This is a wrap up post for Books and Chocolate Back to the Classics 2015 Challenge. And after it, I am going to start working on the 2016 Challenge list.
1. A 19th Century Classic — Howard’s End, E.M. Foster. (I am sure I will read more in this category, most likely, another book by Galdós, after his huge title, long and satisfying, Fortunata and Jacinta). I ended up reading:
The Book Lover, by James Baldwin. Baldwin writes a very quotable book full of quotes itself. You can read all the reasons and thoughts about what to read and why. The ideal reading course he presents is admirable, it humbles and educates the reader.
2. A 20th Century Classic — Invitation to a Beheading, by Nabokov. I chose this title after reading Reading Lolita in Teheran, by Nafisi. Nabokov plays with words like a magician. You don’t expect to see his words used in such a way. It’s like reading realism, but it’s not, it’s very surreal, very stream of conscience yet it points to piercing thoughts and ideas that resonate with all of us. I talked about the ending with a friend, and the book in general, and we came up with two different ‘explanations’. There will not be a clear cut answer. Maybe there is one provided by the authors, or critics, but I don’t think there will just be a way of explaining what we witness with this book. Nabokov is a pleasure to read, but he is dense, and I could only do a few pages at a time, though I wanted to pick it up frequently too, I wanted to know what was going to happen next, even if I continued being more deeply confused. It’s a good confused, lol.
3. A Classic by a Woman Author. Strong Poison, Dorothy Sayers. After reading her very unique and captivating The Mind of the Maker, I got to know Sayers loved to write and did write many mysteries, most of them with Lord Peter as the protagonist. It wasn’t difficult then to pick this one, the one where he meets Harriete Vane. She does not disappoint.
4. A Classic in Translation. War Letters by Rilke. This book was beautiful, and sad, soaked into a post war gloom, but worth reading. Much of what’s in the letters went over my head. I don’t know those Rilke corresponded with that well, and one only reads his letters, not the ones he received and is answering to. Many of the letters show a troubled soul (Rilke could not write for many years after the war), and they express the inner feelings of a man caught up in the middle of a conflict, with ties to countries that were enemies, with roots in places who had changed forever. Although in translation, his writing felt poetic when he takes off describing places and mapping his heart and the scars of his soul. At times it was a difficult read because of my lack of context and knowledge of his life. My book had lots of notes, but reading them got me out of Rilke’s text, so I preferred to ignore them even if I had to sacrifice some understanding.
5. A Very Long Classic Novel — a single work of 500 pages or longer. The Idiot (El Idiota) Dostoevsky. It must sound ridiculous to review such a huge classic and confess after the feat of 500+ pages it did not left me quite satisfied. As always, it may be our own fault as readers, but I could have done away with at least 200 pages. Part of Dostoevsky’s charm, they may say, resides in his constant political digressions, but at times I felt I was in a theater, with the same place and actors, and a never ending conversation that slowly oh so slowly bounced from here to there. The book happens between maybe 4 or 5 places, and one huge difficulty to me is the names (every character, -ok, the main ones-, has 3 names at least). I’m not exaggerating. They are known by most by one name, they have a last name, then they have an alias. I truly wished Dostoevsky had spend more time exploring the psychology of all the main characters, and that he had disclosed more of the main plot. 500 pages and I was left a bit empty when I closed it. That’s my taste, less historical and political digressions, more meat and heat, -grin. Not my favorite title by the author. I still prefer his Crime and Punishment. If you want a short novella and don’t fear being depressed for a few hours or days, The Gambler is a jewel.
6. A Classic Novella — any work shorter than 250 pages. Ruinas, Rosalía de Castro. This is a quite forgotten Spanish author that we all study in high school in Spain, -or did in my time. Rosalía is best known as a poet (I also read one of her poetry titles), but this is one of her more known novellas (I don’t think she wrote other type of books but poetry and novellas). The book was written in 1866, and it’s a picture of a small town and his inhabitants. Even though it has a sad end, humor permeates throughout the book. I got attached to the main trio, such a picturesque mix of characters. I enjoy literature by Spanish writers in the 19th century because of the humor, dialogues, the descriptions of people and places, even if they are mostly tragedies have sadness and non resolved issues.
