For instance, there was the time when good ol’ Charlie managed to lasso himself while some gauchos tried to teach him how to fend for himself. And how about his attempts to ride the Galápagos tortoises like an an overgrown, overenthusiastic boy?

I like to imagine that if blogs had existed in the early 1800’s, Darwin would have been typing IN ALL CAPS BECAUSE THIS IS SO COOL, YOU GUYS and taking selfies with any animal/person who’d stand still long enough.

Overall, I definitely recommend this book to anyone who’s interested in the history of biological/ecological sciences or 19th century English history. And hey — definitely check out the links below. A lot of Darwin’s journals, letters, etc. are freely available online and, again, there are some real gems floating around out there.

Have you read this book, or other books by/about Darwin? Did you find any particular part of his journey especially fascinating?


Links:


Publication information: Darwin, Charles. Voyage of the Beagle. New York: Penguin, 1989. Print.
Source: Used bookshop.
Disclaimer: I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.


The Martian Chronicles
by Ray Bradbury

September 24, 2016 Book Reviews, Books 4

bradbury_martianchron

★ ★ ★

The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury | May 1950, this ed. 2012 | Simon & Schuster | Paperback $7.99

In The Martian Chronicles, Ray Bradbury, America’s preeminent storyteller, imagines a place of hope, dreams, and metaphor; of crystal pillars and fossil seas, where a fine dust settles on the great empty cities of a vanished, devastated civilization. Earthmen conquer Mars and then are conquered by it, lulled by dangerous lies of comfort and familiarity, and enchanted by the lingering glamour of an ancient, mysterious native race. In this classic work of fiction, Bradbury exposes our ambitions, weaknesses, and ignorance in a strange and breathtaking world where man does not belong.

When I compiled my Classics Club list, I purposely sought out classic books in the realms of Sci-Fi and Fantasy. To be honest, I rather prefer the stuff closer to the Fantasy side of that spectrum, and — again with the honesty — I don’t think I would have picked up this particular book if it hadn’t been for the Classics Club challenge.

The Martian Chronicles is really a collection of related short stories rather than a “real” novel. The stories begin at a time when Earthlings first begin to land on Mars and meet the native inhabitants, and proceed along to the point where a little group of humans become the Martians.

Of course, this book was written nearly two decades before we landed on the moon — several years even before the Space Race began. So, a lot of what a modern reader might consider “expected” in the way of terminology and technology and culture is completely reimagined. For example, space ships are generally called “rockets”… and mid-20th-century gender roles/expectations are quite firmly enforced, even for the original alien Martians themselves. It’s a little jarring, not gonna lie, but that’s the sort of thing you learn to expect with these old books, y’know? Not worth burning the book over, but I definitely rolled my eyes a few times….

I found this book kinda hard to rate because I wasn’t really grabbed by it (if it had been something I’d started on a whim, I might not have bothered to finish) but I can also see why it is so widely considered a classic. Bradbury’s writing is generally clean but beautiful in its own way, and the characters — while not 100% 3-dimensional — are interesting and realistic.

Further complicating matters, this particular edition does not include 2 stories that have been included in some other editions — “The Fire Balloons” and “The Wilderness” — while it does include a story sometimes cut from other editions, “Way in the Middle of the Air”. I suppose I can see why overly-cautious editors would cut the latter, as it includes quite a few utterances of the n-word. However, the story is quite clearly inspired by the budding Civil Rights Movement of the ’50’s-’60’s.

In the end, I’m glad I read The Martian Chronicles but it isn’t something I’d unreservedly recommend to other readers. But it’s a fine choice if you’re looking to expand your experience of early speculative fiction!

Have you read this book? What did you think of it?


Links:


Publication information: Bradbury, Ray. The Martian Chronicles. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2012. Print.
Source: Thrift shop.
Disclaimer: I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.


Wide Sargasso Sea
by Jean Rhys

September 17, 2016 Book Reviews, Books 2

rhys_widesargassosea

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys | 1966 | W. W. Norton | Paperback $14.95

With Wide Sargasso Sea, Rhys’ last and best-selling novel, she ingeniously brings into light one of fiction’s most fascinating characters: the madwoman in the attic from Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre. This mesmerizing work introduces us to Antoinette Cosway, a sensual and protected young woman who is sold into marriage to the prideful Mr. Rochester. Rhys portrays Cosway amidst a society so driven by hatred, so skewed in its sexual relations, that it can literally drive a woman out of her mind.

What can I really say about this book that hasn’t already been said, and by people far more eloquent than myself?

Whatever, it’s MY OWN DANG BLOG, DANGIT.

Anyway, this might not have been the absolute best time to read this book? I mean, Jean Rhys Reading Week, so that’s one point in its favor. But I’ve been in a bit of a reading slump lately, and… well, this (IMHO) was a fantastic novel. So on the one hand, I was actually motivated to read and was super happy to have spent my time on it! But on the other hand, how can anything else compare to this???

OK, maybe I’m just being overly dramatic.

TBQH, I might not have picked up this book if it weren’t for the word “Sargasso” in the title. Now, I know that might seem weird, but hear me out: I live on the Gulf Coast. Every year, we (or some other spot in/on the Gulf of Mexico) will get an influx of this Sargassum shit. I realize that might seem like a crazy reason to put a book on your TBR list — it happens to mention a type of seaweed in the title! oh joy! — but is it honestly any worse than “the cover is pretty” or “it’s a classic so people SHOULD read it”… ?

In any case, I am so, so glad that I put this on my Classics Club list — and I’m so, so grateful to the folks who hosted Jean Rhys Reading Week this year. Maybe this was just what I needed to read at this point in my life? It kinda felt like it….

So: You? Have you read this novel — & what did you think of it? Did you participate in Jean Rhys Reading Week, too?


Links:


Publication information: Rhys, Jean. Wide Sargasso Sea. NY: W. W. Norton & Co., 1966. Print.
Source: Purchased for personal use.
Disclaimer: I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.


Anne of Green Gables
by L. M. Montgomery

July 9, 2016 Book Reviews, Books 8

Montgomery_AOGG

★ ★ ★ ★ 

Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery | 1908, this ed. 2014 | Aladdin, an imprint of Simon & Schuster | Paperback $7.99

When Anne Shirley arrives at Green Gables, she surprises everyone: first of all, she’s a girl, even though Marilla Cuthbert and her brother Matthew specifically asked for an orphan boy to help around the farm. And second of all, she’s not just any girl: she has bright red hair, a wild imagination, and can talk a mile a minute. Anne has a temper as fiery as her hair and a knack for finding trouble, and she also has a big heart and a positive attitude that affects everyone she meets.

FIRST, I just have to fangirl for a minute over this gorgeous cover. *pets*

This was a re-read for me, although it’s been years since I read it last. To be honest, my memory of the book was a bit off! I remembered Anne as being an annoying, sickly-sweet character, and for some reason I imagined Marilla as a kind of villain?

Reading it again now as an adult, I found Marilla to be a much more sympathetic character. I did still find Anne a tiny bit annoying in some ways (all those giant wall-o-text ramblings, for instance), but she’s less of a Pollyanna than I remembered — not so much the eternal optimist, more like a little drama queen prone to rhapsodies of imagination and emotion.

I also enjoyed this book for its quality as a kind of snapshot in time. It is set in the Canadian Martimes in the early 20th century, and there are many interesting little historical details, like food and drink, rural public schooling, early feminism, and fashion of course — who can forget Anne’s obsession with puffed sleeves?

I haven’t decided yet whether I’ll read the rest of the series. I don’t think I ever read them before? But I am glad that I put this on my Classics Club list and tackled it this year for the Women’s Classic Literature Event.


Links:


Publication information: Montgomery, L. M. Anne of Green Gables. New York: Aladdin, 2014. Print.
Source: Purchased from Barnes & Noble.
Disclaimer: I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.