7. A Classic with a Person’s Name in the Title. Doña Perfecta, Galdós. Galdós is, along with Cervantes, my favorite author ever. Galdós is not amply read in the English world because his competition has to be the heaviest weights of literature in English of all times. He has been defined as the Spanish Walter Scott (he has a lot of historic fiction novellas narrating events of importance in Spanish and European history, such as Trafalgar, which I read this year too, that narrates that battle; and he has been compared to Balzac, Dostoevsky, and Dickens, though my dear friend Heather says Galdós is more earthy. In his huge title Fortunata and Jacinta, you find much more attention to foods, smells, textiles, and a broader and “earthier” array of topics not found in Dickens, who paints more of an exquisite caricature with his incomparable style. Another Back to the Classics participant, my friend Linda, ended up reading this title for her novella too.
8. A Humorous or Satirical Classic. Flatland by Abbott. This is a short book but full of interesting concepts and humor. Interesting to note that Abbott published it under a pseudonym, since he was a reputed literature and theology scholar, specialized in Shakespeare, and did not want this short extravaganza to tarnish his credibility in his expertise field. I have never read anything so quirky. A mix of geometry, philosophy, and with a touch of Jeeves style humor. It may have also gone over my head to some extent, but that which you catch will make you laugh and think.
9. A Forgotten Classic. Don Quijote de la Mancha, in full, parts I and II. The link takes you to a review in the form of an interview I wrote about possibly, my number 1 book-world-experience. As I type, I hear Don Quijote and Sancho talk in my head, their voices, their humor, the adventures and all I have been through with them, through them, come to my mind and warm my heart. It has some moments when you feel you are about to drawn into yet one.more.never.ending.story… oh, boy, those stories can be the end of us all as readers. My dear friend dreamed she was reading, and reading, and reading Don Quijote, and she looked at the book and she was on page 52! That’s Don Quijote in a nutshell. I’m impressed about how many have read it in full, or just the first part (which is around 600 pages). I had no idea this was going to be my second and serious (ahem, I’m 44, tee hee) read of Don Quijote, but I’m still in ‘detox’, ha! I’m visiting goodreads to read the myriad of reviews of this title. I did love one reviewer who said to read part I abridged, to truly get to part II, which is the real treat. I agree, you know. Many know Don Quijote, and the windmills, and the fun, the adventures, and not always are we in a place to persist and come to the second part. But if you do, it has a different tone, it completes all that Cervantes proposes in part I, it gives dimensions you will never expect. Part II is what makes this book so modern and fascinating, but part II also makes it be, as Dostoevsky says, the saddest book of all time. Did you roger that? No matter how sad, it’s a total pleasure to read it, and it satisfies. When it ends, maybe those long stories will help you to feel you did have enough, even if you wish it had not ended.
10. A Nonfiction Classic. A Poetry Handbook, by Mary Oliver (I think I made a mistake, this book is not a classic yet). Letters of a Woman Homesteader will make it for this category. Click on the title to read my review of this humorous and tender title.
11. A Classic Children’s Book. The Wonderful O, James Thurber. We love authors that play with language, thus Thurber is a favorite at home. To me, it’s one of the most philosophical and fun books for children and grown ups ever written. It makes for a wonderful read aloud time.
12. A Classic Play. Macbeth, by Shakespeare. I was lucky to read this book with my friends at the Ambleside Online Forum, in an online book club of sorts. Reading Shakespeare in company gives me a much needed support. I get to find out super helpful, fun and interesting things about the play at hand, I see how others have similar thoughts (when I’m sort of lost), and we all have interesting connections, some times similar, sometimes very different. Even with the multiple things that escape me, I believe this is one of the most understandable Shakespeare’s plays. Reading Shakespeare makes me feel very accomplished, ha ha ha. I got to know this married couple, and some of the thoughts and famous talks have stayed with me ever since. Power, sigh. I’m truly glad I’m not a noble, or married to any person with a title and higher aspirations, yet there is much to learn about how not to treat our husbands from Lady Macbeth’s example, even when we don’t share that power situation.
That was all. I was a rewarding experience for sure.The 2016 list will soon be coming, stay tuned!